Max Lucado: Stupid Won't Fix Stupid
By Ella Chan
Excerpted from You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Thomas Nelson 2013) by Max Lucado copyright ©2013. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, part of HarperCollins Christian
The Fourth of July. Everything about the holiday was red, white, and blue. My face was red, the clouds were cotton white, and the sky was a brilliant blue. My redness came not from sunburn but humiliation. Denalyn had warned, "Remember, Max, the lake level is low." The depth finder had alerted: thirty feet, then ten, then five, and then three feet. The caution buoys bobbed up and down in the water. But did I listen to Denalyn? Pay attention to the depth radar? Take note of the shallow-water markers?
Who had time for such trivialities? My three teenage daughters and their friends were counting on my navigational skills for a Saturday of entertainment. I would not disappoint. Wearing sunglasses and a big-brimmed hat, I hammered the throttle, and off we went. Zoom! Then five minutes later, boom! I had driven the boat onto a sandbar.
Passengers lurched forward. I nearly fell out. Seven sets of eyes glared at me. A lesser man might have told everyone to get out and push the boat back into deep water. Not me. Not throttle-happy Max. No sir. I was captain of the outboard, sovereign of the lake. I would debank the boat the manly way. I shoved the throttle again.
The boat didn't budge.
"Max," Denalyn kindly opined, "you messed up." I raised the rudder. It was bent like a dog's ear. This time we had no choice. We pushed until we floated. When I started the engine, the boat vibrated like a three-wheeled jalopy. Our speed peaked out at five miles per hour. As we chug-chugged across the lake and the other vacationers stared and the teenagers sulked, I asked myself, Well, Captain Max, what were you thinking?
That was the problem. I wasn't thinking. Dumb became dumber because I treated a bad decision with a poor, impulsive choice. Forgivable in a boat. But in life?
Joseph was probably in his twenties when he crashed into, of all things, a sandbar of sexual temptation. When his brothers sold him into slavery, they likely assumed they had doomed him to hard labor and an early death. Instead, Joseph moved up the career ladder like a fireman after a cat. Potiphar, who promoted Joseph in his home, no doubt promoted Joseph among his circle of officials. He boasted about the Midas touch of this bright Hebrew boy who had made him a wealthy man.
Joseph came to have clout. He could spend and hire, send and receive. Merchants reported to him, and other people noticed him. Most significantly, women noticed him. "Now Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man" (Gen. 39:6 nlt). A Hollywood head turner, this guy-square jaw, wavy hair, and biceps that bulged every time he carried Mrs. Potiphar's tray. Which was often. She enjoyed the sight of him. "And it came to pass after these things that his master's wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, 'Lie with me'" (v. 7).
The first lady of the household made a play for the Hebrew slave. "Jo-eeey, how about a little sugar with my coffee?" Wink, wink. As she passed him in the hallway, she brushed up against his arm. As he brought dessert to the table, she touched his leg. By the clothes she wore, or didn't wear, she made it clear: "I'm yours for the taking, Joseph." She courted him "day by day" (v. 10). He had plenty of opportunities to consider the proposition. And reasons to accept it.
Wasn't she married to his master? And wasn't he obligated to obey the wishes of his owner, even if the wish was clandestine sex? And it would be clandestine. No one would know. What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom, right?
Besides, a dalliance with the randy lady would give Joseph a chip in the political poker game, an ally at the top level. The end justified the means. And the means wasn't all that unpleasant. Powerful Potiphar had his pick of women. His wife was likely a jaw dropper. Joseph didn't lose his manly urges when he lost his coat of many colors. A few moments in the arms of an attractive, willing lover? Joseph could use some relief.
Didn't he deserve some? These were lonely days: rejected by his family, twice bought and sold like livestock, far from home, far from friends. And the stress of managing Potiphar's household. Overseeing the terraced gardens and multitude of slaves. Mastering the peculiar protocol of official events. Joseph's job was draining. He could have justified his choice.
So can you. You've been jilted and bruised, sold out and turned away. Stranded on the sandbar of bad health, bad credit, bad luck. Few friends and fewer solutions. The hours are long, and the nights are longer. Mrs. (or Mr.) Potiphar comes along with a sultry offer. She slides her room key in your direction.
Or a friend slides a bottle in your direction. A coworker offers some drugs. You can pay some personal bills with company cash or stave off bankruptcy by embezzling funds. Justifications and rationalizations pop up like weeds after a summer rain. No one would know. I won't get caught. I'm only human.
Can we talk candidly for a moment? Egypt can be a cruddy place. No one disagrees with that. But Egypt can also be the petri dish for brainless decisions. Don't make matters worse by doing something you'll regret.
Joseph went on high alert. When Mrs. Potiphar dangled the bait, "he refused" (v. 8). He gave the temptress no time, no attention, no chitchat, no reason for hope. "He did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her" (v. 10). When her number appeared on his cell phone, he did not answer. When she texted a question, he didn't respond. When she entered his office, he exited. He avoided her like the poison she was.
"[Potiphar] has committed all that he has to my hand," he announced (v. 8). To lie with her would be to sin against his master. How rare this resolve. In a culture that uses phrases like "consenting adults" and "sexual rights," we forget how immorality destroys the lives of people who aren't in the bedroom.
Years ago a friend gave me this counsel: "Make a list of all the lives you would impact by your sexual immorality." I did. Every so often I reread it. "Denalyn. My three daughters. My son-in-law. My yet-to-be-born grandchildren. Every person who has ever read one of my books or heard one of my sermons. My publishing team. Our church staff." The list reminds me: one act of carnality is a poor exchange for a lifetime of lost legacy.
Dads, would you intentionally break the arm of your child? Of course not. Such an action would violate every fiber of your moral being. Yet if you engage in sexual activity outside of your marriage, you will bring much more pain into the life of your child than would a broken bone.
Moms, would you force your children to sleep outside on a cold night? By no means. Yet if you involve yourself in an illicit affair, you will bring more darkness and chill into the lives of your children than a hundred winters.
And you, single man or woman. You wouldn't desecrate a Bible or make a mockery of a cross. Yet when you have unmarried sex, you disregard one of God's holy acts. "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?" (1 Cor. 6:19).
Actions have consequences. Joseph placed his loyalty above lusts. He honored his master . . .
And his Master. Joseph's primary concern was the preference of God. "How . . . can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9).
The lesson we learn from Joseph is surprisingly simple: do what pleases God. Your coworkers want to include a trip to a gentleman's club on the evening agenda. What do you do? Do what pleases God. Your date invites you to conclude the evening with drinks at his apartment. How should you reply? Do what pleases God. Your friends hand you a joint of marijuana to smoke; your classmates show you a way to cheat; the Internet provides pornography to watch-ask yourself the question: How can I please God? "Do what is right as a sacrifice to the Lord and trust the Lord" (Ps. 4:5 ncv).
You don't fix a struggling marriage with an affair, a drug problem with more drugs, debt with more debt. You don't fix stupid with stupid. You don't get out of a mess by making another one. Do what pleases God. You will never go wrong doing what is right.
Thomas made this discovery. He in many ways was a modern-day Joseph. Born in 1899, to a Baptist pastor and a church pianist, Thomas was exposed to music early on. By the age of twelve he was imitating the jazz music of the African American community in the Deep South. In his late teens he went to Philadelphia and then to Chicago, where he played in speakeasies. Somewhere along the way he forgot his faith. He compromised in his lifestyle and turned away from the convictions of his youth. His talent opened the doors, but his conscience wouldn't let him rest. Long nights on the road left him exhausted and weary. A relative urged him to return to God. At the age of twenty-one, he did. He had an encounter with God that later led him to write: "My inner-being was thrilled. My soul was a deluge of divine rapture; my emotions were aroused; my heart was inspired to become a great singer and worker in the kingdom of the Lord."
Young Thomas poured his energy into God-honoring music. Rhythm and blues met worship and praise. The result was a brand-new genre of toe-tapping, soul-lifting music. He took a position as a music director at a Chicago church. At the age of twenty-six Thomas met the love of his life and got married. He began a publishing company and founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. He worked with some of the greatest singers in the history of gospel music, including Mahalia Jackson. By 1932, Thomas was enjoying the blessings of God at full throttle: happy marriage, growing ministry, first child on the way. Life was good.
But then the sandbar. One night after singing to a Saint Louis audience, he was handed a Western Union telegram. It read simply: "Your wife just died." She had passed away in childbirth. Thomas hurried back to Chicago, where his newborn son died the following day. The musician fell into a crevasse of grief. He avoided people and grew angry at God. "I just wanted to go back to the jazz world I knew so well. I felt God had done me an injustice. I didn't want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs."
He secluded himself, nursing his anger and sorrow. A friend seemed to know what he needed. He took Thomas to a neighborhood music school. That evening as the sun was setting, Thomas sat down at a piano and began to play . . . and pray. He poured out his heart to God, and what wonderful words they were.
Precious Lord, take my hand,
lead me on, let me stand!
I am tired, I am weak,
I am worn, Through the storm,
through the night lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.
For the rest of his life, Thomas A. Dorsey testified that the Lord healed him that night as he sat at the piano. He went on to pen more than three thousand songs and become one of the most influential Christian songwriters of all time.5 All because he reached out to God.
Do the same. Turbulent times will tempt you to forget God. Shortcuts will lure you. Sirens will call you. But don't be foolish or naive. Do what pleases God. Nothing more, nothing less. And for heaven's sake, think twice before you press that throttle.
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