How to Handle Temptation (Genesis 39:1-18)

This morning we're going to look at how to handle temptation. There's not a person who has walked this earth - including Jesus Christ - who has not faced temptation. And there's not a person on this earth - except for Jesus Christ - who has faced temptation who has not yielded to it. It's a daily battle. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a twentieth century German martyr, compared temptation to a smoldering fire that bursts into flame without warning. Whether we're talking about sexual desire, ambition, vanity, revenge, fame and power, or greed, we all face temptation daily.

See if you can relate to what one person has written about his struggle with temptation:

"I'm so full of myself. What I don't understand about myself is I decide one way but end up acting another way doing the things I absolutely despise. I can't seem to be trusted to figure out what's best for myself and then do it. I need something more. A power within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions. I obviously need help and I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good but I really can't do it. And when I decide not to do bad, then I do it anyway. My decisions don't result in better actions. Something gets the better of me every time. And it happens so regularly that it's predictable. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?"

Can you relate to his struggle? Paul wrote in the Romans 7:

I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can't help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. (Romans 7:15-17)

So we're going to look at how to handle temptation.

One of the greatest examples of how to handle temptation is the man we're looking at. His name was Joseph. If you were here last week, you heard the first part of his story. Joseph has one of twelve sons in what you would call a very dysfunctional family. His brothers were so jealous of him that they sold him into slavery, and told their dad that Joseph was dead. When we left Joseph last week, he was on a caravan on his way to Egypt as a slave. He was in a worse situation than he could have imagined. The favorite son had been sold as a common slave.

As we pick up the story in Genesis 39, we find that Potiphar, who we learn is the "captain of the palace guard", had purchased Joseph. Potiphar was in charge of an elite, courageous band of men on the personal staff of Pharaoh. You could think of Potiphar as the head of the secret service, or even as chief executioner of Egypt. Potiphar isn't a man that you would want to mess with. He held the power of life and death.

Notice that two things are not mentioned. First, we don't know how long Joseph had been in Egypt as we begin to read Genesis 39. It could have been two months; it could have been ten years. We also don't know how Joseph adjusted to this new situation. Joseph had to adjust to a new culture and a new position. But we do learn in Genesis 39:2 that "The LORD was with Joseph and blessed him greatly as he served in the home of his Egyptian master." It wasn't long before Joseph was placed in charge of Potiphar's entire household.

And it was here that Joseph faced one of the greatest temptations imaginable. What happened? He experienced sexual temptation. We notice in this passage that temptation has five characteristics:

1. TEMPTATION IS STRATEGICALLY TIMED

When does Satan tempt us? Satan looks for a time that we're vulnerable. He waits until it's just the right moment before he hits us with a strong one. In Joseph's case, the timing was perfect for Satan to tempt him. He was far away from home. He was a slave. He was probably lonely. His prospects for marriage probably wouldn't have been great. In addition, he was experiencing some success. Somebody has said, "The temptations that accompany prosperity are far greater (and more subtle) than those that accompany adversity." Satan strategically timed the temptation for the period of greatest impact.

When will you be tempted? When you're vulnerable. You may be away from home. You may be at a real low point. Or it may be after a period of great success. In times of prosperity, we can expect temptation. Temptation is strategically timed for those periods in which we are most vulnerable.

Verse 6 gives us the second characteristic of temptation:

2. TEMPTATION IS STRONG

Genesis 39:6 says, "Now Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man." Now, you don't get that type of comment in the Bible very often. In fact, the Bible only says that of four people in the Bible. But here we discover that Joseph was a normal, desirable, hot-blooded young man. Joseph was every bit as human as we are.

The passage continues, "And about this time, Potiphar's wife began to desire him and invited him to sleep with her" (Genesis 39:7). There's a technical term for the approach that Potiphar's wife is taking here. It's called the direct approach. Now, here you have a hot-blooded young man who's been through a lot, and the wife of a powerful man offering her body to Joseph. And we learn here the first characteristic of temptation: temptation is strong.

Anyone who tells you that they don't struggle with temptation is lying to you. We all struggle with temptation. We might struggle in different areas, but one of the reasons we all struggle is that the pull of temptation is incredibly strong. For most of us, this will include the area in which Joseph was tempted. Every day we're tempted sexually. You can't open a magazine or a newspaper, watch the TV, or even walk down the street without encountering temptation. You will be tempted in your thought life. You may even be tempted to action. It's a temptation that is there for the young, and it's a temptation that never really goes away with age.

Some of us have other struggles. Some people don't struggle so much sexually, but they're tempted in other ways. Let me tell you this: the devil knows your postal code. He knows where you live. He knows what works to tempt you. If one thing doesn't work, he will find another until he finds your area of vulnerability. Temptation is strong.

We discover the third characteristic of temptation in verse 10:

3. TEMPTATION IS PERSISTENT

Verse 10 reads, "She kept putting pressure on him day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible." Wouldn't it be nice if we could only deal with temptation once? Wouldn't it be great if we could body-slam temptation and score such a decisive victory that it didn't bother us again? But that's not reality. We can win over temptation today, but tomorrow's coming. It's a battle that we face daily. It's a struggle that we'll live with for the rest of our life.

Here's a truth we all need to realize: temptation is not a sign of spiritual immaturity. Even Jesus was tempted, and Jesus was perfect. You and I are going to be tempted for the rest of our lives. Temptation is persistent. We have to deal with it every single day.

4. TEMPTATION IS AVAILABLE

Potiphar's house was a rich one. Most likely, there would have been three stories. The servants would have been more or less confined to the first floor. It would have been very easy for Potiphar's wife to summon Joseph to the upper floor where they would have been alone. No doubt, she was doing everything to make herself available to Joseph - visually and otherwise. There was plenty of opportunity for Joseph to give into the temptation.

Satan rarely tempts us without giving us an opportunity to fall into that temptation. If you're being tempted in an area, let me guarantee you that you will have plenty of opportunity to g ive into that temptation. If you're being tempted, you really need to watch out, because you will be given opportunity to fall into that temptation.

5. TEMPTATION IS DAMAGING

One of the things we hear today is, "As long as it involves two consenting adults, it's nobody's business. It's not hurting anyone." But the reality is that when we give into temptation, it is incredibly damaging. It damages our families. It damages us. It damages our relationship with God.

Joseph said in verse 8:

"Look," he told her, "my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do! He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I ever do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God."

Giving into temptation would have being damaging to Potiphar. It would have been a betrayal of the trust that Potiphar had put in him. But even more important, Joseph said it would have been offensive to God. It would have been deeply offensive to God and his holy standards.

When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he said to God, "Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:4). We're taught that extramarital sex is okay because nobody gets hurt. But people do get hurt. And most importantly, God is offended. We violate his commands for how to live. We are ultimately sinning against him.

Now, why did God set certain rules in the Bible? Did he make arbitrary decisions? Was it to spoil our fun? To make sure we didn't start to enjoy life too much? Not at all. God's laws were given for our benefit. They were given to protect us - to prevent us from hurting ourselves. I read this week of the benefits of following God's laws in the area of marriage. You're aware that the national divorce rate is 1 in 3. Did you know that couples who live together before marriage have a 50% greater chance of divorce than those who don't? For those who were married in a Christian wedding ceremony, the divorce rate is 1 in 50. For those who were married in a Christian wedding ceremony, and who attend church weekly, read the Bible and pray together, the divorce rate is 1 in 1,105. Following God's laws is beneficial. That's why temptation - even what we think of as victimless temptation - is dangerous to ourselves, to those around us, and is offensive to God.

That's temptation. It's strategically timed and strong. It's persistent and available. And it's always damaging - to ourselves, and ultimately to God.

Now, we're going to face temptation, but we don't have to give into it. You can't stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hairdo. You can't stop Satan bombarding your mind with ideas but you can decide to not dwell on them. You can take steps to handle temptation.

How do we do it? What is going to help us stand up to temptation when it comes? Four steps that we can take:

1. ANTICIPATE IT

Anticipate temptation. Don't be surprised by it. Don't be intimidated by it. Don't be shocked by it. Instead, be prepared.

When temptation comes we usually have three common reactions:

  1. Shock. "How in the world could I think a thought like that?"

  2. Frustration. "Why do I keep falling in the same area over and over?"

  3. Discouragement. "I'll never change!"

But none of these reactions are particularly helpful. Instead of being shocked, frustrated, or discouraged, anticipate temptation. Its power will be diminished if you anticipate its arrival.

What did Joseph do? Genesis 39:10 reads, "She kept putting pressure on him day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible." Joseph knew what to expect. He didn't wake up one day and say, "Where did that come from?" He pretty well knew that Potiphar's wife equaled temptation. And he wasn't surprised when, day after day, she continued to tempt him.

Jesus said, "Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (Matthew 26:41). What does it mean to keep alert? It means that we see it coming. Be prepared for it. Be ready for it. Don't be surprised. Just know where it's coming from - "It's just the devil again."

The minute you give your life to Jesus Christ, Satan has a contract out on you. Twenty-four hours a day, he's plotting your downfall. He's looking for ways to exploit your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. He's looking at ways to make you stumble. The Bible says, "Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). So don't be surprised. But don't panic either, because the Bible says, "Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Satan is a schemer. But once we resist his schemes, he goes into full retreat.

Anticipate temptation. Don't be surprised by it.

The second step to resisting temptation is:

2. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

Accept responsibility for the temptations that occur in your life. Don't blame others for it. Don't blame God for it. Accept responsibility for it yourself.

Listen to what Joseph said to Potiphar's wife:

"Look," he told her, "my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do! He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I ever do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God." (Genesis 39:8-9)

Joseph could have shirked responsibility. He could have pulled a Flip Wilson: "The devil made me do it." He could have blamed Potiphar's wife. He could have said that 99 out of 100 men in his situation would give in. But he didn't. He took responsibility before God and before his boss.

Today we live in an age of no responsibility. We have no fault insurance and no fault divorce. We tend to think of ourselves as victims - victims of our upbringing, victims of circumstance, victims of other people. But the reality is this: we bring most of our problems upon ourselves. We are our own worst enemy.

How do you take responsibility for your actions? You do it by being honest with yourself and with God. You stop fooling yourself. You say, "Who am I kidding?" You stop making excuses. The time that we spend thinking up excuses would be far better spent avoiding the need for them. Don't make excuses. Adam sinned. He blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. Ever since then, we've been blaming others for our own sins. Stop blaming others and take responsibility yourself.

If you're facing temptation right now, you're facing a secret habit or hang up or hurt, you're never going to find freedom until you stop fixing the blame and start fixing the problem. Stop blaming somebody else, even when other people have hurt you, it's your reaction that's causing the problem. Your reaction, your resentment, your bitterness, your guilt, your anger, your fear, whatever is causing the pain to be prolonged.

One day you'll stand before God and your life will be an open book. On that day, you'll have no one to fall back on. You'll have no one else to blame. So accept responsibility for how you respond to temptation.

Step three in handling temptation:

3. AVOID IT

I don't know about you, but sometimes I like temptation. I may not give in and sin, but it sure can be fun to get as close to that line as possible!

How did Joseph deal with temptation? Genesis 39:10 says, "She kept putting pressure on him day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible." Joseph took steps to deal with the temptation. He avoided her. He kept out of her way. In fact, when the time came that she grabbed him by his shirt, we read, "Joseph tore himself away, but as he did, his shirt came off" (Genesis 39:12). That's the third key to resisting temptation. Once you've anticipated it, take steps to avoid it.

One of the promises that we need to claim when tempted is 1 Corinthians 10:13:

But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.

God never allows us to be tempted without providing us with a way to avoid falling into the temptation. Temptations themselves are unavoidable, but God always provides a way out. We need to take that way out as soon as possible.

It's common sense that if you hang around a barber shop long enough you're eventually going to get a hair cut! If you don't want to get stung, stay away from the bees! If you don't want to get burned, don't get close to the fire! If you don't want to fall off the cliff, don't hang off the ledge saying "Wow! It's a long way down!" The goal is not how close to the temptation can I get and not get burned. The goal is, "How far away can I keep from it?"

Proverbs 14:16 says, "The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with great confidence." A fool thinks that he can handle it. He thinks that he can wade right in and get close to the danger, and not be singed. Who are you kidding? You need to analyze when you're the most tempted - when you're the most vulnerable - and as much as possible, avoid those situations. Somebody has said, "He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn't reserve a plot for weeds."

Where are you most tempted? Is it in airports? On business trips? At home when you're alone and all the kids are off to school? After school? In a parked car? During the week ends? When I'm watching television? You need to be aware of the situations that cause you to stumble and then avoid those things. Stay away from them.

By the way, this may have drastic consequences. It may mean that you have to end some friendships. It may mean that you have to switch jobs. It may mean that you have to cancel your cable or Internet, or at least get a filter. It may mean that you have to be downright rude in handling a situation. But don't be gentle. Suffer the consequences - Joseph did. He was jailed on a false accusation. But he stood his ground and avoided the temptation.

You may lose your job. You may lose your lover. You may lose acceptance by your friends. You may be the only one who's "not doing it." You may be ridiculed. It doesn't matter. Anticipate and avoid temptation. Take responsibility for it.

There's one more step on how to handle temptation.

4. ASK FOR GOD'S HELP

The most important thing we can do is to ask for God's help in handling temptation. You and I aren't strong enough to handle temptations ourselves. We need help. We need God to come alongside us and give us strength.

God has a 24-hour hot line system. You can call him anytime. He is willing and waiting to help you with any temptation. He's not blown away by it. He doesn't say, "No kidding!" He's not surprised. He already knows everything going on in your life. He just wants you to admit it.

Why does God want you to come to him? Because he sent His son, Jesus Christ, to earth and Jesus went through everything you went through which means he understands. You have a sympathetic God. He knows what you're going through.

Hebrews 4:15-16 says, "This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it." I don't know what temptations you are facing right now, but you can come right to God's throne. He will give you all the grace that you need to go through whatever you're facing, right when you need it.

Think about it: Jesus went through every temptation that you've been through. Was he tempted to be proud? Yes. Was he tempted sexually? Absolutely. Was Jesus ever tempted to completely blow his cool? He was. He was tempted in every way that you are. There's only one difference. He never gave into the temptation. He remained sinless.

Two applications of this:

  • Jesus is sympathetic. He knows what you're going through. He wants to help you. He knows your willpower isn't enough. He's available to help the minute that you call out.
  • The other application is this: Jesus can take care of your sin problem. He can make you into a new creature. He can take all your sins and your failures away, and bear them himself. The Bible says, "God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus can be that offering for your sins today.

How do you handle temptation? Anticipate it. Accept responsibility for it. Avoid it. And most of all, ask God for help.

Let's pray.

What are you waiting for? Some of you have been waiting years to take this step of asking God for help. Today is the day. Today is the day to come to him and invite him to help you with your sins.

Pray this: "Jesus Christ, I want to accept your salvation today. I want to put on the helmet that will protect my mind. I ask you to come into my heart and life to save me and forgive me and help me start a brand new life. In Your name I pray, Amen."

Posted on June 18, 2000 and filed under Uncategorized.

How to Handle Betrayal (Genesis 37)

This morning I want to introduce you to one of the most remarkable characters to have ever lived. He began as a shepherd - just one of a family of twelve sons. You could call his family a little dysfunctional. In his early years, he moved from place to place, and never enjoyed stability. He endured betrayal, endured temptation, and eventually rose to rule the world's most advanced civilization of that day. This man's name was Joseph.

Joseph's life is significant to us for a few reasons. It's significant because we all have problems in our lives. Look at Joseph. He had a family that was messed up. His brothers were jealous of him. They tried to kill him. They sold him into slavery for the price of a disabled slave. One of the excuses we hear today is that "I'm messed up because my family was messed up." We blame our families for the way we are today. There's no doubt that our families affect who we are, but Joseph is a lesson in God's grace despite our family background.

It's also significant because Joseph knew how to handle temptation. People used to say, "The devil made me do it." They don't even say that anymore. Today we are trained to give in to every impulse. We become creatures, at the mercy of our latest urge or craving. Joseph stands against the tide. At a moment in which nobody was looking, in which he could have done anything he wanted, Joseph resisted temptation. He's going to show us how we can maintain our personal integrity.

Joseph also survived injustice. How many times have you heard those three words, "It's not fair." How do you survive injustice? Joseph's life is going to show us.

Joseph's life is also important because Joseph knew how to handle success. The reason that many of us don't have more is - quite frankly - because God can't trust us with more. We haven't proved ourselves faithful with what we have. If most of us experienced the success we dreamed of, it would ruin us. Joseph is going to teach us how to handle success.

Today we're going to look at betrayal. Betrayal is the "treacherous exposing or deceiving of people by those they formally trusted." It's when an enemy masquerades as a friend. Or it's when someone close to us breaks or abuses a relationship.

There are two truths that I've come to realize in life. The first is, EVERYONE HAS A HIDDEN WOUND. Not physical wounds, but emotional wounds. Hidden wounds are from memories that still hurt - those recollections from the past that still cause pain in your life. Some of you have memories of ridicule, severe criticism because of hatred, prejudice, or criticism that just tore you down. Some of you have experienced abuse - physical abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse.

Where do you get these wounds? From everywhere. From society. From family members. From the work place. You can even get them the schoolyard as children. Everybody has a hidden wound.

The other thing I've learned is that EMOTIONAL SCARS TAKE LONGER TO HEAL THAN PHYSICAL WOUNDS. I talked to a divorced woman. She said, "My husband's words hurt more than if he had hit me. If he had hit me, the bruises would have healed in a week. The wounds from the words he said are going to last many years."

The good news is that the Bible tells us how to handle these hidden wounds. You can start on this process this morning. You can begin to experience God's power in the middle of your hurt.

How do we handle betrayal? What do we do when we feel the hurt from a divorce or a broken relationship? The story of Joseph in Genesis 37 gives us four steps to surviving betrayal:

ONE: REFLECT ON WHY IT HAPPENED

The first step to surviving betrayal is to reflect on why it happened. Most broken relationships are very predictable. Identifying the cause of that breakdown is the first step in responding properly to it.

In Joseph's case, the betrayal began with his brothers' JEALOUSY. Here's a definition of jealousy for you: jealousy is resenting God's goodness in others' lives and ignoring God's goodness in mine. Jealousy is a killer. Job 5:2 says, "Resentment destroys the fool, and jealousy kills the simple." Jealousy will not only kill your relationships, but it will kill you.

Why were Joseph's brothers jealous of him? Joseph was his dad's favorite son. Genesis 37:3 says, "Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day he gave Joseph a special gift—a beautiful robe." In those days, everyone had a robe. The robe would be used for warmth, as a way to carry belongings on a trip, to sit on, or even to use as collateral in a loan. Joseph's robe was different. It was longer. It wasn't the sort of robe that one would wear to work. It was probably the type of robe warn by loyalty. Joseph's dad was telling him, in essence, "You don't have to work like the rest of your brothers. You're better than they are."

If that wasn't enough, Joseph had two dreams. In one dream, Joseph and his brothers were out tying up bundles of grain. Joseph's bundle stood up, and the rest of the bundles gathered around and bowed before it. In the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed before Joseph. It didn't take a genius to figure this out. Joseph was predicting that he would rule over his brothers and even his parents. Joseph's brothers became incredibly jealous.

Jealousy led to a GRUDGE. A grudge is when you feel persistently mad at another person. We think grudges are minor. But Jesus said in Mark 7 that grudges are vile and make us unacceptable to God. Grudges often lead to murder. Ephesians 4:31 says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior."

Jealousy led to a grudge, and that grudge led to ACTION. Jesus said, "For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God" (Mark 7:21-23). What we think about eventually will be acted on. What's in your heart will eventually come out in action. Genesis 37:18 says:

When Joseph's brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance and made plans to kill him. "Here comes that dreamer!" they exclaimed. "Come on, let's kill him and throw him into a deep pit. We can tell our father that a wild animal has eaten him. Then we'll see what becomes of all his dreams!" (Genesis 37:18-20)

Joseph's brothers began to plan a course of action. They were premeditating murder.

Jealousy led to a grudge, which led to action, and that action led to RATIONALIZATION. Aren't we experts at rationalization? Do you ever try to discipline yourself into only having one piece of pie? We cut it into two pieces so we won't make pigs of ourselves. And then we eat both pieces. Rationalization is the way that we justify our actions to ourselves through lying.

Judah, Joseph's brother, said, "Let's sell Joseph to those Ishmaelite traders. Let's not be responsible for his death; after all, he is our brother!" Judah thought he was doing Joseph a favor. He thought that by selling him for the price of a disabled slave, he was being nice. I love what he said: "After all, he is our brother!" Some way to treat a brother! They had rationalized their course of action, so that their course of action not only appeared to be right to them, but almost generous. They had deceived themselves.

There's one last step. Rationalization leads to COVER-UP. "Then Joseph's brothers killed a goat and dipped the robe in its blood. They took the beautiful robe to their father and asked him to identify it. ‘We found this in the field,' they told him. ‘It's Joseph's robe, isn't it?'" (Genesis 37:31-32).

Why should I reflect on why it happened? Two reasons. The first is that you will be tempted to mirror it. If someone hates you, you're l iable to hate him or her back. If someone holds a grudge against you, you're likely to hold a grudge against them. Recognizing the pattern will help you to avoid it. Jesus said, "Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45).

The other reason we need to recognize the cause of the betrayal is because it helps us deal with the hurt. The problem wasn't really with Joseph. If Joseph had spent all his time wondering what he had done wrong, he would have been wasting his time. Diagnosing the problem meant that he didn't have to spend time fixing it on his end. The problem really wasn't with him.

When you're betrayed - when someone lets you down - take some time to look at what happened. If they're treating you unfairly, then make sure that you don't fall into the same pattern. Examine why it is that the problem happened in the first place. Reflect on why it happened.

The second step to surviving betrayal is:

TWO: RELEASE THOSE WHO HAVE HURT ME

Genesis 37:28 says, "So when the traders came by, his brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him for twenty pieces of silver, and the Ishmaelite traders took him along to Egypt." At that point, Joseph became human cargo. He was dragged through the desert, without much thought as to how he was feeling. He became a prisoner - both then, and later on when he would be jailed on false charges.

But the real prison that Joseph was facing was not a prison of chains or bars. The prison that he was facing was the prison of resentment. If I were Joseph, I would have stared at my brothers as they faded on the horizon with the greatest resentment I could muster. I would have become a prisoner to my own hatred.

But what did Joseph do? He refused to grow bitter. The time came when Joseph could have taken revenge, but he chose not to. Instead, he told them, "Don't be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it. He sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives" (Genesis 45:5). Joseph didn't have to get even with his brothers. He learned to release them.

Last year I preached for three weeks on forgiveness. One of the things that we covered was the need to forgive others before they've asked for forgiveness. That's a tough thing to do. In fact, some of you struggled with that concept. Should we wait until someone asks for forgiveness before we forgive them? We want to hold on to our anger, because those who have hurt us don't deserve our forgiveness.

Time magazine had an article called, "Should all be forgiven?" The headline: "Giving up that grudge can be good for your health. Researchers are pioneering a new science of redemption based on the old form of grace." Scientists are finally figuring out what the Bible's been teaching for two thousand years. You don't hold on to a hurt and enjoy life. You've got to let it go. Not because they deserve it, but because you want to get on with your life.

Romans 12:17-19 says, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone...never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God." Circle "leave it to God." It's not your job to avenge someone. It's God's job. As long as you hold on to resentment, you're stuck. The person is controlling your life in the present even though they may have been out of your life for many years. You need to release them.

The amazing thing is that God has seen all the hurt that was done to us. God has a plan. He is using that hurt for a reason. Not only that, but God enters into that hurt with us. Psalm 56:8 says, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." Did you know that God has a record of every one of your tears? He has kept track of the times that you've been abused, the times that you have felt injustice, the times that you have been hurt or rejected. He's going to settle the score one day because he is a God of justice. Nothing ever slips his watchful eye.

Jesus understands what it's like to be betrayed. 1 Peter 2:23 says, "He did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly." Jesus experienced physical wounds. But he also knew the wounds that come from betrayal - wounds from his closest friends. And yet he said as they killed him, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing."

Why should you forgive those who have hurt you? Three reasons. One, because God's forgiven you. Two, because you're going to need more forgiveness in the future. Three, because the one that you release will really be you. You'll set yourself free from a bitter spirit.

Jesus knows. Jesus understands. Reflect on why it happened, and then release those who have hurt you.

THREE: REACH OUT TO HELP OTHERS

What did Joseph do in slavery? He excelled as a servant. He did the best job possible for his boss. Genesis 39:6 says, "So Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn't have a worry in the world, except to decide what he wanted to eat!" Joseph excelled at what he was doing.

Later on, Joseph was jailed on false charges. While in prison, some of his buddies had dreams, and Joseph decided to help them. He interpreted the dreams for them. Even in prison, Joseph was helping others.

Then eventually, Joseph was placed in charge of all of Egypt. He became the head of the greatest nation on earth at that time. He spent seven years preparing to help others. When his brothers came for help in the middle of the famine, Joseph even agreed to help them. Joseph was continually reaching out to help others. In fact, he was so eager to help others that he didn't even mind his hardships. "God has sent me here to keep you and your families alive so that you will become a great nation. Yes, it was God who sent me here, not you! And he has made me a counselor to Pharaoh—manager of his entire household and ruler over all Egypt" (Genesis 45:7-8).

You haven't healed until you've begun to reach out and help others. That's the third step of the healing process. Now, when we're hurt, we usually retreat into our shells. But Joseph teaches us that healing is found in using our experiences - our hurts - to help other people. The best ministry always takes place out of the deepest hurt. If you want to heal, then you need to be prepared to use your hurts to help other people.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1:4: "He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us" (The Message). That's just what God does. He uses the difficult times in our life, so that when others go through difficult times, we can support them, just as God has supported us.

If you're divorced, you are going to have a ministry to others who have been divorced. You will understand their hurt in a way that others won't. If you've been fired, you are going to be able to support others who have been fired in a way that most can't. You understand what they're going through. You can use your hurts to reach out to others.

Reflect on why it happened. Release those who have hurt you. Reach out to others. There's one more step to surviving betrayal:

FOUR: REFOCUS ON GOD

Joseph said, "As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil. He brought me to the high position I have today so I could save the lives of many people" (Genesis 50:20). Joseph never stopped focusing on God's purpose for his life. He looked back at betrayal, false accusations, neglect, and famine, and concluded that God brings good from evil for those who trust him. God can overrule our circumstances to bring out his intended results.

Some people will do almost anything to stop the hurt. They'll get st oned. Get drunk. Pop some pills. They'll do almost anything to stop the hurt.

But Joseph knew where to find healing for his hurt. He knew that healing is found in God. God has a purpose in everything that we go through. And God's purpose always prevails.

Joseph came from a family that hated him. His brothers wanted to kill him. They sold him as a slave. He was betrayed. And yet he handled that betrayal because he was focused on God. He reflected on why it happened. He released those who hurt him. He reached out to others. And, most of all, he focused on God.

What I want to tell you is that someone else has experienced betrayal. He has suffered more hurt than we could imagine. He was loved by his Father, and betrayed by his closest friends. He too was sold for the price of a slave, was bound in chains, and was falsely accused. He too forgave those who wronged them, and ended up saving millions of people. What people did to hurt him, God turned into good. This man knew the meaning of betrayal. His name was Jesus.

I don't know what betrayal you're going through, but I can tell you that Jesus knows, and Jesus understands. The Bible says, "He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward" (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus looked right through the cross and saw it was worth it, because on the other side, he saw you. He saw me. He loved us so much that he was willing to be betrayed for your sake and for mine.

No matter what you're going through, Jesus is there for you this morning. 1 Peter 2:24 says:

He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds! Once you were wandering like lost sheep. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

Are you wounded? Have you been betrayed? Would you like to be healed from your sins by his wounds? Jesus can carry your sins away to the cross. You can experience that healing this morning.

Let's pray.

Thank you, Father, that you heal broken hearts and bitter memories. Thank you that you touch hurting hearts with your healing touch of love. Save some people right now.

If you're here this morning, and you need Jesus to carry away your sins - to take them away from you; if you need to come to Jesus and begin following him; if you would like to be dead to sin and to live for what is right, then you can pray this prayer:

"Jesus Christ, today, by faith, I take these initial steps. Today, I want to begin the healing process by asking you into my life. I want to give up trying to earn your approval, and to accept what Jesus did on the cross in paying for my sins as my hope. And so I cry out for your help. Become the Lord and the director of my life today, I pray."

Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that he paid it all. Thank you that in him we can find our all in all. In his name we pray, Amen.

Posted on June 11, 2000 and filed under Uncategorized.

When God Disappoints

We all experience disappointment. We are disappointed by things, by events, and by people. But sometimes we're even disappointed by God. We're going to talk about what to do when God disappoints, or when God just doesn't make sense.

Nobody likes to talk about being disappointed with God. About ten years ago I bought a book called Disappointment with God, and I need to tell you that I was shocked by the title. How could anyone claim to be disappointed with God? It almost seemed sacrilegious. After I finished the book, I gave it to a friend who told me that he doubted that the author truly believed in God. In his mind, you either believed in God or you didn't. And if you believed in God, then you never questioned God - never. To question God would be unthinkable.

But let's be honest. We all have unanswered questions. We look around and see things that aren't fair. A child falls from a twenty-one-story balcony while the babysitter looks away for a minute. Three children suffocate after accidentally locking themselves in a chest. More than five people die after drinking contaminated tap water. We experience miscarriages, firings, illnesses, and accidents. And many of us ask - perhaps only silently - why God would allow it to happen.

Why do we experience disappointment? Four reasons:

1. BECAUSE PEOPLE LET US DOWN

Next week we begin to look at the life of a man we learn about in the Bible. His name was Joseph. Next week's message is on "How to Handle Betrayal." Talk about a man who was let down by others. His brothers sold him into slavery. He was falsely accused of a serious crime. A man who could have helped him get out of jail forgot all about him. The first forty years of Joseph's life it was downhill the whole way. If anybody had the right to complain, it was Joseph. Joseph was disappointed by people. People will let you down.

Psalm 55 expresses the hurt that we feel when friends let us down: "It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend" (Psalm 55:12-13). It hurts us to the bone when people let us down - especially someone close to us.

There's a second reason why we experience disappointment:

2. BECAUSE CIRCUMSTANCES LET US DOWN

Sometimes we're disappointed and it's nobody's fault. It's just that circumstances let us down. Circumstances can cause us to lose hope and to doubt our dreams. Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is life and joy." Circumstances can make our hearts sick. They can cause the dreams within us to die.

We're all familiar with Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will - and at the worst possible moment." Murphy's Law is in full effect. If a piece of toast falls to the ground, it will always fall peanut butter first. If you arrive on time for a meeting, the other person will be late. But occasionally the circumstance will be more severe. A car may swerve into your lane. A tree may fall the wrong way. The unthinkable might happen. Circumstances may cause you to be disappointed.

Here's the third reason why we are sometimes disappointed, and it's a little bit different than being disappointed by people or circumstances. Sometimes we're disappointed...

3. BECAUSE WE LET GOD DOWN

When I was in grade two I decided that I would like to discover what it would be like to staple my thumb. Now, I wasn't a dumb kid - usually. I knew that it would hurt. I knew that stapling my thumb wasn't the smartest thing that I could do at that moment. But I decided, despite the consequences, that I would staple my thumb. I don't know which was worse: the pain of removing that staple, or the looks that the school nurse gave to me. But I chose a course of action and I experienced the results.

Sometimes we're disappointed in life not because of others or because of circumstances, but as a result of our own actions. Somebody said, "Some of the most disappointed people in the world are those who get what is coming to them."

We all make choices that we later regret, and we suffer the consequences of these decisions. Isaiah 59:2 says, "But there is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore." Proverbs 3:11-12 says, "My child, don't ignore it when the LORD disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights." Sometimes we experience discouragement as a result of God's discipline in our lives, because we've let God down.

There's one more reason why we experience discouragement:

4. BECAUSE WE DON'T UNDERSTAND GOD

I live with four creatures: a wife, two kids, and a dog. Out of the four living creatures I have at my house, only one truly understands me: my dog. Just kidding. The only one who truly understands me at my house is my wife. Why? Because she's the only one at my level. She's an adult. And because she's at my level, we can understand and discuss what we are going through most of the time.

Many times, when we experience discouragement, the real problem is that we don't understand God. Romans 11:33-34 tells us: "How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor?" God's purposes are far beyond our comprehension. Nobody is smart enough to offer advice to God. We're not smart enough to even understand God's decisions. As a result, we're sometimes disappointed.

Sometime it's not what we're going through that's intolerable. The thing that is intolerable is the lack of meaning. We're not sure why we're suffering like we're suffering. If we only understood God, it wouldn't be as painful.

I was talking to a friend the other day and he said, "I've never been disappointed with God." He's one of the lucky ones. He's never reached that point of desperation. But many of us have found ourselves at one time or another shaking our fists at God. This message is for you.

I want to tell you that if you're disappointed with God, you're not alone. In fact, the Bible even tells us how we can even handle that disappointment. The Bible gives us three actions to take when we're disappointed with God. The first step to take when you're disappointed with God is this:

1. COMMUNICATE YOUR DISAPPOINTMENT TO GOD

Most relationships are based on a little bit of deception. Your spouse asks you, "How do I look in this outfit?" What do you say? If you know what's good for you, you tell them what they want to hear. As a result, many of us approach God with the same attitude. We're not 100% honest with him.

Why do we hold back? Maybe we're worried about offending God. We're afraid he's going to be unhappy. But as we open our Bibles, we find that many of God's great people were very honest with God about their disappointment with him.

Listen to what some people - some very good people - said to God:

Abraham asked God, "What good are your blessings?" (Genesis 15:2)

David said, "O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?" (Psalm 13:1) Another time, he asked, "Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again show me favor? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed?" (Psalm 77:7-8)

Job said, "I am disgusted with my life. Let me complain freely. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul." (Job 10:1)

Habakkuk 1:2 said, "How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen!" (Habakkuk 1:2)

Over and over again in the Bible, people expressed their disappointment to God. How did God respond when people were disappointed with him? Did he zap them? Did he strike them dead with l ightning? Did he yell down and say, "You think it's bad right now - just you wait"? Not at all. God is big enough to handle your disappointment with him.

In fact, I'll tell you how God responded to those people who expressed their disappointment with him. He didn't strike them dead. He didn't condemn them for their honesty. What did he do? He provided for them. He sometimes explained what he was doing to them. He comforted them. God wants you to communicate honestly with him.

The first time I realized that I could be honest with God, my entire approach to him changed. I no longer had to fear God. I could approach him with complete honesty, holding nothing back. And what's more, God wouldn't turn me away when I was honest with him. Quite the opposite - he would draw closer to me.

In his book Finding God, Larry Crabb tells of the day that he was sitting in church on a Sunday morning, just as you are. An usher came up and tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "You've got an emergency phone call." As Larry picked up the phone, he heard these words: "This is Dad. Your brother's been in an accident. We don't know how bad it is. Could you get down there?"

When Larry arrived at the airport, people were everywhere. Eventually he stopped a uniformed airline official and asked with happened. "Flight 585 has crashed just north of the airport. There are no survivors."

Those of you who know what it's like to lose someone know how Larry felt the next day. But nothing prepared for the day, two weeks later, in which at midnight he got out of bed, reached for the Bible, and went to his study. He began to flip through his Bible, but then slammed it down in frustration in a torrent of tears. He cried out to God and said, "I cannot endure what I know to be true. Everything is intolerable. Nothing is certain. I cannot go on."

What was Larry Crabb doing? He was communicating his disappointment with God. God didn't zap him. God didn't turn away from him. Instead, Larry writes, he began a journey that led to him drawing closer to God - closer than he ever did before.

I don't know what you're going through in your life. But I can guarantee you that God is big enough to handle your disappointment. God is big enough to handle your questions. You can use your disappointment to move toward God, instead of away from him.

You may have been through a divorce. You may have lost a child. A friend may have betrayed you. You may have lost a job. Someone close to you might have an incurable disease. You have questions of God. This morning I would encourage you to come to God and ask him those questions. Communicate your disappointment to God.

Here are some steps you can take:

Begin to pray. Don't worry about impressing God or following some formula. Just tell God what's on your mind. Philippians 4:6 says, "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need..." God wants to hear what's on your mind. He wants to hear from your heart - honestly and simply. Just begin to pray. Be as honest as you want.

Give your problem to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says, "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you." God cares about what happens to you. He wants you to give your concerns to him.

Wait for God to speak to you. God never condemns us for asking him tough questions, as long as we're ready to hear his answer. The prophet Habakkuk asked God some tough questions, but God never condemned him. Why? Because Habakkuk was ready to hear God when he answered.

God is ready to listen to you this morning. He is ready to hear about whatever concerns you. God can handle your honest questions. You can come to God with whatever you're facing in your life, no matter how terrible. You can tell God how you feel. God will listen. God understands.

I would encourage you to begin a dialogue with God about whatever is going on in your life. That's the first step to take when we're disappointed in him. Communicate your disappointment to God.

The Bible gives us a second step to take when we're disappointed with God:

2. CLAIM A PROMISE FROM GOD

Did you know that there are over 7,000 promises in the Bible? God has made some incredible promises that you can claim when you're disappointed in him. When you begin to go through a difficult time, you can claim God's promises to sustain you no matter what you're going through.

Joshua 23:14 says, "Deep in your hearts you know that every promise of the LORD your God has come true. Not a single one has failed!" God has an incredible track record of keeping his problems. Never in the history of this world has God ever broken a promise. When you are experiencing disappointment, you can claim a promise that will guide you through that difficult time.

Out of the 7,000 promises that God has given, I'd like to focus on three that can help us through a period of disappointment:

The first promise is this: GOD WILL BE WITH ME EVEN WHEN I'M DISTRESSED. None of us can predict the problems that we're going to face in the future. We don't know what's going to happen in the next three hours, much less tomorrow or next week or next year. But regardless of what you go through in the future, you won't go through it alone. This is a basic truth taught over and over in the Bible. There is never a time in your life when God is not with you. There are some times when you don't sense His presence, but that's your problem, not God's. God doesn't move. God never leaves you. He's with you all the time. And God will be with you no matter what you go through in the future.

Isaiah 43:2 says, "When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you." This is a central truth that you need to grasp. You will never be without God in your life. He's always there.

Here's another promise: GOD WILL WATCH OVER ME EVEN WHEN I'M CONFUSED. Listen to Psalm 32:8: "The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'" You've probably watched Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I heard about a wedding last week in which the groom was asked if he would take this woman to be his wife, and after he answered, the pastor said, "Is that your final answer?" Well, the groom didn't know what to say, so he said, "Can I use a lifeline?" There are going to be times that you need help and you're out of lifelines. You won't have the answer, and nobody else will either. God will guide you in that time. He will watch over you when you're confused - when you don't have the answer.

One more promise from the seven thousand: GOD WILL GO BEFORE ME EVEN WHEN I'M AFRAID. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us, "Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD is the one who goes before you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor forsake you." You may be a worrier. You may be wondering whether God will provide your needs for the future. When God gave this promise, he was addressing people who were wandering the desert for forty years. They would need food and water in the middle of the dessert. God took care of them. They needed water - thousands of people had to have lots of water. Sometimes they could just walk up to a rock and God would have water gush out of a rock in the middle of the desert to take care of their needs. They needed shoes that wouldn't wear out. For forty years God gave them shoes that didn't wear out. He knew what they needed, because He went before them.

God does that in my life and your life. He goes ahead of me. Because he goes ahead of me, he knows my needs. Isaiah 65:4 says, "I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking to me about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!" We never have to worry. God goes before us when we're afraid.

These are just a sample of t he 7,000 promises that God has given us. When we're disappointed with God, we begin to forget about his promises. We forget that every promise of God has come true. Not a single one has failed. That's the kind of God he is.

No matter what circumstance you're going through, and no matter how disappointed you are in God, you can claim these promises for yourself today. That's the second step to take when you're disappointed with God. Communicate your disappointment to God, and claim a promise from God.

The last step we're going to look at today is this:

3. COMMIT YOUR LIFE TO GOD

We've talked about what to do when you're disappointed with God. Really, there's only one thing to do. It's not simplistic. It's not a cure-all. But it's the best decision any person could make. Commit your life to God. Enter into a relationship with him.

Why should I commit my life to God? Because the Bible says in Psalm 25:3: "No one who trusts in [God] will ever be disgraced." No one. God is a God who never lets his people down. He is the only one I can point you to who will never truly disappoint you. You will be disappointed by your father, your mother, your husband, your wife, your sisters, your brothers, your children. Your pastor will disappoint you. Teachers will disappoint you. All kinds of people will disappoint you because they're imperfect. But there's one person who will never disappoint you - Jesus Christ. Because in the end, when we express our disappointment to God, we find that he's never really let us down.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 34:10: "Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will never lack any good thing." David wrote in Psalm 37:25: "I once was young, now I'm a graybeard—not once have I seen an abandoned believer" (The Message). That's the kind of God he is. He never lets us down.

That same God who seems so distant from you wants to establish a relationship with you today. The Bible says that our sins have separated us from God. Listen to Isaiah 59:2: "There is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore." If God seems distant from you, then there's a reason. All the sins you've done - all the mistakes you've made, all the wrong actions - have created a barrier between you and God. But Jesus came to bridge that barrier. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says, "There is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone."

We talked about lifelines earlier. With Regis, there are only three lifelines. There's 50-50. You can take your chances. You can wait until you die and find out if you've done enough good works to make it into heaven. But the problem is that the Bible tells us that nobody has done enough to earn their way to heaven. All have sinned and come short of God's glory.

You can try the second lifeline. You can call a friend. You can get into whatever your friends think. If they're not into God, then you won't bother either. But, as we've said, your friends will let you down. They probably won't lead you to heaven. Following your friends isn't the best way to deal with your eternal life.

Then there's "ask the audience." You can follow what the majority of people are doing. You can follow the crowd. But Jesus told us that the crowd would let us down. The road to hell, he said, is a wide road. If you follow the crowd, you'll be headed the wrong way.

These are the only lifelines that Regis offers us. But God offers us another lifeline. He offers us Jesus Christ. And no one who commits their life to him will ever be disappointed.

Let's pray.

I don't know why you came this morning. But I do know that you're here for a purpose. You're here to reach out to the only lifeline that can help you. You're here to commit your life to Jesus Christ.

Psalm 34:18 tells us, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit." If you're disappointed with God this morning, here's something you need to realize: God wants to draw close to you. He wants to rescue you. He wants to heal your spirit.

My question for you today is this: will you let Jesus Christ heal the hurt and resentment and bitterness that you've experienced? Will you receive the promise that no one who trusts in God will ever be disgraced?

Would you pray this prayer with me?

"Jesus Christ, I commit my life to you today. I'm reaching out for the only lifeline that is secure - the lifeline that you've provided by taking my sins away."

"I come to you this morning and ask that you would make me a new person. Give me a fresh start. And I pray that as I follow you and make you first in my life, that you will give me the strength to face all that's in my life. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Still with your eyes closed, I'd like to read a passage of Scripture for you. It's found in Romans 10. It goes like this:

For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, "Anyone who believes in him will not be disappointed."

If you've taken this step of believing in your heart, I congratulate you. As you receive eternal life, you can know that you are beginning to serve a God who will never disappoint you. He will never let you down. Amen.

Posted on June 4, 2000 and filed under Uncategorized.