I love Houstons’ ribs! It’s a love affair that even Helen supports. I think it’s because she realizes it would be dangerous to get between me and my ribs. Ha! The reason I love the ribs there is because they’re like nothing else. The meat literally falls off the bones if you even look at them a little askew. They have just the right amount of barbeque sauce, they’re cooked just the right way, and when you combine them with the beans and cole slaw … oh MAN, it’s like God is giving us a preview of heaven, all on one plate.
Over the years I’ve traveled to approximately 20 of the Houstons restaurants around the US. Whenever I travel to a city on business, you can rest assured that I’m going to look up whether there is a Houstons in that city (if I don’t know already), and I’ll do darn-near anything to eat there. Once, while in Washington, DC with business colleagues, I asked if anyone wanted to join me and for some reason all declined, preferring instead to go somewhere different, nearer the location where we were staying. So … I bailed on everyone else, hopped a train, and traveled 45 minutes each way on the train and walked a mile to get to my Houstons. Yup … it’s THAT good.
Once, Helen and I asked for the recipe for the ribs. You know what? The restaurant declined to let us know. They only shared the fact that the ribs are imported from Denmark, and that beer is involved in their preparation. It was cool information, but what we were looking for was the actual recipe. Why? Because we wanted to try to make the ribs ourselves, to replicate them identically. If we could, we reasoned, we could have Houstons’ ribs all the time! But if we only had part of the recipe, or applied most of the recipe, or even deviated from the recipe in the most minute sense … it would fall short, and it would fall short HUGE. It wouldn’t be the same and would likely be not only a false substitute but an enormous disappointment. If we couldn’t follow the recipe, the effort would be worthless. As I read this week from Titus 2-3, Philemon, and Hebrews 1-10, the recipe application came alive, particularly in reference to Hebrews 4:12-13 …
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.
The reference here that the writer (I believe it’s Paul) is making is to God’s word, the Bible. His reference to it being “alive and powerful” and cutting between “soul and spirit, between joint and marrow,” talks about the Bible’s unique and unmatched ability among all spiritual and religious publications, to provide sustenance, context, fulfillment and joy in our lives. His reference to “alive and powerful” … to me … points out the Bible’s unique ability within the same text to apply and bless me differently than you, you than me, and us than others, specifically in reference to what God wants to say to us or accomplish through us. I personally know, that every time I read the Bible, or even a passage within the Bible, it speaks to me personally and distinctively … right where I am at that moment, and to the heart of what I need to know, or in response to what I might have been laying before God in prayer. It is God’s powerful word for every one of us individually and timely, and yet it’s timeless.
But here is where you get the big “but” of the point (just like if I continue to eat Houstons’ ribs all the time unabated, I’ll wind up with a big “butt” – sorry, I couldn’t help it). IF we want the innumerable and manifold blessings that the word of God produces in our lives, we have to follow the recipe identically. That means, we can’t deviate from God’s word even one iota; we can’t add anything; we can’t subtract anything. It MUST be followed point-by-point, down to the point. Any deviation, no matter how minute, will ruin the result, produce a cheap and ineffective substitute, and leave us wanting and potentially harmed. Just like an inaccurate replication of Houstons’ recipe for ribs would result in something that … by comparison to the real thing … would be woefully inadequate, any inaccurate replication of the holy and inspired word of God would be woefully inadequate all the same.
So before I get nasty messages, let me clarify a couple points. First, I acknowledge that there are aspects of God’s word that can reasonably and rightfully be subjected to varying views on their elucidation. With that said, the main points of truth in God’s word as it relates to salvation, redemption, the deity of Jesus, creation, and many other crucial pillars of Christianity must not be exchanged for any substitute lest they become false and cheap substitutes for truth. Just as if someone were to attempt to replicate Houstons’ ribs using ketchup rather than their special barbeque sauce, or use beef ribs rather than pork ribs. But just as in minor areas, such as using a different production lot of spices, or a slightly smaller weight of the same quantity of ribs, or similar creates a slightly varied identical version of the same thing, so can small interpretive differences be meaningfully and validly accepted in God’s word. Secondly, I realize that while following the exact recipe of Houstons to produce their ribs results in glorious goodness for my tummy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that following God’s word identically results in glorious goodness (and painlessness, troublelessness, etc.) in our lives (in temporal, human terms that is).
But what remains true is if we are going to enjoy the fulfillment, blessing, joy, contentment and fullness of life that God’s word in the Bible promises, we MUST follow His recipe word-for-word, with no deviation or nonconformity. It’s also true that if you don’t READ the recipe, you never have a chance to produce the final delicious result. If you don’t read the ENTIRE recipe, again it’ll fall short. So, my admonition for all of us is to ask God this week in prayer to help us commit to reading the recipe, the entire recipe, and to follow the recipe. Then … and only then … will we be filled, deliciously, with the experience of the savory meal God has in store for us. [as an aside, if and as you do … and if and as you have questions … reach out to someone (even me) and ask … clarifying the recipe before you attempt to follow it never hurts!!!]
Soli Deo gloria!