Jack Graham - The Choices That Make You
There are many comparisons of this man Joseph to Jesus Himself. In fact, you may say that Joseph is the most Christ-like man in the Old Testament. And he is representative of our Lord Himself. And the character of His life is what sets this man apart. I've heard character described in a number of ways. Character is what you are in the dark, or character is who you are when no one is watching. But I believe the best definition of character is character is the sum total of the choices you make in life, the sum total of the decisions that we make in life. And so I'm calling this message the "The Choices that Make You". Not the choices you make, but the choices that make you. We can choose what we choose to do, but we cannot always choose the consequences of those choices. But ultimately every decision we make in life impacts who we are, our character. And especially who we are before God.
Now have you ever noticed that it is most often in the dark days, the difficult days that our faith grows strongest and that our character is developed the deepest? You know life with all sunshine simply leaves a desert. So God allows sunshine and rain to form us and to frame us into the image of Christ. And that is the goal, not mere human character but the character of God, the character of Christ in us. And therefore, God tests us in order to prove us that He might ultimately prosper us. He is developing and preparing us for success in life. And He uses circumstances, and not all of those circumstances are good. Sometimes the circumstances in life are painful and hurtful. Such was the case of Joseph, as you know, a dreamer.
God placed some dreams, not just daydreams, but God put in his heart that He would greatly use him and gave him a mental picture of his life to come. And the providential hand of God began working in the life of young Joseph, just seventeen years of age. And yet, because he was such a dreamer, because he was favored by his father, he wore this magnificent coat given to him by his father as a symbol of the favor of this man upon his son. It was a mosaic kind of a coat and it speaks to me of the patchwork of providence in our lives. God takes the many colors and seasons and situations in our lives and patches them together and forms them together into something beautiful. I love the Scripture which says, "He makes all things beautiful in His time".
And so God proves His servant Joseph. And while he was loved and beloved by his father and favored by God Himself, his brothers despised him. And so on a certain day when Joseph confronted his brothers, these men who were evil men, jealous and angry men, threw him in a pit and left him there to die. Someone had a better idea. His brother Ruben said, "Let's make a business deal on our brother rather than kill him. After all, he is our brother. Rather than kill him, let's sell him"! So a group of Ishmaelites came through on camels and they sold their brother; took his coat, dipped it in blood, told the father that he was dead, but sold their brother not down the river, but down the desert. And there he goes on the back of a camel into a distant land where the language was different, the customs were different, everything was different. And now he goes from the favored status of a son to lowly menial slave. And it is in a palace owned by a man by the name of Potiphar, that God tested him with trials and temptations that ultimately proved the true metal of this man.
So we pick up our reading in chapter 39 of Genesis, beginning at verse 1: "Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph", mark that, "The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. And from the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and in field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, 'Lie with me.'"
Joseph is presented with a series of choices, tests and temptations that would develop his character and prepare him for the future that God had promised. Some times when we get into circumstances like these we pray to get out as soon as possible. "Lord, get me out of this situation! Lord, I don't want to be in this circumstance in my life! I can't take it another day! I'm not going to make it here, God! I'm on the edge here! Get me out of this situation"! We need to be praying, "Lord, in the middle of this situation, no matter how grievous, how terrible it may be, give me strength, not just to survive but to thrive in the middle of this. And Lord, may I know Your joy and may Your hand be with me and never leave me, that I may stand strong for You".
This is how Joseph must have prayed because the first decision, the first choice he made is clear. He chose blessing over bitterness. If there was ever an individual who could have chosen bitterness due to the circumstances of his life it would have been this man. He was treated unfairly; he was treated unjustly, left for dead, then on the backs of camels, through the dessert, in this foreign land all because he was victimized by the hatred and the anger of his own brothers. But he chose blessing rather than bitterness, knowing that bitterness is a beast! Bitterness is an acid that will destroy its own container. Bitterness is anger turned inward. And the seething resentment that so many people feel today because of the circumstances of their lives, because of the conditions of their birth, or because the culture around them. Many live with this kind of loser's limp, this victim's mentality in life. And therefore are defeated by this beast of bitterness in their lives.
Now the question is: is your dream still alive? Or have you allowed a victim's kind of mentality to say, you're not smart enough or you're not educated enough, or you were born in the wrong place to the wrong kind of parents. Or you don't have the right kind of friends or the right kind of connections. Are you living with this kind of loser's attitude that says, "I can't", when God says in Jesus Christ, "All things are possible". Can you live with the expectation of hope, knowing that if you are a child of God that His hand is upon you, even as the hand of God was upon Joseph. Don't you dare quit in resentment and failure and defeat!
Harland Sanders, who's better known as Colonel Sanders, had much he could have been discouraged about, defeated about. His father died when he was five years of age. He quit school at sixteen. By seventeen he had already lost four jobs. He was married at eighteen and had a little baby girl at nineteen. When he was twenty his wife left him and took their baby daughter with her. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two he failed as a railroad conductor, he washed out of the Army, he flopped as a farmer, he was rejected in law school and he bombed as an insurance salesman. But he figured that he was a pretty good cook so he got a job in his hometown at a little café washing dishes and cooking. Eventually he convinced his wife to come back home with their daughter, and she did, and joined him there in the little café for decades and decades and decades, washing dishes and cooking. He retired at the age of sixty-five from this distinguished career cooking.
On the day he retired he went down to the post office to get his Social Security check. When he looked at it, it was $105.00 a month. He thought, "This is what I've worked for my whole life? This is all that is left"? He became severely depressed and suicidal. He couldn't bare the thought of living on the government and from check to check like this on Social Security. And he truly became suicidal. And yet his wife, seeing his depression, said, "Harland, you need to think about what you're going to do with the rest of your life. This is not a time to die; this is time to live"! He sat down to write out his last will and testament. But as he began to write, he began to think of some of the things he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He wrote down some goals and began to dream, really for the first time in years and years. He said, "You know, I'm not through yet. I'm not dead yet"! And he said, "You know, I'm going to do the one thing I know how to do best, and that's cook".
So he took his Social Security check and borrowed money at the bank against his next check, he borrowed $87.00. And with that $87.00 he bought boxes and chicken and I guess those seventeen special spices. And he began to cook chicken and put it in the boxes, and he went door to door in his little town, selling chicken. And shall we say, the rest is history. Harland Sanders, the colonel, who became the king of a chicken empire. Because God gave him a brand new dream, he refused to allow the excuse of "I'm too old" or "I'm too finished! I'm done here"! No! He said, "As long as here, I'm going to do something with my life". For the Christian that's always the promise of God! Some of you may be thinking, "You know, my time is passed. I'm retired now. I'm done here". A lot of people in their older years turn to bitterness and anger and become grumpy and tired and old and miserable, rather than dreaming again the dreams that God has for you.
You say, "Oh, I'm too sick now"! No, you're not! You say, "I can't now"! Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". He is watching over us and walking with us every step of the way. Don't you dare turn to bitterness in your brokenness. And why could Joseph do this? How could Joseph do this? Well, verse 3 is the key. "His master saw that the Lord was with him and the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands". God guides us as He guides Joseph. Psalm 37:23-24, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord," says the psalmist. "And though he fall, he will not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholds him with His strong right hand".
So you are here today and where you are in life not by accident or random chance, but in the purposes and plans of Almighty God who guides our steps. Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path". If you're in a situation or a circumstance in your life that you can't figure out how to fix it, maybe you just need to stop and say, "Lord, I'm tired of trying to control what I can't control".
Some of us need to lay down the things that we can't control; that only God can control! And Joseph must have done that at some point of his life. No doubt he had nightmares in those early years. Remember, he's just a boy, he's just seventeen years old! And here he is in Egypt. Maybe he dreamed night after night, seeing the peering eyes, the hate-filled eyes of his brothers. He dreams of that terrible pit where he was left to die. He dreams of the past. But some day, some way he got up and he said, "You know, I can either die in Egypt in this desert, I can choose to quit, or I can believe once again that God is with me and that God's hand is upon me, and that I can rise above the circumstances of my life". And somewhere along the way Joseph said, "You know, God is guiding me in all of this. I know I can trust in Him". The Lord was with him. The Lord is with you.
Jesus said to wide-eyed disciples after commissioning them to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel". They must have been overwhelmed by this very idea, to preach a Savior that had died on a cross and the last anyone heard of Him except for a few was that He was dead and buried in a tomb. And now the risen Christ is telling them to take this message, this Good News around the world. How could they possibly do that? Jesus said, "Oh, by the way, I am with you always even to the end of the age". And that's the promise of God to every one of us. The Scripture says God will never leave us or forsake us, never ever. That was written in the language of the Hebrew; it was a Hebrew intensive. And it's the strongest form. "I will never leave you or forsake you". Psalm 46, verse 1, "God is our refuge and our strength! An ever present help in times of trouble".
In Psalm 119, and verses 49 and 50. Listen to these words: "Remember Your word to Your servant in which you have made me hope". When you find yourself in circumstances that you cannot control, that only God can control, turn to the soul's medicine cabinet which is the book of Psalms. And in the Psalms we often hear the psalmist crying out to God in the midst of darkness and despair, and here he is speaking of the word of God and the power and promise of God's word in our lives. And so he says personally, "Lord, remember Your word to Your servant". That's a personal request that you can pray. "God, remember Your word to me". He put a promise in my heart. He gave me a dream for my life. "Remember your promise, your word to your servant in which you have made me hope". And then verse 50: "This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your promise gives me life".
Your promise, Lord, gives me life. Why? Because the Bible, God's Word, is breathed by God. The very life of God is in His Word. Just as our life in breath, God made the man, He breathed in him the breath of life, he became a living soul. The breath of God is in the Word of God and God speaks and His Word is life! His promise to us is life! Therefore, when God says, "I will guide you", bank it! Book it! It's true! God not only guides us as He guided Joseph, but He guards us. He protected Joseph. Joseph should have been dead on a number of occasions. Just another statistic, buried in the desert. But the Bible says, "we are immortal in the Word of God, for He who does the will of God abides forever".
You know how long you're going to be here? As long as God wants you here, that's how long. And nothing, not sickness, not even death will separate you from the love of God. The Lord's hand was upon him, guiding him and guarding him. What did Jesus say about that in John chapter 10? He said that, "we are in the Father's hand and no one can snatch us from the Father's hand". We are protected, provided by the hand of God. Nothing can extract us from Him! You say, "Does that mean God's going to change all of my circumstances"? No, Joseph is still living in the house of an Egyptian master. God didn't send him back home to daddy like he wanted to go I'm sure.
For thirteen long years before his ultimate promotion he's a slave in this man's house. But God guarded him and, therefore, God (here's the final word) graced him. Because it says now this is the best part to be, it says that God favored this man and gave him success. His hand was upon him, and therefore, he prospered him and he blessed him in the house of this Egyptian. And as a result when the Egyptian saw it, the Egyptian's looking at this young guy, he's looking at this kid, and he's saying, "There's something about this kid! There's something about this dreamer from Israel! I don't know what it is, but it's apparent; it's perfectly obvious that the hand of the Almighty is on him Potiphar who must have been pretty astute himself, said, 'I want some of that.'"
Notice, by the way, that Joseph didn't have to tell him the hand of God was on him, or that he was favored by God. Potiphar saw it. He sensed it. I mean Joseph wasn't, you know, we don't have to walk around saying, "Yeah, man, I'm under the favor of God! Look at me! I'm blessed! I'm highly favored! Look at me"! No, I think Joseph lost a lot of that strutting around when he lost that coat that he was wearing. But you know he lost his coat; he didn't lose his character. There was still the content of his life. He wasn't just an empty suit, an empty coat. And this man Potiphar, he saw it, he knew it, and therefore, he promoted him. At some point of his life Joseph decided, "Look, if I'm going to be a slave here in Egypt, I'm going to be the best slave that God ever made! Because I may be working for the man, but I'm really serving God"!
And what a beautiful principle this is for all of us who are under authority at some point. Joseph is still in Potiphar's house. He's still washing and cleaning and picking up stuff and making beds and doing whatever he was told to do! But in the routine, in the duty, in the drudgery of his life, he did it for the glory of God! And have you ever noticed that God is taking our measurement not in the big things, for the most part, but in the little things? Jesus said, "He that is faithful in that which is least shall also be made faithful in that which is much".
Character is who you are when nobody's looking. Character is the sum total of the choices you made. And somehow Joseph made the decision to choose blessing and be a blessing over bitterness in his life. Even this pagan Egyptian saw it. And as a result there was blessing all over the house of Potiphar. If you're working in a job, there should be blessing on that business as a result of your service for Christ. Not as a man pleaser, Paul said, but whatever you do, do it hardily as unto the Lord. And you don't have to be running around asking somebody to promote you. If the good hand of God is upon you, He will raise you up in due time and give you the success that He has planned for you.
That's what happened to Joseph. And that's what can happen to you. Potiphar say, "There's no other explanation for the success of our business but that Hebrew Joseph is here"! Somebody ought to walk up to you at the office, at school, in your neighborhood and say, "There's something about you. There's a different spirit about you. You work harder than anybody in here, and yet your faith, and I know some of the trials you've had, the tests you've experienced in life, but you've over... What is it about you"? This is how Jesus said our witness works. Matthew 5:16, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify the Father in heaven". And so God graced him and prospered him and blessed him, and ultimately elevated him because he chose blessing over bitterness and brokenness in his life.
Here's what we learned from the life of Joseph: that character is the sum-total of the choices that we make. So we may make the choices but eventually our choices make us and sometimes you'll be forced to make choices in difficult circumstances. Perhaps you are dealing with a broken home or a job loss or disease, illness of some kind or any number of painful experiences that we all face in life. Now like Joseph you have a choice before you, between two paths forward, whether it is into the path of blessing and abundance, God's will or bitterness and separations. Will you follow the wisdom of Proverbs and trust in the Lord with all your heart, not leaning on your own understanding but acknowledging his presence and power in your life and he will truly direct your path, or will you choose to let bitterness fill your heart. Only one of those paths leads to life and the realization of the dreams God has placed in your heart. The world is watching to see you character. What choice would you make today?