Friday, March 18, 2016

Facing Fear


Over the next few weeks, we are going to look in God’s songbook, the Psalms, and find courage in a fearful world. Singing songs has been a powerful way to bolster courage in trying times. Today, we are focusing on Psalm 23.

Many carry their fears around like weights. They are afraid of whether or not they will get into the right relationship, fix the relationship they are in, find the right job, break free from sin, losing influence on their child or a loved one, over a disease, etc.

Fear has a tremendous negative impact on our lives. Our fears are real to us; there is no doubt about this. Fear is a barometer of how much we trust God. It provokes an important question: “Do we have a God who is bigger than our fears?

Have you thought about the toll fear takes on your life and those around you? It is important to think about the destruction that unaddressed fear can bring to your life.

·         Fear steals my joy in the present and robs me of my hope for the future.

·         Fear leads me to obsess on my limitations instead of thinking about the possibilities.

·         Fear keeps me from trusting and connecting with other people.

·         Fear chisels away at my faith and eats away at my confidence.

·         Fear makes me feel stuck and keeps me from moving forward.

·         Fear distorts my view of reality.

·         Fear prevents me from living boldly and courageously.

We can focus our attention on our fears or problems, or we can focus our attention on God. In Psalm 23, King David chose to focus his attention on the God who is greater than our fears, “The Lord . . . My Shepherd.” The role of the shepherd takes us back to the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Our God, the Shepherd, is our protector and provider. David was completely dependent on the Father as sheep is dependent on its shepherd. The sheep depends on the shepherd’s safe care in the face of enemies or danger of death.

It is impossible to estimate the effect that this particular Scripture has had on people over the centuries. In times of grief, sadness, and doubt, the 23rd Psalm has been a statement of faith. The words are straightforward and simple to understand, but the meaning is so deep that we cannot fully fathom every application of these words.

Psalm 23:1-6 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for
you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,

and
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23 is a song of trust for a fearful world. I want to focus on verse 4. At the heart of this Scripture is the reality of living in a fallen world. In our journey, we face the problems of suffering and fear. The key to enduring the adversities of life is to remain in the presence of the Shepherd; “for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

1. Remember God’s presence in the dark and frightening moments.

 “Most of us have experienced our children’s dependence on us to face their fears when they have nightmares or when it’s thundering and lightening during a storm. They’ll wake up, scream, and jump out of their bed. They will walk through the valley of their bedroom, down the valley of the hall, to the valley of your room. They jump in your bed, because what they need is somebody to be with them.”

 

Your hugging them doesn’t stop the rain, the thunder or the lightning, but it changes how they face it. They’ll fall asleep in your arms. The fear that they have alone, they no longer have, because Mama or Daddy holds them. You help them face their fears in the midst of their struggles. This is exactly what the heavenly Father does for us when we face our own fears or insecurities.”[1]

 

In Psalm 23, King David shows us the way to the Father’s presence when the storms come. David described to us what the Father does for us when we face the storms. He makes; “he makes me lie down in green pastures.” He restores; “he restores my soul.” He is with us; “for you are with us.” He prepares; “you prepare a table before me.” He anoints; “you anoint my head with oil.” Our Father is actively involved in our lives doing all of these things.

 

The same God, who is with us in the quiet paths of righteousness and peace, is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Did you notice how David said that he would not fear? He made a choice to fear no evil. How could he make the choice to fear no evil? His focus was on the Shepherd. “You are with me.” The same protector who provided and led David was there to keep him from evil.

 

Jesus promised that he would be near to us as we carry out his mission.

 

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus is with us during the most painful dark times in our lives. Not only is Jesus with us, he understands what it is like to face difficulty. He is not a distant God, who has no understanding of our pain. Jesus is God in human flesh who has come to us, to save us. He has dealt with insults, rejection, pain, death, separation, misunderstanding, hurt, and betrayal. Jesus does not rescue us from all of the bad times, but he remains with us through them.

 

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

 

Jesus’ presence is always what we need, but it isn’t always comfortable. Sure, David was comforted by God’s presence when he wrote the 23rd Psalm. However, there were times in his life when God’s presence brought shame and humiliation.

 

David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” On the other hand, David’s life was marked by adultery, murder, and sexual sin. These failures in David’s life tarnished his legacy and were picked up by his children. David’s firstborn son Amnon was guilty of sexual sin involving his half-sister. This sparked the anger of David’s son Absolom became guilty of adultery, murder, and sexual sin. Solomon, David’s heir to the throne, was a sex addict with 700 wives and 300 concubines.

 

David had a lot of pain in his life that was rooted in his poor choices. Do you think he was glad that God was near to him in those moments? How do you think David felt when he saw his children heading down dark paths, taking cues from their father?

 

My point is this: Do not run from God’s presence in the midst of your mistakes and failures. Do not be like Adam and Eve, who God found in the Garden of Eden, naked and ashamed. Most of us flee, fight, or hide when we fail spiritually. When you fail, run to God. Let him restore you. The blood of Christ washes away all sin. We grow out of failure and pain, questions and struggles. If we do not acknowledge God in our brokenness and weakness, we won’t be ready when the big storms hit.

 

2. Remember God’s power in dangerous times.

 

The Shepherd has his weapons of defense. The rod and staff were the shepherd’s crook and the club. God can make us feel that even though things are dark, everything will be alright. God protects us by his power.

 

You may have been on an airplane when you experience turbulence. Like a shot out of the blue, the plane moves up and down, side-to-side. Your stomach tenses up. The armrest becomes a haven for your fingernails, as you cope with the anxiety. You try to keep your mind occupied as you read the same paragraph over and over again in your book.

 

You may also know the feeling of hearing the pilot on the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered some choppy air. We are making adjustments. Soon, we will be in calmer skies.” This doesn’t take the turbulence away immediately. However, you are now able to move your focus from the turbulence to the fact that the pilot has a plan in the midst of the choppy skies.

 

Jesus is the power and presence of God working in our lives. The same Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again, is the Shepherd, who is near us and protects us by his power. We can trust in Jesus Christ despite the problems in life, including the dark valley of death.

 

One thing I have noticed about the valley of the shadow of death: God often does his most profound and meaningful work in our lives in that dark valley. My experience working with people as a pastor for the last twenty-two years has brought me behind the curtain of discomfort and anguish in many people’s lives.

 

I have noticed that a lot of the deepest hurts happen in midlife. It is during midlife that many of us go through tremendous changes that sneak up on us. Men and women go through changes in health. For many, they are dealing with adolescents in the home. Midlife is a time when many in the workforce have to be retrained for new technologies. Aging parents become an issue. To keep moving forward, we must go through changes. To face the changes well, we must be aware of where we are on our journey and be assured that Jesus is with us.

 

Henry Cloud said, “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.”[2]

 

The valley of the shadow of death is a valley of change. Through the pain of change, we get closer to Jesus Christ. We mature and grow. In the intensity of particular experiences, if we respond to God’s work in our lives, we can find greater health and develop as an individual as never before.

 

A few years back, I developed a personal growth-process for my life during a valley experience. I discovered that to live my life to glorify Jesus Christ; I needed to allow God to shape me as his disciple. Every day, I endeavor to live my life on point. The word P-O-I-N-T represents a philosophy of spiritual growth I attempt to live by. Each letter in “point” stands for a question I ask myself each day.

 

Live Your Life on P-O-I-N-T

P- Who am I PARTNERING with on Christ’s mission today? The Christian life is meant to be lived in community, not solitude.

O- How am I OWNING Christ’s mission? I am called to bring others to Jesus Christ, and I will be held accountable for this calling.

I- How am I INVESTING in my personal growth today? I am called to be a maturing disciple, and the process never ends.

N- Who am I NURTURING in the faith? God does not want me to be self-absorbed and isolated.

T- Am I TEACHABLE when I am confronted with my inadequacies and shortcomings?

 

This philosophy has helped me to discover the skills I need to live in this phase of my life, with the new challenges that come each day.  These questions give me a “gut check” and help me to evaluate my motives.

 

Why is this important? To make it through the valleys of life, you need a full sense of who you are and what you are about. For example, before Jesus was arrested, he took a towel and basin and washed the disciples feet. This was a job for slaves, not for the God of the universe! Jesus even washed the feet of Judas! The Apostle John made an interesting observation.

 

John 13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God.

 

Because Jesus was fully aware of who he was and what he had come to earth to do, he was able to break free from the expectations of others and follow God’s plan for his life. Jesus was able to stoop down to wash muddy feet. He was able to walk with boldness toward the cross.

 

When we have a deep awareness of who we are—God’s children—and what we are here to do—carry out his mission with him as our personal guide—we have the courage to do life as God intends. We can live counter-culturally. We can treat our spouses and children in healthy, biblical ways instead of living like the world around us. When you find yourself in the dark valley on your journey, remember that this is where God’s work in your life can shine the brightest.



[1]Tony Evans, Tony Evans Book . . ., (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishing, 2008), 103.  
[2]Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries with Kids, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 72.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Better-ness Not Bitterness


“Decades of research have linked the regular practice of forgiving those who have wronged us with a handful of health benefits, from a boost in overall heart health to less psychological stress, improved physical ability, and even a longer life.”[1]

 

“A University of Denver study of college and middle school students 3-6 weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks found that students who said they’d forgiven (or, at least, were trying to forgive) the perpetrators of the attacks experienced significantly less psychological stress than those who had not. The forgivers reported struggling less with their own emotions and ruminating and dwelling less frequently. They also said they were able to employ more coping tactics, like positive thinking, to help them process the event. In comparison, the non-forgivers reported more intrusive thoughts about 9/11 and they continued to feel more stressed out about it than forgivers.”[2]

 

We have been talking about Joseph’s story. Joseph was a forgiver. Joseph’s story in the pages of Genesis brings to mind a couple of things: First, God is in control; God has a plan that brings meaning from our suffering. Second, forgiveness is an essential part of being a relationship with God; redeemed people forgive people.

 

Joseph went from the pit to Potiphar’s house. Joseph went from Potiphar’s house to prison. And, he went from prison to the Egyptian palace. If you remember, Joseph was sold into slavery when he was only seventeen. His ten older brothers lied to Jacob, the father, by telling him that a wild beast had killed him.

 

Joseph was more than alive. God had preserved him, set aside for the important role of saving their region from famine. Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, which were sent from God. Egypt’s fields would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph explained Pharaoh’s dream which foretold these events.

 

Pharaoh appointed Joseph to rule over their affairs of the kingdom. Joseph was in charge of storing up the grain in preparation for the famine and then providing the relief during the famine. When Jacob’s brothers came down to Egypt to get food, they were surprised to see their brother, now thirty-years-old.

 

At first, Joseph kept his identity secret.

 

Genesis 42:7-8  Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.

 

Eventually, Joseph did reveal his identity to his brothers. At that very moment, Joseph asked about his father.

 

Genesis 45:3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

 

Question number one on Joseph’s list: How is my dad? Joseph loved his father. So, he told his brothers to get their belongings together and go back and get the family.

 

Genesis 45:21-25 The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22 To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.” 25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob.

When the sons of Jacob arrived back in Canaan land, they had new wagons and animals. Joseph sent them off in style. I can only imagine how confusing the sight of these brothers coming down the road with their new clothes and loads of grain must have been for their father.

Then, the interesting part of the story: The brothers told their father that Joseph was not dead, but alive.

Genesis 45:27  But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.

In an instant, God mended Jacob’s broken heart. For years, he lived in agony, believing that his favorite son died a violent death. For the first time in years, Jacob’s eyes began to sparkle again. Jacob decided to make the journey to Egypt to see his son. It would be a family reunion like no other. The entire family loaded up; seventy made the trip to Egypt.

Genesis 46:29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while.

This incredible reunion begs a question. What would have happened if Joseph had allowed the bitterness and betrayal to eat away at him? He was sold for twenty pieces of silver. He was left for dead. What would have been the outcome if  Joseph had allowed the crushing pain of bitterness to take hold of him? It would have destroyed him. A part of walking in the new life we have in Christ is the ability to forgive others and put away bitterness, wrath, and anger.

Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

“We’ve all seen even if just in a picture, a bell in a bell tower. These hang up high and have a rope attached to them. To ring the bell, the rope must be pulled down a few times. There is a constant pulling and constant ringing of the bell. Now, after the pulling is over and the person pulling the rope lets go, the bell will keep swinging. The bell does not stop swinging just because the rope is not being pulled anymore. It will swing for a while before it slows down and eventually stops. Forgiveness is the act of letting the bell rope go. It means that you choose to no longer hold the rope. A lack of forgiveness is when you constantly pull the rope. Each ring of the bell reminds us of each wrong inflicted on us by another. Our constant pulling of the rope keeps the wrongdoings on our minds. Now, if we choose to let go by a decision of the will, our emotions will still hear the bell for a little while. But, if you let the rope go and leave it alone, after a while the bell will slow down until it stops. Don’t let the fact of the feelings of the pain get in the way of your forgiveness. You are responsible for not constantly ringing the bell. If you don’t pick up the rope, the sound will die down. Sometimes forgiveness is hard because we’ve been ringing the bell so long that we don’t know how life is without the bell. Sometimes we leave the bell alone for a while but when we pick up the rope and we start all over again.”[3]

What if Joseph Withheld Forgiveness from His Brothers?

1. Bitterness could have kept Joseph from becoming a man of character and leadership.

God had planned to guide and protect his people through his appointed leaders. Joseph was one of those leaders God had chosen.

God’s intentions are good. He has great plans for his people.

If we are to take on the character of God, we will be people who have plans to bless and extend grace to others for their ultimate good. When people throw us into the pit, we stand up and say, “God can use this for good.” When people sell us out, we believe that God has a better plan. When we are accused falsely, abandoned, and disowned, we find refuge in truth, not our feelings.

Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

Many have squandered the potential in bitterness. Because there was always someone to blame, many have succumbed to failure and defeat. Living without forgiving has many consequences. One of those consequences is that one can live their life looking through the rearview mirror instead of the windshield.

2. Joseph’s anger could have destroyed his family.

Life creates havoc for everyone at some point. Often, the people we love, our own family, are instruments of pain. To love is to be vulnerable. We would be foolish to think that it could not happen to us. Joseph was willing to look beyond what his brothers did and saw them as God’s children. He was ready to help them when they needed it most. That’s what Jesus did for us, too.

When people need to be cut out of cars after a car accident, they often use a cutting tool called “the jaws of life.” These cutters can cut through doors to rescue people who are stuck in a vehicle.

Even when drivers have gotten themselves into serious accidents by their own foolishness, the rescue team will still use the jaws of life to get them out of danger. If the driver were texting or distracted, the rescue team could still use the jaws of life. If the driver were intoxicated, the team could use the jaws of life.

Believers are God’s rescue team. We are called to use the jaws of life when we can to redeem others from danger. When a person is trapped in sin and selfishness, we talk about the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can cut through sin and Satan and rescue us from danger. We should be willing to get into a messy situation and help another person when they are stuck.

Joseph’s faith and purpose in the midst of pain is a reminder of the difference God’s Spirit makes within us. Joseph’s rejection, deportation, incarceration, and pain could have driven him over the edge. Instead, Joseph believed that God had a purpose in his suffering. He told his brothers that he forgave them.

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

“What if Joseph had given up on God? Lord knows, he could have turned his back on heaven. At any point along his broken road, he could have turned sour and walked away. ‘No more. No more. I’m out.’ You could give up on God as well. . . . God sees a Joseph in you. Yes, you! You in the pit. You with your family full of flops and failures. You incarcerated in your own version of an Egyptian jail. God is speaking to you.”

“Your family needs a Joseph, a courier of grace in a day of anger and revenge. Your descendants need a Joseph, a secure link in the chain of faith. Your generation needs a Joseph. There is a famine out there. Will you harvest hope and distribute it to the people? Will you be a Joseph?” [4]

God is doing in our time what he did in Joseph’s Egypt. God is redeeming his people. He is calling together his people for a great and glorious reunion.

Revelation 7:9-10 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

God’s heart is bringing his people together, not dividing them. It is God’s plan to reconcile us, not to destroy us. You are included in this reconciliation if you will turn in faith to Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:20 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

3. Joseph would have demonstrated that he was not a true heir of the covenant.

Joseph’s faith made him a real child of God. Faith is the way God has always connected his children to his promises.

Galatians 3:7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Those who have a relationship with God have a different perspective on forgiveness.

We are a forgiven people. We are a forgiving people.

I certainly don’t mean that we shrink back from the truth. We speak with kindness, gentleness, and conviction. Sometimes we have righteous anger about the wrongs we see and experience. We can tell the truth in love, with forcefulness even. However, we refuse to become bitter and unloving. We realize that we are not at war with people. We are at war with principalities and powers, evil in this world.

We must love people. Saved, forgiven people love people. Do you remember what Jesus said?

Matthew 5:43-46 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?

Today you may be holding onto bitterness. It is making your life rotten. You try to do other things to compensate, but life is still rotten.

“Let’s say you crack an egg, put it in the skillet, and start to fry it only to discover it’s a rotten egg. The egg is rotten. You can smell it; you can see it. It is obviously a bad egg. Let’s say you then decide to overcome the rotten egg by frying five more good eggs with it. So you crack five eggs that are healthy and fresh and put them in the skillet with the idea that the goodness of the five will override the badness of the one. I’ve got bad news for you. It is not the righteous eggs that will overcome the diseased one; it is the diseased one that will penetrate the good ones, contaminating even the good and making you sick. The reason why being the best person you can be does not satisfy God is that the sin that is there contaminates the righteousness.”[5]

Let Jesus Christ make you righteous. He can take the rotten, ugliness away. He died and rose again, according to the Scriptures. He lives today.



[1]Erin Brodwin, “The Secret to Relieving Stress and Clearing Your Mind . . .,” Business Insider, (Retrieved on March 1, 2016).
 
[2]Ibid.
[3]Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book . . ., (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008), 110.
[4]Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 159.
[5]Evans, 269.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Is God Good When Bad Things Happen?


“Whenever a teacher in school gave you a test, they never had much to say during the test. Things were silent during the test. The teacher had nothing to say because the test was designed to show what you knew based on what the teacher had already taught you.”

 

“Once you get a test, you might not hear much from God. It may be silent. Knowing this, it would be wise for you to have a lot of conversations with Him before He administers the test!”

 

“Some people have problems passing their tests. In fact, they keep failing. They quit school. We have a lot of dropouts in Christianity today because people either get discouraged due to not passing the test or they decide they don’t want to study.”[1]

 

Tests will come. If you are spiritual, tests will come. If you are not spiritual, tests will come. If you are a church member, tests will come. That is just how it works. Whether or not you are spiritual or worldly determines whether you will pass the test. Your spiritual maturity determines whether you will experience victory or defeat when the tests come.

 

Joseph went through many trials and tests. Joseph was raised in a dysfunctional family. He was his father Jacob’s favorite son, the one he gave a coat of many colors. When Joseph was a teenager, he had two dreams about the future, when he would rise and rule over his eleven brothers and parents.

 

1. God did not protect Joseph from distress, but rather in the midst of distress.

 

Joseph’s ten older brothers took him and sold him into slavery. What Joseph’s brothers did to him warranted the death penalty. When Joseph became a house manager for an Egyptian leader named Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife unsuccessfully tried to seduce him. However, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison.

 

Genesis 39:20-21 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

 

In prison, the warden placed Joseph in charge of other inmates. Just as with Potiphar, Joseph took care of everything with excellence.

 

When you soak a sponge in water and then press down on it, what’s inside comes out. A trial is pressure on our lives that shows what we have been soaking up. Trails show us what is on the inside.

 

Joseph had been in communion with God. The challenges he faced made his love for God come through.

 

2. Unlike the cupbearer and chief baker, Joseph did not suffer for doing wrong, but for honoring God.

 

Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker were thrown into prison with Joseph for offending Pharaoh. One night, these two prisoners each had frightening dreams. Joseph, concerned about the cupbearer and baker, asked the men about their sad appearances. Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream in Genesis 40:8-15. The cupbearer’s dream, Joseph said, revealed that he would be released from prison in three days. In Genesis 40:16-22, Joseph mentioned that the chief baker would be executed in three days.

 

The cupbearer promised Joseph that he would plead his case before Pharaoh, to get him released from prison. However, two years passed and the cupbearer forgot his promise to talk to Pharaoh about Joseph.

 

I used to love Pop Tarts. You put them in the toaster and wait for them to pop up. I like mine crisp. So, I often have to push them back down so that the heat can finish doing the job.

 

Sometimes in severe trials, God puts us back down in the heat until we are ready. He has to complete his purpose in making us into what he intends for us to be.

 

3. The story of Joseph being forgotten in prison for an additional two years is familiar to many who have had high hopes and been let down.

 

Many have cried out to God while waiting for him. Jesus himself cried out on the cross, seeking the Father.

 

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

Then, Pharaoh has two unsettling dreams back to back. In his first dream, seven fat cows appear out of the Nile River. Then, in a strange turn of events, the seven fat cows are eaten by seven skinny cows. In Pharaoh’s second dream, seven healthy heads of grain were consumed by seven thin heads of grain.

 

Pharaoh knew that these dreams had spiritual significance. The Egyptians believed that sleep placed people in real and direct contact with the other world where not only the dead but the gods dwell. None of Pharaoh’s wise men were able to interpret these dreams. The cupbearer overhears Pharaoh’s dilemma. Guess who the cupbearer remembers? He remembers Joseph.

 

Pharaoh has Joseph brought in before him. Pharaoh expects Joseph to understand the purpose of his terrifying dreams. We have every indication that Joseph was a man of prayer and faith. Joseph explained that knowledge like this is from God.

 

4. Joseph relied on God for direction and strength.

 

Genesis 41:16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

 

By God’s wisdom, Joseph explained Pharaoh’s dream.

 

Genesis 41:28-31 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe.

 

Joseph proposed a plan to tax and store up grain for seven years during the bumper crop and ration the grain during the famine. Pharaoh knew that Joseph was inspired by the Spirit of God and telling the truth.

 

Genesis 41:38-40 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.”

 

A skeptic might say that this story is all fabricated and not history. However, a text from Siheil in Southern Egypt dating from the second century BC also tells of a seven-year famine followed by years of plenty in the timeframe of the biblical Joseph.[2]

 

Pharaoh gave his signet ring to Joseph, clothed him in robes of the elite, and put a gold necklace around Joseph’s neck. Joseph, an abandoned immigrant slave and prisoner, arose to the rank of second in command in one of the most powerful civilizations in world history.

 

Genesis 41:55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”

 

Joseph rose through the ranks of hatred, slavery, and prison, demonstrating his reliance and trust in God every step along the way. Joseph’s prison experience became a stepping stone to the palace. Joseph married a woman from an influential family and had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph became a wise man without peer.

 

Joseph’s story is about one righteous man who suffered to save not only one nation but many. Joseph even had the grace and humility to tell his brothers in the end that their evil was used for God’s purpose.

 

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

 

Joseph’s story reminds us a lot of another person’s story. Joseph’s experience was a neon sign pointed to Jesus. As Joseph suffered and kept his integrity, he provided an example for us, much like Jesus Christ. We can learn many moral lessons from Joseph’s life. However, Joseph’s experience prepares us to hear the most important news of all.

 

Around 2,000 years after Joseph, God took on human flesh. Jesus came to this earth to redeem us to God. As Joseph would live a righteous life and suffer for Israel, Jesus came to die as the sinless Lamb of God for the sins of the world. As Joseph suffered and was later elevated, Jesus was crucified and then exalted.

 

Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Joseph’s life is proof that God is in control. God has a plan. However, he also points to Jesus. Jesus is the way we are reconciled to God. The hope of the Gospel is that because Jesus came down to the “Egypt-land” of this world and suffered, even though he had done no wrong, he was exalted to save us. As Joseph was able to sit at the right hand of Pharaoh, Jesus died and rose again, and sits at the right hand of the Father.

 

You came here today because you have or are seeking hope. Perhaps like Joseph, you are looking for hope in the midst of inexplicable suffering. Many Christians believe that hope is wishing for something you are never going to get. The Bible teaches us that this hopeless thinking is all wrong!

 

Not too long ago, I had a late meeting. I was on the way home from the meeting talking to my wife and kids on speakerphone as I drove home. Seventy-five miles from home, I was looking forward to getting home early enough to get a warm shower and relax before bedtime. The problem was that I got caught up in talking and driving; I forgot to check my fuel gauge! My car began to shudder and sputter. For the first time in my life, I was on the side of the interstate out of gas.

 

Imagine my horror at being out of gas on the interstate! Trucks were zooming by me. It was freezing cold outside. I swallowed my pride and asked my wife to leave home late at night with a five-gallon gas can and bring me some gas. She was having trouble finding me on the road at night because of issues with the cell phone. Finally, it was a great sight to see her car pulling in behind me on the side of the road.

 

She helped me get enough gas in the tank to make it to the service station. She bought me a cup of coffee while I fueled up the tank the rest of the way. She followed me home and helped me to bed. The best part, she has never mentioned it since.

 

Jesus is so good to us. He finds us broken down, embarrassed and lost on the highway. He warms us by his love. Jesus rests us in the grace of his forgiveness and mercy. He does not keep bringing our past mistakes and failures to our attention.

 

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

 

God is demonstrating his patience. He wants to take you from the prison to the prince’s house. God wants to save you from sin because of what Jesus has done for you.

 

 

 

 

 



[1]Tony Evans, Tony Evans Book, (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2009), 317.
[2] Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 2, 393.