Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered December 30, 2006 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Joseph's Stairway to Heaven

Psalms 89:1-2

(RealAudio available)

Sermon Notes:

(Joseph's being sold into slavery.)

How would you feel if you were in Joseph's situation, sold into slavery and with the prospect of never again being able to see your family? With ropes tied tight around wrists and ankles, neck straining around to look back at the disappearing scenes that are familiar. . . Can you imagine being taken away from your home? You would feel alone and friendless. Betrayed. You would remember the anger in the voices and the eyes, as your brothers roughly sold you into slavery. You would remember the stinging, insulting words that met your agonized pleas for mercy. And you would remember the feeling of cold fear, your knees buckling at the thought of a lifetime of slavery.

That was Joseph's experience. But that was not the end of the story.

Within one day, Joseph's mind went from two very different extremes. At first it was grief and shock. But then Joseph began to turn his thoughts to his father's God and everything that he had heard about God.

That's when Joseph made an important choice. He decided that he would trust God and be 100% loyal to God for the rest of his life no matter where he was. That choice began Joseph's stairway to heaven, a life that God could bless.

As we think of New Year's resolutions and making 2007 better for us, how can we be as faithful to God as Joseph was?

But we must remember what faithfulness is and how we can get it:

Faith is an attitude of mind, a state of trust in God and in His word. This attitude of trust leads to a pattern of faithful conduct in a person's life.

Faith leads to faithful acts. And that is what faithfulness is: living out our trust in God. But our faithfulness is always a response to something that has happened before. We can never be truly faithful to God unless we can appreciate God's faithfulness to us.

So let's underscore how great our God is, a theme that pops up many places in the Bible. In fact, let's sample a few Bible texts:

And what about us? How do we compare to God's faithfulness? Hosea 6:4 says, "O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, And like the early dew it goes away."

It's ironic that the contrast of our lack of faithfulness compared to God's faithfulness makes us want to be faithful to God. The goodness of God leads us to repentance. We need God's faithfulness to inspire our own faithfulness. And I think we can see in the life of Joseph how God's faithfulness can make a difference in us.

How can we find our own "stairway to heaven"? Well, here are 6 ways from Joseph's life.

1. Make God your own God.

In Joseph's childhood, he had been taught to love and respect God. He had often listened to the story of the vision that Jacob, his father, saw as he fled from his home--the vision that God would be with him. It was the vision of the stairs to heaven. Joseph had been told of God's promises to Jacob and how God had been there and helped in each time of need. And Joseph learned that God promised a Redeemer.

As Joseph was being hauled away by his captors, he began to think of all these things. And he came to a conclusion, that Jacob's God would be his God and just as faithful to him as He was to Jacob.

So Joseph grasped by faith that God would be his own Helper, his own Guide, his own God. He prayed then and there that the Keeper of his father would be with him in the land of his exile. And he bridged the transition from accepting God's love in his own life to giving himself fully to the Lord.

Joseph chose God for himself. Do we choose God for ourselves? Or do we just rely on our parent's faith and relationship with God?

Make God your own God.

2. Make the Lord Number One in your heart.

Joseph decided that he would serve the Lord with an undivided heart. God was his focus. He put every energy he had into living for God. If we put every energy we have into living for God like Joseph, then we too will be faithful.

3. Control your thoughts. Don't let them linger upon forbidden subjects.

Joseph had to live with the sights and sounds of vice all around him, but he acted as one who saw and heard not. He didn't let himself think about ungodly subjects. What are we choosing to think about?

Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things." (NKJV).

So control your thoughts.

4. Don't hide your religion.

"The desire to gain the favor of the Egyptians could not cause him to conceal his principles. Had he attempted to do this, he would have been overcome by temptation; but he was not ashamed of the religion of his fathers, and he made no effort to hide the fact that he was a worshiper of Jehovah" --PP, p. 214.

Let's be like Joseph in that respect.

5. Live your life knowing that God is there.

Think of Joseph when Potiphar's wife made sexual advances on him. Think of his reply, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?"

Have you noticed the tendency to act differently when no one is around? If only we could realize that there is never a time when "no one" is around. God is there. That means also that we will want to carry out every duty that comes to us as if we're doing it for God.

6. Look for God's instructions in your own circumstances.

Instead of complaining about the terrible injustices that had happened to him, Joseph chose to do what was right in the sight of God. Joseph's life was one of faithfulness. And his life shows us that God is faithful. So without God we could never be faithful. That any of us can be transformed into a faithful follower of God is because God Himself is faithfully working in our lives.

In a story that originally appeared in Readers Digest, 1966, attributed to Paul Villiard, the author wrote a story about his childhood. It illustrates, I think, how faithful God is. He says:

"When I was quite young my family had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished oak case fastened to the wall on the lower stair landing. I was too little to reach the telephone but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it. "Then I discovered that somewhere inside that wonderful device lived an amazing person--her name was 'Information Please' and there was nothing she did not know. My mother could ask her for anybody's number; when our clock ran down, Information Please immediately supplied the correct time. "My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-receiver came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor," Villiard continued. "Amusing myself at the tool-bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be much use crying because there was no one home to offer sympathy." He walked around the house sucking his throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly he ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver and held it to his ear. "Information Please," he said into the mouthpiece just above his head. A small, clear voice spoke into his ear. "Information." "I hurt my fingerrrr!" he wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough, now that he had an audience. "Isn't your mother home?" came the question. "Nobody's home but me," he blubbered. "Are you bleeding?" "No," he replied. "I hit it with the hammer and it hurts." "Can you open your icebox?" she asked. He said he could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it on your finger. That will stop the hurt. Be careful when you use the ice pick," she admonished. "And . . .you'll be all right." After that Paul Villiard called Information Please for everything. He asked her for help with his geography and she told him where Philadelphia was, and the Orinoco--the romantic river he was going to explore when he grew up. She helped him with his arithmetic and she told him that his pet chipmunk--he had caught it in the park just the day before--would eat fruits and nuts. When Petey, the family's pet canary, died, He called Information Please and told her the sad story. She listened and consoled him. Another day Villiard was at the telephone. "Information," said the now familiar voice. "How do you spell fix?" he asked. "Fix something? F-i-x." "At that instant," as he writes, "my sister who took unholy joy in scaring me, jumped off the stairs at me with a banshee shriek-- 'Yaaaaaaaaaa!'" He fell off the stool, pulling the receiver out of the box by its roots. They were both terrified. Information Please was no longer there, and he was not at all sure that he hadn't hurt her when he pulled the receiver out. Minutes later the telephone repairman came. "I was working down the street and the operator said there might be some trouble at this number," he explained. After hearing the story of what happened, the repairman took the receiver out of his hand and then jiggled things back together, and then spoke back into the phone, "Hi, this is Pete. Everything's under control. The kid's sister scared him and he pulled the cord out of the box."

God is like that telephone operator.

And years ago, instead of sending a telephone repairman, or someone else, when we were hurting, He sent Himself in His Son who is just like Him.

When the darkness of sin and Satan had frightened us, Jesus came and lived among us. Our faithful God took the consequences of sin in Himself. Jesus died for us. And that's not all, Jesus rose again.

I'm thankful that God is that faithful, aren't you?

May we let God's faithfulness inspire us to new heights of faithfulness to Him in the New Year.

Our closing hymn is "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," #100.

 Hymn of Praise: #144,  Oh Sing a Song of Bethlehem
Scripture:   Psalms 89:1-2
Hymn of Response: #100,  "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" 

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