Moving from “But God…” to But God…
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 8:28
In my kitchen, there’s a sign with this phrase that greets me each morning: But first, COFFEE! I love it. It’s simple (just three words), direct (have coffee), and directional (have coffee first). It somehow sends the message that, no matter what the day may hold, it can be handled…and inoculated…with the right amount of caffeine. And, should the molehill turn into a mountain, simply repeat the process as often as necessary. After all, since the phrase begins with a conjunction it’s literally “hitch ready”; just hook up and fill up! Here is a fuel that can be ingested anytime, anywhere, and anyway! Iced, frothed, condensed, steamed, or percolated; have a preference? Coffee offers a possibility…and, if consumed first, is a precedent to whatever else may happen in the course of a day.
Today, as I looked at my sign, pouring my first of several “as needed” cups of coffee, I thought about coffee: brown, rich, aromatic, yummy. (It was early and my thoughts were still as dim as the still darkened sky.) But, as I began to sip it’s lusciousness, either the heat from the cup or the caffeine in the cup redirected my eyes from the word COFFEE to the two words that preceded it: But first. As I stared at these words, I thought about conjunctions…(but)…and ordinal words…(first)…and wondered if this simple phrase was, in reality, more of a philosophy than a command. So I asked myself (dangerous when not even one cup of coffee has been consumed), do I “But first,” other things? Do I take a side-line approach to some things because, as is true with coffee, I think something else should come first? Do I put off doing, or going, or saying the right thing because, in my mind if not on my tongue, there’s a “But first…”? Do I try to armor up on my own when I’m facing a battle or do I search for something tasty to precede the something bitter? Do I, and this is a biggie, take this tone with God? Do I…have I…answered Him with a, “But first, …”, or even worse, with a, “But God…”? Gulp! I knew the answer to this….and I was going to need another cup of coffee. Darn sign.
Conjunctions. They’re supposed to be helpful. They are meant to join words or phrases together and as such are quite necessary. For example, “and” comes in handy when you want to let the waiter know you want coffee and dessert. Likewise, “or” finds its value when, in turn, the waiter asks if you want sugar or sweetener in your coffee. They may be little, but they are the Legos of our constructed speech that snap our thoughts together. However, when it comes to “but” all too often this conjunction serves more as a block than as a connector. “I’d like to bring you some coffee, but first I must take care of my other customers. I’d be happy to bring you some cheesecake, but all that’s left is the tofu truffle.” Buts are different. They reroute before they join and all too often what they join is what we don’t want! And, we are able to hear them before they’re spoken. How often have you been listening to someone and you interject with, “I hear a but coming.”
I think many of are prone to bouts of conjunctionitis. It could also be referred to as “mouth, hand, and foot disease” or, as I will henceforth refer to it, “But God Syndrome”. It starts with an elevated personal agenda. Early signs are pouty lips and a rattling in the chest that emits sounds of, “But God, (cough, cough) I’ll spend time with You later…(cough, cough)…when I have more time.” Next, it moves from the mouth to the hands and presents itself through the stiffening of one’s ability to serve others and sounds like, “But God, I’ll help later…when there are fewer demands on my time.” Then, in its full-blown stage, “But God Syndrome” affects the mobility of one’s feet and is evidenced by statements such as, “But God, I promise I’ll go to church when I can…it’s just that, for now, things are a bit hectic.” It’s an illness that’s been around as long as mankind…actually, even longer! Lucifer, while still in the heavenlies, came down with “But God Syndrome” as he sought to be the worshippee rather than the worshipper…and God butted him right out of Heaven! Cain was infected too. His illness showed up when he decided tomatoes could pass as a “blood offering”. God disagreed. Cain’s conjunctionitis spread…and soon his brother was dead. A terminal case of “But God Syndrome” (Genesis 4). Sarai too suffered with this disease; “But God must have meant for us to use Hagar,” (Gen. 16). Esau and Jacob caught it; “But first give me your birthright,” Esau interposed. “But God, what good is a birthright if I die?” thought Jacob. “Take it, it’s yours, Esau,” (Gen. 25). And on it spread throughout the Old Testament and right on into the New Testament. Peter showed signs when he said, “But Lord, I will never deny You,” (John 13), and another would-be follower responded to Jesus’ invitation with, “I will follow You, but first let me bury my parents,” (Luke 9:59). And on and on the disease spreads right into our decade…right into our day: “Yes, Lord, I will serve You, but first…”
It’s a subtle disease, this conjunctionitis. It comes on so gradually that we often fail to realize we have it, though we are MDs when it comes to diagnosing it in others! (Oh, how truthfully Jesus’ words speak to this when He said, “Physician, heal thyself!”; Luke 4:23) Thankfully, God is the Great Physician and He has extracted the but from our “But God Syndrome” and has created the antidote, oddly enough known by the same name…minus the quotation marks: But God Serum. How does He apply this medicine? By injecting Himself into our thoughts, actions, and issues. He, through Jesus, connects our life to His purpose. He reroutes our paths, redirects our focus, and reestablishes our footing. To every one of our “But God” interjections He injects a But God serum of truth. He gave the first dose in Genesis 3:15. Here, when Eve gave her version of, “But God, the serpent tricked me,” it was Satan who heard the but coming when God told him He would send a Savior through whom Satan’s head would be crushed. In Genesis 8:1, we read, “But God remembered Noah…” and in Genesis 50:20, Joseph reveals his knowledge of God’s truth serum when he tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” David also showed signs of inoculation when he wrote in the psalms, “But God will ransom my soul (Ps. 49:15); but God is the strength of my heart (Ps. 73:26)”. In John 1:18, we’re injected with the truth that God reveals Himself through Jesus (“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.”) and in Acts 2:24, we’re reminded of the Great Physician’s power when we read, “But God raised Him [Jesus] from the dead…because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.” And, finally, one of the greatest doses of But God serum is found in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In true God fashion, He meets us where we are, pinpoints the source of our illness, and inoculates us with the antidote of His word, the one and only Truth serum.
Simple phrases; aptly applied conjunctions; correctly placed ordinal words. But first, Coffee. I still like my sign, but I think I need to replace a word. The questions is, should it read, ‘But first, God’ or ‘But second, Coffee’? Either way, I hear a but coming…