We will need a strong foundation of integrity in the Lord if we are going to endure the difficult times of life.
It’s so great to have you here joining me at this moment. We’re together in the Lord’s house, in a different way than we planned, connecting. I’m hoping things will continue to improve, but in the meantime, I’m exceptionally grateful for the opportunity to be able to have this time together. Even now, Lord, I ask that you would bless what we’re about to share. Let there be life in it, help us to create room for you, help us to think well, to set aside our distractions, and really listen for your words, for your words are life for us. Give us your grace, give us your goodness, give us your life as we share this time together. In Jesus’ name, amen.
I want to talk about, as we continue on in this up and over series, focusing and looking at it through the lens of the life of Joseph. I want to talk about how to enhance our endurance capacity. I think we’re all going to need that from time to time. How do we stay with things? How do we keep going, when a part of us wants to quit? We’re going to talk about that a little bit. When things are hard and we feel like giving up. How can we learn from the example of Joseph and draw strength from it? Every now and then people will say, “I really don’t think too much about that older Testament. I just focus on Jesus and some of the things in the New Testament.” I’ll say, “That’s good to focus on Jesus, you can’t beat that. But if you never look at or learn and familiarize yourself with the older Testament. You’re really losing out on so much of what God has for us.”
There’s a tremendous amount of value and beauty in the older Testament. We ought not to minimize it. It’s actually quite powerful. One of my favorite verses that remind us of this is actually found in the Book of Romans, Romans 15:4. It says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.” Look at that verse. What an amazing verse. The older Testament, are scriptures that this verse is talking about. It’s a reminder that the older Testament really is pointing us towards something. It’s pointing us to Jesus. It’s showing us how we get to Jesus and the cross. The New Testament, in a way, points back and everything emanates from it.
Think of it this way, in the new everything points back to Jesus. What is Jesus, but God coming down to meet us in the human experience. Both things crossing. Is not that the center of the gospel? In my mind, the pivot point of human history is Christ and him crucified. Certainly in His coming, his death, and resurrection, have the essence of the gospel. That God who loved us and relentlessly pursued us has given everything for us that we might have Him because we can never get Him any other way on our own. He had to come to us and give Himself away. A gift I cannot repay, a debt I owe. Who would be that nice to pay a price that wasn’t his? Well, I know someone like that.
As the poem goes, “He’s your best friend. He really is. He really loves you.” I’m talking about Jesus and we will always appreciate Jesus better when we can appreciate the older Testament. It was the scripture that Jesus referred to. In the New Testament, so much of what is understood and the background, leading up to Christ, all the symbolism, all the examples. Again, it’s all intertwined. It’s a comprehensive thing. When we talk about the Bible, it consists of two parts, an older and a New Testament. This is very important for us to remember, as the verse says. Just looking at it and reminding ourselves of it. That these things were written for our instruction. They’re designed to help us, to teach us, to give us a greater understanding of how to trust God, how to appreciate Jesus, all of that’s connected.
On top of that, even more, to enhance our capacity for endurance. One of the benefits of looking into the older Testament and the examples of people who love God is that it helps us run our race. It helps us to endure. There are always going to be times when we want to quit. The life of faith is not always easy. It’s another thing that shows up, doesn’t it? Life of faith is not always easy. Life is not always easy. Life is hard. We’re in a hard time now. Some of us are suffering, honestly in a lot of different ways. We’re under a lot of pressure. We’re feeling very discouraged. I know that some of you have shared that with me. How hard this has been and is for you. How much we are looking forward to things returning to a better place. We do look forward to that. By God’s grace, we shall get there. I believe we will.
In the meantime, we have to walk through things. This is very important. We have good examples to draw from that enhance our capacity to have a faith that endures. Endurance is actually an underestimated virtue in quality. It really is. It speaks of something that can last, of staying with something, especially when it’s hard that we don’t quit. We don’t give up. When we hit that wall, we don’t stop, cave, and just die. We learn to grow over like that vine growing over, like that tree growing over the wall, like Joseph. We learn how to endure hardship. We learn how to walk through things, grow through things.
Many of you have been hearing me say a lot these past months. If we have to go through it, actually, I’ve been saying it now few years, we might as well grow through it. If I have to go through it, I might as well grow through it. That growth is going to be so much connected to an attitude, an openness, and a commitment to take advantage of the opportunity that the adversity is bringing us. To trust God in a deeper way to learn more of who He is, to understand ourselves. There’s so much there, to love better. So much of it is connected to our attitude. Our attitude is going to be a huge difference-maker. If we know the Lord, we can be an optimistic people. It doesn’t mean everything has to go our way. When it’s hard, we’re going to endure. One of the benefits of the scriptures of the Older Testament and the examples that we are given is it helps us to understand what insurance looks like. Notice the other phrase, it was designed also to help encourage us, to fill us with more courage, to face things.
I look at endurance as sort of just keeping on, staying with it, moving forward. But encouragement has to do with just something that’s more internal. It has to do with our demeanor and our overall way of seeing things when we feel beaten down. The opposite of that is to be encouraged, to be filled with a vital optimism that is capable of facing things and moving through it because we trust we’re anchored in hope, a hope that is in Christ. In this life is hope. It extends beyond this life, into the life that is to come. The Christian life because of Jesus and his resurrection is all about hope. If we can remember that, again the older Testament has so many examples that are designed to give us hope and strengthen us, then it really keeps us from falling apart.
God doesn’t want us to concede the negativity of things. I personally have found, for example, that’s where Psalms can be so helpful. We forget the Psalms were, and still are in many ways, the songbook of the church, the prayer book. It’s a place that we can go to. For example, when I need wisdom, many times I’ll sit with Proverbs. When I want to see good examples, I study the Bible characters. I really do. There are doctrines and teachings in the older Testament that illuminate the New Testament. To me, this goes back to when I just started following the Lord and I’ve just kept it up. I’ve always loved the examples, the men and women of the older Testament who modeled a life of faith. I know, it was a different culture, different circumstances. They didn’t have Jesus, but they had a belief in God. They had something that was remarkable in its own right, that is an example for you and me.
Joseph stands out as one of those characters. In fact, in my mind, Joseph probably is the most outstanding example of what it means to endure, to persevere, and to see God deliver of any figure. He may be the greatest model we have, with the exception of Jesus and maybe the apostle Paul. Certainly, in the older Testament, I can’t really think of anyone quite like Joseph. I love the fact that we’ve been able to sit with his example. Look what it says in Hebrews 12:1, just connecting back here. It says, “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin, which clings so closely and let us run with endurance. The race that is set before us.”
Think about that. So important to embed and familiarize ourselves with the people of scripture. Why? Because they become buttresses. They can hold us up when we find that our faith is wavering and our courage is waning. They’re examples, considered reflected upon and absorbed, can actually, as we’re told here, just encourage us along in our race. You have a race to run. I have a race to run, but we’ve got a cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on. They’ve gone before us and they showed us the way. Many of them we’ll never know their names, but the ones who we do know, boy, there’s so much life in drawing from them. Again, Joseph is one of those. We read about him in the book of Genesis.
I want to pick back up sort of where we left off. Some of us may remember, that Joseph found himself in an actual situation that was not good. He was in a very precarious position because, we commented that though, this is not the common thing. It’s what was happening to Joseph. He was being put into a situation by Potiphar’s wife, where he was being asked to have an affair, to sleep with her. Joseph had been entrusted, he was not a free man, but he had been given exceptional authority in the house of Potiphar. We talked about that. Potiphar was the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. He was the one responsible for security. He was a man of great power and he was focused on his career. He wasn’t home a lot. Joseph seemed to run everything.
We mentioned, commonly it is the man who has historically been the one who harasses or initiates, and certainly, that’s been the case. We’re hoping that will continue to improve. We are seeing some improvement as more and more people are aware of that dynamic. But when it comes to adultery, it’s clear that in this situation it was Potiphar’s wife who really was advocating to have a relationship. Perhaps she admired Joseph, appreciated him. There was a yearning to be with him. She had a little more power. and yet Joseph had been entrusted. And we read about this, it says in verse seven, and after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said lie with me, but he refused. And he said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me, my master has no concern about anything in this house. He’s put everything that he has in my charge, you know that. He is not greater in this house than I am. He’s has given me such authority that he doesn’t oftentimes know what’s going on and he’s kept nothing from me, nothing back. Except for one thing, you. You’re his wife and how then can I do this great wickedness? I would not do this. This is wrong in the eyes of God. I would not sin against God like this.”
Well, as she spoke to Joseph day after day, there was relentlessness, there was a desire. He would not listen to her. He decided that he had to be very clear about his determination to not engage in anything more than what would be appropriate. She continued to pursue in this regard. Joseph would not listen to her and lie beside her because that’s clearly implied that she was inviting him to do so. Joseph even tried to avoid being with her. But one day when he went into the house, we’re told, to do his work, none of the men of the house were there and that she caught him by his garment. She grabbed ahold of him and said, “Sleep with me, lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand. Remember he was a younger man, he fled and got out of the house. He ran.
We talked about how there are sometimes situations in which we just have to run or get away. To linger is to die. To delay is to create a scenario where we will weaken. Maybe Joseph felt weakened. We can’t assume that he had no vulnerability himself. Perhaps there was a part of him that felt drawn to Mrs. Potiphar. We always seem to characterize him as somehow being nonfeeling, nonpulsed. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. What we do know is that he ran, he left. He ran and she had his garment. She held it. As he fled, he’s running out of the house. Imagine that in our mind’s eye, he’s running, he’s trying to get out.
She called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us, to hold us to scorn, to take advantage of us and to exploit us. Imagine this, this outsider. What audacity, does he have?” She said, “That he came in to lie with me. He tried to be with me and I cried out with a loud voice. I screamed when he started coming on to me. As soon as he heard that, I lifted up my voice. And that I cried out. He left his garment beside me and fled. See, here it is, here it is. Here’s the proof. Look at this, I’ve got his coat. He’s runoff because he got caught.” A woman’s scorned, in this case.
She was hurt, angry, and felt rejected. She had enough and decided to be done with Joseph. In verse 16 it says, “she laid his garment by her until his master came home, til Potiphar returned.” She told him the same story. She said, “Who does he think he is? This Hebrew servant, that you brought in here? This Joseph, you brought him here. You’re responsible for him. Look what he tried to do to me. Just think that he can somehow just laugh at me and take advantage of me. That I wasn’t going to do anything about it. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and I cried out, he took off. And look, he left his garment and he fled out of the house. I don’t even know where he is.”
As soon as Potiphar heard these words his wife spoke to him, when she said, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he was angry. His anger was kindled. His initial reaction was anger, but at whom? Perhaps initially it, Joseph. I think that would be the case. But as he calmed, I think the anger shifted a bit to her. One suspects that he was actually upset with her. Oh, woman, for her ridiculous claim and because he knew Joseph, I suspect he did. The embarrassing and untenable position that she was now putting him in, what was he supposed to do? The accusation now known, she had made it so publicly. He could not now side with the Hebrew. He would be embarrassed. Now he was going to have to lose the one who was running his household. It was a bad business on top of something that I don’t think he even believed. It was just a mess. It was bad. It wasn’t good.
Potiphar felt like it was a scandal that a man in his position could not afford. He did what he did. He did what he did. The calculating man knew that he had to act. His choice betrayed his true belief because, if he believed her, Joseph would have been a dead man. At a minimum, he would have been thrown into a prison where he would have died very soon. I think he would have actually been killed on the spot, but he put him in what we may call a low-security prison. That alone was a statement. Look what it says in verse 20. “And Joseph’s master took him, put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.” Look at that, where there were official prisoners who were treated better. He was there in prison, we’re told.
Now for Joseph, it was awful. I mean, there’s no way around, as he was bound. His future now destroyed. Even though he never wanted to be separated from his home, as bad as it was, the trauma. Being sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites. As bad as it was to be brought to the slave markets of Egypt, and then to be purchased by a man named Potiphar, it could have been so much worse. He had actually achieved a relatively good quality of life, though, in confinement and unfree. You weren’t going to get a better position than the one he held. Now, whatever future he had was destroyed. Once again, everything seemed lost.
What do you do when you have one setback after another? Some of us know that feeling, we feel that way now, or maybe we know someone who’s walking through that and our heart goes out to them. But I want to return to the Psalm that I shared in my opening message on Joseph weeks ago when we started this. It’s actually Psalm 105. I want to return to a thought that was connected to it. Look what it says here, speaking of God, and how he was working in the life of Joseph. There’s an example, by the way, of how a psalm illuminates an example of someone who is modeling the kind of faith life that we need to emulate.
It says, “When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread as God, he sent a man ahead of them. Joseph, who was sold as a slave, his feet were hurt with fetters. His neck was put in a collar of iron until what he had said came to pass.” This is referring to his initial binding and how he was brought to Egypt. It says until what he said came to pass. God’s promise over his life fulfilled. Until what he said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him. This is a remarkable statement, a remarkable phrase, a remarkable verse. The word of the Lord tested him. I sat with that phrase many times, or at least a few times over the decades, the word of the Lord tested him. That is, his character was tested, revealed, and developed. There are going to be times in our life.
It’s just worth remembering when the word of the Lord is going to test us. It is. When we are being revealed and developed. When it is not easy. When we will have to wrestle with promise, pain, trust, disappointment, and delay. When we’re forced into a process that requires patience. Where we are being, if God has His way and we choose to allow him to work in our life, being essentially shaped into something of a deeper person. A deliverer possibly, an overcomer, certainly, but that’s God’s plan and God’s will for our lives.
I was trying to imagine Joseph behind bars. Alone, abandoned, and in confinement, his reward for doing what was right. This is something for us to remember. It would have been so easy for him to become bitter, cynical, and just give up. The opening blows of his life were hard enough, but now to have this one, where it looked like he would spend the rest of his life, as far as he knew, if he wasn’t on a whim executed. He was probably going to spend the rest of his life in prison in Egypt. It looked bad. It was awful. It would have been enough to beat out the life in you. It would have been like I said, so easy to become bitter, cynical, and just quit and to die in a different way.
I think others have done so, with far less of a rationale, and perhaps some of us are right there. Even now, where we are really battling bitterness, anger, frustration, cynicism, or apathy. Just kind of like, “Well, if God was with me, then I wouldn’t be experiencing this, this way kind of thing.” Now, part of us isn’t quite all the way, but some of the part of us that’s contending has sort of stopped because we’ve just feel defeated. I understand depression, I do. I understand that we can get discouraged. I know that there are dips. What we don’t hear is Joseph lifting up his voice against God.
It’s so easy to question God when we end up in prison. Or when we end up confined and unjustly treated. Especially, when we have been faithful. Not even necessarily perfect, but just faithful. We’ve tried to do what is right. Only to find ourselves seemingly forsaken. I think of Jesus. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Why have you forsaken me? We feel like you’ve abandoned me, Lord. I shouldn’t be in this situation. I’ve tried to do right in your eyes, and this is what I get. We can let ourselves sell into those places. This is one of the things I want to suggest is, that we do not go, don’t make God even subtly our enemy, don’t ever do that. Don’t blame God. When we’re in a very tough spot, when things look like they’re melting down, the last thing we should do is blame God.
Secondly, I want to encourage us to refuse to give in to the negativity. Don’t blame God, don’t give in to the negativity. Instead, if at all possible, just remind ourselves of how much we are loved. That we have been given Jesus as living proof. I never have to question, if God loves me or his goodness because I have the cross. Now I think about that. That was something Joseph didn’t even have. We have that. We have Jesus, we have God’s living proof. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have life. God has loved us to the full extent that God commanded his love towards us, Romans 5:8. Christ died for us. God commends his love toward us, in that Christ died for us. Think about that. He gave himself for us. He loved us. He can give nothing more than he’s given.
So I remind myself of God’s goodness, when we are in a difficult spot, when one part of us wants to quit, don’t make God the enemy, refuse to yield to the negativity, remind yourself of how much you’re loved. Jesus is our living proof. Then, if at all possible begin to determine, to just make our case known to the Lord and make sure that we are welcoming Him into our situation. Listen, and then align our attitude and our words with that conviction. If we will do those things, we will find that we open up remarkable possibilities. In these times, when we’re tempted to, as I mentioned last week and the past weeks, wander into the land of why, it’s so easy to do that. Some of us are doing that now, or at least we’ve started. We’re wandering into the land of why, why God, why God, why are you letting this happen? We wandered into the land of why? If we’re not careful, we start to settle there. We start to build a house there. That’s where we live. That’s a bad place to be. It’s not the place that God wants us to be.
He doesn’t want us to murmur in our spirits and start questioning His goodness when he’s given everything for us. It’s in these times that we can turn our eyes back to God’s words. That’s what I’m suggesting. Doing what we’re doing right now, is what we need to do. That’s the next principle, embed yourself in tough times, in God’s words, in His teachings. In the teachings of the scripture, embed ourselves in His promises. Adopt a promise for the season, hold on to a verse or a passage or a story. Like some of us are dealing with Joseph. In a way, our church is embracing Joseph, as a model for walking through this season. This is an example of what I’m talking about. As we do this, we are drawing principles, strength, and wisdom. We’re deepening and enduring. We’re confronting things that want to set themselves up in our hearts that will be destructive, negative, and damaging. We’re not going to go there. We’re going to trust the Lord. We’re going to align ourselves up with his promises. We’re going to believe.
When we talk about this, it’s examples of our past. The heroes of faith, like Joseph, show us the way. He’s part of the cloud of the witnesses that have gone before us. Now, look what it says in verse 21. We’ll sort of finish with this. It says, “But the Lord was with Joseph.” I love that phrase, “but the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” We’re going to see how that develops later on, next round in the coming months. I’m just reminded again, of the steadfast love. I love that phrase. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is his faithfulness. It is steadfast love. He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
That’s like God saying that the Lord never left him. He continued to protect him in his love, with his love. The Lord was with Joseph, the Lord and dearly loved one, if I may say it, may the Lord be with you and me and show us his steadfast love and give you favor. That’s what I would ask for all of us at this time. The one who loves us, sometimes we break, but his love is revealed in the brokenness. I will say it this way, in the brokenness of God, we’ve been given the evidence of his love, in the brokenness of his body, he broke the bread. He said, “When you eat this bread, remember it’s my body broken for you.” In the brokenness of God, the love of God is revealed. Oftentimes it’s in our brokenness, where the faithfulness of God is most revealed.
If we will do what he’s reminding us to do and give us examples of how to do it, we will find that we will prevail. Let’s keep that in mind. Before we do that, I want to remind everybody, this is our time of giving. Remember to be as faithful, you’re already doing it. You’ve been an amazingly faithful group. I can’t say enough. Everybody’s been really stepping up. If you do want to give, remember, you can give online. You can give through the app. You can give directly by sending it to the offices, whatever is best for you. My thing is, keep your heart alight, alive, and give bounds of fleet for the work of the Lord. We’re all in this together. We’re going to get through it together. We’re going to run this race together. We have a cloud of witnesses rooting us on. So let’s keep our eyes focused on the right things. I’ve got a final blessing and a final thought to share with you.
The broken one who loves us, when we have no strength, even when he breaks us, it’s to express his love through us and to grow us and to make us a blessing. When are faced with a problem or a crisis situation or a difficulty that we wish we didn’t have to deal with, we wish would just go away. It’s important when we’re feeling overwhelmed like that, that we don’t go back and try to change the past. We can’t change it. What we can control is our attitude, our response. That I can control, I can own that. One of the things the Lord wants us to remember, we are to keep our focus on the one who really is in control when all is said and done. That’s a very important thing for us, not to get our eyes on the wrong things, but on the right things.
Let’s do that because you know why? He’s so good and he’s so God, and he wants us to sow good and to sow God. We do that best when we’re walking in a place of trust. I really believe he wants to grow us. He wants us to not just go through it, he wants us to grow through it. Up and over, here we go. So may the Lord keep you, may he keep you in your spirit, in your body, and in your soul. For you are greatly loved. In Jesus’ name, Amen.