Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Moral intersections - Part 6

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. — Psalm 119:105, KJV

Genesis 39

The earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay area in 1989 collapsed a section of the freeway that connects the cities of Oakland and San Francisco — including a long span of double-decked viaduct. The results were horrifying. Not only were hundreds of motorists injured and stranded in the immediate aftermath of the quake, but precarious driving conditions continued in the region for weeks and months afterward. Even after the rubble had been removed, the weakened bridges demolished, and the damaged pavement barricaded, hazards abounded for drivers.

Just imagine: The entire roadway system was altered overnight. Streets ceased to be passable; traffic light operations, rush-hour flow patterns and contraflow schemes were all disrupted; one-way streets suddenly had to accommodate two-way traffic and residential streets became primary arteries. Detours became the norm rather than the exception. Wrong turns were common occurrences.

Most motorists, even given the best of driving conditions, have made the mistake of turning the wrong way down a one-way street. It is such an easy mistake to make. When confused by an unfamiliar setting, pressured by the flow of traffic, and panicked by indecision, anyone can take that wrong turn. We momentarily lack discernment and direction; therefore, we inevitably make mistakes.

Life has unexpected twists, turns and intersections as well. Though they come at different times for each of us, they are strikingly similar — each involves a moral decision we must make. At every intersection we must decide which way to go, and a wrong turn at a moral intersection of life can affect our journey for a lot of miles. Some people who make a wrong turn at a moral intersection spend years of their lives getting nowhere on side streets, cul-de-sacs and dead ends. Others end up having wrecks that cause hurt and damage to others. At these moral intersections of life, the question isn’t whether to turn right or left; the question is whether to turn right or wrong.

It’s frightening to think of turning loose a 15- or 16-year-old girl or boy to drive in a major metropolitan area, but it is something that most parents must face at one time or another. As a father, I was determined to teach my girls at least five basic lessons about driving.

The first was read your map and know the directions to your destination ahead of time. In other words, I didn’t want them to get to a major intersection and not know which way to turn. At one point, we lived 15 miles from the Christian school they attended. When it came time for them to drive, I didn’t want them to travel all the way across our tangled metropolitan area only to get to an intersection and not know which way to turn. I wanted them to read the map ahead of time, so that they would know which way to turn.

The second lesson I taught them was stop when you see a red light. Now, that sounds pretty simplistic, but simple rules are generally the best rules. Besides, it is absolutely amazing how many motorists ignore this commonsense dictum.

The third lesson I taught my girls was yield the right-of-way to others. There is no need to tempt fate. More importantly, there is no need to tempt harried commuters in the snarl of city streets either.

The fourth lesson was submit to the proper authorities. Obey all the traffic signs. Obey the police. When we remain under authority, we will inevitably be safer.

The fifth lesson I taught my girls was look both ways before you go. But when you go, really go. Don’t hesitate in the middle of an intersection. Look both ways, and when it’s clear, go on your way.

Clearly, these five lessons are basic to roadway protocol, but they are equally applicable to all our other everyday affairs — to our moral journeys through this life.

Turning point

Joseph came to a moral intersection of life as a relatively young man. He was forced to take the wheel and drive himself. Up until this time his dad had made many of his decisions for him. Yet when we read about this chapter in his life, we find him in a precarious situation — a moral intersection.

The road that brought him to this particular intersection was filled with all kinds of mountaintops and valleys. He drove on the mountaintop for a while as the favorite son of his father, receiving from him the fabled coat of many colors. Later, he had a dream in which God revealed to him His plan for his life. He knew what God wanted him to do. He was to be the leader of a great nation. So Joseph cruised along with the top down, enjoying the beautiful view as he drove over the mountaintop. Suddenly, his journey took him down into the valley.

Because of the jealousy and hatred of his brothers, Joseph was thrown into a pit and later sold. His slavery to the Ishmaelites took him down into Egypt. His journey descended even farther into the valley. He was sold on a block and purchased by a man named Potiphar who made him his personal slave — a servant in his home.

Eventually, Joseph’s character and integrity caused him to be made ruler over all of Potiphar’s home. He was young, bright, intelligent and powerful. He was riding high again, but it was not to last. Shortly thereafter, he arrived at a great moral intersection:

“It came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me, but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her” (Gen. 39:7–10).

Notice, Joseph not only resisted her seductions; he didn’t even want to be in the same vicinity as his mistress.

“But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by the garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Gen. 39:11–12). He got out of there as fast as he possibly could. She ripped the very shirt off his back. Then, to cover her own sin, she said he had tried to rape her. She falsely accused him. As a result of this accusation, Potiphar had him thrown into an Egyptian dungeon. Joseph came to another moral intersection. Amazingly, he put into practice those same five principles I taught my daughters when they were first learning to drive.

Read the map

Read the map and know your directions beforehand. When I taught my daughters to drive, I wanted them to think ahead, to know which way they were going to turn when they arrived at any given intersection. The reason is simple: If we are driving along in the far right lane and suddenly find ourselves at an intersection where we need to make an immediate left, we will need to maneuver through three or four lanes of onrushing traffic to make the correct turn. We thus get into all kinds of problems and confusion. We bring confusion to others. We may even have a wreck. Sometimes we make wrong turns and are then loathe to ask for help. What is it about us that when we get lost or we make a wrong turn, we just won’t ask anybody for directions? How many times has that kind of scenario been repeated in our lives?

Notice Joseph: He had already decided which way he was going to turn before he got to that moral intersection. Years before, God gave him a dream. God revealed to him that He was going to use him in a mighty way. Joseph made some decisions in his own heart and in his own life. As a result, the Bible tells us that “the Lord was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2). That is why he became successful.

Joseph made the right turn at that intersection of life because he had already decided — he knew the route, and he had determined which way he was going to turn before he even got there. Like Daniel would years later, he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself. Joseph didn’t stand in the intersection of Mrs. Potiphar’s passion, wring his hands and say, “Well, what should I do? Should I, or should I not?” He’d already made up his mind before he ever got to that intersection. Unfortunately, many of us make wrong turns in life because we wait until we get into the middle of the intersection before we decide what we’re going to do.

Remember Samson? He made some wrong turns early in life. The rest of his life was spent on side streets, cul-de-sacs and dead ends. Interestingly, Samson and Joseph had a lot in common. But what made the difference between these two young men was that when they came to moral intersections in life, one turned the right way and one turned the wrong way. But why? They both were blessed with striking personalities and good looks. In fact, the narrative says Joseph was handsome in form and appearance, and we know Samson was strapping, virile, athletic and comely. We read of both of them that “the Lord was with them.” They both found themselves away from home in the midst of ungodly people — Samson amidst the Philistines, Joseph with the Egyptians — living in hostile environments. They even faced similar temptations — immoral relations with powerful, persistent, tempestuously seductive women.

Yet in nearly identical circumstances, we find that one turned right at that intersection and one turned wrong. Why? What was the difference?

As we said before, Joseph had already decided which way he was going to turn before he got there. Samson hadn’t. He got in the middle of the intersection with Delilah, and she kept coming back. He didn’t know what he was going to do, so he didn’t do anything for a while. He was indecisive. He stood there for a time until finally he allowed his flesh to direct his way. He made a last-second turn — in the wrong direction.

Joseph’s decision, on the other hand, is the kind of commonsense resolve all of us need to exercise. Make a promise to God, to yourself, to your parents, to your future husband, to your future wife or to your future children. Draw a line, and set your mind to it. Draw a line in your heart and your mind, and don’t cross it. Then some Friday night when you get out into that moral intersection and see your friends turning the wrong way, you will know what you are going to do long before you even get there. You won’t need to panic or freeze in indecision. You will have already decided the right turn.

That was one of the secrets of Joseph’s life. Read the map, and know the directions beforehand.

Just say no

The second lesson Joseph applied was stop when you see a red light. “[Potiphar’s] wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused” (Gen. 39:7–8).

Stop when you see a red light. What an important lesson. How many people have been hurt because somebody was in such a big hurry that they ran through a red light? They thought they wouldn’t get caught. They thought no police were around. They thought they could get by with it.

It is dangerous to run a red light, especially at moral intersections. Joseph was an overcomer because he said no from the start. The first time Potiphar’s wife came to him, he didn’t flirt with her, think it was cute or say, “Well, I’ll never get into this, but I’ll just play around with it awhile and see how far she takes it.” No, he said no from the very beginning. He refused. When he saw that red light flashing, he stopped.

One of the most important words in any language is no. Joseph knew that. As a result, he refused. He was able to stand firm because he was unwavering from the start. That little two-letter word is the secret to overcoming many of the temptations we face in this life.

Now don’t think Joseph wasn’t tempted here. He was away from home in a foreign country, lonely and with little to lose. He had no family there to embarrass or a reputation to maintain or defend; nobody knew him. He was also young and handsome. Potiphar’s wife was a woman of power and, undoubtedly, a woman of beauty. Her seductions certainly would have appealed to his pride and fed his ego. It seemed like everybody else in the culture around him was already turning at similar moral intersections. He should have been flattered, many of his peers would have told him. But he knew how to say an important word—no. Why? Because he had already decided which way he was going to turn before he got there, and he stopped when he saw a red light.

But Potiphar’s wife wouldn’t take no for an answer. She came back day after day. Still, Joseph did not heed her. He didn’t even want to be near her. He stayed out of her vicinity.

Some of us are foolish enough to think that we can flirt with sensual desires, that we can joke and kid about them, without actually being affected by them. For instance, think about what our kids are watching on television these days. We might say, “Oh, we don’t have cable. We don’t have HBO or MTV or anything like that.” But, what about ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox?

How would Joseph have responded at that moral intersection if every night for hours on end that’s what he’d been filling his mind with? Do we wonder at the explosion of teenage sexual sin today? Sadly, statistics indicate that Christian kids are about as involved in immorality as the other kids are.

Joseph was able to resist temptation because he took a strong stand from the very first. He knew which way he was going to turn. When he saw a red light, he stopped and said no.

Yield the right-of-way

There is a third lesson Joseph learned: yield the right-of-way to others. Certainly, that is an important lesson when we are learning to drive. Have respect for the other drivers. Be considerate to those around you. Give way to them. Yield to those who have the right-of-way.

At Joseph’s moral intersection, he showed respect for three people: first for Potiphar, second for himself and finally for Potiphar’s wife.

“Look,” he said, “My master does not know what is with me in the house, and he’s committed all that he has in my hands.” Joseph respected Potiphar. He respected his position as a husband. He considered how Potiphar would feel if he found out that his trusted servant had carried on an affair with his wife. He valued Potiphar’s friendship. As a result, he refused to steal the affection that was due Potiphar from his own wife. Joseph yielded to others.

He also respected himself. “There’s no one greater in this house,” he asserted, “nor has he kept back anything from me.” Joseph had too much respect for the integrity of his faith and commitment to the Lord to defile his body in an adulterous, illicit affair. He had too much self-respect to indulge in that kind of perversity. One of the things that we jettison when we make wrong turns at moral intersections is self-respect. Joseph simply had too much regard for what God had confirmed and established in his life to yield to temptation in that sordid fashion.

Finally, Joseph demonstrated respect for Potiphar’s wife. He respected her enough to say no to her advances. He said no because “you are his wife.” He was able to clearly distinguish the difference between lust and love. Lust often comes disguised as love, but it is just a disguise. Love has the other person’s highest ideal in mind. Joseph knew that, so he said no.

Submit to authority

The fourth lesson Joseph learned was submit to the proper authorities. That is what I tried to teach my daughters when they were first learning to drive. They were to obey the law. I told them that when they saw a traffic sign, they were to obey it. They were to submit to the proper authorities. If they were, by chance, stopped by a policeman, they were to show him respect and submit to him as an authority that God ordained and appointed over us.

Notice how Joseph followed this basic mandate: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” he asked. He recognized that, ultimately, all sin is rebellion against God. All breaches of conduct are an affront to His authority in our lives. All moral lapses are slights against Him — and Him only.

In the final analysis, it is our love for God that keeps us from turning the wrong way at the moral intersections of life. When we find ourselves in a situation where we are unlikely to get caught, where no one will know, often it is only our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that can keep us from turning the wrong way. This is the one thing that can keep us pure.

Does the fact that our involvement with sin is an affront against God ever come to our mind? Why not? Is it because we have persistently refused to nurture a conscious awareness that He is always with us? Joseph was certainly aware of this danger. Thus, throughout this text we find that “the Lord was with him.”

Why don’t some of us have a conscious awareness of God’s presence with us? Perhaps it is because we constantly fill our minds with sensuality from television, movies and music — and seldom with the Word of God. One of Joseph’s secrets was he lived a life conscious of the awareness of God.

Look both ways

Joseph’s final lesson was look both ways and then go. I taught my daughters: When you get to the intersection, look both ways; then, if the coast is clear, don’t hesitate out there — go on through the intersection. Notice that Joseph didn’t try to fight his temptation. He fled it. He got out of there. Potiphar’s wife ran up, grabbed him and said, “Lie with me.” But Joseph left his garment in her hand and ran out the door. He lost his coat, but he kept his character. He lost his vest, but he kept his virginity. He looked both ways, and he got out of there. Look both ways, and go.

The Bible says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make an escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Moral intersections in life are inevitable. We all get there sooner or later. The only question is: Which way are we going to turn? If we learn from Joseph and apply these principles to our own lives, then what was said of him might be said of us, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man” (Gen. 39:2).

Moral soundings

  • Have you decided which way you will turn?
  • What is the map you’ve consulted to chart your way?
  • Have you already fallen into the pattern of sin?
  • What can you do to break that pattern?
  • Are there any commonsense steps toward victory that you may have neglected?
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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