Here is an excerpt of a sermon that I preached in chapel recently…
When I was in college, I didn’t play a sport, but I was an athletic trainer. For those of you who don’t know what Athletic Trainers do, they’re the people who are there 2 hours before practice starts and for about 1 hour after it’s over. They’re the ones who tape your smelly feet, tend to your blisters, listen to your aches and pains, and wrap you up with an ice pack—and those are just the things that I can repeat in polite company! Athletic trainers are there during games and ride home with the athletes on the van or bus and feel the agony of defeat and the glory of victory, right along with the team. They’re the people with the polo shirts, khaki pants and fanny packs that you want by your side when you jam your finger making a block or sprain your ankle on a tackle. Well, that’s what I spent the vast majority of my “spare time” doing when I was in college. And believe me when I say that there were days when I didn’t want to tape one more ankle or make one more ice bag. I remember one day in particular during basketball season of my junior year. I was the only trainer working the Friday night men’s basketball practice (and who wants to be working practice on a Friday night?). I think I was doing my accounting homework while the guys were doing a block out drill. All of a sudden I heard a loud “thud” and then guys yelling. On the ground under the basket was one of our starting five, Scott, having a seizure. He had been going up for a lay-up and had been blocked out so good that he landed on his head. All of a sudden I heard them yell: “Trainer, trainer!” All eyes turned to me, and I was in charge. What was I going to do? I’d spent 2 ½ years in preparation taking classes, working practice, watching others, and now my first real moment when I was in charge!
Do you remember those moments—possibly in a game situation, taking a test, in a job interview—when you know that everything that you’ve prepared for is leading up to this moment? I call it 4th Quarter leadership. It’s when things are drawing to a close, the stakes are high, and you can do something that is going to affect the outcome of the situation, one way or the other. Well, we see this kind of leadership in Scripture, as many others have experienced this dilemma as well. Look at the life of Joseph (starting in Gen. 37 and all the way through Gen. 41:56 and following.
Okay, so here we have it: Joseph has lived in Egypt for some time now (long enough for him to work in Potiphar’s house, be in jail for several years, and then rise to 2nd in command status, have 2 sons and take on the external characteristics of being an Egyptian (wear the clothes, speak the language, have a new names, etc.). It’s been some time, now, since Joseph saw his brothers. I can imagine the following things running through his mind:
1. My brothers betrayed me with the ultimate betrayal (more than death—sold into slavery), leaving me powerless, but now look at who has all the power!
2. It’s all my brothers, bowing down before me, just like in my dream that got me into all my troubles! My dream came true.
3. Where’s Benjamin—where’s my little brother? The 10 who betrayed me are here, but where is Benjamin?
4. I thought this chapter of my life was gone! I’ve made it just fine here in Egypt and now I have to deal with this!
Here Joseph was, with all the advantage and what is he going to do? To put it another way, it’s the 4th quarter, Quarterbacking the Egyptians is Joseph. They’re up 49 to 0. They’ve prepared harder and played smarter than anyone! In comes a new team, a ragtag bunch of nomads, Team Israel. Their head coach, Jacob, didn’t even come to watch the game. They’re even 1 short on their team, as they’re playing with only 10 and they’re playing both Offense and Defense. They can’t catch a break. And here they are, head to head against superpower Egypt. It’s clear that they could be decimated by one quick pass, or run, or even a kick (whatever) by the Egyptians. And there’s another team looking hungry on the sidelines.
Joseph is the man in control. He’s got all the inside information, and he knows that he could kill these guys, literally. So what’s he going to do? He doesn’t have anything to gain or lose by treating them badly or treating them well. They’re just a bunch of outsiders who are taking their last resort.
Put yourself in Joseph’s position…you’re faced with a dilemma. Perhaps it’s not even as bad as you’ve been wronged and you’re flirting with revenge. Your dilemma is a homework assignment that you could cheat on, $20 that you could lift that would never get traced back to you, not going 100% at practice, or even skipping class, or work, or meetings, or church, just because you don’t want to go.
Let’s look at how our hero Joseph handled the conflict: Gen. 50:18-21. First of all, Joseph knew who REALLY held the power—not him, it was God. Humility. Secondly, Joseph trusted God’s plan to overcome the struggles of life. Faith. Thirdly, Joseph didn’t allow the seed of bitterness to creep in and was gracious toward his brothers. Grace.
How do we allow these characteristics to be developed in our lives? How do we become 4th Quarter leaders who get it done in the end? Well, you might be wondering what I did in the situation with the seizing basketball player. It was my chance for 4th Quarter Leadership. You probably wouldn’t blame me if I wanted to run and hide and get mad at the Head Trainer for leaving me alone at this practice. Well, that thought did come, but actually it came long after the situation was over and Scott was safely at the hospital. Instead what happened was that my training kicked in—I had someone call an ambulance, made sure that he was safe and could not hurt himself worse and I helped stabilize him until the paramedics came. I wasn’t freaked out until after they took him away and then I was pretty shaky. He recovered quickly and even came by my room that night to thank me for helping him out. I didn’t ever think I would find myself in that situation, with that dilemma forcing me to act a certain way, but here I was, and the habits, the character that had been developed in me took over.
We have that opportunity in every situation, whether it be sports, playing an instrument, or in the classroom. We become 4th quarter leaders: people that have well-practiced positive habits and character traits that kick in when we are in a difficult situation. Joseph set the example for us to follow exhibiting humility, faith, and grace. Joseph’s name means “May he (that is, God) add.” His mother wanted God to add another son to her life. But we can ask God to add these characteristics to our lives: humility, faith, and grace. And when we need them, they will be there.