In the Beginning: But God…

I don’t remember where I heard it, but I’m pretty sure someone told me back in high school the same thing I encouraged the congregation to do Sunday morning: when you see the phrase “but God” in Scripture, highlight it, underline it, circle it, do whatever you need to do to mark it so it will call your attention to it as you’re turning through the Bible. The message that follows these two words can be full of hope in the midst of the difficulties you face.

During the opening thoughts, I brought out a few Noah’s ark toys that my children have had over the years. When people saw them on stage before the worship service, I wonder if anyone thought we were going to incorporate play time into our order of service. Sometimes, that might not be such a bad idea. Especially if the preacher gets long-winded and especially boring. 😉

The sermon manuscript is behind the jump. Once the audio is converted to digital, it will be available here, too.


In the Beginning: But God…
Genesis 7:17-8:14
November 15, 2009

 

While this isn't ours, it's an example of the bedding we had for Aiden's nursery.

You know, I’ve been wondering something as I’ve been preparing for these sermons from the life of Noah. What ever gave parents the idea that Noah’s ark is a fitting theme for a nursery or a child’s room? Don’t get me wrong. Our family has participated in using the Noah’s ark theme in our children’s room. In our house alone we have (Aiden’s old crib set; Mihret’s stuffed Ark & animals; Noah’s Ark bib; etc.). I’m guessing the theme is popular because you can use some cute animals. And no nursery is complete without cute animals, right? I’m sure the rainbow at the end of the story certainly doesn’t hurt.

 

But I really wonder if this story is really something that is G-rated. Let’s look at the details of the story for just a few minutes this morning. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Genesis 7. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front f you. Genesis 7 is found on page 6 of those red pew Bibles.

The story of Noah and the ark is one of death and destruction. It’s the story of how the wicked refused to give up their evil ways and met their death in a watery grave. That’s hardly something you want to tell a child for a bedtime story – is it?

When we left Noah last week, he was in a challenging situation. He had been obedient to God’s call by building a boat in the middle of a desert, hundreds of miles away from the nearest ocean. He had endured many years of mockery and whispers behind his back from his neighbors and so-called friends. The years of emotional abuse surely took their toll on Noah and his family. But they persevered and completed the ark – just as God commanded them to do.

Then the day came. The animals arrived. All of the necessary food and supplies were loaded in the vessel. God told them to go into the boat.  And they did. They didn’t know how long the flood would last. Surely they were concerned about how they were going to take care of all of those animals. What if one of them managed to escape from his room? That would lead to chaos – especially if it was a carnivorous animal. Nothing like getting trapped in a boat with a meat-eating animal on the loose – is there? And surely the smell wasn’t going to be that pleasant. True, God told them to make sure there was a window at the top for ventilation, but that’s only going to do so much good with all of the animals living in the ark.

Even with all of these questions and uncertainties, Noah and his family entered the ark. And God sealed them in. Then the floodgates were opened.

Read Genesis 7:17-24

We know full well that floods are horrible. Just last year, we were hit with flooding that caused extensive damage to many towns in central and southwestern portions of the state. Total damages cost over 100 million dollars. The floodwaters left an enormous amount of destruction in its wake. And that was after just a couple of days of rain.

The rain from the Great Flood that Noah encountered lasted for 40 days straight. As the waters rose, so did the chaos of the waters beneath the ark. It carried the boat along with it. As the waters continued to toss the ark around, surely there were times the animals were uneasy. That uneasiness probably wasn’t limited to the animals, though. I wonder how many in Noah’s family got seasick from getting tossed around so much by the waters. And how many times did Noah’s family members suffered from claustrophobia because they felt like the walls were closing in on them and they couldn’t escape. I had that feeling once. I was in a cave with my Boy Scout Troop. As we were crawling through the cave, we came to this area where the walls felt like they were pressing down on you. It took all that was within me to focus on things other than the fact that I was many feet below the ground and had a chance of getting stuck in the walls. If I would somehow get stuck, there was no way they were going to be able to get me out. I was very close to panicking. Fortunately, we got into an open area very soon and the walls stopped closing in on me. But when you’re getting tossed around in a boat for 150 days, there’s no quick relief like I experienced.

Noah and his family were in a very dark time. When you combine the stress of caring for all of the animals with the tossing of the ark and the immense sadness of losing neighbors and friends in the worldwide Flood, it’s easy to see how Noah and his family were surrounded by darkness.

In the midst of this darkness, the story continues.

Read 8:1-14

But God. Whenever you come across these two words, circle them, highlight them, do whatever you can to bring your attention to them because they’re going to be followed by words of great hope.

The world was literally crashing down around Noah and his family. Everything they’d known was gone. They had no idea how long they were going to be caged up in the ark. Things were tough.

But God remembered.

He remained faithful to His promise to Noah. He protected his family. There could have been days where times were very tough. Tougher than the average day on the ark. There could have been days where they were so focused on the obstacles before them that they forgot that God had promised them. But God didn’t forget. But God remembered.

In the midst of dark times, “But God” is a beautiful phrase.

In Acts 13 (found on page 960 in the Pew Bibles), Paul is preaching to the people and recounting the story of the ministry of Jesus Christ. In verses 28 & 29, Paul tells them that “Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.” Talk about dark days. The Son of God was wrongfully executed and his dead corpse was placed in a borrowed tomb. It really can’t get any worse than that.

The story doesn’t stop there, though. Paul’s message continues in verse 30.

But God raised him from the dead.

The story of our own lives is marked with a similar “But God” moment. In the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the book immediately after the book of Acts (page 980 in the pew Bible), we are reminded of what our lives were once like. In Romans 5:6, Paul reminds us that we were powerless because of our sin. The choices we had made to disobey God’s commands caused division between us and the Creator who loves us. And there was nothing we could do about it. We had chosen sides and set up camp in the Enemy’s territory. Because of the allegiance that we chose, the end result was death. We were destined to an eternity in the pit of despair and destruction – wallowing in the mess that we created for ourselves when we chose to place ourselves on the throne instead of the Lord of all Creation. The only way things could be made right between us and God was through a perfect sacrifice. Paul reminds us, however, that it’s rare enough to find someone who is willing to die for someone who is righteous. It was even less likely to find someone who was willing to die for a sinner like you. A sinner like me. There was no way we could bridge the gap between ourselves and God on our own. We were powerless. Doomed for destruction.

Fortunately, Paul doesn’t stop there.

Read Romans 5:8

But God. While you and I were still enemies of God, Jesus Christ chose to spread out his arms and allow Himself to be nailed to a cross of shame so that we could know the righteousness of God.

We were destined for death. But God brought us life.

We were enemies of the Father. But God adopted us into His family.

But God. It’s two of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture.

There could be someone here who is experiencing a rising flood today. The troubled economy has hit you hard. The bills keep coming and you wonder with every check you write where the funds are going to come from to get you through another month. You know that God has promised He’ll provide for you – He provides for the birds of the air, doesn’t He? And He loves you much more than the birds. But it sure doesn’t feel like it when you look at your bank account. You look around you and all you see is the rising water and the walls closing in on you.

If that’s you – if you feel like you’re in the midst of a rising flood – remember the story of Noah and the ark. But God remembered him. You may feel all alone – but God remembers you and He will continue to provide for you. It might not be the way you hope He does and it might not be on your timetable, but God will provide for you. Keep looking to Him. Don’t give up. But God. It’s a beautiful phrase in Scripture. It’s a beautiful phrase in our lives as well.

Or maybe your rising floodwaters could involve an illness or the death of a loved one. You’ve prayed over and over again for healing and things continue to get worse. You feel like you’re at the end of your rope and don’t know where to turn next. The story of Noah’s family in the ark is a story for you. The world was in the midst of one of its darkest hours. But God remembered Noah. Things may be very dark for you and your loved ones. But God remembers. Keep turning to Him for your comfort, strength, and healing. He will never leave you – even if it feels like things are getting darker. But God. It’s a beautiful phrase in Scripture. It’s a beautiful phrase in our lives as well.

Or maybe you’ve felt spiritually dry. You’ve tried praying to God but it just feels like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. You’ve never felt such loneliness before. You’ve never felt such hopelessness before. You just can’t find this connectedness with God that you once had. Your flood is actually more like a drought. And you feel like it might even be time to give up on God. But God has not given up on you. He is right there beside you. You might be going through your darkest moments where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. But God is there. You may not feel Him. But He has not left you. And He wants you to continue to draw near to Him. He will never leave you. And even when you feel like giving up, He will never give up on you. Because He loves you.

But God. It’s a beautiful phrase in Scripture. It’s a beautiful phrase in our lives as well.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how you’ve lived your life in the past, God still wants to know you and be known by you today. You may have a heart that is darkened by the sinful, disobedient choices that you have made throughout your life. But God wants you to come to Him and allow Him to wash you clean through His blood. You may have a heart that is hard like stone. When you look at other people, you don’t see people that God loves but objects for you to use so you can get ahead. But God can take that heart of stone and turn it into a heart of clay, shaping you into the passionate lover of God and of His people.

But God. It’s a beautiful phrase in Scripture. It’s a beautiful phrase in our lives as well.

God does the impossible. He uses a man to build a boat in the middle of a desert so He can rescue creation and start anew with humanity. He uses  a the dead corpse of the Son of God lying in a tomb to burst forth again, coming back to life and conquering both sin and death in one fell swoop. He has done the impossible time and time again. And He can do the impossible in your life, too. It doesn’t matter what floods may be coming in your life, God can use them to do the impossible. We cannot change the world on our own. But God can do the impossible.

If you’re here this morning and know you need to make a decision, you’re invited to come forward as we sing the 1st and 4th verses of I Have Decided, number 351. If you have been putting off deciding to follow Christ because you think there’s something you have to get right before you can follow Him, stop delaying. You can’t get clean enough on your own. But God is the God of the impossible. And He can wash you white as snow. If you have never made the conscious decision to follow His example by symbolically dying to yourself and coming up a new creation in the waters of baptism, this invitation is for you. You can begin that new life in Him today.

If you’re a follower of Jesus and know that Cowan Christian Church is where your church home should be but haven’t officially planted your roots here, you’re invited to come forward at this time and we will welcome you into our family with open arms.

Floods will come in our lives. Darkness will fall. Things will get difficult. But God will never leave us. Let us live our lives in the midst of our trials with that bold confidence.

But God. It’s a beautiful phrase in Scripture. It’s a beautiful phrase in our lives as well.

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