Sermon Transcript - Sunday, March 15, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ The Story, Chapter 3 ~ Sun., March 15, 2020
Pain avoidance is as natural as breathing. It is reflexive. Touch a hot plate and you will jerk your hand away without even thinking. If you see trouble down the road, you take an alternate route. It makes perfect sense to do what we can to avoid pain and struggle. But some of God’s best work is done in the moments of life that feel more like a furnace than an afternoon sunbathing.
Sometimes a hard place is the right place for a person to meet God and become a useful instrument in the hand of the Master. God is at work in the midst of the details of our lives accomplishing his good purposes (Romans 8:28). Knowing that God’s story line is unfolding even in bleak and confusing times allows us to live freely, being able to forgive those who sin against us. God tests us in order to deepen our faith in him and develop his character in us.
That’s what he was doing with the Old Testament believer, Joseph. You likely know several of the details of the story of Joseph. He is his father’s favorite but is betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. He works well for Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s guard, until he’s falsely accused of sexual assault by Potiphar’s wife and gets thrown into prison. There, he serves the prison warden well, and eventually his gifts for interpreting dreams land him in front of Pharaoh himself. And in his third job, he doesn’t just manage a house or a prison well – he manages the entire country, and saves God’s chosen people in the process.
There is so much we can learn from Joseph. Today, I’d like to focus on the way he made the best out his situations. It is striking how Joseph faithfully made use of his God-given gifts regardless of the situations he found himself in. If anyone could be deemed as under-utilized, it was Joseph. But we see that he always used his gifts as best as he could wherever he was.
Among our group here today, we have a range of experiences present this morning: most if not all of us have been at times under-utilized if not completely overlooked. Maybe that’s been on a sports team or choir or musical group or drama club, working with a volunteer organization or a community group or in a congregation, in a job, or even in our own homes. Many if not most of us have been passed over, underestimated, or under-challenged in any of these situations. As tempting as it is to check out of those situations altogether, Joseph’s life encourages us to a different view: every situation you find yourself in deserves your best, no matter what you’re doing or where you’re doing it.
In Joseph’s story, we learn that God put him squarely in each circumstance precisely because that’s where his gifts were needed, at that point in time. Could it be that God is doing the same thing with us and our lives too?
Have there been situations or seasons in your life where you feel like you’re not getting a chance at all or you’re not being given the opportunity to really shine, to fully utilize the gifts God has given you? Those can be frustrating times, they’re often filled with disappointment. If those situations lengthen into longer seasons, there can be this dark thought that weighs on you, wondering if you’ll ever get the opportunity to really use what God has given you.
Have you ever thought about it from the other direction, though? That maybe, just maybe God is using those situations, even those seasons, to mature you and develop you so that you’re better able to use your gifts for the kinds of situations and seasons you’ll face in the future? Is it also possible, that even in those times when you’re feeling underutilized or even completely unutilized, that maybe, just maybe, God is actually using you and the gifts he’s given you in ways that are perfect for that time and that place, though your role may seem small or insignificant to you?
If you find yourself in some version of a dungeon, between a rock and a hard place, with far more questions than answers, can I encourage you to contemplate this question: if in fact God is all-powerful and all-knowing and all merciful, might you, like Joseph, be right where God wants you to be?
This leads us to our second take away: We must learn to deal with disappointment. After his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery, Scripture tells us: “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. 2 The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 …His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39:1-3).
Think about what these verses are saying: Joseph had just been bought. He had gone from his father’s favorite, splendidly clothed and highly favored, to being someone’s property. I doubt that any of us who didn’t get a chance at the position we’ve always wanted on the team or in an organization or for a job, have ever experienced what Joseph did, from heir apparent to property. But despite this precipitous fall in stature, the Bible says there was something about Joseph in his character…something about him that was so winsome, so attractive, so appealing, that, “His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39:3).
How was that possible? How could someone who had been bushwhacked by his brothers, left for dead, then sold to someone who just happened to be walking by…how was it possible that when Joseph landed, the man who bought him in the same way he would have purchased cattle, saw God in his life?
The only way is that Joseph had what we discussed last week: confident faith in the true God. No matter where he found himself, he never doubted God had a plan for his life. Joseph embraced a key to life success that most people overlook or ignore: he trusted that God is in control. Just as in his life, so also in each of our lives, there is always an Upper Story!
Some of you are hacked off today because of some surprises in your life, unexpected and unwelcome. At some level all of us are feeling a kind of angst over the global pandemic. Maybe in addition you have some personal things too! Maybe you were passed over for a promotion. Maybe you’ve inherited a bunch of extra responsibilities but no additional compensation or commendation. Maybe you’re giving it your all in something you’re a part of and someone else is getting the credit or your efforts are just simply going unnoticed. The situations may be different, but the result is the same: disappointment.
Here’s the thing: If we will not face and address the disappointment within ourselves directly and head on, we are preventing God from working in our hearts and through our lives. For example: if someone sins against me, if I feel wronged by another, it feels normal, even natural to nurse the hurt. To hold onto that grudge. If that’s what I choose to do, to remain in that pain, it’s going to have this corrosive effect on my own soul, my faith in God that spills over into my relationship with others. That means people aren’t going to be coming up to me and saying to me what Potiphar said about Joseph: “You know, I’m noticing that Godis really with you, He just seems to reside with you. I’ve noticed that God is working for good in everything you do…”
Let me just ask: when is the last time someone has said something like that to you? Has anyone ever watched you, the way you live your life, the way you faithfully go about completing your assignments, carrying out your responsibilities, the way you seek to work together with those around you, listened to the way you talk about those over you, or listened to how you talk to your family members, your friends, your spouse, and said that your way of life and your attitude is so compelling, so engaging, it just seems that God must be with you?
Our tendency is to get our pound of flesh against those who have done us wrong, to prove those who held us back wrong so we can say, “Look at me! Shame on you for not believing in me!” To fight back and get the last word. Listen, I know it’s hard. Disappointment isn’t easy. It delivers a crushing blow to the ego, to our expectations, to our enthusiasm. But is it possible that you and I are sometimes put in humbling circumstances so that God can work out some character issues deep inside of us? Is it possible that, just like Joseph, God allows our faith to be challenged, for Joseph that was in slavery, in a dungeon, for you and me it might be when we’re under-utilized, un-utilized and forgotten – is it possible that difficult personal or professional environments have a higher purpose? An Upper Story? A bigger picture?
I think Joseph must have figured that out. I believe the details of his life are recorded as God’s invitation to us to do the same! To figure out what Joseph learned and believe and receive the same strength he did too. That if God is all-powerful and all-wise, and he is the God who worked out his anger over my sins by the sacrifice of his own Son, then my circumstances are not some sort of litmus test of how God feels about me in any given moment. Rather my situation is God’s laboratory in which he develops my character and refines my faith in him. Because from his Upper Story perspective nothing is accidental or haphazard, so my challenging conditions are not an indication of God’s absence, but a part of his plan. How else could it be for Joseph that the evil intent of his brothers and the vindictive, false accusation of Potiphar’s wife actually turn out to be crucial steps in Joseph’s journey to becoming all that God calls him to be?
Are you seeing what this means for you and your life? You have a God who loves you more than life itself, willingly giving his own as the ultimate sacrifice to redeem you for himself! When your circumstances have you wondering if God cares for you, focus on what God through his Son has done for you. And reassured of God’s unwavering love for you, look at your life through a better lens. See your present circumstances in a different light. Look at them as opportunities to exercise and express your faith in God’s unchanging love. God never promised that the way would be easy, but he has promised he goes with us every step of the way! And so, like Joseph, you can see through the eyes of faith that where you are today is precisely where you need to be, because God does love you and God is guiding and directing your life just as he did for Joseph.
Chapter 3 of The Story, which covers the last 13 chapters of Genesis describe a roller-coaster life of ups and downs that paint a very clear picture of what faith looks like up close and personal – of what it means to say, “OK Jesus, because you’ve got me here, because you say so, I’ll do it. I don’t necessarily see the point, I’m pretty burned out, but because you say so, I’ll do my best in this situation I’m now in.”
Joseph was commissioned to do work that on the surface, could be seen as humiliating, frustrating – sold into slavery, thrown into prison. Later he discovered what God had in view all along, he was being prepared for something far greater: the saving of his own people.
Today, will you commit with me to look at life through the eyes of faith and to see in the whole of life that there is an Upper Story not just to Joseph’s life, but to yours, and to mine? And that despite the failures and obstacles, our lives and what we do matters greatly to God because we matter greatly to God. And what God has us do and the situations he places us into in life, they, every one of them, serve his grand purpose, to help us become all that Christ calls us to be. In the process he also works through us to help others discover and develop into all that Christ desires for them and their lives too! That is a high and holy calling, my dear brothers and sister. For how God works out that calling in us and through us, may we be moved to praise him now and forever. Amen.