In this small midwestern town years ago there lived an elderly lady named Ms. Jones. Ms. Jones was known for being the oldest citizen of this little town. Eventually, she died. And when she died, the editor of the local newspaper wanted to write a little caption in the paper to commemorate her death. But the more he thought about it, nothing came to his mind. She had done nothing wrong in her lifetime that he remembered. She never was in jail in that city, she never was drunk. And the more he thought about it, he couldn't think of anything noteworthy as well that she did. And so he went down for his morning coffee at the local cafe and there he met the president of the tombstone company, and was talking over Mrs. Jones. And the tombstone owner said the same thing, that he couldn't think of anything to write on her tombstone, cause there was nothing noteworthy in her life. So finally the newspaper editor went back to his shop, and he decided that the first worker in his office that he would come in contact with that day, he would assign the task of coming up with some kind of an article that would be both for the newspaper, and for the tombstone. Of course no one was in the office that day except the sports editor, and he was assigned to the task. And it is said that if you go to that town to this day, on her tombstone it reads, "Here lies the bones of Nancy Jones. For her life held no terrors. She lived an old maid, she died an old maid. No hits, no runs, no errors (laughter)."
Folks, that is the plague of mediocrity. And that is the exact opposite of both Joseph and his brothers. His, huh, his brothers had a lot of errors, and Joseph has lots of hits and runs. And in Chapter 49 that I've had you turn to, it is now time for the news of their life to come out, and it is Jacob's job to do that. The father gathers them around, and he goes down the line with each one, spelling out what their life was all about, and he sums it up. Jacob is on his deathbed- these are his dying words. He is old, he's 147 years young on this day, his eyes are dim, and yet he remembers his own children. He remembers the tragic aspects of their lives and he remembers Joseph and the fruitful aspects of his life. And so he has words to share with each of them. He goes right on down the list, from the oldest, to Benjamin, the youngest. Some of the things he says about his kids are good, others are bad. Until he gets to Joseph. And Joseph he lavishes his words upon.
In verse 22 it says, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, by the God of your father who will help you, and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers." He is saying, "Joe, you are a different man. You are a breed apart from all of your brothers. You have character. You were fruitful, and you always will be fruitful, by the grace of God." In those few sentences, Jacob gives the secret of Joseph's life, what made him a mature, growing, faithful believer. And after he gives the secret, that one thing that yielded so much fruit, he then goes on to speak about fruit that it yield him. Just in those few verses. And this is one of those truths Christians, you wanna latch on to. Your whole life revolves around the truth of Joseph's secret, and what kept him going.
And the secret is where he was planted. Notice verse 22, "Joseph is a fruitful bough; a fruitful vow, or bough, or a vine," as some translations say, "by a well." Joseph is described by his dad as a fruit tree. Not just any kind of a fruit tree, a vigorously, growing, fruitful, producing fruit tree that has a special relationship to a water source. It is planted by a well or a spring. The roots go down deep into the soil. It receives nourishment. And because there is a constant flow of nourishment, it is stable and consistent; it never moves. That was the secret of Joseph's life. Even as a fruit tree that's planted by a well of water, has constant nourishment, Joseph was planted near to his God and had intimate union with God. His roots went down deep into the deep things of God, and he was constantly nourished by the Lord, Himself. He was planted near to the heart of God, and he had consistent, constant fellowship with God. That's the secret. The secret of Joseph's faithfulness at home, faithfulness in Potiphar's house, faithfulness in the prison, faithfulness as a prime minister, and all of the blessings that issued forth out of his life was with this secret.
You and I are fruitful and effective in direct proportion to this truth- to how close we live to God. Reminds me of Psalm 1, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water that brings forth it's fruit in it's season." Reminds me also of what Jesus said in John 15. Put your finger and turn to the New Testament for a moment. John 15. You're familiar with it, I'd like you to become more familiar with it. In John, Chapter 15, Jesus says, "I am the true vine. My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you." And that word "abide" is the secret. It is used ten times in eleven verses. Imagine that. I guess the Lord thought it was a pretty important word, don't you think? Ten times in eleven verses. Abide. Which means literally, "to be permanently in one place" or "to be planted". To be permanently in one place. Jesus says, "Here is the secret of a fruitful, effective life. Cling to Me. Stick closely to Me. Have constant, unbroken union and fellowship. Let your roots go down deep. Soak up the nourishment of living near to God like a branch sticks to the main stem." Or like, in Joseph's case, he's planted by a spring or a well of water. That is to be your position of abiding, and you will bear forth much fruit.
Joseph lived in the conscious awareness of the presence of God. As I have read through the chapters of Genesis that we've covered in the last several weeks, God pops up in every single circumstance. When he's at home, God speaks to him through a dream, and Joseph understood it to be from God. When he's in Potiphar's house, he somehow sees it as being from God, and he connects to the Lord. And it says, "The Lord was with Joseph and he made everything that he did to prosper." When he was in prison, he gave the glory to God. When he stood before Pharaoh, he said, "I can't interpret dreams, but there is a God in heaven who can." And he constantly was connected to God and gave the glory to God. He constantly wanted to please the Father. He lived under what we call, the "fear of the Lord". He didn't want to displease the Lord in any portion of his life. He made constant, continual connection. His roots went down deep, the well, the source of water.
I thank the Lord so much for the work that He has done in this church. We have been able to see over the years so many people come to know Jesus Christ. And I love to see converts. I love to see people raise their hand and say, "I wanna be committed to Jesus Christ." Many of you have led people to know the Lord through your own lives. Weekly in the counseling rooms, we lead people to the Lord. It's exciting. But I am more concerned, as a pastor, about the quality of those lives. That they be like Joseph- planted by the rivers of water, close to God and bearing forth fruit. I don't think any of us wants this church or any church to become just a maternity ward, where we crank out newborns every week and write 'em down. "Oh, right, this how many came to know the Lord, that's great." Neither do we want this church or any church to become packed full of people who have their roots on the surface and go to and fro with the wind. But we want a thorough, total conversion, where a person comes to know Jesus Christ and his roots go down deep and he is stable and immovable. He is planted by springs of water, by wells of water. That is a thorough, total conversion.
Have you taken inventory of your life, lately, to see where you are planted, where you are receiving your nourishment? Are you content with just the surface drainage of the land, or sporadic rains? "Well, whenever I can get fed and get fellowship, that's when I do it." Are you dependent upon an automatic sprinkler system, so-to-speak? You get a once-a-week rain pour, a once-a-week watering from the pulpit. Or do you dare penetrate below the topsoil and you are living in constant fellowship with your God, like Joseph, and so you have stability and constant nourishment? That's Joseph's secret. "Joseph, my son, you stand out above all the rest of the kids. You are planted by a wellspring of water, and your life proves it. You're immovable. You're close."
Now look back at Genesis 49. Let's look at what it yielded Joseph. That was his secret, he was planted. Let's see what it yielded him. He is described as a fruitful vine, or a fruitful bough. "A fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall." Because Joseph was planted near to the Lord and lived in constant fellowship with God, he never stopped growing and he never stopped producing. He said, "You are a vine, or a bough. Not a stump, not a two by four. You are in constant growth and you're constantly producing. You're fruitful. You never cease." I found a quote I wanted to read to you by a man named Joseph Shore. He said, "People are like trees. And people, like trees, must grow or die. There is no standing still. A tree dies when its roots become blocked. A human being becomes mentally and spiritually, and eventually physically, dead when the circumstances of his life keep him from growing. Psychologists and sociologists spend their lives trying to patch up individuals and situations and institutions that have stopped growing." That was Joseph's result. Because he was planted near to the Lord and lived in constant fellowship, not just sporadic rainfall, he never stopped growing, he never stopped producing. He was steady and he yielded incredible fruit- a continual growth. I don't know if you ever thought of it this way, but there is a difference- listen very closely- between principle and passion, between living by principle and living by passion. There are some people who, um, live their spirituality in spurts, in episodes, depending on how they feel at the moment, what their emotion dictates, depending on who is influencing them at the time- their peer group. Then there are other people who live by the principles of the Word of God. They are stable, they are not swung by the passions of the moment, the emotion of the moment. Their roots go down so deep, and they are in constant fellowship with God and there's constant stability and incredible growth because they are in constant union with the Lord. They never stop growing. When a person is planted close to the Lord, he is independent of circumstances. Because the roots go down below the topsoil and there's constant nourishment by that spring, by that well. No matter what's going on on the outside of his life, he still grows. He doesn't stop. He is independent of the externals. Now think about that in terms of Joseph's life. Joseph was not just this goody-goody, godly kid while he was at home in Canaan. He didn't depend on the fact that, "Well, you know, here I am in a godly environment," really, his brothers were not godly, but his mother was. And he had a good start with his mother. But you take Joseph to Egypt and put him in Potiphar's house and he's still steady, he's still stable. He's outside of the family environment, he's in a new land, no one to check up on him, and he's still hanging in there tough. He's around the idolatries of Egypt and he does not fall to the idolatries of Egypt. See, that's important. That's stability and growth. When you are fixed by a continual source of refreshment in the Lord, you are independent of external circumstances.
There are some people, there are many people, who depend upon others for their roots. They are like the mistletoe that hangs on the large oak trees- they have no root in themselves. They depend solely upon the strength of others. And that's good, in the beginning, to be
nourished by the brethren, but after a while, you need your own root system. Listen to what Jesus said to the disciples. He said, "But he who received the seed on the stony places, this is he who hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy," there's great emotion, intense fervor, passion. "And yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for awhile, for when tribulation or persecution arise because of the Word, immediately he stumbles." There are many who depend upon other people for their roots. There are people who depend on a certain minister, radio or television personality, or pastor for their roots. I've seen many churches thrive and grow as long as one individual is in the pulpit maintaining it. But if he leaves, if he dies or goes somewhere else, the crowd thins, the seats are empty, hearts grow cold. Why? Here's why. It's because many have been drawn in and held by the personality or the preaching of a person, and when he leaves, it's over with. There's no root system in themselves. They are depending upon the externals for support. They're like the mistletoe hanging in the oak- they have no root in themselves. Like in the book of Judges. As soon as there was one godly judge, all these people started turning out godly. Godly judge dies, they're gone. May that never happen here. May your roots go down deep so that if even others turn away, even if others at your work who are Christians fall away from the Lord, others of your family fall away from the Lord, when Christianity is being challenged in the university setting or wherever, though others may fall because of those attacks, you remain strong because your root system is close to the heart of God. It's a constant refreshment. You are not dependent upon a person or an institution to hold you up, but the Lord God, solely. That's mature Christianity. You've got a deep root system. Listen to what Jesus said to his disciples. I'll read it to you again in John, "Abide in me and I in you. The branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in Me. Neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." I've just gotta read this to you in the Amplified Bible. Listen, "Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. Live in me and I will live in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding vitally united to the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much abundant fruit. However, apart from Me, cut off from vital union with Me, you can do nothing." Does that describe your life, that union of dwelling and living in the Lord and abiding close and having a vital union with the Lord; not a once-a-week irrigation, but a continual source and a continual bearing fourth of fruit, a constant growth? Does it describe you? Like the person in Psalm 1, "Planted by the rivers of water, he yields his fruit in its season." "Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you." If it does not describe your life, then take inventory, like I have done this week. Stop and see where you're planted. What's your source? What are you feeding off of? Who are you feeding off of? Where is your stability? Who are you leaning on? Who are you close to and dependent upon? Find out where you're planted. If you're planted by the spring of everlasting water, you'll be stable, you'll be refreshed, you'll be fruitful, you'll be productive.
I am drawn to the phrase that Paul used often to describe our Christian life. He said, "Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Walk after these things and follow and pursue them." So walk. And a walk is a constant, steady progress. Don't sit in the Spirit. Don't veg in the Spirit, as many do. And then there are others who run and skip in the Spirit. Lot of motion, but they fizzle out quickly. But praise the Lord for those steady, constant, always there, growing, because they're connected to the source, and that's the first result- constant, steady growth and producing. And by the way, what I am describing is the normal Christian life. This is not abnormal. This is not for the elite few who spend hours a day cloistered, being able to read the Bible and pray. This is not to the exclusion of the work force or the student or the elderly or the young. None of that. It's the normal, Christian life- to grow and to be fruitful. It's normal. Jesus described it as seed. He said, "Man went out and he sowed a bunch of seed and some fell on the path and some fell on stony places and some fell where there's weeds but, ah, the seed that was sown on the good soil sprang up and bore forth fruit- some thirty, some sixty and some a hundred fold." Now, some grow slower or faster than others. Some grow thirty, some grow sixty fold, some really just, (revving sound) do a hundred-fold. But all of them produce some kind of growth and fruit on a consistent basis. That is normal. What is abnormal is the weeds and the stones and the wayside. The normative is constant growth. Find out where you're planted.
And then there's usefulness. Not only fruitfulness, usefulness. Look again at verse 22, "He is a fruitful bough; a fruitful bough by a well. His branches run over the wall." I love that idea. When I lived in Huntington Beach, California, I had a neighbor who had a lemon tree way on his property line. It wasn't even close to ours, but it was a huge lemon tree. And, uh, I had a fence that went up in the backyard. And that lemon tree grew up for so many years, it got so big, that eventually it grew toward my house, and the branches grew over the fence. And it's common law, whatever is on my side of the fence, they're my lemons (laughter). Now I asked him first, but I did take them. He said whatever's on your side are yours, so I went up and I picked lemon, had fresh lemonade during the summer. His tree, my lemonade. His fruit went over the wall and affected my life. Joseph's life was blessed, but, he just didn't keep his blessings to himself. What God did in Joseph, he did through Joseph to affect so many other people.
I want you to turn back a couple chapters to chapter 39. Look at his usefulness. Verse 1, "Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, brought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. And the Lord was with Joseph and he was a successful man. He was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put in his hand. So it was from the time that he made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake. The blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field." And then after that episode, he gets thrown in the, in the can; he's thrown in jail. Now look at verse 20, while he's in prison. "Then Joseph's master took him and put him onto the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph's hand because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper." Joseph's branches went over the walls and touched Potiphar's house, went over the walls and touched the people in prison. And then he stood before Pharaoh. He interpreted his dream. He told his what he must do- seven years of famine are coming, store up food. And Joseph's life went over the walls again and affected not only Egypt in a time of famine, but all of the surrounding nations. Whoever came into contact with Joseph, their life was blessed. Then Joseph's branches went over the walls and affected his family who were in the land of Canaan. And now that Joseph is the prime minister of Egypt, he allows them to come back through his power and auspices, puts him in Goshen, the best of the land, and they survive and they multiply. Touched or came in contact with Joseph's life was somehow blessed by God. His branches were not just to himself, they went over the wall. That's a vigorously growing fruit tree. Ain't that the purpose of a fruit tree by the way? Does an apple tree produce apples for its own consumption? The purpose of the apple tree is to bless others with the fruit of it. This is exactly where much of Christianity today is lacking. You'd think that some people see Christianity as a "bless me" club. You'd think by hearing and by seeing so many lives, that the purpose that Jesus came and died was to just bless people and make people happy and that's it. As if we have reinterpreted Matthew Chapter 6, verse 33, and we've made it say, "Seek first to be blessed and to be happy, and if you have any time left over and it's not too terribly inconvenient, do something for the kingdom of God." Don't reduce Christianity to a "bless me" club. God blesses you so that you might bless others, so that your branches would go over the walls.
I just came back from Israel several weeks ago, and I'm always amazed at the difference between the two main body of waters, bodies of water in Israel. First, up north, is the Sea of Galilee. It's below sea level- 700 feet below sea level. Then the Jordan river runs from Galilee down into the Dead Sea- 1290 feet below sea level. Both below sea level, both inland bodies of water, but so different from one another. The Sea of Galilee is teeming with life, with fish, greenery all around it. You get down to the Dead Sea and it's dead. Question is, why? Her's why. The Sea of Galilee has an inlet. It brings in the fresh water as the snows of Mount Hermon melt and dumps into the Sea of Galilee. And then it has an outlet. It lets water in and it lets water out and it forms the twisted Jordan River and it goes all the way down to the Dead Sea, which has an inlet, but it has no outlet. It only takes water in, all of the minerals of the Jordan. It doesn't let anything out, and therefore it is dead. Jesus said, one of his most famous sayings, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and.." (waits for answers) good! "Drink." And then he said something very interesting that we usually pass over in that thought. He said, "Whoever believes in me, from his heart, or his inmost being, will gush torrents of living water." He did not say, "Whoever is thirsty, come unto me and drink and I'll satisfy him and make him happy and that's the end of it." Although he does satisfy us, he does make us happy, he fulfills us. But that's not the point of what Jesus is saying. He's saying, "If you come to me, I'll make you a vessel to bless others. You drink of me and you'll be satisfied, but I will make out of your life torrents of living waters to flow."
And so the first question is this morning, are you a Christian? Are you planted by the streams of water? Are you fixed by the heart of God? The second question, do your branches go over the walls and do you bear forth fruit? Usefulness.
And finally, because he was planted so near to God, he was steady when he was afflicted. Look at the description in Chapter 49 of Jacob in the following verse. Verse 23, "The archers," this is poetic language now, "have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him." Who's he speaking of? His brothers. They shot more arrows of him, at him than anyone else. Arrows of doubt and scorn. When he said, "Hey, I've got this great dream from God! You're gonna bow down to me." Whew. Because he was the favorite son of his father. There were arrows of jealousy. When he came and he was honest about his brothers and he gave his father an evil report- arrows of hatred and bitterness. Sold him into Egypt. And then, of course, there were the arrows of temptation shot at him by Potiphar's wife. Arrows of false accusation as he was dumped in prison. Arrows of forgetfulness as he was there two years. But look at the next verse. "But his bow remained in strength or steady, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob. From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel." This is a beautiful picture. It's a picture of a father and son, and the father is teaching the kid how to shoot arrows. The kid is kind of clumsy. He'd probably hit more targets than he'd want to if his dad didn't reach his arms around, steady the bow. And when he was being attacked, he had the steady grip of his father around him. In other words, Joseph leaned upon his Heavenly Father in every emergency. And when people were shooting at Joseph, he didn't shoot back. He was steadied and protected by the mighty God. Verse 24, it's El-Shaddai, the Almighty, who has His arms around Joseph. And you know it takes more strength to not return vengeance upon a person when he's really shafted you and done evil, when it's in your power to do it, it takes much more strength to hold back and to forgive like Joseph did. His arms were steady, they were strong in his attack.
Actually, him being attacked made him more fruitful. Ever thought of that? Remember what Jesus said in John 2? He said, "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away. And every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it that it may bear more fruit." Joseph was fruitful but, remember, he was pruned throughout his entire lifetime. I've never met a really truly fruitful, abundantly fruitful person who hasn't suffered in some instance. And God has used it to prune his life. And Joseph was pruned. Charles Spurgeon used to say that people can get just enough religion to make them wretched. And that a little spirituality is a tragic thing. It's what he used to say quite frequently. Let's get planted, rooted, developed by God. Not just, "I'm saved," but, "I'm thoroughly converted, Lord. I wanna live by You, near You, and have the results of constant growth, refreshment, stability, usefulness. To be steady when I am attacked, seeing that I am being pruned by You."
A few years ago, ever heard of Ripley's Believe it or Not? Well Ripley's Believe it or Not hosted a little article about something we would call virtually worthless that became invaluable. And it said in the little newspaper that one bar of steel, a little block of steel, that's only worth five dollars, if it is developed, is worth more. And he went on to say that if you made horseshoes with that one block of five dollar steel, that it would now be worth fifty bucks. And if you took that five dollar bar of steel and you made needles for sewing, it's now worth 5,000 dollars. And if you take that same bar of steel and you make little balance springs for fine Swiss watches, it shoots the value of that five dollar block of steel up to 500,000 bucks. All because it is being developed and not left the way it was. We come to God- we're not even worth much. He redeems our life. He fashions us, that we can become useful, fruitful, developed, mature, stable believers. What is the one secret? The secret is where you are planted. Please, do not rest upon a once-a-week watering from this pulpit or from anybody on the radio or TV. Get your own, deep relationship with God. Dig deep. Settle for nothing else than that artisan well. Bow your head with me, please.
What a life we have examined. A crown among his brothers. Different from his brothers. Fruitful. Lord, we're convinced that You want to make Joseph's out of each and every believer that You call to Yourself. Lord, You don't really care about numbers, how many people come, how many people have come forward. As much as You are concerned about the quality of that life, and that it is thoroughly converted, planted, deep-rooted, not depending upon outward circumstances or other people, but to get to that place where we are fixed in You and we stand, not because we're strong, but because of the constant nourishment that we receive from You. Plant us, Lord, near to Your heart this morning, that we would be constantly in one place, that place of abiding throughout. And Lord, as we are there, prune us down, through whatever circumstances You see fit to bring our way and I pray that our strength would remain in El-Shaddai, the Mighty One.