Recently, I received an e-mail from a sixty year-old man who was about to undergo a heart transplant. That's major surgery. A number of us at Valley View have been praying for him because he's the brother of Rose Brewer who's been part of our church community since the very beginning. In the e-mail he writes ...
Dear Praying Friends,
"I have to thank you, once again, for your incredibly strong support in every way. Your sincere concern and faithfulness in prayer keep me going day after day as I wait for a heart transplant. Overall, my condition is stable, with some days better than others. I am still at the top of the waiting list and am getting more eager to have the surgery over with. I know the recovery will not be a picnic, but I can't begin recovering until I receive the heart."
"All of this is in God's hands and his hands are more sure and steady than those of any thoracic surgeon. Because of your prayers, Judy and I are not worried, even though I am eager and even restless to get through the surgery."
"Each time I send an update I wonder if this will be my last before the transplant. In case this is, I need to say, that no matter what the outcome, God is completely wise, good, strong, and faithful. Even if I have a rough time with the recovery, or even if I do not survive, God is love. His ways are not our ways and his overall purposes are not always discernable."
"I know (both cognitively and experientially) with absolute confidence, however, that he is always working all things, including disappointment and even death, for the good of those who love him. His timing and his ways are beyond understanding, but they always come from his loving hand. He is always shaping and preparing us for better things."
"Thank you again for your friendship, kindness and prayers. I wish for each of you an ever-increasing experience of God's moment-by-moment presence that translates into practical dimensions of living and serving. May abundant peace and joy be with you and those closest to you, Bob."
When I first read that tears came to my eyes. I was moved. I was inspired by this man's faith and his confidence that no matter what happens to us in life, God is love. God is good. God is with us. That's what Bob believes with all his heart. Do you believe that? Can you honestly say that about your life right now? That no matter what's going on, God is love. God is good. God is with you. It's true. But it takes faith to believe it.
We all need examples like that in our lives. We all need people who inspire us to greater levels of faith and confidence in God. And there are people like that all around us. Some are found in hospital rooms waiting for transplants like Bob. And others are found in the pages of the Bible, like Joe, the man whose life we're going to look at this morning.
If you have a Bible turn with me to Genesis 37 as we continue our series through the first book of the Bible called Foundations of our Faith. Today and next week we're going to look at the life of a man named Joseph. It's going to take us two weeks because more is written about Joseph's life than about anyone or anything else in the book of Genesis, including creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the universal flood, you name it. None of it gets the publicity that this man gets. And we'll see why as we read his story. But first, a short review.
Remember the patriarchs, the fathers of our faith, are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We've looked at each one of their stories. They all lived about 2,000 years before Christ and their collective story covers about 345 years. These three men along with Joseph all have a plaque on the wall in God's Hall of Fame found in Hebrews 11. These were great men of faith. They had lots of faults to be sure, but they all knew how to trust God. And faith is what God rewards.
Joseph is one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Towards the end of his life God changed Jacob's name to Israel, which means, "he struggles with God." That's where the nation of Israel came from. And the twelve tribes that made up that ancient nation came from the twelve sons of Jacob, one of which was Joseph.
Now you might think that Joe was just a number, number eleven out of twelve boys. But he wasn't. Joseph wasn't just any kid. He didn't get lost in the shuffle of a big family. He was the favored child. The sun rose and set on Joseph and that caused some major problems in that family as it does in any family where there is a favored child.
Our story opens with Joseph living in the town of Hebron in the land of Israel with his family. He's about 17 years old and one day he's out tending the flock with his brothers when something happens that will change his life forever.
Look at Genesis 37:2, This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
Joseph is in the fields with his brothers Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher, when he sees them do something they shouldn't and decides to tell his dad about it. Not a very good idea, especially for a little brother who's already viewed as the favorite son.
Look at verse 3, Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Joseph's in a tough spot. That's what favoritism does. It puts kids in a tough spot. Not only does his dad love him more than his other sons, but he advertises it by giving Joe a beautiful robe that sets him apart from the rest, a coat of many colors. Maybe some of you can relate to being a favorite son or favorite daughter or having one in your family and you know the jealousy and conflict that it creates. It wasn't easy for Joseph or for his brothers to grow up with that.
But Jacob was just repeating the same dysfunctional parenting style that raised him. Remember, he was the favorite son of his mother, Rebekah, and Esau, his twin brother, was the favorite son of his father, Isaac. This family tree of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a case study in family dynamics and how the mistakes of parents get passed down to their children and their children's children, generation after generation after generation. "Your just like your mother, your just like your father," we say. It's true. It happens all the time. It's how toeholds become footholds that become strongholds for the evil one.
But thank God they can be broken. The cycle doesn't have to repeat itself. Family strongholds can be torn down. I love what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
I don't have to make the same mistakes my parents made and my kids don't have to make the same mistakes I make. Your parents were divorced? You don't have to get divorced. Your dad was an alcoholic? You don't have to be an alcoholic. Your mom had an eating disorder? You don't have to have an eating disorder. Strongholds can be broken down by prayer and by obedience to the Word of God. Each one of us can make a fresh start if we allow God to gently expose the blind spots that we have, bring them out into the light, so that he can deal with them and set us free. That's the power of the gospel in our lives.
Then Joseph has a dream. Look at verse 5, Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it."
To make matters worse, Joseph has this dream that he's better than his eleven brothers and tells them about it! Not smart, Joey!
Verse 8, His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. 9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." 10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Joseph has a second dream about his superiority, but this time it's not only over his brothers it's also over his mom and dad. And now not only do his brothers want to take him out, but even Jacob finds it offensive. Yet he files it away to see what God will do with his favorite son's life.
All of us need dreams. Dreams are what keep us going in life. Bob has the dream that a heart transplant will give him a normal life. It's a wonderful dream and I hope it comes true. Some of us dream about getting a snow day, or graduating from high school or college or getting married or having children or owning a new car or having a nice house or taking a vacation. My six year-old daughter, Avery, is dreaming of Santa Claus coming down the chimney on Christmas!
I have dreams and I hope you do too. I have dreams for myself. I shared one with you last week. I dream about finishing my life well. Running the second half of the race better than the first half in my relationship with Christ.
I have dreams for my marriage and for my kids. I have dreams for this church. I dream that we would make a difference in the Philadelphia region and in the world beyond for Jesus Christ.
I have dreams for many of you. I dream of some of you coming to know Christ personally and for others of you to know him more intimately. I dream of some of you being healed physically, spiritually, emotionally. I dream of struggling couples being reconciled to each other and enjoying life again. I dream of wayward children coming back to the Lord. I dream of some who are addicted being set free from bondage so that you can live productive lives. I have lots of dreams. But they're my dreams and I don't know if they'll come true.
But I have other dreams that I'm convinced will come true, because they're God's dreams for me. They're the dreams that get me out of bed in the morning and keep me going when I'm tired and fatigued and discouraged.
One of those dreams is found in Revelation 21:1-5, Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
I really believe that's true and the dream of that coming kingdom keeps me going when nothing else well. There's another dream related to that kingdom that I think about often. It comes from a story that Jesus told in Matthew 25. After telling a parable about investing our lives from him he says to those who respond in Matthew 25:21, Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness.
"Well done, good and faithful servant," are words I long to hear, words I dream about hearing and I know many of you do too. Live your life focused on the dreams God has for you.
Joseph had a dream. It was a God given dream. But he made the mistake of telling his brothers. And so his dream combined with the favoritism in the family created a lethal mix that led to a chain reaction of explosions that blew Joseph's life apart.
Look at Genesis 37:12,Now his brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, 13and Israel said to Joseph, "As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them." "Very well," he replied. 14So he said to him, "Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me." Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
Jacob sends Joseph about 30 miles north to find out how his brothers and the flocks are doing. The last time Jacob did that, Joseph came back with a bad report. That didn't earn him any points with his brothers and now he's had these two dreams that have only fanned the flames of their anger.
Look what happens in verse 17,So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they (his brothers) saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19"Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other. 20"Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams." 21When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. "Let's not take his life," he said. 22"Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him." Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe-the richly ornamented robe he was wearing-24and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
The brothers plan to murder Joseph, but Reuben, the oldest, talks them out of it. So they strip him of his robe, throw him into a black hole, sit down, and have lunch. Do you think they hate this guy?
Verse 25, As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. 26Judah said to his brothers, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." His brothers agreed. 28So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
While they're eating lunch a caravan comes by and Judah has the bright idea to make some money off of Joseph. So they sell him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver, which was the price for a handicapped slave in that day.
Look at verse 29, When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30He went back to his brothers and said, "The boy isn't there! Where can I turn now?" 31Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, "We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son's robe." 33He recognized it and said, "It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces." 34Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son." So his father wept for him. 36Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard.
Joseph's charmed life falls completely apart. He's thrown into a pit. Sold into slavery. Taken out of the Promised Land and down into Egypt where he's sold again to a government official named Potiphar. Meanwhile, his brothers take his beautiful coat, the symbol of their jealousy, smear it with blood, and tell their dad, "Joseph is dead! He's gone!"
And once again, Jacob, the deceiver, is deceived. What goes around comes around again. And for the rest of his life he will mourn Joseph's death. And again we see a family pattern repeating itself. First favoritism and now deception are both strongholds in this family. And what makes deception so evil is that it destroys trust and trust destroys relationships.
That's why as parents, one of the best gifts we can give our children is the gift of honesty. Teaching it to them, yes, but more importantly living an honest life before them. That's why authenticity is at the heart of any kind of community whether it's community in a marriage, in a family, in a friendship, or in a church. The first sin that God punished in the very first church was a sin of deception and dishonesty. Why? Because it destroys relationships like nothing else can.
So where's God this whole time? Has he checked out on this dysfunctional family? What about the dream he'd given Joseph that he'd be a ruler one day? Will that ever come true or has his dream turned into a nightmare?
Turn to Genesis 39:1, Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 2The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
God hadn't checked out on Joseph at all. The Lord was with Joseph. The Lord gave Joseph success in everything he did. The Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had.
God was with Joe during all these rough times, abused by his brothers, abandoned by his family, sold into slavery, deported to a foreign country. That's pretty tough stuff for a seventeen year-old boy. But God was with him, just like he is with us when life stinks. He will never leave us or forsake us, Hebrews 13:5 says.
What is it you're going through right now? What is your Egypt? Your job? Your marriage? Your health? Where are you that you don't want to be? Where do you feel abused or abandoned or like a slave? What dream of yours has turned into a nightmare? God is with you just like he was with Joseph. He really is. And if you hang on tight, with white knuckled faith to that truth, God will bless you like he blessed Joseph, once again.
See our real success as believers is not determined by our blessings in Israel, but by our faithfulness in Egypt. Those times in our lives when we're in a place we don't want to be, doing what we don't what to be doing. Yet knowing that God has us there for a purpose.
But things may get worse before they get better. They did for Joseph. Look at verse 6, Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!" 8But he refused. "With me in charge," he told her, "my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" 10And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
Joseph is a handsome dude and Potiphar's gorgeous wife comes on to him. Day after day after day she seduces him. But he says, "No way! I'm not going to do it!" Here's a guy who has every reason to have sex with this woman. He's single. He's away from his family. He's away from home. Nobody's going to know. Nobody's going to care. He's a slave. He's not a leader. Why not? What's the big deal?
The big deal for Joseph is that he would sin against his master and he would sin against God. He feels accountable to his earthly and his heavenly boss. You want to know why this guy is so great? He fears God. And because he does he has character. Someone has said, "Character is who we are when no one else is looking." If he does this wicked thing he knows it will offend his God. So God takes the pressure off, right? No. Not yet anyway.
Look at verse 11, One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
By the way, that's still the best way to deal with sexual temptation. Run! Don't reason with it. Don't recite verses to it. Run from it! Get away from it in whatever form it comes at you.
Verse 13, When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. "Look," she said to them, "this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." 16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." 19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger.
Joseph does everything he can to stay sexually pure and gets rewarded, right? No. Instead, he gets framed. Potiphar's wife cries, "Rape!" and he's arrested and thrown into prison. Potiphar burns with anger, probably not at Joseph, but at his wife for seducing him. He has to do something so he throws his most trusted slave in jail. But if he really believed her story he would have killed Joseph on the spot and never been questioned.
Verse 20, Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 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. 23 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.
Can you believe this? Can you believe a loving God would allow this to happen? He sure does. And Joseph will spend two years in prison? Can it get any worse? He's so far down he has to look up to see bottom.
Yet I'm amazed at the attitude of this teenage boy. Not once does he curse God. Not once does he abandon his faith. Instead, he hangs with the Lord and the Lord hangs with him and gives him success in whatever he does.
Are wondering if God has checked out on you? Disappeared out of your life because things have gotten so bad? Take heart. He hasn't. It may get worse, before it gets better. But if you keep your faith it will get better. And next week we'll see how better it gets for Joseph as we finish his story.
Meanwhile, what happened to our friend Bob who was willing to trust God even if he didn't survive the heart surgery? This week I received another e-mail from him.
Dear Praying Friends,
"I was not planning to write an update for some time, since you all have so much going on in your lives and so many others need prayer. I feel a bit awkward about all the attention I've been receiving. But I really felt I should write for several reasons."
"First of all I need to publicly give praise to God for the test results of the past two days. The biopsy showed no signs of rejection. It was a huge relief to Judy and me to get the results. In addition, the blood work showed all is well. Overall, my doctor and his team are jubilant at how well I am doing."
"Please pray that I might be able to sleep better. Since the surgery I have slept terribly. I am relieved when morning comes. The bed has become my enemy. The doctor said this is a side effect of the medium-sized pharmacy I swallow each day."
"All in all, my recovery is going very well. Judy and I are deeply grateful. I am filled with deep joy in God and in thinking of you as I move through each day. One of my friends now calls me "Bob Newheart" (some of you younger ones may need to ask an older person who Bob Newhart is). Thank you once again for your prayers. It has now been 16 days. Give God the glory always! Bob."