Taste and See

The Food Network has a show where celebrity chefs describe the best thing they ever ate. Could you name just one thing? I couldn’t..there is no way I could decide what one thing was the best. In fact, I would struggle to come up with a list that was limited to the ten best things….there are too many to name. My mother’s chocolate mayonnaise cake made with Hershey’s Cocoa Powder is one of the things at the top. My husband’s Chicken Tiki Masala is up there. And I can still taste the Truffle Aioli Fries with fresh Parmesan curls that I ate at Gordon Ramsey’s BURGR a few years ago. These were shared with friends from Georgia who we ran into quite by accident. Both the meal and the company were satisfying and yummy.

As you can see by these examples, I enjoy things that taste sweet as well as things that are savory. When salty and sweet meet in the same dish, it is pure heaven. Every year I make my staff a Christmas treat that contains peanuts, Chex, M & Ms, pretzels, and cheerios, all mixed together with melted white chocolate. Oh my, yum!

David tapped into our appreciation for things that taste good in the 34th psalm. What is especially interesting about this psalm is that is titled A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed. Well, that is quite a story!

This happened when David was fleeing from Saul, who in his own madness was trying to kill David. David fled to the Philistine city of Gath, but of course he found no refuge there. He had to run from Abimelech after pretending to be crazy in order to escape. He found himself in a cave, safe for the moment, thanks to the intervention of God:

Psalm 34 (Common English Bible)

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be in my mouth.
I praise the Lord—
    let the suffering listen and rejoice.
Magnify the Lord with me!
    Together let us lift his name up high!
I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.
This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.


Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!

I like how David used his wits (by feigning being witless) in order to extricate himself from a precarious position. But you do have to question his decision to flee to a Philistine city. Anyone remember that little altercation with a Philistine giant named Goliath? Israelites and Philistines were not natural allies.

His psalm is one of pure joy, however. Having safely reached the other side, he gives God all the glory. His encouragement to us to find refuge in God comes from his own experience of having been in jeopardy and finding protection. He reminds us that God listens to our suffering and saves us from every kind of trouble.

What kind of trouble are you in? Are you struggling with something too personal to share with friends? David reminds us that you don’t have to “go it alone” when you are suffering. He sought the Lord, and the Lord answered him and delivered him from all his fears.

When we call upon God in the midst of a trial, God’s answer will be immediate and sweet. You are never alone.

Oh taste and see how good the Lord is!

Take Refuge by Wende Pritchard

There Is No God

Let’s talk about fools today. We often assume that when we call someone a fool, we are describing an intellectual incapacity. We think about foolishness as a lack of common sense, or making poor decisions. When a friend does something foolish, we respond with “Well, that was stupid!” Foolish behavior is seen as a function of the mind, and fools lack the wherewithal to “know better.” Fools are imprudent and silly.

In David’s time, however, the word fool was more a factor of heart than mind. Foolish behavior came from a place of morality, not intellect. Thus fools were the ones who were morally bankrupt evildoers, regardless of intelligence. Fools believed there is no God.

David makes it clear in Psalm 14 that he considers anyone who rejects God to be corrupt and perverse. He complains that there are few people who seek God, stating that everyone has gone astray. He draws a clear line between those who accept God for who he is and those who contend that there is no God:

Psalm 14 (New Revised Standard Version)

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.

You can almost feel David’s disdain for anyone who denies God. He is solidly in the camp of those who call upon the Lord for everything, and so he has no patience or respect for godless evildoers.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great terror,
    for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is their refuge.

Here is the application for modern day readers: those who call upon God will find a refuge of safety in that relationship. Knowing that God is real puts one in the camp of the righteous, where God resides. It is not only the smart choice, it is the only safe choice. God is our strength. God is our restoration. God is our deliverance.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Do you know someone who denies the existence of God? They, too, may make this assertion from a heart-perspective rather than a head-perspective. Ask questions. Have they been hurt by the church? Have they suffered at the hand of “religion?” Have they felt condemnation from those who know God?

Listening to the heart is much better than lecturing to the mind. When people see God in your actions as you offer unconditional love, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, they can see with their hearts that God is real.

You’re the only Jesus some will ever see. Go and preach the Gospel with your winsome ways, and only use words when absolutely necessary.

God is our Refuge by Michelle Robertson

Loyal Love

Think about the loves of your life. Perhaps they include a spouse, a partner, a sibling, your college, a sports team, a parent, a child, a friend, or even your church. We were created to enjoy many levels of love. The love a parent has for a child is not comparable to the love they have for a favorite co-worker. The love for a spouse is deeper and richer than the love for a friend, in most cases. And each of these levels of love come with a corresponding level of loyalty. I am loyal to my university, but that is nowhere near the loyalty I feel toward my family.

Did you ever stop to consider God’s love and loyalty toward you? Most God-fearing followers seek to be loyal to the God they love, but did you realize that God feels that same loyalty toward his people?

Take David, for example. God was fiercely loyal to David:

Psalm 89 (Common English Bible)

I discovered my servant David.
    I anointed him with my holy oil.
21 My hand will sustain him—
    yes, my arm will strengthen him!
22 No enemy will oppress him;
    no wicked person will make him suffer.
23 I will crush all his foes in front of him.
    I will strike down all those who hate him.


24 My faithfulness and my loyal love will be with him.
    He will be strengthened by my name.
25 I will set his hand on the sea.
    I will set his strong hand on the rivers.
26 He will cry out to me:
    “You are my father,
    my God, the rock of my salvation.”
27 Yes, I’ll make him the one born first—
    I’ll make him the high king of all earth’s kings.
28 I will always guard my loyal love toward him.
    My covenant with him will last forever.
29 I will establish his dynasty for all time.
    His throne will last as long as heaven does.

Now comes the big “but.” God clearly requires that his loyalty be met with obedience. Even in his faithfulness to David, he would not tolerate disobedience in the next generation:


30 But if his children ever abandon my Instruction,
    stop following my rules—
31         if they treat my statutes like dirt,
        stop keeping my commandments—
32     then I will punish their sin with a stick,
        and I will punish their wrongdoing with a severe beating.

But this warning comes with an explanation of the extent of his love. His punishment will not erase the covenant. His reaction to wrongdoing will not cancel out what he has sworn to do, which is to bestow loyal love to David:


33 But even then I won’t withdraw my loyal love from him.
    I won’t betray my faithfulness.
34     I won’t break my covenant.
    I won’t renege on what crossed my lips.
35 By my own holiness I’ve sworn one thing:
    I will not lie to David.
36     His dynasty will last forever.
    His throne will be like the sun, always before me.

Jesus was born of David’s lineage, and so we know that this promise was kept, even though David himself broke the commandments. Jesus is like the sun, always before God, and like the moon, a faithful witness in the sky that reminds us of God’s unshakeable love for us all.
37     It will be securely established forever;
    like the moon, a faithful witness in the sky
.

Go back now and re-read the psalm. Where you see David’s name, replace it with your own. God makes the same commitment of loyal love to you today. Thanks be to God!

Loyal Love by Michelle Robertson

Caught

Caught….red-handed….without a hope of denying it.

Have you ever been caught doing something you shouldn’t have done, and then had to face the consequences? I sure have. I will never forget getting caught gossiping in the cloak room of my fifth grade classroom about a girl of whom I was very jealous. The teacher heard me, sent the girl out of the room on an errand to spare her feelings, and then made me stand in front of the class and repeat what I said while she condemned every word. I was HUMILIATED, and rightfully so. The sting of that experience is still with me.

When we are caught, feelings of shame and regret are immediate and overwhelming. Our first thought is “Why, oh WHY did I do it?” Right up to the moment of discovery, we delude ourselves into thinking that we will get away with our sinful behavior. Most of us can even rationalize that if nobody finds out, nobody gets hurt.

Then everybody finds out, and everybody gets hurt.

Such is the case in Psalm 51, written by David after he was caught committing adultery with Bathsheba and was confronted by his friend Nathan. He immediately felt the searing pain of knowing that he has sinned against God and now everyone knows it. Listen to the regret and remorse that flowed from his pen as he composed a song of confession:

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
    Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
    purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
    my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
    I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
    completely correct when you issue your judgment.

David is such a man of faith that his sinning against God was the worst part of it for him. He knew his wrongdoings. This sin was not done in ignorance of the Law that commands “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” He knew that he coveted another man’s wife and then had that man brought home from war to cover up the unplanned pregnancy that resulted. Then David sent him back to the front lines to be killed. Coveting, adultery, lying, murder…David was guilty on all counts.

Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
    from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
    you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

David was blessed to have received wisdom from God in the “most secret space.” He studied the scriptures. He experienced God’s power first hand when he faced down Goliath many years earlier. All of David’s experiences had been an adequate teacher of God’s will and direction for his life. It is this truth in the hidden places of his heart and soul that he walked away from in his pursuit of Bathsheba. There is no pleading ignorance here…David totally knew better.

As did I, when I sinned.

As do you, when you sin.

His song of confession then moves from pain to hope, and David reminds God that God alone has the power to wash this sin away. He writes that joy can be felt once more, but only after God wipes away all of his guilty deeds:

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
    wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
    let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
    wipe away all my guilty deeds!

Singing these words to the God that he loved provided a moment of humble obeisance for David, as the song now moves to a plea for a new, clean heart. This may be one of the prettiest verses in all of the Psalms:

10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
    put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
    please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
    and sustain me with a willing spirit.

“Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and return unto me the joy of your salvation!” This should be our song today as well. God always inclines an ear when people confess with contrite hearts and humility.

Where is God calling you to lay down your sin so that you might take up a new and faithful spirit? God truly longs to sustain you with the power of the Holy Spirit, but you have to come clean first.

Don’t let the sun go down on your sin. Open yourself to God and ask for a clean heart to be created in you. And may the joy of God’s salvation make you sing.

Sunset Awaits by Michelle Robertson

Create in Me

I want to start this devotional with a disclaimer. When it comes to prayer, you can learn different techniques, read lots of books, attend seminars, etc. yet in the end prayer is simply talking to God. You already know how to do that. So as valuable as those teachings are, talking is at the center of what prayer is all about.

But using a disciplined approach to prayer can enhance that conversation, especially during Lent. I recently met with my church’s youth group and suggested that we think of prayer like protective TARPS…so we should include Thanksgiving, Adoration, Repentance (confession), Petition, and Supplication.

Our study of Psalm 51 continues as we move through David’s confession of his sins to the petition part of his prayer. This is a wonderful reminder of the parts of prayer. Today we land in the repentance>petition place of David’s prayer:

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
    wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
    let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
    wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
    put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!

David’s pleas reflect how heartbroken he is over his sins. The reality of what he has done before God has resulted in feeling as though his bones are crushed. He begs God to remain in him and not remove the Holy Spirit from him. Can you relate?

11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
    please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
    and sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
    and sinners will come back to you.

Confession and repentance always lead to pardon.

Where is God calling you to plead for a new, clean heart? Is there any hidden or unconfessed sin that you should be dealing with right now?

Don’t carry that burden anymore. God is ready to return the joy of your salvation back to you and will sustain you with a willing spirit.

Create in us clean hearts, oh God.

The Joy of Salvation by Karen Warlitner

Gladdening the Heart

What rules did you have to obey as a kid? Every family establishes its own set of house rules so that order is maintained and fairness is achieved. In my house, there were rules around homework, bedtime, respect for one another, taking turns, and not chewing with your mouth open. That last one was so strongly enforced that, as an adult, I have had to walk away from people who chew with their mouths open. There is some remnant of a childhood aversion in my spirit that makes me not be able to tolerate the breaking of this particular rule, as though a punishment is going to come down from heaven and I don’t want to be any part of that.

Plus, it’s gross!

We appreciate the safety net that society’s rules and regulations place around us. Don’t speed. Don’t run though red lights. Place your trash cans on the curb on certain days. No swimming without lifeguards. Rules are good for us.

In today’s Psalm, David celebrates the laws and instructions that God has laid down for his people. David knows firsthand the chaos and devastation that come when you break the rules, as he personally violated all of the Ten Commandments and experienced the misery of living outside of God’s safety and provision.

Psalm 19 (Common English Bible)

The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,
    reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful,
    making naive people wise.
The Lord’s regulations are right,
    gladdening the heart.
The Lord’s commands are pure,
    giving light to the eyes.
Honoring the Lord is correct,
    lasting forever.
The Lord’s judgments are true.
    All of these are righteous!
10 They are more desirable than gold—
        than tons of pure gold!
    They are sweeter than honey—
        even dripping off the honeycomb!

David’s love of the law almost goes overboard here. He declares that the law is more desirable than tons of gold and sweeter than honey dripping off the honeycomb. As we say, there is nothing stronger than the testimony of a reformed sinner! He has seen both sides of the law and knows that staying on the right side of it is far preferable to the punishment that comes from breaking it. Remember, he lost a son because of his sin.

11 No doubt about it:
    your servant is enlightened by them;
    there is great reward in keeping them.
12 But can anyone know
    what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
    Clear me of any unknown sin
13         and save your servant from willful sins.
        Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
    I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.

David’s plea to be cleared of any unknown sin is a reminder to us today to be diligent in reading God’s instruction for our lives. During Lent, we are called to immerse ourselves in scripture everyday. This is a call that will last past Easter and should be the “rule of law” for every day of our lives.

So good for you…you have read scripture today! Like David, we are enlightened by studying God’s commands. Our hearts are gladdened when we read and obey.

Gladdened Hearts by Jessica Spiegelblatt