And …

For all of us, I suspect there are times when it seems God is silent, and maybe even absent or busy with other things. Many of us make choices in life that are, let’s just say, less than stellar and maybe less than God-honoring. Maybe even for some of us, those not-so-great choices have been recurring or for long seasons of time. It’s natural, then, for us to think we’ve taken God’s patience past the brink, that we’ve pushed Him even beyond His limits to a point where, honestly, there are just more worthwhile members of His creation for Him to consider.

And yet, that is NOT Who God is. And that is NOT what God does.

How do we know that? Well, scripture is replete with examples, but there’s one in particular that hinges on a single, powerful little word … AND.

Mark 16:1-7

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

Did you see the AND? Okay, in fairness there were a few of them. But I have to wonder if the one I’m speaking about in particular may be one of the most important ANDs in the Bible. It certainly was for Peter.

“… tell his disciples and Peter …”

At this point, you’re probably shaking your head wondering what in the world I’m talking about. Well, in order to truly understand, we need to go back a couple of chapters to Mark 14 (and the parallel passages in Matthew 26, Luke 22, and John 18) to better understand the supreme importance of the AND.

Here’s the context from Mark 14:26-31

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Sounds good enough, doesn’t it? Peter is like many of us, who set out close to Jesus and poignantly, boisterously commit to staying that way. Whether it was weakness, Peter’s nature, a character lapse, or a real-life monumental degree of pressure under which any of the rest of us would have collapsed … it wasn’t long when later in Mark 14:66-72

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Now go back up and look at the AND from Mark 16! Do you see why it’s a gigantic AND??? That that AND is restorative? How that AND demonstrates the immensity of God’s grace, mercy, and love??? I think that AND is mind-blowingly powerful for you and for me.

By any measure, Peter completely blew it. To be fair, so have you and I. But objectively, Peter was with Jesus day-in and day-out for a few years. He looked Jesus square in the eye and said in effect, “I will never, ever deny you, even if all these knuckleheads do. Even if I have to die! Never, ever!” And within mere hours, Peter completely blew it. In fact, Luke 22:61 points out that right after Peter’s final denial, from across the courtyard Jesus looked, lovingly, over to Peter as if to almost empathetically forgive him in that moment (my conjecture, of course). If it was me, and he completely stabbed me in the back like that, I don’t know if I would have forgiven him. And I can assure you, my look across that courtyard would probably have been a little more scornful.

AND!

The AND of Mark 16:7 tells all we need to know about the powerful, matchless, endless love of our Lord and Savior. Just a couple days after Peter denied Jesus so regretfully, the angel made a point to tell Peter that Jesus still loved and cared for him and forgave him. That nothing could shake Jesus’s love for Peter. That nothing was beyond the reach of the crucifixion. Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter knew directly and personally, his foul-up wasn’t beyond Jesus’s ability to forgive him. Specifically.

Folks, that AND is also for you and me. No matter where you are with Jesus at this moment, no matter how far He may seem, no matter what you may be doing, have done, or may yet do, if you reach out to Him, He is there. If you’ve accepted Jesus’s free gift of salvation, then you have the unabated, undeterrable, unending benefit of His AND. He promises us that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and that nothing and no one can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28-30).

AND!

He sees us, He loves us, He desires to walk with us. He forgives us. If we run to Him, He’s there. Yes, we like Peter can mess up, royally. But Jesus wants us to know AND.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

“And,” “but,” and “or”

I’ve written many times about how much of my childhood (and if I’m truly honest, a bunch of my adulthood) was shaped indelibly by movies, music, and tv.  As with many of my vintage age-wise, a big contributor to how we learned math, civics, and many other subjects perhaps we should have learned better in school was Schoolhouse Rock.  So many songs from that show still stick in my memory … “I’m Just a Bill,” “Three is a Magic Number,” “Interjections,” and probably the most memorable, “Conjunction Junction.”  (no doubt you’re probably already singing the lyrics to it now … you’re welcome.)

You’ll be happy to note that this post is not about teaching on conjunctions … well, mostly not.  It does entail conjunctions but with an emphasis on their effect on God’s word.  Confused?  I don’t blame you.

To understand what I am talking about, have a look at a portion of the lyrics of “Conjunction Junction.”

Conjunction Junction, what’s their function?
I got “and”, “but”, and “or”, 
They’ll get you pretty far.

Yep, “and”, “but”, and “or” will get you very far.  Very far from the truth.  The truth of God’s word, that is.

You see, “and”, “but”, and “or” are super important to the English language.  I’d dare say that we couldn’t probably get through a couple sentences, let alone a conversation … certainly not a full day … without using “and”, “but”, and “or” somewhere.  And that’s great.  Heck, it’s the reason for “Conjunction Junction.”

But, when you add those to God’s word, it’s damaging.

What I mean is … God’s word is all we need.  It is complete.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tell us …

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

God’s word is all we need to teach us how to live, how to be saved, how to accept God’s free gift of salvation through the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for the whole world.  It’s all there.  We don’t need anything else.

So if we decided what we need for truth and life is God’s word and … God’s word or … God’s word but … we mutate the veracity of God’s word.  It’s basically subtraction by addition.  When we try to add anything to God’s word, we subtract from what is absolute about it.  It is true.  It is whole.  It is timeless.  It is all we need.

Why do we bring “and”, “but”, and “or” to it?  In our humanness I suggest we bring each of them for various reasons.

And … anytime we add traditions, behaviors, actions, even sacramental requirements to what the Bible unambiguously says, we are getting very far from the truth.  In the 2 Timothy passage above, it is clear that the Bible is all that we need to guide us through life.  Salvation (John 3:16, Romans 10:9), right living (2 Peter 1:3, Psalms 119:105), even relationship health (Ephesians 5:15-21) – among other things in life – have fulfillment and root in the word of God.  Don’t get me wrong … I am NOT saying that God won’t or can’t speak to us directly or through other people, or that the Bible speaks with specific reference to all the various circumstances in our lives.  I haven’t yet found any passages in scripture to deal with flat tires, for example.  But there are principles of all kinds that apply to all areas of life sufficiently.  And, the Bible speaks very forthrightly about the importance of prayer, listening to God’s voice, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, etc.  What I am referring to in terms of “and” is adding anything to the wholeness and truthfulness of God’s word.  It is enough.

But … if I struggle with a particular principle in the Bible, I might say, “I agree with most of what the Bible says, but …”  In essence, I might have a propensity to cherry-pick things in scripture I like or exclude things in scripture I don’t like.  The problem is that the 2 Timothy passage above says the “all” scripture is inspired by God (in another translation it says, “God-breathed”) and so each passage of the Bible must be as validly true as all the passages of the Bible.  The Bible consists of 66 books written by about 40 authors over 2,000 or so years, on three continents, in three languages, and successfully predicts the future in advance (which is revealed even within the Bible), and is both internally- and externally-consistent (meaning it agrees with itself, and it agrees with history outside itself).  Hence, we can’t validly choose some of the Bible without choosing all of the Bible.  That doesn’t mean that the Bible is absent of challenging passages or absent of passages that I can’t quite understand or reconcile.  But it does mean that whether there are challenging passages or passages I can’t quite understand or reconcile, I can trust that God understands, and He promises to give us peace that passes our understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Or … when we use “or” it’s often to give a sense of equivalency to God’s word and other belief systems.  While there may be commonalities in philosophies and other religious beliefs, that doesn’t make them equally valid or equally true.  The Bible expresses an exclusive claim on truth (John 14:6) and is very particular in describing God, His attributes, how we are to be saved, how we are to live, and so on.  To the extent that it is indeed true (it is), then anything that differs from it must logically be false.  I am not trying to make any sort of character assassination, I am rather trying to invoke logic.  So, we can’t equate the Bible’s exclusive claims from anything that differs from or disagrees with them.  “Or” is perhaps one of the most concerning of the conjunctions.

Revelation 22:18-19 says …

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

I’m not trying to pick a fight.  I’m trying instead to prompt consideration, contemplation, and conversation.  While “and”, “but”, and “or” may get you very far grammatically and linguistically, they can also create slippery slopes of deviance from the truth of God’s word.  God desires His word to truly fill our lives, to complete our community with one another, and to establish a proper and reverential relationship with Him.  If we are not careful, “they’ll get you pretty far.”  Far from God, far from salvation, far from all He truly wants to bless us with, out of the abundance of the love, grace, and mercy that He desires to lavish upon you and me.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR