Keep: Hear

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

The religion of the ancient Israelites was remarkably different from the religions of most of the other nations in the Middle East at this time in history. Most people in the world served a variety of gods, hoping to keep the right ones happy and keep the wrong ones from being angry.

tree2_350But what could you do? You needed the favor of the gods to get good crops, to have healthy babies, and to avoid disaster. That’s what everyone believed. You had to try to keep them all satisfied.

Today’s verse became known to Israelites by a single word: “hear.” God wanted them to always remember they had just one God to serve, and he would not change his mind about right and wrong, good and evil. He was reliable, consistent, and faithful. And he still is. And he always will be.

Think: What’s the advantage of serving a single God who does not change his mind or his standards?

Pray: Thank the Lord your God that he is one.

Do: Write a quick list of some of the modern “gods” or idols that people serve today. Put a check mark next to the ones that demand the most time and attention.

Keep: The Problem with Us

“Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.” (Deuteronomy 6:3)

God was promising his homeless children a dream come true: to take possession of their own fertile, beautiful, perfect country. But the gift came with an “if.” “It’s yours for as long as you keep following me.” That didn’t turn out to be for very long.

tree2_350Israel’s history is a road map of human nature. God proved a point in giving Israel chance after chance after chance to be faithful to him. He would graciously allow her enemies to conquer her, then wait for her to repent, then bring her home and bless her and let her try again.

But humans are stubborn. Even with a perfect God offering huge prosperity and peace and every good gift, we eventually turn against him. Our restless hearts are full of sin and self. To ever truly have a successful relationship with God, we would need a savior to come and change us from the inside out.

And that’s exactly what the God who loves Israel—and all of us—made possible when he sent his Son to earth.

Think: Do you think we needed evidence that we would not follow God even in the best of circumstances? Are you convinced that human beings are born naturally broken and sinful and selfish, or do you think we’re all basically good?

Pray: Thank God for his good promises to Israel and to all of us. Thank him for sending Jesus to pay for our sin and make it possible for our hearts to be changed from the inside out.

Do: Listen this week for statements from people suggesting that humans are basically good or basically not good.

Keep: Love or Obey?

“These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2)

What does God care about more, obedience or love? Don’t answer just yet. It’s kind of a trick question. We’re going to spend this next week talking about the answer by listening in on Deuteronomy 6.

tree2_350Do you remember learning about this moment? The Israelites were a homeless country. Well, they had a home. They just hadn’t seen it, yet. The time had finally come to stop wandering in the wilderness and go into the promised land, kick out the folks living there, and call it home.

The key to making that happen? One word: obedience. God said it, and Moses wrote it. If the people would obey—and if their kids and grandkids would keep obeying—they would enjoy long and successful lives in their new home.

Remember how that turned out?

Think: Why do you think that human beings have such a hard time obeying God? What do you think is the connection between what our hearts feel and what we actually do?

Pray: Ask God to help you to obey him. Thank him for loving you, especially by sending Jesus to die in your place on the cross.

Do: Make a quick list of the top 5 people you love and the top 5 people you are told to obey. Circle the ones that make both lists.

Countforward: How Long?

“He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ ” (Acts 1:9-11)

I don’t think countforward is a real word, but we’re not counting down any more. The countdown was finished when Jesus walked out of his tomb alive and more powerful than ever. Now the clock is moving forward toward the day he will return.

count_350In the verses right before these, Jesus said we don’t get to know how long. Nobody knows the hour or the day – but there is a specific hour, a day on the calendar, coming. He will be back. The Father knows exactly when.

In the meantime, we have a job to do, you and me and all those who believe all of these things we’ve been talking about all week. We have a job to use real power – the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead at work in us – to be witnesses of what we’ve seen that power accomplish.

It’s a job that matters. And the clock is ticking. That’s the message of Acts 1.

Think: Are you looking forward to the return of Christ? What difference does his promised return make in your life? How seriously do you take the call to be his witness in your world?

Pray: Ask God to help you to make the best use of the power and time he gives to you to accomplish whatever he asks of you in this life.

Do: Read Acts 1 all the way through.

Easter Countdown: Zero Hour

” ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’ ” (Mark 16:6)

You know it’s a big deal when the angels show up – and the news is almost always good. This time, it was maybe the best news in human history. The Son of God, dead and buried, was alive. (Just like he said.)

count_350God wouldn’t have had to send angels to let Jesus’ friends and followers know the Messiah was risen. Jesus would appear to them soon enough. But God the Father seems to love making announcements about his Son. (Notice how similar the angels’ message is to the birth announcement delivered 33 years earlier – “You will not find him wrapped in cloths and lying in this tomb. See?”)

The watch had stopped. From the moment God created time, it had been counting down to this – the payment for sin complete, death defeated, the promise of new life for all who believe, and the hope of living forever in the family of God.

Let the world rejoice.

Think: Are you impressed with the power it took to bring Jesus back to life? What are a few of the ways that Jesus’ resurrection has changed – and will change – your life?

Pray: Praise God for raising Jesus from the dead and making it possible for you to one day be raised to new life, as well.

Do: Watch this.

Easter Countdown: 3 Days

“Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ ” (Matthew 26:38-39)

Yesterday, we saw that Jesus knew – had known all along – that his path was leading to the agony of the cross. Today’s verse shows he didn’t march forward without feeling it.

count_350No, he was “overwhelmed with sadness to the point of death.” Is it hard for you to hear him say that before going to the cross for us? It is for me – not out of guilt or shame so much as because I’ve learned to love him now. His sadness in suffering for me makes me sad; I don’t want to see him hurt.

And in the middle of his sadness, he shows me how to respond to God in my own sadness. Instead of using his profound sorrow as an excuse to serve himself, to indulge in self-pity or disobedience (as I have done), he sets his own will aside for the will of the Father.

Think: How often do you use your hard circumstances or painful emotions as a justification to reject God’s will for you and go your own way? What’s the cost of rejecting God’s will when we’re at our lowest point?

Pray: Thank God that Jesus chose the will of his father even when he was overwhelmed with sadness. Ask him to help you to do the same.

Do: Think about Jesus’ act of obedience this weekend as you wait for Easter morning.

Easter Countdown: 1 Year

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

Jesus was not surprised. By any of it. He knew who Isaiah was writing about. He knew why the angels’ birth announcement called him Savior. He knew why John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God. And he said it right out loud to his followers long before Palm Sunday or Good Friday or Easter morning.

count_350Jesus knew He would die. He knew he would be betrayed. He knew he would be rejected. And he knew the suffering would be intense.

And he kept going, kept walking straight toward the buzz saw. He refused to avoid the choices, words, or confrontations that would create the perfect storm of political, religious, and criminal animosity that would leave him hanging dead on the cross as the substitute and sacrifice for our sin.

Think: Are you awed by Jesus’ courage? Are you amazed by his lifelong commitment to the mission his Father sent him to complete?

Pray: Thank God for Jesus’ courage and commitment to successfully complete the mission he came to fulfill, knowing all along exactly what it would mean for him.

Do: If you’re interested in reading from the Bible what happened on each day of the week leading up to the Resurrection check out this collection of posts from Justin Taylor’s blog.