He had his entire life ahead of him, and he knew exactly how it would play out.
He was smart and handsome, he had everything going for him and he knew it. If there had of a been a yearbook, he would have been the one voted most likely to succeed.
And then he wasn’t.
We read the end of his story earlier in the service, but most of you would be familiar with the high points of his life.
His name was Joseph, and he had his entire life ahead of him and his success seemed to be virtually guaranteed, until it wasn’t.
This is the last Sunday of our “After the but comes the Truth” series here at Cornerstone, and I was wondering how to end the series, when I realized that today would also be the day that we took time to honour our graduates.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve been looking at how the word “but” swings the entire meaning of a statement.
For example, James Dobson once said, “A wet bird never flies at night.” My grandfather said that to me when I was a child and warned me not to forget it. I remember his words but never did figure out what he meant!”
After the but, comes the truth.
Dobson’s grandfather thought he was passing wisdom on to young James, instead he simply confused him.
At this time of the year we are often tempted to pass wisdom on to those who are graduating.
For example, “Don’t run out from under a leaking roof only to stand in the rain.” Or “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”, “Poor iron makes a poor sword.” “You don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for.”
One I passed on to my kids was, “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.” And keeping with the horse theme, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” And my personal favourite, “You can lead a horse to water……, but if you can make him lie down on his back and float, you’ve really got something.”
Back in May our National Superintendent, Steve Elliot spoke at the baccalaureate service at Kingswood University. And as a part of his message he imparted wisdom to the graduating class. One of the things that Dr. Elliot told the students was that they would choose to either be a “Yeah But” person or a “But God” person.
While I don’t preach other people’s sermons, I’m not opposed to stealing a good idea. Which led me to the scripture that was read this morning. In particular Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.
To bring you up to speed. Joseph was Jacob’s son you might remember that Jacob was Abraham’s grandson.
Joseph was just one of 12 sons. What set him apart from the others was that he was perceived to be his father’s favourite.
Listen to Genesis 37:4 But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.
I’m pretty sure that my sister was the favourite child, my parents treated her better than me and she got more perks than I did growing up. They bought her a horse. Not that I’m keeping track.
Of course, if you talk to Dianne, and she’d tell you that I have it all backward, that I was the favourite child. Seriously, they bought her a horse.
But, there was a good reason that the other brothers felt that way about Joseph, listen to how the Bible describes the relationship between Joseph and his father, Genesis 37:3 Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe.
Now if you grew up going to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, or if you are a Dolly Parton fan or an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, you’d know this was a coat of many colours, or might I even venture to say a Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The mistake here wasn’t that Joseph was the favorite, that happens.
I know that we claim that we don’t play favourites, but reality says that there are times that one or another of the kids is more lovable then the others.
The fatal mistake here was when Jacob let everyone else including his other children know that Joseph was the favourite.
The coat of many colours may have been a neat idea for a story line, but it was really dumb for fostering sibling unity. Now Joseph didn’t help the matter when he told his brothers about the dreams he had where they were all subservient to him.
Well, one day the other boys were out tending the sheep and Jacob sent Joseph out to check up on them, another step toward making him popular with his siblings. And to make a long story short his brothers sold him into slavery and told their father that he had been killed.
Joseph ended up in Egypt where he was sold to a man named Potiphar who was captain of Pharaohs’ guard. Joseph eventually became Potiphar’s right hand man and everything was going great for Joseph until Potiphar’s wife set her eyes on the young man, let’s pick up the story in Genesis 39:6-8 . . . Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded. But Joseph refused.
It would be 3000 years before William Congreve wrote his poem The Mourning Bride, but he could have been writing it about Potiphar’s wife when he wrote: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
So, if she couldn’t have Joseph nobody could. If you know the story then you know the next time she made an advance and Joseph rejected it, she grabbed his cloak and used it in an allegation against Joseph.
Genesis 39:16-18 She kept the cloak with her until her husband came home. Then she told him her story. “That Hebrew slave you’ve brought into our house tried to come in and fool around with me,” she said. “But when I screamed, he ran outside, leaving his cloak with me!”
To continue making a long story short (ish). Joseph languished in prison for a number of years, until he interpreted the dreams of another prisoner, who turned out to be cupbearer to the Pharaoh. The cupbearer was released and went back to work for his old boss and when the Pharaoh had a dream that nobody could interpret the cupbearer mentioned Joseph.
Joseph was called to the palace where he was able to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams, telling him that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.
Eventually we read, Genesis 41:41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.”
And just as predicted there were seven years of bumper crops, and during that time Joseph had massive amounts of grain stored. After the seven years of plenty, a famine came upon Egypt and the surrounding countries.
And people came from other countries to buy food from the Pharaoh. And amongst the people who came were Joseph’s brothers. Eventually his entire extended family migrates to Egypt and it’s at the end of the story, after Joseph’s father Jacob dies, that we find the scripture that was read for us earlier.
You can read the unabridged version in Genesis 37-50.
So, let’s go back to our “but”, Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.
What can we learn here? And in particular for those of you who are standing on the threshold of a whole new chapter of your life what did Joseph learn that you could embrace? Because we ought to learn from the mistakes of others, because we’ll never live long enough to make them all ourselves.
The first lesson goes back to the beginning of the story and it is, You Might Blow It, but God is Still in Control
The first part of the story was dictated by Joseph’s actions. He was right and he was a jerk.
It seemed that he flaunted the fact that he was his father’s favourite child. He couldn’t help how his father felt about him, but he didn’t have to rub the other boys’ noses in it.
Listen to how the story starts, Genesis 37:2 This is the account of Jacob and his family. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.
we don’t know what Joseph finked on the others about, maybe it was important,
maybe it wasn’t important maybe he was just being a kid brother.
The Bible doesn’t mention what the others had done, but I can’t imagine that he endeared himself to his siblings over that little incident.
We often talk about IQ, Intelligence quotient but there is also some called EQ and that is Emotional quotient and that helps us to understand our emotions and the emotions of others when we interact with them. EQ helps us to not act like a jerk. Joseph demonstrated that he had lots of IQ, but may have been a little lacking in EQ.
And then Joseph had a dream of how his brothers would all bow down to him.
Now having the dream is one thing but Joseph rushed right out and told the guys, and then couldn’t understand why they weren’t as excited as he was, as a matter of fact it says in Genesis 37:8 . . . And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them.
If ’n that happened to me I think I would have kept my mouth shut after the first incident.
But no, he has another dream and in this one his parents bow down to him as well as his brothers and do you think that the thought even crossed his mind “you know, the other guys might not be thrilled to hear this.” No instead he rushes right off to let them in on the good news. Just goes to prove the validity of Billy Sunday’s statement “Sin can be forgiven but stupid is forever.”
We are told Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age.
But I would suspect that it went deeper than. I would suspect that Joseph never caused his father any problem, kept his nose clean when he was around Dad and behaved himself.
It was very apparent when God chose to speak to Joseph through dreams that there was something special about this kid. But he negated that in his brother’s eyes when he acted like a jerk to them.
Sometimes we bring persecution upon ourselves because we chose to do wrong things. Joseph wasn’t being picked on because he was righteous; he was being picked on because he was being a righteous pain in the neck.
Sometimes I think that because Jesus said in Luke 6:26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets. Some people think that they need to be unlikeable to get into the Kingdom of God.
The secret though is that persecution should be for righteousness sake not because you deserve it. The Lord told us in Matthew 5:10-11 “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.”
And while selling your sibling into slavery is never justifiable, we do need to realize that Joseph was the author of his own misfortune in round one. Sometimes we don’t need to look any further than the mirror to see who’s to blame for what’s happening to us.
But even when we blow it, God is still in control
Life May Seem Unfair, but God is Still in Control
Whatever Joseph was as a teenager his adversity had turned him into a man of God. On four separate occasions the Bible says, “The Lord was with Joseph”. Nobody else in the Scripture gets that type of acknowledgment. We see his commitment to God when Potiphar’s wife makes her advances and Joseph stands firm for righteousness by saying in Genesis 39:9 How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”
Joseph knew what was wrong even when it would appear in his best interest. The laws of God were deeply ingrained in his heart no doubt laid there by his Father’s teaching. He called the action what it was “Wickedness and a sin against God” he didn’t try to justify it or rationalise it, after all the master’s wife would be a valuable friend indeed, she might even be able to secure his freedom for him. He knew it was wrong, he didn’t call it a failing or an illness or a mistake. He knew the truth of Jerry Garcia’s of the “Grateful Dead” words, who said “Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.”
King David realized the value of having the laws of God etched deep into your being when he wrote Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
When I was in high school in one of our classes we talked about “Situational Ethics”. What would you do if you were in this situation or that situation? But our commitment to God can’t just be dependent on the circumstances around us.
Too often the message is preached today that if we are righteous and dot all our i’s and cross all of our t’s then everything will be alright. And if things go wrong and if there is illness or set back or problems then it is because there is sin in our life. That isn’t true.
But even in the darkness, God is still in control.
The third thing we learn is, You Might Not Be Able to See the End, but God Is Still in Control
Even when Joseph was in prison the Bible records that “the Lord was with him”. The problem with the name it and claim it philosophy of Christianity is that it make God into some type of celestial Santa Claus or divine genie who makes all of our hurts go away and if the hurts don’t go away and if we have problems then God must not be happy with us.
If our salvation and obedience to God was assurance of leading a life without trouble or problems, then we would have to bar the door of the church to keep the converts away. It also doesn’t explain away the fact that not all Christians enjoy the privilege of living in a first world country. What do you do with the devout believer in Sierra Leone, or Haiti who doesn’t have enough to eat let alone everything he could possible desire? How do you explain Job who was a Godly man with ungodly troubles?
Joseph remained faithful through it all both in the good and in the bad. And sometimes it’s harder to serve God when everything is going good then when things are bad. Major Alistair Smith of the Salvation Army made this statement concerning the Early days of the Salvation Army, “The world threw bricks at us then. Now they throw bouquets. I sometimes think that the bouquets do us more harm then the bricks ever did.”
I believe that will be true of the Wesleyan church as well, as we become more and more respectable in the eyes of the community the easier it is to compromise our message for popularity. Let’s keep our eyes on the cross in the good times and the bad.
Joseph obviously knew the truth of Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
The secret of that passage is in the last five words, “If we don’t give up”. If we give up we don’t get nothing, Billy Sunday the pro baseball player turned evangelist summed it up by saying “Stopping at third adds no more to the score then striking out.” lot of truth in that.
How about it? Can you stick with it? I love the poster that has the picture of the cat hanging on the end of a rope and the caption says, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
When we lived in Australia Stephen and I were coming back from soft ball practise one evening and as we drove home, we could see a storm just ahead of us. Even though we were only getting a few drops of rain the storm loomed like a curtain in front of us. When we finally hit the squall it was pouring rain, the wind was blowing and there was a bit of hail.
The wipers could hardly handle the rain it came down so hard. And as we got a little way into it, we saw a man pull over to the side of the road to sit the storm out. He had obviously driven as far as he was willing to go, and you couldn’t really blame him, could you? The ironic thing was that he was within a hundred yards of driving out of the storm. Because he stopped, he had to wait until the storm had gone by him again, and because he was obviously driving faster than the storm, he would have ultimately caught up with it again.
You got storms in your life? Don’t stop, don’t give up.
Seven times in the book of Revelation Christ gives promises to His church, but in all seven instances the promise is preceded by the thought “to those who are victorious” In the King James it reads “To those who overcome” In other words it isn’t how you start but how you finish that counts.
Sometimes life may be like a roller coaster with all its ups and downs but there is one more similarity and that is it isn’t safe to get off until the end of the ride.
When should Joseph have given up? When he was tossed in the well? When he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife? When he was thrown in jail? When he was forgotten by the cup bearer? When he became governor?
There will be times you can’t see the plan but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan.
And ultimately it will be your choice to be a “yeah but” person or a “but God” person.
And some day, if you trust God and do what he wants you to and try not to be a jerk then you will be able to say about your life, I didn’t always agree or understand but God intended it all for good.