Category Archives: ESV Through the Bible in a Year

Ezekiel 31-33; John 11

The resurrection of Lazarus. There were so many things going on when we come to John 11. Jesus receives word that Lazarus is sick. He is petitioned to go quickly to heal him. Jesus waits two more days before traveling to see his friend. That’s where we come across the first character study. It’s with the disciple Thomas. Thomas later in the Gospels doubts the resurrection of Jesus, but here he is ready to die with Jesus. There were hostile territories they would be passing through and Thomas believes they may die before even reaching Lazarus. Jesus has told them that Lazarus has died, so we find Thomas stating the following:

16 So Thomas, called the Twin,2 said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16 [ESV])

Thomas was willing to die with Jesus in chapter 11 and later in this passage he witnesses the resurrection of Lazarus, but later doubts that the same thing could have happened to Jesus. Here he is courageous, later he is doubtful. What happened to Thomas along the way? None of us really know, but it brings out the fact that we need to stay in touch with Jesus and His power to change lives lest we too fall into a doubtful jaded place in our spiritual lives.

Jesus and the disciples get to Mary and Martha and see how distraught they are. How hopeless they are and even thought Jesus knows what’s going to happen, he weeps with them. Verse 35 is the shortest verse in the Bible…

35 Jesus wept. (John 11:35 [ESV])

Even in our darkest most emotional moments we are not alone. And on this side of eternity the one thing we know is that when we weep, Jesus weeps with us. He is our high priest and has suffered all that we have suffered. He stands with us and weeps as we weep. What a powerful picture of God’s love for us all.

That brings us to our third observation. The religious leaders instead of being convinced of Jesus’ Messiah-ship at this point are ready to kill Him. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Can you believe this? Read it for yourself:

49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation… (John 11:49-51 [ESV])

The darkness of the human heart can be very deep. Don’t be surprised, then, when you share the gospel with friends and family, if people who saw Jesus resurrect Lazarus are ready to kill Him. Our job — like Jesus — is to be faithful to the mission God has given us and let Him handle the consequences.

A couple of question this morning:

  • Have you lost your zeal for Jesus? Are you falling into a season of doubt. Ask Him to rekindle that love you have had for Him in the past.
  • Are you grieving over a lost loved one or a broken relationship? Remember Jesus cares and is weeping with you today.
  • If for some reason you stumbled across this blog by accident today and don’t know Jesus at all, what will it take? He has raised the dead, He has performed miracles way beyond what our minds can imagine. Yet today He wants to have a personal relationship with you. Please let Him into your life to have that relationship.
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Filed under 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, ESV Through the Bible in a Year, Ezekiel, John, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Uncategorized

Proverbs 29-31; 1 Thessalonians 4

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.”  1 Thessalonians 2:13

Sometimes I treat the Bible like a coffee table decoration. I may read through the words as if they were nice theories or a self improvement project or gloss through the difficult passages and patronize them by passing them off as antiquated and therefore, irrelevant. God’s word is far too powerful to remain in the box that I attempt to keep it in. In reading the Word, God invites me to sit with him, wrestle with my questions and doubts and dance with hopes and dreams. All these things I lay before God in the light of his Word.

God’s Word asks me if I truly believe that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness? Do I really, REALLY believe that Christ died on the cross and physically rose from the dead so that I might live? When the truth of Jesus Christ sets in, I awaken from my stupor and the world changes; I change. His resurrection brings light and joy into unexpected places.

Following Christ is not a quest to be a better person or to find fulfillment; those things might happen, but they are not the end. God wants something much greater, wilder, and more beautiful for me; He wants holiness.

“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God who gives the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8.

Holiness is the odd combination of laying aside my idea of righteousness to accept that of Jesus and leaning forward in gratitude to live the life He has called me to. It means being transformed by his love into the his likeness. It’s being willing to let go of my ego long enough to be able to take risks and believe that God’s power will win the day. A holy life focuses on God and not man’s ability to get things right or wrong.

The people that I know who live holy lives are “clothed in strength and dignity” that comes from God and isn’t stuffy and judgmental. Quite the opposite. They are people who can laugh and have grace for themselves and others. Think of the woman in Proverbs 31. Knowing and living the truth of the Gospel opens the door for the Holy Spirit to do that kind of work in ordinary lives.

Lord, I believe you are who you say you are. Help me when unbelief slips in. Keep me focused on you today. Holy Spirit, please be at work in and through me today. Amen.

Kathy (Klueh)

From the archives. Originally published June 17, 2016.

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2 Chron. 13; Rev. 3; Haggai 1; John 2

Remember that My miracles show My personal care for you…

This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed His glory. And His disciples believed in Him. John 2:11

Jesus always had personal purpose for His miracles… personal for Him, to reveal His power; personal for us, to address a need.

John 2 revealed that Jesus’ power was first revealed publically during the wedding event at Cana in Galilee. The events resulted in Jesus’ disciples believing that He was who He said He was. By turning water into the finest wine, He addressed a physical need amongst a group of guests, as well as the hearts of several people, and it is in the heart where the most impactful, long-term effects can be realized. In this one event, Jesus was able to avert humiliation to the bridegroom from running out of wine at such a ceremony. Additionally, His actions affirmed, within the heart of His disciples, that He was who He said He was… that they were in the presence of the Messiah. And then there was Jesus’ mother, who, after witnessing so many miracles as Jesus grew from a child, witnessed her Son’s first public display of His power that would eventually be used to change the world!

In another powerful example of this duplicity of Jesus’ blessing was revealed later in John with the story of Lazarus. It was revealed that Lazarus, a follower of Jesus, the brother of Mary and Martha, the one who Jesus loved, was sick. As a father, if someone had come to me and told me these same words, I, as I’m sure most, would immediately move to do something… to be with that person described as “the one you love is sick.” Instead, Jesus decides to remain where He was for two more days with His disciples before going back to Judea. To the human mind, this decision surely meant death to Lazarus… however, to our Savior, who has a definite purpose in all He does, uses Lazarus’ situation to glorify His Father through the miracle of the raising of Lazarus after he passes.

Each time our Lord acts on His people’s behalf, He performs miracles. From what appears to us as mundane and insignificant events of everyday life, from the rising of the sun and the ebb and flow of the tides, God demonstrates His power over creation… He shows His glory to all of us, yet He also reveals His glory to each of us.

God fills every moment of our day with signs of Himself… He works on our behalf to get our attention and to reveal His faithfulness. Will His miracles move our belief in Him just as it did with His disciples, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary? He offers SO much, but asks just one thing… BELIEVE! “The work of God is this… that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” John 6:29. There are no mistakes according to His plan… “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)… how grateful are we to know our Heavenly Father—through His Son, Jesus Christ—are recipients of amazing plans He has for our lives! The question is… are we ready to go to wherever He wants us to go?

Heavenly Father… You provide so much and ask but one thing… that we believe! As we prepare to celebrate Your son’s birth, let us remain mindful of the abundance of miracles You provide for us each day. Help us to change our old selves as a testament of our commitment to cleanse our hearts and open our eyes to this abundance of love You offer to us. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, ESV Through the Bible in a Year, John, 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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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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Ecclesiastes 4-6; Psalm 125; 2 Timothy 2

Is it possible that too much of something good can hurt you?

“Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud… frustrated, discouraged, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:17

Author and library educator Josephine Rathbone stated “If we could learn how to balance rest against effort, calmness against strain, quiet against turmoil, we would assure ourselves of joy in living and psychological health for life”

Is this kind of life possible in 2016? I am beyond the age of raising young children and witness first-hand how over busy parents are today… how did life get so complicated? Are we trying to do too much? Are we trying to please too many people? And in so doing, have we unknowingly created the kind of life that has us wanting to quit before life’s race is over? Are we working so hard to get to that certain “retirement lifestyle” that we’re missing out on all the amazing things our children do and achieve and what God has for our life?

This ‘counselor’ phase of life that I’m in with my 2 beautiful girls has me asking them from time to time what they remember most about when they were younger… never once did they tell me how excited they were the time that I was away from home for 3 weeks for my job several years ago. But they did remember Daddy making breakfast with them every Sunday after church and bike rides along the old railroad trail in the fall.

So… can too much of a something good hurt us? I mean, if it’s good for us, why would we need to moderate it? Because, in and of themselves, good things are just that… good! But taken to excess, however, even good things can cause an ‘out of balance’ experience which can be, and often is, detrimental to our well-being. In the nutritional world, for instance, Vitamin E plays a key role to our bodies immune function and cell communication, but is most effective when it is acquired through whole food—in foods like wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and broccoli. However, taken regularly in excess, Vitamin E can become toxic to the body and adversely affect how other vitamins are absorbed and can even cause heart issues. Research has confirmed that ingesting too much of a beneficial nutrient has the effect of decreasing its main benefits and overall effectiveness.

The same is being revealed through the use of technology as it is incorporated into our lives… while all the advances in technology have helped make our lives more efficient, these same technologies, taken to an extreme, can wreak havoc on the gentle balance that God’s plan has for our lives. As with so many other areas of life, we, as humans, think we know better than God in what is best… we think we’re so wise with our ‘advanced’ ideas and our high-tech lifestyles. But after some deep reflection, what does our ‘drivenness’ earn us that truly enriches us and lasts beyond our stressed-out lives on Earth? Does the drivenness really teach us how to live, or does it fool us into thinking that decades of overdosing on busyness are worth a few years to unwind in retirement?

We’re driven to distraction by drivenness! We don’t even realize how tightly wound we are because we don’t know any different!

God calls us to hard work. Knowing that has me seeing hard work as something good… something that pleases God. But what God doesn’t do is call us to obsess about getting ahead to the detriment of a calm mind, healthy human relationships, and most importantly, a rich relationship with Him! We need to work at losing, or at least reducing the frustrated edge on our spirit by releasing our misguided need to push ever more intensely. Get to know God’s idea of balancing work and play… doing so will allow God to teach us the art of rest and the amazing benefits according to His plan for our lives.

Heavenly Father… Your Word provides us insights into how to live wisely in the world with our eyes always on You. Father, it is hard to admit, but I struggle with knowing who I would be if I released my driven tendencies. Please reveal why I, we, keep pushing so hard… and please show us true rest in releasing our drivenness to You! Amen…

Greg Stefanelli (gstefanelli)

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2 Samuel 18-20; Psalm 34; Romans 2

Fair doesn’t mean equal.

I remember my student teaching experience and these words specifically. The teacher I worked with emphasized that with her students each year, and reminded them of it if complaints of fairness arose. She would seek to be as fair as possible with her students, but that did not mean it would be or look equal. Unfortunately, most people want equal, unless they can get “more” equal. Hmm, some pigs are coming to mind here, that thought themselves “more equal than others.”

For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:11)

Yet, right before that it says, “the Jew first and also the Greek.” Seems like partiality to me. However, that’s the problem, the “to me” part. Our human way of thinking is often twisted by sin, and we miss God’s best for a situation. Look at Absalom, and maybe David’s permissive parenting that fostered some of his behavior. He violently sought what he thought he deserved. But, did he really deserve it?

When will I fully set aside my fleshly judgments of others, and myself, to fully embrace God’s best? God’s discernment, God’s precepts, God’s purposes.

From Psalm 34:

Affliction will slay the wicked,

and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.

22  The Lord redeems the life of his servants;

none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Sometimes I want to do more to condemn the sinful reality that we live in these days, the harsh accusations of hate from the world as they speak about our faith which they cannot understand in their sin-darkened minds. God’s justice will come. There is a time to speak and a time to be still. Great judgment is coming, and I don’t need to take God’s role as my own. I do need to be discerning and speak out for those that can’t speak or speak loudly enough, but always resting in the peaceful truth that God is still on the throne, His justice will triumph and His kindness will lead them to repentance.

Lord, You are sovereign and wise, and incredibly patient. Thank you for your forgiveness that I could not have earned, but only claim because of Christ’s work on the cross. Help me to see your truth ever more clearly and to remember to act more after the example of your love, than in harsh response to the sinfulness I see and chafe at. Continue to transform my mind to Your way of thinking and the eternal perspective that needs to guide my daily choices. ~Amen

 

Erin (6intow)

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