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The Joseph Principle and the Joseph Blessing Genesis 41 and Deuteronomy 33 A Sermon by Dr. Neil Chadwick It's the name given to several colleges and universities in the US and other countries, as well as a personal name given to thousands of boys. The name, first given by a mother after her bareness had finally been lifted, means "May God add." In the Bible, there are a dozen men with this name. Some of them are lesser known, such as one of the brothers of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). One of the two candidates for Apostleship nominated to take the place of Judas bore this name - he was not chosen. There was also the man from Arimathea in whose tomb Jesus was buried, and a traveling companion of Paul whose name had been changed to Barnabas. We more likely remember this name in association with Christ’s birth - he was a carpenter, the husband of Mary, Jesus' mother. But by far the most prominent man with this name was the eleventh son of Jacob, the firstborn of his favored wife, Rachel. We remember him for his "coat of many colors" and the jealous brothers who captured him, feigned his death and sold him as a slave - sibling rivalry taken to the extreme! Joseph is also well remembered for his strong character which enabled him to resist the temptation of an attractive and powerful woman, his patient endurance of an unjust imprisonment, his ability to interpret dreams, and his remarkable rise to power. Perhaps the most memorable line concerning Joseph was spoken when he forgave his brothers and said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) But the story out of Joseph's life which we want to emphasize is one taken from his adult years, after he had reached the pinnacle of his career as what we might call the COO - Chief Operational Officer of Egypt. During this time, at age 30, when Joseph had earned the trust of the King, and with it the authority to manage the business of this vast kingdom, Joseph interpreted the King’s dream where God showed him that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. It was a rather weird dream in which seven skinny cows devoured seven fat ones, but when they were done, the cows looked just as skinny as before. (Genesis 41) The story is well known, and how Joseph handled this situation has been given a name, the "Joseph Principle." Simply put, Joseph put a plan in place whereby a portion (20%) of the abundance of grain harvested during the good years was stored up so that when the famine came, there was a plentiful supply to provide for all the food needs of the people of Egypt, and even for the many desperate people who came from other countries to purchase grain. (Genesis 41:57) Today this plan might be called “Un-American” because it is in sharp contrast to the way most of us live our lives. We are told that the health of our economy is based upon our willingness to “consume, consume, consume”; Joseph was able to get the people to “save, save, save.” Recently, in living color displayed in our living-rooms, we have been given an example of what happens when entire cities of people live from day to day with little thought or preparation for how they will be provided for when disaster strikes. A thousand people died, and tens of thousands were desperately thrown upon the mercy of a blame-game, nearly bankrupt, and sometimes corrupt government, or tossed out like stray cats looking for someone kind enough to take them in. In contrast to this, in his day, Joseph had the foresight and wisdom to understand that if the people were to consume all they had at the present, they would not have enough to sustain themselves through the hard times that were sure to come. He could have given the surplus back, but perhaps Joseph assumed that most people receiving this “tax rebate” would not be disciplined enough to save it, but would quickly spend it, as did most Americans with their own $350.00 benefit from the President’s tax cut. Without boring you with too many numbers, let me try to describe for you our current situation in America, as it is in sharp contrast to this Biblical “Joseph Principle.” First, let’s talk about spending and savings. The truth of the matter is, nearly two-thirds (62%) of Americans have no regular savings plan. On the other hand, according to some economic commentators, rapidly rising house prices in recent years have made many homeowners feel wealthy, so they have ramped up their day-to-day spending. This is a disturbing trend, for if interest rates increase by just 2 percent, it will suppress prices, lower sales and put a squeeze on those who were marginally qualified to buy or re-finance, because their payments would suddenly go up. (For example, monthly payments for a mortgage of $150,000 will increase by $200.00.) America is on a spending binge unlike anything we have ever known, and this signals the fact that we are materialistic to the core. Just a month ago (September 4, 2005) the Washington Times printed an editorial on spending and saving. The article pointed out that for the month of July (2005), the Commerce Department reported that Americans received $9,082 billion in disposable personal income. However, during that same month, we spent $9,140.8 billion, $58.8 billion more than we earned! The personal saving rate was a negative 0.6 percent - for each $100 in personal income, we spent $100.65. This pattern of increase spending and decreased saving appears to be a trend - during the past quarter century, the personal saving rate has been steadily going downward. During the first half of the 1980s we saved an average of 10.4% of what we earned; during the second half of the 1980s, the personal saving rate fell to 7.7%. During the first half of the 1990s we saved an average of 6.5%; and during the second half of the 1990s, the saving rate fell to 3.8%. During the 2000-2003 period, the personal saving rate averaged 2.2%; in 2004 it was 1.8 %. During the first six months of 2005, it averaged 0.4 percent, and then in July, we crossed the line into negative spending. In chart form, it looks like this: This should alarm us. Since the Great Depression, there has only been one other month during which the personal saving rate was negative. That was October 2001, the month following the September 11 terrorist attacks, when the personal saving rate was a negative 0.2 percent. As Americans, we spend, we don’t save – evidently we’re convinced that the proverbial “rainy day” will never come to us. Now let’s talk about the other side of the coin, our escalating debt. Total debt in America (including off-budget items) is in excess of $40 trillion. It is difficult for us to even fathom such enormous numbers, but If I had $1 trillion, and spent $3,000 each day, it would take me a million years to spend it all. But not only are we drowning in our debt, the waters keep rising, and it is very doubtful that this materialistic trend will be turned around. We are a people out of control in terms of our spending. (http://mwhodges.home.att.net/nat-debt/debt-nat- a.htm) The fact of the matter is, during the past half century, our total debt has increased 5 times. In 1957, total debt (personal and national) allocated on a per capita basis (adjusted for inflation) was $27,084 per man, woman and child - by last year it had risen to $136,479. (Assuming a population of 293,085,383.) One of the ways we run up our personal debt is through Credit Card use (or misuse). Listen to this alarming report: The most recent figures to be found tell us that in 2003, the average credit-card debt of US households with at least one card was $9,205, up from $2,966 in 1990 - - that's 310% higher (CardWeb.com). According to the March 2004 Cambridge Consumer Credit Index, 42% of Americans are making just minimum payments or no payments on their credit card balances. Another 39% pay less than half the balance owed but more than the minimum, while 19% pay more than half their balances. The same firm in 2004 said, "About 51 million households carry credit-card debt at an average balance of nearly $12,000" – that means $612 billion in total debt for those households. (http://www.hillnews.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/031005/creditcard .html) Let’s take the example of Mike, who in 1987 had accumulated debts totaling nearly $700,000. Through a series of circumstances, Mike and his wife began to seriously pray concerning their finances. After several months, it became clear to them that God wanted them to get out of debt. They totally surrendered their entire financial lives to God and began their journey towards financial freedom. By learning and applying God’s principles for financial freedom they were able to become totally debt free within 10 years. During this time, Mike began to learn a lot about Americans and their financial dealings. Among other things, he learned that 70% are living paycheck to paycheck, 95% argue about money related topics on a regular basis, 95% finance one or more autos at an average of $400 per month for five years. Mike also learned that most of us need a reality check, because even though our economic situation is disastrous, we’re not worried about it! When 40,000 Americans were polled by Newsweek Magazine, and asked if they were really worried about their finances, only 11% said yes! By the way, Mike also discovered that of the 40% of Americans who say they attend church weekly, 17% say they tithe, while only 3% actually do! (http://www.coeinc.org/financialstatistics.htm) So what does the Lord think about all this debt? Indebtedness is a form of servitude. (“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” - Proverbs 22:7). Far too many people are slaves to debt. The Bible also says, “The wicked borrows and pays not again” (Psalms 37:21). And yet, what do Americans do in the face of this surmounting debt? They file for bankruptcy. In the minds of some, declaring bankruptcy has almost become a national pass-time. Seventy percent of those who file for bankruptcy never pay back a dime of what they owe. Just recently a bankruptcy reform bill was passed into law which will go into effect later this month. According to USA Today, “Debtors are responding . . . personal bankruptcy filings have jumped this month to the highest on record, with filings averaging more than 9,000 a day, up roughly 50% from last year's average daily volume during the first two weeks of September.” You see, that’s the American way, build up debt through irresponsible spending, and then hire a lawyer to get the courts to file “Chapter 7” and wipe out debts so you can start all over. So here’s the picture – reckless, compulsive spending, an overwhelming mountain of debt, and irresponsible bankruptcy – all of which is not pleasing to God. If we followed the “Joseph Principle,” what would be different? Simply this, in the present, we would see to it that we are providing for the future. Think about this word “pro” “vide” – it literally means to see (video) ahead. To provide is to be future oriented, to do today what will have a positive impact on tomorrow. Another word for it might be the four letter word, “PLAN”. "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty." (Proverbs 21:5) The question to ask of those who want to “provide” for themselves and for their families is this, “Are you establishing responsible financial goals, and do you have a plan to reach those goals?” Here’s some good advice about setting goals: 1. Goals must be clearly articulated, preferably written. An unwritten goal is merely a wish, easily forgotten and subject to change at the slightest whim. Less than 30% of us use a written monthly budget to manage household finances. 2. Nobody can set your financial goals for you. If you are going to do what it takes to reach a goal, then make sure they are your goals. 3. Goals should have these four characteristics, remembered by the acrostic MAPS - measurable, achievable, purposeful and specific. Measurable because only that which can be measured can be managed. Achievable because if you do not believe you can reach the goal you never will. Purposeful because there must be a greater reason than just attaining some thing. And finally, specific because you get better results from what you inspect than what you expect. 4. Goals must have a deadline. A goal without a deadline is just a philosophical statement of intent. A deadline is the foundation of a commitment. Now let’s go back to the Joseph Principle. We can divide this into three parts: 1. Joseph clearly understood that he was managing someone else’s property. David also understood this when he wrote, “The earth is the LORD'S, and the fullness thereof.” The NIV says it more plainly, “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalms 24:1) (Incidentally, though in a different context, repeated by Paul in I Corinthians 10:26.) In this regard, a legitimate question is, “Whose money is in your pocket?” The Christian’s quick answer is, “God’s”! We fully accept this truth that God owns everything – therefore we are managing what is not ours, and some day will be accountable for how well we have done. It seems to me that there is widespread practical atheism among Christians. That means that we say we believe in God, but that’s not what we practice. For example, when the preacher starts to talk about tithing, we immediately think that this is what they all do, try to get rich off of poor people’s sacrifice, or that tithing is just another tax, a temple tax, or it’s dues that one must pay to receive the benefits of membership in the organization. And all of this is wrong-headed. Tithing is nothing more or less than “putting your money where your mouth is.” We tithe to demonstrate to ourselves and to God that we do believe it, everything belongs to God. 2. The people of Joseph’s day were willing to sacrifice in the present to provide for the future. Newsweek, in its August 22, 2005 edition, commented on the news about negative savings by noting, “As a society, we seem unwilling to devote even a penny to the future . . . a low savings rate reflects national character - an addiction to immediate gratification.” And this comes from a secular magazine! Perhaps Christians neglect preparations for the future by saying, “Jesus is coming soon, so it’s OK to go deep in debt – I’ll leave my debt to the Anti-Christ.” Unfortunately, they end up leaving their debt to their children who themselves have to go into debt just to pay the funeral costs of their unwise parents. I say, let’s all be “un-American” and stop the spending and start the saving. 3. The savings plan instituted by Joseph was done for the benefit of others, in fact saving the lives of many including his own extended family. Yes, the Egyptians did this for their own country, but it turned out to be a blessing which spread to other countries as well. How well we remember the historic words of a former President, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” Recently I heard someone make the comment that it’s rather sad that that President’s own party has seemingly forgotten his call, for they have become the champions of governmental dole, training citizens not to worry, not to plan, not to save – after all, your rich Uncle Sam will take care of you. Thus we have become a country characterized by irresponsibility. Let’s remember the advice of Paul, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28) Christians don’t take financial responsibility seriously just to secure their own success, power or pleasure, but rather that they may be a blessing to others. Finally, we believe that those who practice the Joseph Principle will receive the Joseph Blessing. Before Moses died, he pronounced a blessing on each of the sons of Israel and upon their descendants who now made up the twelve tribes of the emerging nation. When he came to Joseph, this is what Moses pronounced: "May the LORD bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and with the deep waters that lie below; with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield; with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills; with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.” (Deuteronomy 33:13-16) I believe it’s fair to assume that this blessing will flow to all who are in the Joseph tribe, who faithfully practice the Joseph Principle. Discussion Questions The Joseph Principle and the Joseph Blessing Genesis 41 and Deuteronomy 33 1. Who are some of the people in the Bible who have the same name as Jacob's eleventh son? What does this name mean? 2. What are some of memorable stories concerning this Biblical character to whom is dedicated several chapters in Genesis? 3. What did Joseph say to his brothers to indicate he had forgiven them? 4. When he was around 30 years old, Joseph interpreted the King of Egypt's dream. What was the dream, and how was Joseph rewarded? 5. What did Joseph do which we now have called "The Joseph Principle"? 6. Today, why might we consider what Joseph did to be "un-American? 7. How have recent events demonstrated the tragic consequences associated with lack of foresight and planning for the future? 8. Why do you think it is that nearly two-thirds (62%) of Americans have no regular savings plan? 9. Between 1980 and the present, American's average savings has decreased from 10.4% to a minus .6%. Why is this considered to be a serious problem? 10. If every person's share of our total debt is $136,479, the how much does your family owe, and how do you intend on paying it off? 11. What forms of debt are increasingly common, and why are these kinds of debt growing so quickly? 12. What does the Bible say concerning the relationship between lender and borrower? 13. If 17% of Christians say they tithe, but only 3% do, does that necessarily mean they are untruthful? 14. At the present time, why is there such a rush on bankruptcy courts? 15. What four letter word would be employed if we were following the Joseph Principle? 16. Complete these three statements as they apply to the Joseph Principle: 1. Joseph clearly understood that he was managing . . . . 2. The people of Joseph’s day were willing to sacrifice in the present . . . . 3. The savings plan instituted by Joseph was done to benefit . . . . 17. What word could summarize the blessing pronounced by Moses upon the descendants of Joseph?
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