Thursday, May 14, 2009

Getting Your Goat or Going Goat-less?

Reflections on Matthew 25:31-46

What’s your reaction to Jesus’ words in this passage? Not your response or reasoned thinking about what He says, but your initial reaction. Do His words at any level make you uncomfortable? And if so, what is it that makes you uncomfortable? I ask only because this passage can rattle people at different levels.

Perhaps it makes you uncomfortable because Jesus speaks about His return with certainty, as a fact, not a theory to be debated.

Perhaps it makes you uncomfortable because Jesus speaks of a judgment for all people.

Perhaps it makes you uncomfortable because you don’t know if you’d end up tagged as a sheep or a goat.

Perhaps it makes you uncomfortable because Jesus says this judgment is based on visible evidence that your beliefs change the way you see the world and how you treat others.

Perhaps you find yourself trying to catalog your good deeds.

Or perhaps you find yourself identifying with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned.

In this passage, Jesus calls His hearers back to the essence of true religion, just as He did when He said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:34-40).

It seems that love for God inexorably leads to love for others (1 John 4:7-12, 20-21), a love that is demonstrated in action (1 John 3:16-18), a love that has compassion as a defining characteristic.

Compassion: deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.

"compassion." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition
. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 14 May. 2009.

God is by nature compassionate. When God told Moses His name, He identified Himself as

"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God…Exodus 34:6

God’s compassionate nature was evident in Genesis 3 when He came looking for the couple who were now lost in sin, with the intent to rescue and restore them. This pattern continues throughout the Old Testament, revealing God’s compassion for men, women, and children. Over and over, His concern and love for the people He created turns into action on their behalf.

God’s compassion comes to fullest expression in the life of Jesus…

Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
—Philippians 2:6-8

In 1 Corinthians 12, we discover that we as believers are now the physical representation of Christ in the world. Just as Jesus revealed God’s compassion in His life, God desires that, through our lives, we will reflect His compassion to a hurting world.

Who do you know who is…

In need of food or water, or a place to live?

In need of spiritual strength, hope or encouragement?

Lonely or alone?

In need of clothes?

Sick or suffering?

In prison or caught in a prison of their own making?

In need of someone to care?

In need of someone to believe in them until they can believe in themselves?

In need of a new start?

God’s plan from the beginning was that His people would become a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-3).

What does God want you to do to help and bless others with the material and spiritual resources He has given you?

Paul echoes this same thought in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Father is a merciful God, who always gives us comfort. He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.

Many people struggle to believe that God cares for them due to the ever-present nature of their personal suffering. Those who escape the destructive cycle of their lives often speak of a friend who believed in them when they didn’t believe in themselves, of a friend who pointed them to God’s presence and compassion, of friends who cared enough to come alongside them in their need and care for them.

What hope and help do you have to offer others? What experience of His compassion and comfort can you offer to others who are hurting or in trouble?

As we are being transformed into the image of Christ, Bible study and prayer are not the end goal. Those, along with other spiritual habits, are means of shaping us in God’s image, of creating in us a compassionate heart that sees the world as God sees it and transforms us into people who see the needs of others around us, people who are moved to reach out to others and meet their needs in the name of Christ.

What is revealed about your heart by your reaction to seeing people in need?

What is God doing to carve out space for compassion for others in your heart?

Who do you know right now who needs God to meet their needs?

What do they know of God’s compassion because of your response to their situation?

What is God calling you to do to meet the needs of others?

To view the worship celebration related to this Next Step, visit

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Working with Oils

Based on Matthew 25:1-13

Oil in Scripture is often used to represent the Holy Spirit. Oil in biblical times, much like today, was an important component to life. Used in cooking and in providing light, oil was a precious commodity then, as it is now.

Scripture shows that the Holy Spirit is essential to the spiritual life. In Genesis 1:2, He is present at creation, hovering close, at work to bring life and shape to the earth

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

God’s Spirit empowered Israel’s leaderselders, judges, priests, prophets, and kingsto rule lead well, and gifted ordinary people to serve the Lord (see Exodus 31:3, Numbers 11:17 and 27:18, Judges 3:10, 1 Samuel 10:10 and 16:13, etc.) Even Pharaoh recognized the Spirit of God at work in Joseph (Genesis 41:38). God’s Spirit spoke through the prophets, testifying to God’s work and of one who would come in the power of the Spirit (Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 12:18).

Turning to the New Testament, the first mention of the Holy Spirit is found in Matthew 1:18

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Unlike Genesis, where God is creating a new earth, this time the Spirit is at work creating the very life of God in Mary’s body.

His next appearance is in Matthew 3:15 at Jesus’ baptism, identifying Jesus publicly as the Son of God

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. (See also John 1:33.)

Just as the Spirit of God was active in Jesus’ life, Scripture tells us that the Spirit is active in our lives, calling us, creating new life in Christ, teaching and guiding us along the way

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.—John 3:5

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you foreverthe Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.—John 14:16,17

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.—John 14:26

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me….John 15:26

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.Acts 1:8

Warning: Scripture also cautions that it is possible to limit the Spirit’s work in our lives and to grieve Him through our choices (1 Thessalonians 5:19, Ephesians 4:30).

Just like you check the amount and condition of oil in your car, maybe it’s a good idea to check the condition of your relationship with the Spirit.

Has the life-giving oil of the Spirit of God been poured into your life?

Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit…. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.—1 Corinthians 12:3, 13

Is the Spirit seen in the ways you now live your life for the benefit of others?

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.—1 Corinthians 12:7

Is your mind now set on what God desires? Are you led by Him? Does your life give evidence of Spirit-controlled attitudes and actions?

Read the following verses on or in your Bible to see what a life characterized by the Spirit looks like

·         Romans 8:5, 6

·         Romans 8:16

·         Romans 14:17

·         1 Corinthians 2:4, 13

·         2 Corinthians 3:17

·         Ephesians 4:3

·         Ephesians 6:18

·         Galatians 5:22,23

Are these familiar passages to you?

How frequently are these qualities evident in your life? What would your friends and family say?

What about your life recently has revealed the presence of the Spirit?

What can you do if you find that the oil is running low in your life and it needs replenished? How do you make sure that you aren’t guilty of the same misguided thinking of the Galatian believers that Paul wrote to, saying

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?—Galatians 3:3

First, understand that the spiritual life takes focus on living in step with the Spirit of God

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.—Galatians 5:16, 25

…the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.—Galatians 6:8

Then ask yourself a few questions

What are you doing to build up the life of God in your life? What spiritual habits are you practicing to keep your focus on nurturing and fanning into flame the life of the Spirit?

What role does Scripture reading, study, meditation and memorization play in transforming your life?

What is your prayer life like?

With whom are you developing an honest and intimate spiritual relationship that encourages one another to grow in faith?

How are you living life to benefit others?

Now respond to what God is saying to you about these things. What is the Spirit leading you to do to re-engage? What do you need to do to allow Him to replenish your supply of oil?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.—Romans 15:13

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…Ephesians 3:16

To view the worship celebration related to this Next Step, visit

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