Mountains and Valleys

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here on staff and it’s my pleasure today to speak with you about lessons we can learn from a man called Joseph.  We read his story in the first book of the Bible – Genesis, chapters 37-50.  Today we are talking about how we be a steadfast person in a rollercoaster life. Steadfast means of course, unwavering – steady, resolute.

Life may resemble a wild rollercoaster at times – with it’s ups and downs – how many of you like rollercoasters?  This one is called the Fury 325 in an amusement park called Carowinds in Charlotte North Carolina.  How many of you love rollercoasters?  I will assume that those of you hiding your eyes right now don’t love them.  I’m somewhere maybe near the middle – I’ll go on them but I don’t usually love them – all the ups and downs, they usually make me sick.  Usually I’m a one and done kind of person.  But some of you are thrill junkies – how many of your weirdo’s out here would say they just LOVE them?

I remember one time we went with the youth group to Worlds of fun and we were riding the Mamba and it must have been near the end of the day or something because there was like, no line, and so these kids convince me to ride it, and man, it just goes up and up and up.  And I thought I was going to lose my lunch.  I couldn’t wait until the ride ended – and we pull into the station, and the people all yell, one more time!  And the ride operator is like, you guys want to go again?  And I’m like, no – I wanna get off… Off we go – and we pull in after the second time and they start chanting one more time!

Life ever feel like a rollercoaster that you can’t get off of?  Anyone?  Ups and downs, sometimes really steep, one after another so fast that it just leaves you feeling queasy, right?

I can’t help but feel that Joseph felt like life was this ridiculous out of control rollercoaster that he just couldn’t get off of.  After all, if you read his story, you see that he starts on a high note.  Favored son, beautiful robe, special treatment, light duty when it comes to the work around the farm – it feels like he’s on top of the world.

Until his eleven older half brothers decide to kill him one day, and they throw him into a dry well, stripped and beaten.  Boom!  Bottom of the coaster, right?  And there he is, one might think he is at the lowest point of his life.  His brothers decide to sell him into slavery – and soon Joseph is a slave to a powerful man in Egypt.

But alas, things take a turn for the good.  Up Joseph goes until, making the best of a bad situation, Joseph finds himself in charge of everything in the household.  He has responsibility, some power, some prestige, even.  Until his master’s wife falsely accuses him of trying to seduce her.  Chronologically, that’s the story we should be talking about today, but I thought I’d leave that story til last, August 20th, when the kids are all back in their Sunday school class.  You are welcome.

Anyway, from the top of the coaster, large and in charge at Potiphar’s house, to having to stare down tremendous temptation – but alas!  Joseph succeeds!  He fights temptation and avoids the trap Potiphar’s wife set up for him!  His integrity is in tact and he is feeling good about life!

But oh snap, Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses him of trying to attack her and soon he is thrown into a dungeon, where Psalm 105 tells us, he began his prison sentence with his feet and neck in iron collars.  He’s going to stay in that prison for years.  Though we don’t know exactly how long it was, we know that it was at the very least, two years, and it sounds like much longer.  We know he was 17 when he was sold as a slave, and he was 30 when he gets out of prison.  How many years he served in Potiphar’s house is unknown, but we know that he is in prison for ore than two years.

Favored son to slave.  In charge of the house to a prison.  Eventually Joseph will ascend again, but his ups are way up there. and his downs are way down there.

Your peaks and valleys might not be as extreme.  But they sure might feel like it!  They sure can make life resembles a rollercoaster?  

So the question is – what should our goal be then as we live life in a roller coaster kind of world?  Is our goal to live our life on a peak?  Precariously still at the top of a peak?  Is it to try to avoid valleys?

Well, let’s be honest here, that’s not really a viable option, because many of life’s peaks and valleys are dealt to us.  They are outside of our direct control.  Trying to dodge the peaks and valleys of life would be like trying to dodge gravity.

True, that many people have hurled themselves into pits by making poor decisions – who hasn’t done that at times. And so, yes, it’s good to try to keep ourselves from self inflicted valleys.

But look at Joseph.  He does everything right and ends up in chains.  No, I don’t think that we can settle for trying to manipulate our life in an effort to avoid the ups and downs.

This surprises some people who become followers of Jesus, because some people think that – well, if you follow God and are nice to him, then he should be nice back to you.

But that’s not what the bible teaches and it’s not what Jesus taught.

In fact, let me take a minute here to use this as an opportunity to debunk one of the most common theological myth’s about God there is.  In fact, just about every religion other than Christianity teaches some form of this myth.  And the myth is that if you are a good person, God will reward you with good things.  In other words, people who are at the top of the mountain are there because they have done something to make God happy with them.  They are there because God is especially pleased with their actions.

And if that’s the case, then conversely, if something bad happens to us, it’s because we have ticked off our sensitive God, who watches over us very closely in order to spot every minor infraction.

This is a myth.  It’s not biblical, and it demeans God. It’s important we know this. It’s a myth, although a very persistent one.  So much so that even Jesus’ own disciples that that’s how God operates.  And so in John 9, as they come upon a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus, who sinned?  This man, or his parents?

Jesus says, neither is true.  He was born blind, and God is at work in his life even now.  God is up to something here, even in the midst of unfavorable circumstances.

Another time, Jesus rips an illustration out of the headlines, and references an accident that had occurred in Jerusalem, where 18 people had died when a building had collapsed on them.  And Jesus asks – do you think that those people were somehow worse sinners than you all?  That somehow you are better?  Jesus makes it clear, that if God were to operate on a cosmic system where everybody gets what they deserve, there would be NO peaks – just houses falling on people like us.

Thankfully, God does not operate on this religious kind of scale.  In fact, God is good, and causes good to fall on good and evil people alike.  But Jesus also says in John 16:33 that  “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The brokenness of the sin riddled world causes these upheavals in life, these ups and downs, and we are left with trusting that God can recalibrate our life so that it always is working together for the good, even when we find ourselves in the valleys.

And this leads us to the point today.  It is possible for us to become steadfast people in a rollercoaster life.  Instead of feeling subject to the ups and downs, the bible teaches us that we can become untethered from the peaks and valleys.

Firmly grounded in the truth that God is good and that He loves me – it allows me to live my life able to trust the way he leads me.  Whether it be a peak or a valley.

Untethered from circumstances, We can live a life that is continually upward and onward – further in and further on, we can progress in our walk with God.  Peak or valley, we become the kind of people who are consistently true and faithful – steadfast people in a rollercoaster world.

The Apostle Paul describes such a person 2 Corinthians 4 as We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 

That is the kind of person Joseph becomes.  Whether peak or valley, he is steadfast.  He becomes a steady force of godliness and goodness.  Onward and Upward went he.   And so can we.

How?  Let’s read the story here and find out…   Genesis 39

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.

Okay, so let’s look for some clues to becoming a steadfast person in a rollercoaster life.

  1. Do your job.

I recently heard about a mother who was having a hard time getting her son to church.  One Sunday she went to wake him up church and he just pulled the sheet over his head and said, “I’m not going!”

“Why not?” asked his mother.

“I’ll give you two good reasons,” he said. “One, they don’t like me. Two, I don’t like them.”

His mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why YOU WILL go to church. One, God tells us to remember the sabbath and to keep it holy.  And two, you’re the pastor!

Thankfully that is not autobiographical.  But have you ever woken up and thought, just don’t want to get out of bed.  I don’t want to face reality today.  Maybe I’ll call in sick, or play hooky.  Or quit!  I just don’t want to face reality today.

I think it’s natural for people in a valley to want to step away and withdraw. Withdraw from friends who care, withdraw from responsibility.  To pull the proverbial sheets over your head and say, I’m not doing life today.   But does it ever actually help?  Does it ever actually help to put off what needs doing?

One thing that I appreciate about Joseph is his willingness to face reality.

I’m sure that you have heard of the serenity prayer.  It is taught and prayed by millions of people who are facing addictions.  But I don’t know of a good reason not to pray this prayer every single day.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Joseph accepted what he could not change.  But when it came to things he could take responsibility for, well he ran at his responsibility, instead of away from it.

If you want to untether yourself from the highs and lows of the circumstances of life, then ran at your responsibilities.  Don’t withdraw.  Don’t hide.  Do your job.  Courage, man!

Most of Joseph’s life was out of his control.  Who would have blamed him if he had given up and allowed himself to be victimized by his circumstances?

But Joseph decided that if he were to be a prisoner – he would be great at it.  All he could do was to be a great prisoner.  That’s what he did.  And it helped him move further up and further on as a human being.

Let’s keep reading.  Now Genesis 40

Some time later, Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and chief baker offended their royal master. Pharaoh became angry with these two officials, and he put them in the prison where Joseph was, in the palace of the captain of the guard. They remained in prison for quite some time, and the captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, who looked after them.

While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them.

Want to be a steadfast person in the rollercoaster of life?  Then look for opportunities to care about others. 

When life begins to rush downward, not only do we need to fight the temptation to run away from responsibility, we also need to fight the urge to become self centered.  There’s a lot of naval gazing in the valleys.

The danger of becoming self centered is heightened whether peak OR valley.  The individual in the valley says, “Woe is me, but the person at the peak says “Look at me.”

But Joseph becomes the kind of person who is others focused in peak or valley.  He notices hurting human beings.  He recognizes that these two guys are really down. And Joseph cares enough to ask – Why are you so worried?”  What’s up?

Can I show you these interesting verses in 2 Corinthians 1?

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

These verses indicate that one of the ways God makes sense out of our unfavorable  circumstances is to make us instruments of compassion to others.  It’s one thing to say I care.  It’s another thing to say “I’ve been there.”

God desires that we become the kind of people who can minister – who can give ourselves away, whether at the peak or in the valley.

Are you feeling discouraged?  Then seek out opportunities to be a source of encouragement to someone else.

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone in your life He wants you to reach out to encourage. Is He bringing someone to mind right now?  Right their name down – God wants to use you to encourage them.

An interesting thing happened to me this week.  As I was writing this very sentence.  I mean, As I typed the period onto the sentence that said God wants to use you to bring encouragement to someone else, there was a knock on my door.  And a friend who has been going through a rough time recently came into my office and said, you know, you’ve been praying for me lately, I thought I stop by and just pray for you.

He was doing what Joseph did.  He was looking for a chance to be a source of encouragement, and he was to me.  And you will be to whomever God has laid it on your heart to encourage.  Write that name down and don’t forget to bless.

Now let me sum up what happens in Joseph’s story in prison.  These two guys – the cup bearer and the baker- both tell Joseph their stories.  The cup bearer gets good news from Joseph – in three days you will be released from prison.  The baker does not get good news.  The meaning of his dream?  In three days he will be executed.  So get you house in order.

After telling the cup bearer the good news, Joseph sees an opportunity to perhaps get himself out of jail.   “Please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. 15 For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.”

You can be like Joseph, a steadfast person in a rollercoaster world.  1.  Do your job.  Don’t run from your responsibility.  2.  Look for chances to be an encouragement to others, even in the low points of life.

And 3.  Do everything you can to improve your situation.  Joseph here is networking.  He is working the angles.  He is trying to do what he can to make things better.  He is not simply resigned to his fate.

And shortly he will stand before Pharaoh and after telling him his dream he angles to become the guy in charge.  I like that too!  He is proactive.  He is networking.  He is knocking on doors.  He is making every effort to change his circumstances for good.

Are you having financial difficulties?  Well, what are you doing differently to control your money.  Have you ever taken the Financial Peace class?  We have a new one starting in September.

Is your marriage at a low point?  Well, have you tried our counselors through Journey?  We will subsidize professional counseling from a biblical perspective – whether you have insurance or not.  Are you doing all you can to make it better?

Are you doing your part to work the angles?  Joseph did.  Now, that said, there may come times when what you are doing doesn’t seem to be paying off.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t try.

What happened to Joseph?  Did the cup bearer say a kind word about Joseph to Pharaoh?

23 Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.

Man!  That’s a tough pill to swallow.  He sits in the prison for two more years before the Pharaoh has a dream that he wants someone to interpret.  Two more years of prison.

That’s a bummer way to end this sermon!  Do your job!  Use your gifts to bless people.  Do what you can to improve your situation.  And it might not change a thing for a year or two!

Well, we can smile because we know that soon Joseph will be the second most influential man in Egypt.  He’s will one day move from the prison to the palace.  But the great thing?  Since he has learned to live apart from his circumstances, the good times don’t ruin him either.

Joseph was the first man to embody Paul’s teaching in to the Philippians.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

You can do it.  You don’t have to be victimized by the radical ups and downs of life.  You can move further in and further on, steady as she goes, knowing that you are loved by a God will never leave you nor forsake you.

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