Thursday, January 26, 2012

Humble Success

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, January 22, 2012

Genesis 41:14-41, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.”  So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Behold, in my dream I stood on the bank of the river. Suddenly seven cows came up out of the river, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such ugliness as I have never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the gaunt and ugly cows ate up the first seven, the fat cows. When they had eaten them up, no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were just as ugly as at the beginning. So I awoke. Also I saw in my dream, and suddenly seven heads came up on one stalk, full and good. Then behold, seven heads, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the thin heads devoured the seven good heads. So I told this to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”  Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years; the dreams are one. And the seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land. So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe. And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.  “Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.”  So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?”  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”

Who wouldn’t want to be a little more successful this year than last?  Who wouldn’t desire to prosper, yes I said ‘prosper’, materially, financially, when all around recession and inflation are eating up people’s wealth?  Who wouldn’t want more strength to win battles literal, and especially, spiritual, in nature?  Who wouldn’t long to have greater power and success as one serves others and stewards what belongs to others?  Who?

I figure we all want 2012 to be a more successful, more prosperous year for us than 2011 was, right?  But do we know how?  And do we care to understand why?  Emmanuel, ‘God-with-us’, that name we hear, we sing, we remember, especially during the Christmas season, as we have seen in and through the life of this young man Joseph – ‘God-with-us’ – the Emmanuel principle as we are calling it, is the how, the means to success.  And the why?  Do you remember what the why, the purpose, the goal, God’s intended outcome, what He desires when He causes us to prosper? 

What a powerful, and I would add, consistent example of the WHY this young man Joseph really is for us.  God gave him success.  God caused Joseph to prosper, mightily with him as God was, why?  That the result would be glory to God!  That Joseph, as a servant, as a soldier, and as steward, might honor God, make God, the One, True and Living God, large and very, very near before the eyes of Potiphar, the Prison Warden, and even Pharoah himself. 

The Emmanuel, God-with-us, principle, once again, that’s the HOW to success!  And, honoring God, that’s the why… 

This morning, as we move from Genesis chapters 39 and 40, the passages that detail for us the Emmanuel and Honor God principles, at work in Joseph’s success as a slave and as a prisoner, to chapter 41, we find that Joseph’s station in life, his ‘social status’ we might say, changes dramatically.  From the pit of rejection in Canaan, sold off by his own flesh and blood, to the auction block in Egypt, the privileged son, coat of many colors and all is now a slave, to the prison house, falsely accused by a woman whose husband he had faithfully served for over 10 years!  Though God was with Joseph, and God’s name was being honored through Joseph, his social standing, instead of it going from low to higher, for a time, a pretty long time, it seemed rather to be getting worse, didn’t it?  Then, what?  Then, through a series of dreams, that God, the One, True and Living God whom Joseph served, sent to Pharoah of all people, God lifts Joseph from the pit to the pinnacle, and in one giant leap, right? 

Have you ever know of someone who, literally, overnight, went from rags to riches?  Have you ever been acquainted with someone who literally went from janitor – you know, pushing the broom, slinging the mop – to President of the company, in one big leap?  That’s what happened with Joseph!  In chapter 39, God caused Joseph to succeed as Potiphar’s chief slave.  In fact, God caused Potiphar to prosper because of Joseph, but still Joseph was, you know, a slave, Potiphar’s property. 

Then, God gave Joseph success as a soldier.  No, not with guns and bombs and combat boots, but against the wily temptations of a seductress named Mrs. Potiphar.  Yes, Joseph succeeded militarily.  But where did he end up when he refused Mrs. Potiphar’s advances?  In jail, in prison.  And, then, there in that dungeon, God was with Joseph, and enabled him to succeed as a steward.  Remember?  The text tells us that all that was accomplished in the prison was Joseph’s doing.  In other words, Joseph succeed as a minister. 

But now, the time has finally come.  Maybe he didn’t realize it immediately, but speaking of dreams, the dreams he had as a lad, back home with his daddy and his brothers, dreams about his future greatness and how that his parents and brothers would one day bow before him, finally, that day had come true. From the pit, to the pinnacle, overnight, in one big leap.  And, who wouldn’t want to revel in it?  Who wouldn’t want to strut your stuff for a little while?  From menial laborer, to magistrate, with the snap of Pharaoh’s fingers!  Wow!  You get the picture.

But, think with me.  Take a look with me, right here, will you?  This 30 years old young man, who is suddenly a success, as far as the social ladder is concerned – ‘Ah, that God-with-us stuff!  That was okay for when I was Potiphar’s ‘gopher’.  But now, look, I’m wearing Pharaoh’s signet ring!  Who needs God, here, at this level of prominence?  That ‘honor God’ stuff, that was fine when I was on the bottom of the ladder, but look, now I’m at the top!  I have arrived!  Enough of that honor God stuff!  Now, it’s time to honor ME! 

I’m looking, are you?  I’m searching, are you?  Do you find Joseph saying anything like that, doing anything like that here, when he, just like that, moves from the prison house to the palace?  It’s not there, is it?  It’s not there!  From the pit to the pinnacle, overnight, and at the tender age of 30 years old.  By the way, who else do we know rose to great prominence at about age 30?  Jesus, right?  There are a lot of parallels between Joseph and Jesus.  Have you noticed? 

From menial laborer to magistrate, second in command over the super power of that day, the country of Egypt.  Did anything change for Joseph on that day?  Verse 14 – His clothing changed.  Maybe that’s the Old Testament’s way of saying he ‘took a shower’.  And, his hairstyle or grooming changed, verse 14 says he shaved.  And, then, down in verses 42 through 45, after God gave Joseph insight into the meaning of Pharaoh’s drams, and what Pharaoh should do about them, Joseph’s wardrobe changed: signet rings, gold necklaces, fine linen garments.  And his transportation changed, he got to ride in the second chauffeur-driven limo in the Presidential procession.  And, ultimately, as we mentioned last Lord’s Day, his name was changed.  Pharaoh gave him an Egyptian name that meant ‘God speaks and lives!’  All of those things changed for Joseph. From the prison house to the palace, what a leap! 

But, notice – notice very carefully what DIDN’T change!  Verse 16 – Why do Bible students look at this young man Joseph and exclaim, ‘He’s just like Jesus!’?  Why do they point to him and say, ‘He’s one of the best and most stunning pictures of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament??  Because of his humility!  Pharaoh, the king of this ancient super power, Egypt, you know he’s gotta be used to people wanting to strut their stuff around him, wanting to make themselves look good before him so that perhaps he’ll put his signet ring on them.  ‘Young man, I hear that you know how to interpret dreams; is that right?’  What kind of reply, what kind of answer, do you think Pharaoh expected to a question like that?  ‘You got that right, Mr. Pharaoh!  Man, I’m the best!  I can do it!’  Did the ‘God-with-us’, Emmanuel Principle go out the window when Joseph suddenly made it to the big time? 

Denver Broncos quarter-back Tim Tebow made quite a stir recently, when he, almost single-handedly, rescued his team from elimination from the NFL Playoffs, throwing for 316 yards passing – 3 – Sixteen – anybody ever come across that number before?  And, then, in the thrill of victory, with millions of people watching, Tim Tebow bowed his knee and thanked God for His help!  By the way, I understand that young Mr. Tebow did the same thing, he honored and acknowledged God, and Jesus Christ his Savior, last week, when his team went down in defeat.  Now, I don’t know what you think about Mr. Tebow, whether he’s the real deal, or not. 

But, listen – I know, I can see, right here in the passage, and in the remaining nine chapters of Genesis, this young man Joseph IS the real deal!  Instead of strutting his stuff in front of big shot Pharaoh, his simply, and I believe, very humbly said, ‘It is not in me.  That dream-interpreting ability you’ve heard about O, king, it’s not in me!  No!  God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace!’  You know, I’ve yet to come across a book with a title that reads something like ‘Leap Frogging to the Top’, that has any mention of the idea of humility!  Guess what my friends?  It’s right here in this Book!  Church Leaders, you want to succeed in that position?  Parents, you want your children to grow up honoring you?  Husbands, you want your wife to turn out to be the most precious gift God gave you?  Lead them, love them, help them learn, not by strutting your stuff!  ‘Look here, I’m the Boss!’  Not by Lording it over them, but by humbly serving them!  By honoring God before their eyes and in their ears!  That’s what Joseph did, better yet, that’s what our Savior did, for us!

To succeed as a magistrate, in a position of power, influence and authority, the world says, ‘Shove your weight around!  Show off!  Strut your stuff!’  This Book says, ‘Serve!’ 

But, then notice, one other thing this young man Joseph shows us about success as a magistrate, a ruler, a leader.  Keep the big pictures in mind, and remember who’s painting that picture!  These dreams, the one about the cows, fat and skinny, and about the ears of grain, full and blighted, these dreams of Pharaoh were not the result of having too much pizza late at night!  They were God’s messages, the message of the King of kings, to that king, at that special moment in history – why?  Have you read the rest of the story, Genesis, Exodus, all the way to Calvary, the empty tomb and the Book of Revelation?  Those dreams, seen by that king and interpreted by that son of Jacob, were not only God’s message of hope and help for that moment and that era of abundant harvest and of severe famine, more importantly, as Joseph later acknowledged to his brothers, they were God’s sovereign means of saving lives by a great deliverance (see Genesis 45:1-11). 

Can you see it, my friends?  The meandering path of Joseph’s life, put in a pit in Canaan by brothers who wanted to kill him, drug out of the pit and sold to slave traders who took him down to Egypt, auctioned off to Potiphar, lied about by Mrs. Potiphar, sent to the dungeon, though innocent, forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler.  Then raised, just like that, to second in Pharaoh’s administration.  This wasn’t just a meandering set of steps – no!  This was a part of that sovereignly directed stream of redemption that becomes a mighty, rushing river of salvation at the cross, at the tomb, and at the throne of grace! 

Success, prosperity, whether as a menial laborer, or as a magistrate, this Book, this man’s Christ-like example, sets forth two abiding principles:

-       God-with-us, the Emmanuel Principle
-       Honor-God, make God large and very, very near in all you do and say! 

Two questions: are you desirous of success and prosperity in 2012?  Are you living in accordance with these principles? 

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