Open Your Basket
Jumbo shrimp, chunky peanut butter, jalapeños, and sticky rice - Hungry yet? How about a combination of pate, mango licorice, thousand island dressing, and pork shoulder? Sound good? No, I didn’t fall into a food court trash bin, these ingredient pairings are just two examples of “mystery baskets” used on the Food Network show “Chopped.” The premise of the show is simple: contestants are given a basket of random ingredients they must incorporate into a composed dish in only a matter of minutes. Talented and trained cooks from all over the country take what is leftover, unusual, or even detestable and create restaurant quality plates, designed for taste and beauty to please “the judges.” I have seen exquisite and creative plates, I have seen disastrous and inedible plates, but one thing I have never seen is an empty plate. I have never once seen a contestant open the basket, peek in, and walk out. They may not accomplish their best work, but they do their best effort to evaluate what they have been given, access available resources, and work hard so that they might not stand before the judges’ table empty-handed.
In Deuteronomy 16, Moses instructs the people of Israel in how God desires to be remembered, honored, and worshipped in celebrations throughout the year. Every detail matters - the who, the what, the when, and the where.
“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.” (vv. 16-17)
The people of Israel had received everything they needed from God. He had never failed to provide for them. Sometimes He provided through the natural order of His creation, sometimes He provided through the labor and effort of His people, and still sometimes He provided via the miraculous, in order to demonstrate His greatness and His authority. He was, is, and always will be enough. God is always able. He is always generous. He always gives good gifts. However, it was up to His children to remember and recognize all that God had done; and by returning part of His own generosity back to Him, the people acknowledged their faith and trust in Him to continue His faithfulness. In light of His own character and in the certainty of His provision, the children of Israel were without excuse to appear before the Lord empty-handed.
Sometimes the “basket ingredients” make more sense than others - it’s easy to churn out quality meals if you’re given a ribeye, fresh picked green beans, and a handful of sweet potatoes. When things are going well, bills are paid, and the family is healthy, service to God and dedication to His work are a no-brainer. However, when we get Brussels sprouts, vanilla frosting, and canned salmon in our “basket,” the joy of the Lord feels a little fishy. We are asked to serve outside of our comfort zone, our wallets have an echo to them, and/or we seem to be chasing one storm with another. No matter the “basket,” we have the necessary ingredients to produce the good work for which we have been made. God wants His children to evaluate what has been given to them, search out what is available to them, and thoughtfully, return something beautiful before Him.
In verse 17, Moses assures the people that they will always be able to give because God will always have given first. He is the fountain that will never run dry. Today we can be sure of the same, unchanging truth. We may need to take stock of what we have in the pantry, but there will never be a time that we cannot present something at the Judge’s table. What have you been given? What resources are available to you? Fill your hands and take it before the Lord. Marvel at how the Lord Jesus multiplies the meager to miracle. Worship the God of all things as He displays His might in making what is wanting into wonderful.
He is always able. He is always good. He is always enough.