Our ability to overcome life's difficulties depends upon a highly adaptable faith and the desire to listen to God every day.
Good morning everyone, blessings. So good to see you on this the Lord’s day. How good is it for us to be together on Sunday sharing? I know it’s not like we usually do, but I’m so thankful to be able to have this moment with you as we have church together here online. Even now, Lord, I ask for you to just be present among us. I pray that you would just bless this time we’re about to share and let our hearts be open. Open to your words because I know you have wisdom for us and so we just welcome you right into this time. Give us the ability to focus. Let us hear a word within the Word that you have uniquely framed for us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen. The series we mentioned, Up and Over, is How to Live the Overcoming Life of Faith. Our focus on probably one of the most remarkable figures in all of scripture, a stunning example of what it means to trust God and to walk with the Lord faithfully even when things are hard.
We’re talking about a man, a young man named Joseph. Our situation where we left off last week you remember, Joseph had just been sold by his brothers. As incredibly painful as that statement was, Joseph was sold for 20 shekels to a group of Midianite traders, Ishmaelite traders as they were sometimes called, on their way to Egypt. It was awful. We read about what happened as soon as he gets to Egypt. Genesis 39 is where we’ll begin right now. Verse number one, says when Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelite traders, he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. Potiphar was captain of Pharaoh’s guard. He wasn’t just any man. He was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. Let us just for a moment if we can, pull back from that place and go to that spot where the Bible doesn’t say that much.
The space between when Joseph was sold by his brothers in Dothan and the slave markets in Egypt when he was purchased by Potiphar. In that space, we know that Joseph would have been part of a caravan, a caravan that would have put him in a place that was almost unimaginably difficult, painful. We know that his hands were bound. In fact, Psalms 105, says that an iron collar was placed around his neck. Joseph was in such a bad place. His treatment at the hands of his brothers the night before was bad enough. If you recall, he had been thrown into a pit and they had talked openly about killing him. His own brothers hated him, despised him, held him in such contempt and I think from a distance he could hear them. He was crying out, “Brothers, let me out, help me. Please be merciful. What’s wrong? What are you doing?” Joseph’s cries fell on deaf ears.
Joseph’s brothers just wanted to get rid of him. Maybe Joseph heard it as they were ironically eating the provisions that he had brought them, while they were discussing his death. It was Judah, one of the brothers who first spotted the caravan in a distance. He saw it coming by and that idea came to him. “Let’s sell Joseph. We don’t have to kill him. We’ll just sell him. We’ll be done with him forever.” It was understood to sell someone to be a slave in Egypt was essentially giving them a death sentence. People would go there and never come back. Once you got into the slave pits of Egypt your fate was sealed. When Judah came up with the idea, they pulled him out of the pit and Joseph began to realize what they were doing. I can only imagine him pleading with them.
“Brothers, what are you doing? Don’t do this. Stop. No. No.” as they bound him. We know they sold him for 20 shekels. I can imagine Joseph saying, “What are you doing my brothers?” I can hear them saying back at him, “That’s what your dreams get you. You’re the big man now. You’re in charge. Where’s your coat?” They just turned their back on him, wrote him off. There was Joseph, maybe in a cart with others his tears streaming down his face. He’s in pain. What is happening? He looked around him. Maybe there were others there. He saw in their eyes emptiness, hopelessness, others struggling, the groans, the pain, the heat. Then the day that followed, the dust of the desert caked on him, just utterly miserable as they made their way down south finally approaching Egypt. Perhaps Joseph thought about all that had happened.
His father who he would never see again, whom he loved. What would they tell him? He knew his fate was sealed, seemed hopeless, would never see his father again. It just added to the crushing blow, the betrayal. What do you do? What do you do? What do you do when you’re stuck between pain and a need to survive? Joseph did, I think what he was trained to do. I think he prayed. I think he cried. I think he wept. I think he groaned and prayed. I think as he came into Egypt, he first saw it from a distance, and he must’ve been struck by some of what he saw. For we know that at that time, the pyramids that we still see and admire today must have looked like they were literally bursting out of the ground. These stunning works, buildings, just remarkable architecture of ancient times.
We know that the great pyramid, for 4,000 years, was the tallest building in the world. What we’re talking about is sophistication. Joseph would have noticed that. He would have noticed other things. I remember he was a monotheist. It would have been impossible to miss all the gods of Egypt. Egypt was filled with idolatry, polytheistic idolatry, statues, half-man, half-beast, just everywhere, everywhere he looked. He would have noticed that he would have seen it. The art, the beautiful art, the colors, all that Egypt was. Then to be thrown and brought to the slave markets and the ugliness of humanity. For its one of the worst expressions of humanity and Joseph was brought there. You would have thought perhaps at this point, Joseph would have said, “What good is God?” Maybe he decided as he was on his way, that he just needs to just try to survive and do whatever he can to adapt to Egyptian ways, new realities. But it will become clear, crystal clear that was precisely what Joseph did not do.
As we shall see, there was a genuineness to his faith. A tenacity to his faith. We might call it a stickiness to it that was not dependent on things going his way. Joseph’s faith was hardy, sturdy, highly adaptable, and capable of surviving even under the most adverse circumstances, his faith would hold. I want to suggest that there’s a principle here for us right at the beginning. That is this, that God wants us, you and me, to nurture a highly adaptable faith that is nimble, that is sticky, that can hold right.
In times like these, maybe it matters even more. Where we’re in a difficult season. A season with a lot of questions. There’s a lot of us who are discouraged and feeling a little bit down by the relentlessness of what we’re having to deal with. This is a time when the Lord wants our faith to be like Joseph’s, highly adaptable. Whatever Joseph’s immaturity and youthful limitations were and they were real, we know that what will become clear is that he had, as I mentioned, a genuine love for the one true God of Israel. He believed in and served the God of his forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of his grandfather Isaac.
Then of course Jacob, his father, whom he loved. That God, the God of Israel, the God of his fathers, he would not betray. No, nothing would shake it. He’s suffered already unquestionable horror. His pain, his plight, his future looked gone, but he would not yield. He would not yield his heart. No, at his core he was fastened, and we are told he was sold to a great man of authority, a military man, one of Pharaoh’s most trusted men. The captain of his guard, the key to his security, Potiphar.
This was the man who bought him. I try to imagine that day as Potiphar made his way to the slave market to purchase a slave. He scanned the lot, and what did he see? His eyes cast a glance. He looked at Joseph, looked into those eyes. Maybe noticed something different. “Who is that one? That foreigner? See one of those Hebrews? I want him. Bring me him. The foreigner bring him to me. That’s the one I want.” And so it begins. In verse two we’re told that the Lord was with Joseph. What a great verse this is. He was bought, he was sold yes, but the Lord was with Joseph, and so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. I love the phrase, the Lord was with him. God did not abandon him.
Even though he had lost everything, he did not lose the Lord. The Lord was with him. The Lord’s hand was on him. Prospered him, kept him, blessed him, favored him, even in this undesired and painful place. In verse three Potiphar noticed this. He did, he took notice. He saw this young man had the golden touch. He realized in his own way that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. What was clear to Potiphar was that this Hebrew was unusual. He quickly perceived that Joseph excelled at whatever he did and possessed a unique capacity, a gift if you will. The capacity that the text implies that Potiphar associated almost, I don’t know superstitiously, with Joseph’s God. So it says this pleased Potiphar so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He promoted him to a place of great power in his household.
Potiphar put Joseph in charge of the entire household and everything that he owned. Think about that. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake and all his household affairs ran smoothly. We’re told his crops and his livestock, they just flourished. His business took off. I think it’s important to remember that Joseph’s success came within the framework of limitation. This is really important for us. Remember, Joseph was not free. It’s true. Things could have been much worse.
There’s no question about it. Joseph could have ended up just dying in a pit with no name like so many of those who had been enslaved had done before him. He could have had it so differently than to be in the house of Potiphar or to be able to be in this place of relative privilege. We can say it that way. Most of his needs met. Joseph wasn’t suffering and yet at the same time, he was not free and he would trade it all for his freedom. The freedom that he could not acquire, nor did he ever envision ever possessing it.
He was in a foreign land, disconnected from his family, father, and everything he loved. He could not go back. Yes, it could have been worse, but his heart was still broken. One of the things though that I think we all know as it’ll show up here that is so clear is that Joseph did not feel abandoned by the Lord. It’s a reminder, and this is a great principle for you and me, that God doesn’t promise that if we love and serve Him we will be delivered from every problem. Joseph still had a huge issue couldn’t get out of, but what we are promised is that the Lord will be with us in every problem. We’re not promised that we will be delivered from every problem. We are promised that He will be with us in every problem and every situation.
In Joseph’s case, this is usually what’s going to happen, I’ve noticed that within the limitation of our problems, we will find that the Lord can allow us to be blessed and succeed. The framework of limitation does not necessarily impede God’s capacity to bless us. It doesn’t always mean that we’re going to get out of the situation we’re in the way that we want it to happen or in the timing we want it to happen. But what it does mean is that while we’re in it, there is the capacity with God’s help to flourish even in the place that we do not want to be in. To prosper in the place where we feel trapped, stymied, hindered, and honestly captive. We can prosper there still. Joseph could not see his future. He had no way of knowing that the house of Potiphar was in reality, a place of preparation. That he was actually being prepared to deliver his people. He couldn’t see that. That years later he would discern that those dreams he was given, were given for a reason.
God had a purpose in mind. It’s worth noting because some of us may feel like this is where we are right now. We find ourselves in a confining place, a difficult place where our freedom is hindered. I know I’ve felt that way. Just being in this season feels like we’re almost trapped, it feels like we’ve been trapped. Like so much of our life is limited. I know things can be worse, but it just feels hard and uncomfortable. Yet one of the things we realize, that in the difficult place, the confining place, can be and is often a place of growth and preparation.
I think it’s dependent a lot of times on what we’re willing to do in terms of just holding onto the Lord. I think it’s essential for example, to shift our mindset as much as possible into a growth mode that we reaffirm, as Joseph did. Our trust for God, no matter what our situation is, no matter how much we feel like we’re bound by it, we are not to let go of our trust in God. We are to hold that ferociously. Hold onto it in the way that Joseph’s going to model. It seems incredible, but the attitude, the quality, the way in which Joseph operates within the context of that limitation is so powerful. It’s so meaningful and beneficial for us to understand. It’s a great model for us. I’ve also found that rarely does God expose his parallel purpose. Usually, it’s not until when we’re going through something that’s not good.
Sometimes people will say, “Why did God allow this?” Now I often say that there’s a difference between to say, it’s okay to say God allowed it, but don’t say God caused it because the things that happen in our life a lot of times have to do with choices that people make, choices we make, choices that other people make that affect us. We live in a broken world. Things don’t work. That’s the same world that God came into to save. He himself was not kept from the consequences of evil. He bore the shame and the inequity, guilt, and the violence. So the Lord did not exempt himself, we’re not exempt from it either. We live in this world, we make choices, our decisions affect things, and yet on a parallel track, God is at work.
That’s what the scriptures remind us of. Always remember that it’s not an either-or. It’s a both-and. If we can remind ourselves that if we just walk with Him and trust Him, that all things ultimately can work for good. Honestly, that’s Romans 8:28. It says, and a lot of us know this verse, we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. When we put our life in His hands, what we know is that although everything may not go the way we wanted it to go, God is at work and His goodness will prevail. One way or another, God’s goodness will prevail. Later on, Joseph would say in one of the most remarkable moments in all the scripture, he would say to his brothers, years down the road, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Both were true.
They meant it for evil. Their cruelty, there was no excuse for it. It could not be dismissed or somehow suggested that it was anything other than that. It was bad. What they did was bad. Yet Joseph says but God used it for a purpose. He used it for a purpose. He used it for good. So both things can be true. We could be in the middle of a situation and God can still be working it for good. That’s how He does it. God’s sovereignty and our free will, it’s not like they’re in exclusive camps, are intertwined. They work together and they run on parallel tracks. In Joseph’s case, and we’re going to dive into this further next week, this place was a place of preparation for him and a place of revealing. What I mean by that is Joseph is going to be tested, deeply tested.
Joseph has no idea what awaits him. His character, the essential nature of who he is, is going to be revealed and formed by what he experiences. I am reminded of a statement because we’re talking about character. I was thinking Joseph had it. He had it. I was reminded of a statement made almost now 150 years ago by a clergyman. He actually was a pastor, a man named Phillip Brooks. He lived to only be 58 years old. He died relatively speaking young. He was in an era where people didn’t live as long, but his contribution was enormous. Some of us may have no knowledge of his name. He left actually a little bit of a legacy that still lives on. People still sing a song that he wrote for Christmas called O Little Town of Bethlehem. That was Phillip Brooks. Phillip Brooks also had a lot of other things that he shared.
One of the things he said, a statement he made still rings true a century and a half later, he said this about character, I was impressed by it. It reminded me of Joseph. He said, “Character may be manifest in great moments, but it is made in the small ones.” Character may be manifest and revealed in great moments, but it is made in the small ones, that’s where it’s forged. That’s so profound. I hope we get that. Little moments, alone moments, no one noticing moments. Those are the places where character is formed. That’s where the character that shows up in the great places grows. It’s in the little places, the small places. It’s often where the struggle takes place, where the real battle is being fought. Those are the places where ground is gained or ground is lost.
We live in a culture, just thinking about character and compliance, and the difference between the two. We live in a culture and a society where words are assessed, judged, and determinations of acceptability are made on the basis of compliance to dominant norms. Force compliance seems to be all the rage these days, but of course, force compliance tells us more about the culture than a person and cause economy. It’s always about the heart. It’s always about character, and that is a very different measuring rod of quality, isn’t it? As followers of Jesus, let us be far more concerned about pleasing God than people.
Let’s focus more on our character as God defines it than on compliance as a churning culture defines it. A culture that will have different values, aspirations, and different things is deemed important a generation from now. Human beings, cultures, shift and change, but God’s ways, they endure the generations. Joseph is being prepared and that preparation is going to involve a few key critical choices and decisions that he is going to have to make under great pressure. It’s intense stuff. Joseph is going to be put into positions where he’s got to make heavy decisions. That’s where his character is really going to shine. That’s where his confidence, his trusting God, and the essential consistency of who he is, are going to really show up again. The great moment of pressure is a product of a series of little choices that were made by Joseph on a daily basis.
I have noticed the pressure, duress, adversity, and difficult seasons call out the best in us, and in that sense, they present us with unique opportunities because when we’re in a difficult place, we’re in a hard season. When things are boring in on us and we feel the heat, everything in us wants to quit. We’re either going to fold up or we’re going to grow up. Like that vine growing over a wall, going up and over. We’re either going to get stopped in our tracks, or we’re going to keep moving, keep trusting, keep running this race of faith that we’ve been given. We’re either going to concede, just lay down and die, or we’re going to improve.
There are these times in our lives where we are brought to places where things aren’t going to be the same. They don’t allow us the ability to be neutral. We’re either going to fall backward or going to move forward. We’re either going to be defeated by it or going to learn how to overcome it. These places that we do not want, these seasons that we’re not looking for, that we would rather avoid, are very places where our faith is forged. I call them opportunities and I’ve seen them in my own life. They are opportunities because they can send us into a place of expansion and depth. We can become much deeper people in that regard and much more mature followers of Jesus. We really can grow in these places that we do not want.
They are, though we don’t want them, the opportunities to have real expansion in our hearts. That’s where God does some of his best character work. Right there because we’re forced to decide. I’m going to take it one more step further and say that a lot of times just putting together the statement that was made by Phillip Brooks about the importance of small things. I’m going to make the case that there’s a connection between the daily choices we make and how we show up in places of great intensity when character and integrity are required. The reason we prevail in times of great pressure is always connected to how we’ve been committing ourselves in times of small pressure. How we live on a daily basis will really be what shows up when everything is on the line.
I hope you’re hearing me. I try to remind myself of this. That’s one of the reasons why the Lord taught us his prayer about the importance of the daily. He said, “Give us this day our daily bread. Pray this way, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” It’s almost like the Lord is saying for that to happen, there needs to be a dailiness to our life with him. Do we understand that? The strength to prevail is also going to be connected to the dailiness of our life with the Lord. I think that’s one of the reasons we clearly need the one in seven. There’s value in doing what we’re doing right now. We are having Sabbath.
We are in a sense gathering together for a teaching. I look forward to the day when we can gather together actually in presence. But we are still gathering together, creating space to hear the words of the Lord. In that regard, we were actually following the pattern of Jesus who made that His practice when He was on earth. If the Lord did that, if He did that, if He modeled that, if He modeled going to church, then how much more should we? So what we’re doing is the right thing. The one in seven can never replace the consistency of the one, the day by day. The other six days are also important because they set the tone for a character and for a vital relationship with the Lord. The life in Christ was, for it to work right, it is a daily thing.
Give us this day our daily bread. That’s why we are to bring ourselves even if it’s in a modest way. That’s why I talk about things like rise and shine. Just trying to keep us all connected and reminded of the dailiness. If we are to bring ourselves before the Lord each morning to be open to the new things that the Lord wants to speak to us. Every morning we’re invited to rise up and embrace Him. Every day is a new beginning. Every day, a new beginning. Every day, each day, an opportunity to say again, a new, a fresh Lord, I belong to you, and your words and your love matter to me. Lord, I love you. This day I tell you, I love you and I sing my praise to you. I sing that song to you. Help me then to live this day. This day help me to live the life you want me to live.
I wish I can say that I always do that. That at the end of the day, I have a sense of satisfaction that I have done well. It’s not about being perfect. We are not going to ever get there. Joseph wasn’t perfect. But it is about committing ourselves to live a life of integrity, to building a character, to forging it out in the small things. Small things matter, small things matter, small choices of obedience matter, small prayers matter. You add them up and they create a quality in us that shows up when everything is on the line. You know what I’m saying. We’re going to see a model. Now maybe some of us are under significant duress. Maybe that’s where we find ourselves right now. Maybe we’re being tempted to give up, yield, or fall back into negative places or addictive patterns.
Maybe we’ve been struggling with some of our relationships and part of us just wants to give up. Maybe we’re feeling very afraid and we want to just yield to those fears and just allow ourselves to be negative or complacent. Just not do anything or just numb ourselves with things that are not of quality. I’m going to suggest that there might be places right now where we are being tested and stretched and where we’re wrestling with decisions that are going to not just affect us, but they’re going to affect people, people we love. What I’m asking is, are there small places where the Lord is asking us to exercise great integrity? Are there small, other little places where God is asking us to exercise big integrity? No one will see it.
Just you and me, Lord. Oh God, I feel like I failed you, but I know you love me. I want to be the kind of man I want, I want to be the woman that you want me to be. Lord, help me to show up for you to make the decisions as Joseph makes. When I have every reason to turn, but I’m not going to. I’m going to commit myself all the more to genuine faith. At some point, this season is going to come to a close and one of the questions will be, what have we learned? That’s one of those questions that we’re going to need to ask. What have I learned at this time? Another question will be, who have I become? So what have we learned and what will we become during this time? This time, this season? Now, I don’t know how it was going to end.
Is it going to end rapidly or is it going to end gradually? I just know one thing, it’s going to come to a close and we’re going to transition to a different place. When we do, can we look back and say, Lord, I’ve been growing. It’s not too late to commit ourselves to really paying attention, giving attention, and nurturing small things. They matter. They show up and I really want us to keep that in mind. I’ve got one final little thought to share and then I want to bless you.
Remember, this is the time to give, our time that we take to acknowledge that. So many of you have been absolutely amazing. You can give in a number of different ways. Your tithes and your offerings allow us to keep doing what we’re doing together under the Lord. You can do it online through the app, that’s what I do. You can do it the traditional way, send it in. Whatever is in your heart to do, but you are all pretty amazing and I love you.
In Genesis 39, the verse we read earlier, it said God was with Joseph. The Lord is with you. He’s with me too. I probably would be in despair and a little discouraged. I’m not saying I never get discouraged, but I know God is with me and He is with us. He’s not abandoned us. He’s not left us to ourselves. He is with us, His hand, His goodness, His grace. He loves you and He loves me too. God is so good. He’s so good. He’s so God, and He wants us to so good and so God. May the Lord keep you. May the Lord bless you. Even in our place of confinement and feeling hindered, may you prevail. Yes. That’s my prayer. In your spirit, in your body, and in your soul, may you be kept. You are greatly loved and may the banner over your life, be the banner of his love. Till I see you again.