God's redemptive work is present even in our places of struggle and temptations.
What a blessing to be able to share this time together. I know the church is different than we planned, we’re online, it’s okay. We will meet again in a different way but in the meantime, we get to do this online and I’m so thankful. Our focus is going to be on Joseph, were going to continue with the study in his life, try to apply it for such a time as this. For the idea of going up and over, he’s a perfect example of it. How to have an overcoming life of faith. Specifically, when we get into the idea of how to deal with danger zones in life, all of us are going to have them. Moments of intense pressure, real temptation to get off course, how do we overcome, how do we prevail?
How do we grow in those moments? How do we make good decisions? How do we hold our lines? We’re going to look at all these things. Let me start by praying, asking God’s blessing over our time. Even now, Lord, we come to you, help us to focus our attention, delineate the scope of our attentiveness. Push aside anything else that might be trying to get into this moment and let’s just create the space for you to talk to us. We want to not only learn, but we also want to hear your spirit and what it might say to us or what we say to you. Even now, speak Lord for your servant is listening. Our prayer is that you would be with us right now in Jesus’ name, amen. We’re going to jump right in with Genesis 39, pick right back up.
Recall that Joseph had been brought down to Egypt and Potiphar an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, man of extreme power an Egyptian had bought him from the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites brought Joseph down to Egypt after they bought him from Joseph’s brothers. The Lord was with Joseph, we’re told in verse two. Joseph became a successful man within the framework of limitation and captivity. He was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master Potiphar saw that the lord was with him and the Lord caused all that Joseph did to succeed in his hands, he had the touch. Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him. Potiphar made him overseer of his house. He put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made Joseph overseer in his house and all that he had, the Lord blessed the Potiphar’s house for Joseph’s sake.
The blessing of the Lord was on all that Potiphar had in the house and in the field, both in-home and in business. Every aspect of Potiphar was blessed because of Joseph. Not just because of the skill he brought to the table, because Joseph had a natural gift of administration. Also because of the character that Joseph had and the favor of the lord that was on him. When you bless the things that God’s blessing, you get blessed, that’s the way it works in the kingdom. In verse six; Potiphar left all that he had in Joseph’s charge. Because of Joseph, he had no concern about anything but the food that he ate. So comprehensive was his delegation to Joseph, that really the only thing that, Potiphar did was show up and eat.
Everything else Joseph was doing, he was running it all. But then we’re told something happened to change the situation. A development occurred. A development that was going to be pivotal in the course of Joseph’s life. A development that was going to force him to make a decision that he honestly didn’t want to have to make. It’s going to set a lot of things in motion. It begins in verse seven; “after a time his master’s wife,” that is Mrs. Potiphar, she cast her eyes on Joseph and she said, “Lie with me, sleep with me.” But he refused and he said to his master’s wife, “Behold, I can’t do that because my master has no concern about anything in the house, you know this, he has put everything that he has in my touch. He’s actually not even greater in this house than I am, he’s given me such authority and flexibility. Nor has he kept anything from me, except you, because you’re his wife.”
How then, Joseph says, can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? How could I do that? Day after day as she spoke with Joseph, Day after day, wow, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or be with her. Joseph wouldn’t get close, he didn’t want to be alone with her, he tried to make a plan and execute it as much as possible. I need to say, it would be remissive me if I didn’t, that we need to acknowledge that the reality is the case both today and has been for generations. Far more sexual advances, certainly harassment, takes place in the opposite direction. We can acknowledge that it has always been that way.
Men have typically been the aggressor but I hope at least in the realm of harassment that we are, at a time such as ours making progress on this. I think we are but when it comes to adultery, I think the lines are a little more blurred. In this situation, the Bible makes it clear that Mrs. Potiphar was the initiator. She was the one that was pressing for the engagement. That’s important for us to remember. I hope we don’t miss the phrase, day after day. That’s the Bible’s way of saying this was relentless, there was a relentlessness to this temptation. There was a relentlessness to the situation that was very difficult. It put enormous pressure on Joseph. I think some of us can relate to this, maybe not directly, but it’s possible. I’m just talking about the IDB, under tremendous pressure and duress.
This is a season where many of us are feeling a little bit overwhelmed by some things that we’re having to deal with as this season’s unique. The challenges seem to be more pronounced in terms of just staying on a good path in a good place, both in our way of thinking and also staying out of trouble. Staying out of places that will lead us down a dark road or get us stuck in addictive patterns that are unhealthy, or even maybe ways we are thinking. We’re spending so much more time on digital and virtual meetings, social media, and our entertainment. If we’re not careful, we can lose our growing edge. We can get stuck. We can fall back and actually do things that are going to damage us. Or if you’re like me, you might feel at times that it reduces our confidence in terms of our ability to move forward with the things that God has put into our hearts to pursue.
We feel like we’re just not ever going to really get this thing together. We don’t want to be a hypocrite. We can very easily fall back, give up, or quit. We don’t literally quit. Sometimes we may, but a lot of times it’s just in our pursuit of the right things or our willingness to contend for things, we start to feel defeated, depressed, or discouraged. Sometimes when we see our lack or our weakness, it just takes the wind out of us. What I love about Joseph is he is a man who seemed to have the ability to set an example for us to follow. In his case, remember his temptation. The temptation Joseph had to meet what we may see as a legitimate desire but in an illegitimate way. His feelings, it was okay to have those feelings of a need but Joseph knew that if that was not ever going to be God’s way for him, it couldn’t be.
The essence of temptation to sin, which by the way, when we use that word is a word that Christians often use and we’ve been using for centuries. We talk about how Jesus died for our sins, when we talk about sin, we’re talking about that element of willfulness. This concept of missing the mark or having a gap. A spiritual need, something that creates a vacuum for us, or is damaging. Other words that the Bible uses to describe sin and could be things like lawlessness or one interesting phrase is, it’s transgression, which means to overstep a boundary. The idea of transgression has to do with overstepping the beneficial boundaries that God appoints, the boundaries that God places in our lives that flow out of his love, justice, and holiness. I hear a lot of people say, “That the Bible, it’s all about rules, about what you can and can’t do. It’s always telling us about this sin stuff.”
There’s an element of truth to that I suppose. But really you’re missing the point. If you think that the Bible is about things we’re not supposed to do, just because it wants to keep us from enjoying things in life, you’ve totally got it wrong. This isn’t about the Lord trying to keep us from good things. It’s about the Lord trying to give us His blessing. It’s about the Lord trying to give us true freedom and liberty. That liberty is never found in going our own way. Where is a way that seems right to a man, Jesus said, “But that way leads to death.” Jesus always talked about how His real purpose was not to keep us from things that were good, but actually to keep us from being bound by things that though they look good, actually are very damaging.
The Lord’s way is the way of life. His words are spirit and they’re life. How do we know what is right? The Bible says by looking at the Word. The Lord’s Word is the light into my path and a lamp unto my feet. If we want to know what is right in God’s eyes, then we want to know what actually allows for blessings to flow in our life at the deepest level. We’ll look at His words, sit with them, honor them, hear the scriptures, and we’ll embed them into our soul. When we do that, those words can guide us. They will provide a path for us, a way of knowing what is right in the Lord’s eyes. The resistance is just not some arbitrary sense of what is good that is found on the basis of how God defines it in his words.
When we think about it, when we pull away and dive into things that are not helpful, we may think that we’re free, but actually, we’re actually harming ourselves. That’s what Jesus taught us. Think about it this way, it’s almost like driving on a road, a very narrow road on a high elevation. Just in our mind imagine a road, maybe it’s one lane, those are always precarious places, when you were up high, there’s a cliff, there’s one lane. You’ve got to be really careful about how you maneuver, how fast you go. But even if it was just two-way traffic on a very thin road in a very high elevation with cliffs over or with the cliff right on the other side, like a deep ravine. Where if you fall asleep at the wheel, you make a mistake you can fly off, and that’s it.
A lot of times those signs, those warning signs say, slow down, curve ahead. Think about it, that’s for our safety and wellbeing. We’re also given in those places something else, aren’t we? Think about it, what are we given? A guard rail. Is that rail meant to help or hurt us? Just say, that the rail around the edge on a road that overlooks a steep place that is designed to protect us, to keep us from going over the edge. It’s designed to save our lives. A lot of times I’ll just notice every now and then when I’m on some obscure road, way up there and it’s precarious driving, you have to stay focused. I’ll see those guard rails and a lot of times on those safety rails you’ll see bangs, dents, and nicks.
Sometimes they’re torn a little bit but you certainly will see a scrape or paint because it actually kept somebody from flying off the edge. That’s what God’s word is. God’s word is designed to keep us safe, to give us life, not take away life. One of the great misnomers is that somehow God is against us, now God is for us. He’s not trying to hold us back, he’s trying to keep us. I think back and there is a prayer that the Lord gave us called the Lord’s prayer, I was reminded of it.
Many times I look at the Lord’s prayer and it’s like a beautiful diamond with different facets. At different times you can look at it and learn different things. It seems so simple but yet it has great meaning, depth, and nuance. What did Jesus say when they asked him, “Teach us how to pray.” He said, “Pray like this. Say, our father who is in heaven. Our father in heaven, holy, it is your name.” Set apart you are unlike any other, your kingdom come, your will be done, that your loving realm abound over us on earth as it is in heaven, that it be so. Then what did Jesus say? Give us this day, our daily bread, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Do we see something about this prayer? It’s something I noticed. I guess I’d noticed it because I was thinking about it in relation to the dailiness. There is in this prayer an idea. It’s one of the keys for overcoming in challenging places, is dailiness. Give us this day, our daily bread; is the reminder that I am to start each day by accepting the invitation of God to draw near to him. To submit myself afresh to Christ, to say, Lord, I am yours and I receive your love for me. To see myself as one loved, a beloved son, a beloved daughter. But even more, I think maybe it was the first time I ever really saw this way, maybe you did already but I don’t know. It hit me, the daily invitation that the Lord was reminding us to take advantage of is an opportunity to reset things afresh.
How important is that? When we have a sense of failure, a sense that we’ve not handled something correctly, or that we’re feeling defeated about what was and can’t be changed that we are given the invitation to start anew. Do you see that? That means something. Today, every day can be the first day. I’m talking about the power of today, a new beginning. Today is a new day, today is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and I’ll be glad in it. Why not? I don’t have to be bound by mistakes in my past. There are some things that I’ll have to deal with. Deal with the consequences of them as soon as I need to repent, no question. The invitation is to experience grace every day, to be set free again, to live again in our promise, and never simply accept anything other than the goodness of God, as a new promise over our life.
Do you see what I’m talking about? Every day give us this day, our daily bread. I look back at that and then I say, “Wow.” Because every day we were told, Joseph had to deal with this issue. Some of us might, again, as I mentioned earlier, be feeling something similar. There might be an issue in our lives. It might be connected to this season and how we’re feeling about it. It seems as though every day we are having to battle through something that is trying to define us, take us down a dark place that we don’t want to go, that’s what we’re talking about. By the way, I don’t think we should assume that Joseph didn’t want to yield. We shouldn’t see him as some automaton with no feelings, that somehow he was exempt from human passion.
He was a human being, he was a young man in his 20s. He had needs just like the rest of us. Joseph was no different. He felt pain and we know he was an emotional man. That’ll show up again, later on. It showed up when he was sold by his brothers. One of the things about Joseph is another key for overcoming the difficult places, is that he had integrity. By that, we mean that he had a very powerful core, he was centered in his faith in such a way that I just find him inspiring. We talk about the core a lot. If you talk to people in athletics or trainers, they will say that one of the things that we tend to neglect is our core.
Even though the core isn’t the most glamorous part of our body, it’s the part that holds things together and keeps our back in a good place. It keeps everything tight, centered, and aligned. If the core is strong, we’re usually going to be strong. It has to do with athletic movement. It has to do with a lot of different things. Joseph was a man who had a very powerful, spiritual core. Perhaps he also cared for Potiphar. He clearly knew that it would be wrong to sleep with Potiphar’s wife because he would be violating his trust. I think he probably also understood that it could be very dangerous as well. It was a dangerous game and Joseph wasn’t interested in playing that game. I do think though, the Bible is asserting this, that the primary reason Joseph refused to move forward with Potiphar’s wife, was because he saw that it was wrong in the eyes of God to do this.
In other words, it was incompatible with his love for the Lord and the commitment that he had to God, the God of his fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was incompatible with the belief system that he had been given, the way of being that he had committed himself to. I’m going to take a little risk here and I’m going to sit with this. I was trying to imagine the conversation, the exchange that occurred, and see if you can hear the class of worldview that I think speaks to us even today. I imagine Potiphar’s wife. I imagine her in a moment saying, “Joseph, what’s wrong with you? No one’s being hurt, no one’s being hurt here.” Potiphar’s not being hurt, he doesn’t care, he’s not even around, he’s never around, he doesn’t even need to know, he doesn’t need to know anything. Besides, you’re in Egypt. We’re modern, liberated, and progressive. When you’re in Egypt, you need to walk like an Egyptian. I’m just kidding on that. I know he looked like one that’s for sure. He had already adapted fully to Egyptian culture. She’s saying to him, “Listen, we are obeying, you need to be liberated from your archaic backwater past and this silly faith of yours with its outdated mores.” “What’s wrong with you? Come on. Joseph, look at me. Look at me, leave your past behind. Leave your old ways.” Then the shot that I’m sure came. What good did they do you anyway? Look at you, look what happened to you? You just need to enjoy your life that’s what the gods want.
Do we see how that sounded like another conversation to her because it so easily sounded like another conversation at the dawn of humanity as we know it? When another whisper similar words to an innocent woman, through a creature wound around a tree, suggesting that God was really keeping you from the good life. That’s all but a lie. Or how about this one? Joseph, doesn’t your God want you to be happy? Come on. Doesn’t he want you to feel good, you deserve it, you deserve it. But a brave conviction can be a stubborn thing. Joseph had conviction and it was anchored to a rock that held him true in the midst of the storm. It wasn’t as much the fear of being discovered by Potiphar, though that threat was real and it should not be minimized. For Joseph to step across a line like that could cost him his life.
If he stepped across the line, he’d be owned by it. But listen, lovers do reckless things all the time. Love blinds us, passion blinds us, makes fools of us all, that’s part of the human story. Now it really was a different kind of fear that gripped Joseph. In the end, you can see it’s true. It’s what we call in biblical-theological circles, a fear of God. That is, he had a reference and respect for a Holy and just God that held him accountable for his deeds. With that came a corresponding deeply planted belief in the goodness or the rightness of his ways. That overarching, legitimate fear of the Lord, that reverence for the Lord really meant something to Joseph. It’s what ultimately will hold him together. But there’s a couple of things here that I do want to mention that I think are absolutely essential when we find ourselves in a difficult place. A place where we’re tempted to make a bad decision, to hurt ourselves, to damage our relationship with God, and to damage other people.
That is when the heat is on. There are a couple of things to remember. I just want to connect to them right now. One is that we are to do what Joseph did and not overestimate our capacities. On the one hand, we’re not to overestimate our capacities, and two, we are not to underestimate our vulnerabilities. I’ll say that one more time, don’t overestimate our capacities. Don’t underestimate our vulnerabilities. When it comes to overestimating our capacities, we’re reminded in scripture, in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “therefore the one who thinks he stands, take heed, lest they fall. Be very careful about overconfidence.” Jesus taught us in the hour of the cup, the hour of his suffering, with the cross looming upon him after he asked the disciples to pray with him and they fell asleep.
One of the things Jesus said is its echo downtime, he said, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” That is true. What that is reminding us is that we all have areas of unique vulnerability. I just want you to hear me out on this. I think our vulnerabilities are connected to a few things. One of those things has to do with our upbringing, there’s no question about it. Another aspect can be our early experiences we’ve had. So there’s our upbringing and the tenor, the tone of our experience growing up. There are also early experiences in life that impact us, shape us, and affect us good and bad. On top of that, there are additional exposure points that we have as we move along the road of life.
So we have these early exposures, additional experiences that shape us as we’re moving along into adulthood, through adulthood, and then, of course, we all have unique dispositions. Combine those four things and it creates certain weak points and areas of profound vulnerability. If the right buttons are pushed, stuff comes out of us or we are almost like Superman with kryptonite, we buckle. That’s why it is a good thing to do two other things. One is to practice an honest knowing of ourselves. To know ourselves, to ask God to help us see ourselves as we really are, like the man in James who sees himself in the mirror and doesn’t forget. That level of honesty, not self-consumed to the point of we’re just all about us, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the value of humble prayerful reflection, integrating with God’s word. In conversation in such a way that we are reflecting.
I talked to somebody a few weeks ago who said that for the last month they kept a journal. They were making their journal focus on self-reflection and just looking at the way in which they were responding and reacting to things. What they were doing was with, Frederick Beachner called, listening to their life. When we do that in a God-informed way, it can be a tremendously valuable thing. It’s worth listening to our life, asking good questions, why am I reacting like this? Why is this coming out of me? What need am I trying to satisfy here? Why am I drawn to this? This is not helping me, what’s going on here? Why is this part of this spiritual, part of my past, my experience? I think I’m uniquely damaged in this area that I need to be more attentive to the grace of God at work there.
There are things that I noticed that when the right buttons are pushed, this comes out of me. Again, we always talk about how all of us have a unique struggle, because of certain things again, you combine those four factors. Our upbringing, the culture of our early years, then our experiences moving forward, and then how we are exposed to life as well, along the way. You probably held that into our personalities and dispositions. I have things that I say. Someone else may say, “It’s nothing. Come on, get over it.” But for me, it can be really crippling. You may have something that, maybe I’m would say, “This is not a big deal. It’s okay. Just discipline yourself.” It may not be so simple, we may have been damaged here.
That damage may mean, you don’t know but it’s true, God can heal things but a lot of times we are going to find ourselves wrestling with things like a thorn in the flesh. Or something that really requires a tremendous amount of grace. So knowing ourselves and being honest about it is huge. Of course, we get an advantage that Joseph did not possess, we can bring others into that conversation. We have the advantage and the real benefits of being in a small group. If you’re not in one, then I encourage you to get in one, right now it’s virtual, but soon we’ll be able to gather in presence. But the key is having an environment where we can have relationally safety to be able to communicate our heart and pray for one another. We’re not always going to be strong at the same time.
Hopefully, we’re not all weak at the same time so we can bless one another. Woe to him, the Bible says, when they’re alone if they fall. Let’s finish up this passage, it says in verse 11, “but one day, when Joseph went into the house to do his work. None of the men of the house were there in the house, she caught him by the garment saying, lie with me, sleep with me. But he left the garment in her hand, fled and got out of the house and as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out the house, she gets angry.” We see the last thing Joseph did in response to temptation was the only tool he had left in his arsenal. He had been trying to avoid, he had been trying to make sure that he wasn’t alone.
He did everything he could but finally, he got into a situation where he couldn’t get out. The only tool he had left in his arsenal was to run and he did, he fled. There is a time to linger and reason. There is a time to talk, there is a time to walk, and there’s a time to run. There’s a time to run. Some survival will be connected is another principle to distance, space creation. That’s right, some solutions for getting past a very tempting difficult place is to create space, to change it up. Shift it around, get out of the situation where we know we’re vulnerable to dropping back into toxic tones. We don’t want to go, we don’t want to go there, we don’t want to go there. I think it’s especially true when we sense our defenses are weakening, sometimes we can feel ourselves starting to sink.
Our strength is leaving us. We know we’re in trouble. I’m telling you in those places, that’s the time to run. There is a retreat that saves. So much is at stake. I think the angels watched as Joseph’s destiny is determined by the choice he makes and he made a beautiful one as we’re going to see. One more thing I want to say is that sometimes we don’t get it right. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we’re not able to do what Joseph did. I’d like to say that we always do it right but we don’t. What happens when we blow it? What happens when we make a mistake? What happens when we feel defeated? Some of us feel that way right now, it’s hard for us.
I might suggest, because of the lord we can recover from our mistakes. God is astonishingly redemptive, which means He’s full of grace, and He can take the worst and turn it into good. He will not throw His wounded sons and daughters on the scrap heap. God didn’t do that with the human race and the lord won’t do it with you. He’s still the one that leaves the 99 to find the one. The bruised reed he will not break. How grateful I am for that. The smoking flax He will not quench. If there’s even a seed of faith in you, then God’s not given up on you at all. In fact, His level of pursuing is even when we try to run from Him. That’s why I want you to know Him, you never really can get away. Now the hell and heaven will always be on your trail and mine too.
On the other side of a big failure, which Joseph avoided, we may not always. We may not recover everything, I need to be honest about that. But we can recover. This is important, the main thing is we may not recover everything, but we can recover the main things. That’s a beautiful gift. It’s a beautiful reminder of what God can do and some of us know that firsthand.
I am going to come back around and bless you. I want to remind everybody about our time of giving. You’ve been amazing. This church is amazing, I love you guys. You are so faithful in the giving of your tithes and offerings. Some have been doing that online, you can do it through the app. You can even send it in if you want if that’s easier. So many of you have been stepping up, being faithful, in the one in 10, how good is that, how right is that?
I have a final thought to share and a blessing. There really is a best way, it was Joseph’s way, wasn’t it? Initially, things didn’t look so good but as we shall see, he’s going to be like a vine growing over a wall, finding his way to the light. I just pray to the lord, help us to be like Joseph and learn to grow up and over so that we too can magnify him. I think it was, Martin Luther King said, if you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. I know that’s a twist on our way of talking about things.
We’ve been talking about other times to run away from things, but there are also times when we need to do whatever we can to keep moving forward. That’s my word for you, my closing word for you, keep moving forward my friends, my brothers, and sisters. Let’s not give up. Let’s not lose our courage. Let’s not lose our hope. Let’s trust the Lord because He’s so good, and He’s so God. We want it so good and we want it so God. So, don’t forget how greatly loved you are, you are blessed, may He keep your spirit, soul, and body, in Jesus’ name. Amen.