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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Impressing Chilldren?

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)

Should you tattoo your children? Of course not! How could you even ask a question like that? Yesterday, we talked about tattooing God’s commands on our hearts. Today’s verse tells us to “impress” them on our kids.

tree2_350Notice the strategy this verse describes for getting God’s commands to make an impact on the hearts and minds of kids: Talk about them together. A lot. At all different times of day.

You can practice this any time with your family and friends (or even just in prayer with God). Talk about God’s Word when you’re home, when you’re out, when you’re up, and when you’re down. Keep the Bible on the discussion menu with those closest to you all the time—not just at church or during “devotions.”

Think: When was the last time you had a conversation about God’s Word outside of a Sunday School class or Bible study or “designated spiritual time”? How often does that happen in your world? What would it take for you to initiate a few more of those discussions?

Pray: Ask God to help your family to be intentional about discussing Scripture.

Do: Start a conversation about the Bible with another Christian this week at a time and place you normally wouldn’t talk about God’s Word.

Keep: Arms Foreheads Doorways

“Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:8-9)

Over the years, many religious Jews have taken these two verses literally. They tie tefillin—small leather boxes containing Scripture—around their arms and to their foreheads. And they attach a mezuzah, a piece of parchment with Scripture on it stored in a special little case —to the door frames of their houses.

tree2_350If that helps anyone to remember and live by God’s commands more intentionally, it’s worth the effort. The idea seems to be to do whatever it takes to force God’s words into our daily lives to the point where we can’t easily ignore them.

It’s too common for us as Christians to compartmentalize Scripture. It is welcome in Sunday School, church, and Bible study. It is out of place when we’re watching TV or hanging with certain friends or doing science or politics. God wanted his people to make his most important commands as unavoidable as their own arms and doorways and foreheads.

Think: How could you make God’s Word more unavoidable in your life? How can you force his commands into the areas of life where they don’t seem to fit? How does this idea gel with loving God with our whole lives?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be bold in reminding yourself of his words in every corner of your life.

Do: Think about writing verse 5 of this chapter in big letters on your bathroom mirror or on your favorite T-shirt or on your forehead for a day.