February 15, 2015 Music video: “Bend” by Brandon Heath (SLIDE) Today we’re moving on to Chapter 3 of The Story (finally) – a defining moment in the development of God’s nation building plan – the story of Joseph who would play a pivotal role in the survival of God’s chosen people. The Brandon Heath music video which is called “Bend” mentions some key terms about Joseph’s story: not a slave that was sold, mercy in the soil, learning to forgive, love, dreams, choosing to stand in God’s hand of grace. Joseph is a special character – unlike other Bible characters we’ll study, Joseph, other that being a little arrogant about his dreams as a 17-year old, was righteous and faithful to God no matter the circumstances. His whole story could be labeled what I have termed “footprints of Christ” – in fact, Joseph is considered to be a “type” of Christ – an Old Testament representation of Christ – a righteous man who endured all kinds of suffering, yet never turned away from God’s calling on his life. His story is a “good news – bad news” story – that ends with good news.
(SLIDE) We like good news – bad news jokes – I was looking online and found some – that poke fun at my profession:
Good News: You baptized seven people today in the river.
Bad News: You lost two of them in the swift current. Good News: The Elder Board accepted your job description the way you wrote it.
Bad News: They were so inspired by it, they also formed a search committee to find somebody capable of
filling the position. Good News: Your women's softball team finally won a game.
Bad News: They beat your men's softball team. Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.
But in all seriousness, life could be described as a constant stream of good news and bad news – we might call that the ups and downs of life, but that is life in this Lower Story. We’ve seen that good news – bad news pattern already in both chapters we’ve covered. We’ve studied the good news of God’s creative work, only to hear about the bad news of sin entering the world – a mere 3 chapters into the Bible. We’ve seen the bad news of human evil, but the good news of God saving Noah and his family. We’ve read about the good news of God’s vision for Abraham, but have seen the bad news of Abraham and Sarah’s occasional personal failures. But then we come to Joseph – this good man who is completely faithful to God – who experiences lots of good news, but also plenty of bad news that could easily undermine a person’s faith – yet, he always managed to prevail – in fact, bad news seems to make him even stronger. (SLIDE) Let’s walk briefly through this good news- bad news story:
Good News:Joseph is the great grandson of Abraham, grandson of Isaac, and son of Jacob – that’s an impressive family tree! As we learn in Genesis 37, he is the favored son of Jacob (likely equates to no manual labor and a special inheritance, and he got a special robe). He’s living a privileged life.
Bad News:His brothers hated him because his father loved him more. Joseph worsens matters when he gave a bad report about them to Jacob – then he told them his dreams about them bowing down to him. Of course this leads to more anger and a plot to kill him. They end up selling him as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelites (good news?), made up a story about Joseph being killed by wild animals. Joseph is eventually sold to Potiphar, an Egyptian official.
Good News: Genesis 39:2 tells us that in Potiphar’s household, The Lord was with Joseph, and he prospered… Potiphar entrusted his entire household to Joseph’s care.
Bad News: Joseph was “well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me.” (Genesis 39:6).
Good News: He refused her, and kept refusing her.
Bad News: She kept pursuing him to one final moment of refusal, she pulled his cloak off, he ran out of the house, and she claimed Joseph made “sport of her”. Potiphar, in anger, threw Joseph in jail.
Good News: While in jail, Genesis 39:21-22 tells us: …the Lord was with him. He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. Then as fate (or God) would have it, the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were thrown in jail with him – Joseph interprets their dreams – bad news for the baker who lost his head, but good news for the cupbearer who was restored to service.
Bad News: The cupbearer forgot about Joseph – Joseph sat in prison two more years.
Good News: The Pharaoh has a dream, the cupbearer remembers Joseph and his special talent, Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams (about 7 years of good crops and 7 years of drought) giving all the credit to God, gives the Pharaoh a plan to store grain for 7 years to alleviate the impact of the drought to follow – and Pharaoh makes Joseph deputy Pharaoh. What an amazing rags to riches story! Joseph continues to thrive, carries out the plan, his brothers show up for food – bad news for them perhaps – but Joseph turns their bad news into good news when he finally reveals himself to them and declares (Genesis 45:5-7) “…do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” From Joseph’s perspective, the bad news was actually good news – and his story ends in good news.
LIFE LESSONS –from Joseph’s good news – bad news story.
(SLIDE) Adversity doesn’t have to be bad news.
Joseph faced unimaginable adversity – lots of bad news – but he didn’t let it take him down. Instead, he was really into turning bad news into good news, for himself and others – he grew through it all. Randy Frazee put it best: “…some of God’s best work is done in the moments of life that feel more like a furnace than an afternoon sunbathing.”A hard place can be a good place at times if we let it – if we allow those moments to teach us and strengthen us, to grow our faith and trust in God. I’m certain that Joseph was growing in both his good news and bad news moments, and I’m willing to bet the bad news moments were teaching him more about life, integrity, perseverance, and faith – as he faced dashed dreams and disappointments. Peter speaking to persecuted believers wrote this (1 Peter 1:7) about their trials and suffering: These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
(SLIDE) Our faith should never be defined by our circumstances.I recently saw this equation:
(SLIDE) When life is good = God is near. The problem is when things go bad – when we get bad news – we get impatient, angry – we’re prone to ask the question: “Where’s God?”- and we end up changing the equation:
(SLIDE) When life isn’t good = God is not near.
I think Joseph’s formula would have looked like this: (SLIDE)Life = God is near! Joseph never lost a sense of God’s proximity to him and his circumstances. His faith in that, through all the bad news, never wavered.
(SLIDE) The Upper Story good news helps us deal with the Lower Story bad news.
A lower story perspective for Joseph would have read something like this. “I’m trying to do the right thing and this is what I get! This isn’t fair. Where are you God? You owe me! I give up on you – why should I bother being obedient – why do I have to fight temptation – why do I need to live by your rules – I question your existence.” Somewhere along Joseph’s life journey, he caught a glimpse of God’s Upper Story plan and his role in it, and then he could tell his brothers that this was all about God and His plan – that what they had done to him and all that had happened to him was actually good news because God was in it – God was moving – God ultimately intended it for good – that God was with him. Joseph had aligned himself with God which helped him deal with all the junk he was experiencing in the Lower Story.
(SLIDE) Never give up on God.
Joseph is a powerful model of faith – despite all the bad news, he never gave up on God. He obviously saw and understood that God is always working – in the good news and bad news. God didn’t cause the bad news, but used the bad news to bring good news. That was Joseph’s perspective. He lived his life with a confidence that God always brings the good out of the bad and would restore him – redeem him. (SLIDE) Peter said this to the persecuted (1 Peter 5:10) – And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”Life is indeed filled with plenty of bad news, but we’re called to rise above it in the strength of His grace, His glory, in Christ – and He will restore us. How do we know? Because he turned the bad news of Christ’s suffering on the cross and turned it into the good news of the resurrection. We can be confident that God through Christ has made a way for those who believe. Joseph’s story ends in good news; and in Christ, our story ends in good news – despite our life circumstances – God has written the story –and God has written the last word!