Keep: Heart Tattoos

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” (Deuteronomy 6:6)

Someone getting a tattoo—especially for the first time—will spend months, sometimes years agonizing over what to get, how big to get it, and where to have it inked. And why not? It can be a lifetime decision, right?

tree2_350Most of us are way less careful about what to put on our hearts. In fact, a lot of us just hold our hearts up in the air, waiting for something or someone to come along to hand them over to. We’re ready to cover our hearts with the names of boy/girlfriends, bands, philosophies, sports teams, whatever ignites a little passion.

Solomon warned us to guard our hearts, because we have just the one life. And here, God gives us something worth inking on our hearts: his commands. It’s one of the ways we love him with all of us.

Think: Have you ever put something on your heart too easily? Have you ever given your mind, will, and emotions over to something that turned out to be a waste of time (or, worse, really hurtful)? How can you put God’s commands on your heart?

Pray: Ask God to help you to put his commands for you on your heart.

Do: Make a quick list of the top 5 things on your heart today.

Keep: Not Some

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

If you were on the TV show “Jeopardy” with Alex Trebek and this verse came up as the answer, you would say, “What did Jesus say was the greatest commandment in the Law?” (And you would be right, and you would win a million dollars, let’s say. Nice job.)

tree2_350Out of all of the commandments in the Law (and there are a ton of them), Jesus said what matters most is our love for God. And it’s not just about saying those three little words to God every few days. It’s the kind of love that motivates action. It’s the kind of love that doesn’t hold anything back.

Since the Israelites (like us) had no other gods besides the one, true God, they didn’t need to divide their love for God with any other idol or deity. All of their love could be spent (in thoughts, words, decisions, and actions) in one place.

Think: What does it mean to you, practically speaking, to love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength?

Pray: Ask God to help you to love him with all of your heart, soul, and strength.

Do: Read Jesus’ full answer to the question in Matthew 22:34-40.

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.

Keep Building: Don’t Be a Magoo

“But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:9)

Did you ever watch Mr. Magoo cartoons? He was an old guy who was “nearsighted and blind” who would comically walk into all kinds of peril and narrowly escape death over and over again without a clue that he was ever off track in the fist place.

trees_350Peter is describing Mr. Magoo in today’s verse. Okay, not that Mr. Magoo. He’s describing Christians who do not have the 8 qualities we’ve been working at growing in this week: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

Without those qualities, a person is living with distorted view of the universe. All that matters without them is getting what I want right now. I can’t live for anything valuable. I forget that God cleaned me up from my sinful ways, that that’s not who I am any more.

Think: Do you ever get near-sighted and blind because you can’t stop looking at what you want and start looking at what God wants for you? How does that distort our view of the world?

Pray: Ask God to help you to not be near-sighted and blind and to remember that you’ve been cleansed from your sins through faith in Jesus. Ask him to help you to work at adding these qualities into your life with his power.

Do: Watch the classic opening to Mr. Magoo and wonder what it looks like to be spiritually near-sighted.

Keep Building: Don’t Waste Your Life

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

I remember kind of hating it when I was a student and people would tell me, “You can do anything you want to with your life.” It’s the kind of statement that sounds empowering to adults, especially those who maybe wish they’d done something else with their lives.

trees_350To me, though, it sounded like pressure, like an unfinished sentence with a threat on the end: “You can do anything you want with your life . . . so don’t blow it!” Yikes! How was I supposed to know what to do that wouldn’t be a huge waste of my one time around the track before heading to heaven?

Peter offers one good answer to that paralyzing question. Whether you become a microbiologist or a sanitation officer or a Hollywood stunt person, here’s the key to not wasting your life: Use all that freedom and potential to build into you the 8 qualities we’ve been talking about this week.

That’s the only way you as a Christian can keep from wasting all your potential in Christ. Period.

Think: Do you really believe that growing in these 8 areas is more important than where you went to college or who you married or what you do for a living? Really? If so, how does that belief play out in your every day choices?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to be ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do: Write down the 8 qualities from verses 5-7 and put them in your Bible or on your forehead or somewhere that you’ll be forced to see and think about them again next week.

Keep Building: Where the Staircase Ends

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness . . . and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Peter 1:5,7)

What’s the top of the pyramid? When it comes to building a life lived for God, Peter describes faith as the foundation. Then he tells us to get to work adding goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, and godliness. But what’s the top floor?

trees_350Coming in at number two is “brotherly kindness,” the idea that godly people treat others like family because we’re all adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus. But we must keep building to add to our kindness something better. Love is where the staircase ends.

That doesn’t surprise us. After all, John tells us that God is love. Jesus said that to love God and each other are the first and second most important commands. And Paul wrote that among the finalists of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest. The whole Bible points to love as the ultimate goal and the best of God’s great gifts.

So what’s your top floor look like?

Think: Of these 8 qualities, which needs the most building work in your life? Any ideas for how you can work in God’s power to add more of that quality to your life?

Pray: Ask God to help you to continue to grow in brotherly kindness and in his kind of love.

Do: In a sentence or two, describe how you know that God loves you and what that love is worth.