Friday, July 1, 2016

A New Beginning - Genesis 8

So far, the story of the flood has been a dark one. But now it gets better. The disaster is over in Genesis 8, and the rebuilding begins.
 We experience the same thing in the disasters of our lives. Suffering comes to all of us. When it does, it challenges everything we think or feel to be the truth. But then it passes, and we can see God’s grace again. We lose a job and find another one. A marriage breaks up, but we pick up the pieces and start over. We discover after the disaster that we really are resilient, and can start a new life.
Dr. H. Norman Wright wrote an excellent book called Recovering from the Losses of Life. In it, he describes the passing of a crisis like a trip through a valley. The downward slope is the beginning of the disaster, usually associated with a loss. The disaster may be of our own making, or it may happen through no fault of our own. Sometimes, it just happens. Think of it like falling off a cliff. At the bottom, it seems as if we will never get out. We try to fix things, but they just get worse. We usually experience depression, even despair. But in time, we usually gain hope, and start to take a few tentative steps into a new beginning. We fall back a few times. But with God’s help we can start to rise again. 
Genesis 6-8 is a model for this process.  Genesis 6 is the beginning of disaster as Noah prepares for it. Genesis 7 is the realization of the disaster as the floods come and all is destroyed. Genesis 8 marks the new beginning. Dry land appears, everyone comes out of the ark, and God marks the covenant with a rainbow.
The same thing happens to all of us when we go through the suffering phase of life. We try to anticipate the problems ahead, but we can never realize how bad they are until we are in the middle of it. But then the crisis passes and a new life begins. It is a continual pattern of destruction, growth and renewal. Here are some basic things to remember in a crisis.
First, be prepared. Disasters usually come without warning. Noah was warned about the approaching flood. I’m not talking about physical preparation, but spiritual preparation. Are we prepared for things to go differently from what we expect? We can avoid many, (but not all) disasters by simply obeying and keeping in touch with God.    
Second, realize that disasters always get worse before they get better. When things fall apart, the ramifications of the fall are felt for a long time, like ripples in a stream. There is the first crisis, then there is the effect of that crisis on everyone we know, and finally there is the second-guessing and questioning that goes on for a long time afterwards.
Third, things are usually longer and harder than we expect. God told Noah that the rain would last forty days and forty nights. He probably thought that on day forty-one, everything would return to normal. It didn’t. It was a hundred and fifty days before the floods subsided.
Fourth, you may not know that God is there, but He is. In the story of the flood, Noah hears God before the flood when he was told to get ready. He heard Him after the flood when he came out. But during the flood, there is no record of Noah hearing God. You would think that this was exactly the time Noah needed to hear God the most! But God is either silent, or Noah can’t hear Him through the noise.
Just because we don’t hear God at a particular moment doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. Trouble covers up the voice of God.
When we are going through a crisis, most of our emotional energy goes towards the crisis—worry, pain, fear, or hurt. That leaves very little emotional energy left over for anything positive, such as love, or feeling secure. Our feelings towards God and the people we love go to nothing. That doesn’t mean God isn’t there, or that our loved ones are not there. It just means that we are no longer able to experience them.
Noah was in the ark for five months without sunlight or fresh air. Imagine being locked in a box for months with animals! The sun is still above them in the sky, but they couldn’t see it.
God’s presence is the same way. He’s there, though we cannot see Him. We’ll see Him again when the clouds start to part. We have to get through our pain before we can begin to experience God’s love again. He never leaves, but the clouds make Him invisible.
Fifth, God’s assurances come first through small things, not big things. Noah and his family needed assurance that there was an end to this, so they sent out a raven. It returned home with nothing. A week later, they sent out a dove. It also returned. A week later, they sent out the dove again. This time, it came back with an olive branch. That little bird and tiny branch was a sign that there was still dry land.
An olive branch is small symbol and it came only after three weeks of trying. But it was enough to give them hope. 
Never give up hope. Never think the answer isn’t coming. God may take a long time to bring the answer, but the answer comes. Hold on to the little assurances and God will give you big ones.
Sixth, when we come through the crisis, it’s always into new world. When Noah’s ark finally landed, the world had changed.  Things were a mess. There was a lot to rebuild. But there was also hope. The world they were going to build was to be better than the last one. It wasn’t the same as the old.
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that the world we live in is going to last forever. But don’t make the mistake, either of thinking that we won’t last forever. We will and we do. The world passes away, so that the new world can come. 
Sixth, God’ renews His covenant with us. At the end of it comes the rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of the new covenant that God makes with Noah, that He will never again flood the earth with water. It is a sign of renewal of life.
God leads us to the place where we must rely upon Him again. 
Have you ever told yourself that you are too old to start over?  I have. It’s human nature to want to hold onto the old. But God says in Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new!” God is constantly leading us into a new world.
Actually, God doesn’t give us a choice in the matter. We have to begin again, whether we like it or not. God takes away the old, so that we can begin new. But when we begin again, He renews His covenant with us, so that we can know He is still our God.
People who study the church tell us that Noah’s ark is one of the most common symbols in ancient Christianity. The flood represents the punishment that comes with sin. The hiding in the ark represents the hiding of the church in Christ. The waters symbolize the waters of baptism washing away the old. The emerging from the ark is a sign of resurrection and the start of a new beginning. 

Jesus’ death on the cross is like the sign of Noah to us. It is a sign that God makes all things new. By His death, He puts to death all the sins of the past and all the troubles of the past. He gives us a new, and ever-renewing life.

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