JUST SAY NOIt happened at the second break, just before we made our wager on the Final Challenge. At that point it was clear that, barring a miracle, I was not going to win the game. Evan (the returning champion) had $4000, Julie had $1850 and I was bringing up the rear with $1000. In just a few moments the show would be over and with it my budding Hollywood career.
To my right stood Dick Clark. Ron Greenberg, the genial producer, stood just off camera. Somewhere behind the lights to my left was Janet Markowitz, the perky associate producer who specializes in helping nervous contestants feel at ease. She kept a careful watch on the proceedings along with Greg, the chief contestant coordinator. Aleta Darby shepherded the remaining contestants in the back row of the audience. Another 40 or 50 people manned cameras, lights, computers, microphones, tape machines and cue cards. Together they produced five shows in one long afternoon.
When the lights went down on the set, I turned to Evan and said ruefully, “When I get to Chicago, I’m going to tell them this isn’t as easy as it looks.” He grinned and said, “It’s not over yet,” which it wasn’t, but the miracle didn’t come either and here I am.
All of that happened this week when I flew out to Hollywood to be a contestant on a new game show called “The Challengers.” Along the way, I met Dick Clark who is as nice a person as he seems on camera. He wished me good luck just before the game started.
As it turned out, I needed more than good luck; I needed a few questions I could answer. Let me add that it’s a lot harder to play the game when you are up on stage, under the lights, on national TV, trying to look at Dick Clark, listen to the question, figure out the answer, and somehow beat two other contestants to the buzzer. If you buzz in too soon, your light won’t come on; if you buzz in too late, someone else gets the question; and if you give the wrong answer, it costs you hundreds of dollars. Other than that, it’s just like playing Trivial Pursuit at Snow Camp.
Although I didn’t win, I did live to tell about it and if you want to watch the show, you can see it this Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. on Channel 7.
LESSONS LEARNED IN HOLLYWOOD
As I mediated on my experience on “The Challengers,” I have gleaned three useful lessons:
1. No matter how much you think you know, there’s always someone who knows more than you do. There is nothing like being humbled on national television. I recommend it to everyone who feels invincible.
2. You can’t remember the answers when you need to, and you can’t forget them when you don’t. Case in point: During the game, we were asked to name the NFL team the great Red Grange played for. I stood there with a perfectly goofy grin on my face, until Dick Clark said, “The Chicago Bears,” at which point I wanted to hide under the carpet. If he had asked about “Refrigerator” Perry or Walter Payton, I would have known the answer. But now I’ll remember Red Grange ‘til the day I die.
3. No matter how much you prepare, you can’t be sure how you will do under pressure. We all like to think that when the chips are down, we will come through. But when the lights come up and the announcer calls your name and your mouth suddenly turns cotton, and you can’t even remember your phone number, that’s another story. Suddenly. . under pressure… you discover new facts about yourself.
RISING TO MEET THE CHALLENGE
Most of you know that Lou Holtz is the coach of the Notre Dame football team. Several months ago, as the season was just beginning, he talked about Rick Mirer, his new sophomore quarterback. Wasn’t he worried about the pressure the young quarterback would face? Lou Holtz answered very simply that pressure is what happens when you face a situation for which you are not adequately prepared. Each week in practice, he said, they put Rick Mirer under pressure so that he would be completely prepared for whatever happened on Saturday.
That’s helpful, isn’t it? Pressure comes from facing situations for which you are not adequately prepared. When you are prepared, there may be difficulty, but there is no pressure.
EXHIBIT A: JOSEPH
In all the Bible, there is no better example of this principle than the case of Joseph in Genesis 39. It is the classic story of how a young man faced severe temptation and, because he was fully prepared, there was difficulty, but there was no pressure.
The scene is the royal court of Egypt. A man by the name of Potiphar enters the room. He is the captain of Pharoah’s bodyguard, a position of great honor because it meant he was personally responsible for the Pharoah’s safety. At his side is a young man, not an Egyptian, a fact made clear by his appearance. If you were an onlooker, you would notice the young man immediately and say, “I wonder where he came from.”
He is tall, about 6’1” or perhaps an inch or two taller, ruddy, well-built, with medium-brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and that casual walk we tend to associate in teenagers with a high degree of self-confidence. As he follows Potiphar all eyes follow him. In today’s language you might call him a hunk or a fox or a stud. He had it all—good looks, self-confidence, poise, and a playful sense of humor. His name is Joseph.
Wherever Potiphar goes, Joseph follows. They look good together, these two. Not father and son exactly. As a matter of fact, Potiphar had purchased Joseph as a slave from the Ishmaelites. So they couldn’t be father and son, but they didn’t seem like master and slave either. There is something else at work—a kind of friendship that stretches across the years and the culture that separates them. Potiphar, captain of Pharoah’s bodyguard, likes this young man from Israel. For his part, Joseph admires his master.
This is how Moses puts the matter in Genesis 39:
The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And
he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master
saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that
he did to prosper in his hand. (39:2-3)
Potiphar was no dummy. He knew that the Lord’s hand was upon this young man he had purchased as a slave. So he puts Joseph in charge of his house. Verses 4-5 clearly imply that he was a wealthy man with a large estate. Notice what happens when Joseph takes over:
It came about that the time he made him overseer in his
house, and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the
Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph, thus the Lord’s
blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in
the field. (5)
I pause to make one simple comment: It appears as if Joseph has got it made. Sure, he got sold into slavery by his brothers but things have really turned around. He’s 17, maybe 18 years old, and now he’s managing the affairs of one of the most powerful men in Egypt.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
But that comment—true as it is—leads me on to make my first application: TEMPTATION OFTEN COMES WHEN WE LEAST EXPECT IT. Joseph is simply minding his own business. He’s not looking for trouble, not out goofing off, not seeing what he can get into. He’s not cruising for checks, ditching school or hanging out with a bad crowd. In fact, the whole point of Genesis 39 is that he is doing the exact opposite of the kinds of things that usually get teenagers into trouble. He was a good kid in every sense of the word. Any parent would be glad to claim him.
Furthermore, Joseph is exactly where God wants him to be. Verses 2-6 emphasize over and over again that God’s blessing is on his life.
How, then, does he get into such trouble? The answer is crucial. There is no contradiction between God’s blessing and your temptations. We often think that there is. We honestly believe that if we do what is right, we will never be tempted. But the opposite is true. We are much more likely to be tempted when things are going well for us.
Why? First, because if we are never tested when things are going well, we tend to get arrogant and big-headed. Second, Satan tempts us then in order to destroy our testimony. Third, temptation often blindsides us in the moment of our greatest success because that is when we least expect it. Fourth, temptation successfully resisted prepares us to do greater things for God.
It is often in the plan of God that we face our greatest trials in the moment of our greatest victories. Teenagers, please take notice.
—When the grades are posted and you made the Honor Roll …
—When you made the basketball team …
—When you won a part in the school play …
—When you got a new car…
—When you finally got up enough nerve to ask her out and she said “Yes” …
—When you actually managed to pass the mid-term in second year French …
—When you invited your friends to come to “Friday night with the Simpsons” and they
actually came … and actually liked it …
When that happens … when everything is going your way … when you’ve got the world by the tail on a downhill slide … Watch out! Be careful! Take nothing for granted! Keep your eyes open!
Just because things are going well doesn’t mean you’re home free. Today’s victories often lead on into tomorrow’s trials.
A SLINKY SORT OF WOMAN
It is exactly at this point—when Joseph seems to be sitting on top of the world—that a new character enters the story. We do not know her name, only that she is the wife of Potiphar, and connected to him in name only. To use a modern phrase, she is a “single married woman.”
Verse 7 lays out the situation for us with unabashed directness: It came about after these things (that is, after Joseph had been promoted by Potiphar to oversee the whole estate) that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”
The Hebrew has a wonderful way of putting it. It literally says that she “lifted up her eyes” at Joseph. The Living Bible says she “made eyes” at him. As he crossed the room she followed him with her eyes, a smile of satisfaction crossing her face. He was one fine looking man, young and strong the way Potiphar had been when they first met, before too many court dinners had spoiled his waistline and before too many late night meetings with Pharaoh had placed permanent bags under his eyes. Yes, this Joseph looked like an excellent companion for a casual affair, a brief meeting between “a younger man and a bolder woman.”
She must have been persistent because when Joseph turned her down (verses 809) she came back again and again. Perhaps she thought he didn’t mean it when he said No. Perhaps she thought she could wear down his resistance. Perhaps she thought he wanted to but was afraid to say yes. Back she came, slinking into his life, offering him forbidden fruit, ripe and juicy, his for the taking. Still he said No.
“HOW COULD I DO THIS GREAT EVIL?”
At this point it’s worth pausing to ask why? Why would a red-blooded young man say No to a beautiful woman? Verses 8 and 9 suggest two reasons:
1. He was loyal to his boss. “Behold, with me here, my master does not
concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns
in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld
nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.” (8-9a)
2. He was loyal to God. “How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?”
These are the words of a man who knows exactly whose he is. When a man knows that he belongs to God, it makes the decisions of life easy. If you belong to God, you can’t sleep with your boss’s wife. It’s just that simple. It doesn’t matter that she’s lonely or attractive or hot to trot or a stone fox or anything else. You just can’t do it. Period. End of story. No discussion.
BETTER NAKED THAN NAUGHTY
Most of you know what happens next. After many days, and many attempted seductions, Joseph gets caught in a bad situation. He’s in the house doing his job when Sweet Cheeks comes by to make her daily pitch. Only this time she grabs Joseph and tries to drag him into bed with her.
I imagine for a split second Joseph paused to consider his alternatives. He could submit to her this time and say, “Well, she made me do it.” He could go along because no one else would ever find out. He could say, “Why don’t we sit down and talk about this like mature adults?”
He did none of these things. His conscience would never let him go along with her. Talking would do no good because she’s tired of talking. As they say down South, it’s time to fish or cut bait. What do you do now?
In that split second, he makes up his mind. He starts running and never looks back. She’s got a hold of his coat and he’s making like the Road Runner going the other way. When she said, “Why don’t you stay for awhile?”, he said, “I’d love to, but I’ve got to run.” And that’s exactly what he did. Out the door, across the lawn, over the hedge, dodging camels lift and right. He left her holding his coat while he ran the other way.
HE STAYED COOL AND GOT OUT CLEAN
Before we go on, let’s be very clear about what is happening here. This was as very close call!
—The temptation was real.
—The temptation was repeated.
Notice the strategy he used. First, he was courteous (8-9). Second, he was cautious (10). Third, he was courageous (12) Or maybe he was crazy, but he stayed cool and he got out clean.
How did Joseph do it? He did it because he knew who he was. That was a settled issue, even though he was a teenager. He knew he belonged to God. that made his decision easy in the moment of temptation.
Because he knew who he was …
—He didn’t mess around
—He didn’t flirt with trouble
—He didn’t say, “How far can I go?”
—He didn’t apologize for his convictions
—He didn’t try it once to see if he liked it.
HE JUST SAID NO.
That leads me to a second great principle: REPEATED TEMPTATION MAY BE RESISTED, BUT ONLY BY THOSE WHO KNOW WHO THEY ARE.
As you can imagine, Potiphar’s wife wasn’t too happy about all this. Whoever said that Hell hath no fury like a woman scored might have had her in mind. While Joseph is running half-dressed across the countryside, she’s left with nothing but a handful of dirty laundry. This is not a good thing. Two things happen in short order:
1. She makes a false accusation (13-18). In essence, she accuses Joseph of
attempted rape. When she calls him “a Hebrew” (15), there is even a touch of
racism in her words. It happens to be exact opposite of the truth but it sounds
plausible because she’s got Joseph’s coat in her hand.
2. Joseph is unjustly imprisoned (19-20). The Bible says that when Potiphar
heard this story, his anger burned. So he had Joseph thrown into jail with the
How could such a thing happen? It happened because the world cannot understand a believer with convictions. That’s why Joseph was locked up. He knew who he was and he acted on his convictions and his reward was a quick trip to jail.
That leads me to yet another principle: THOSE WHO RESIST TEMPTATION ARE RARELY REWARDED BY THE WORLD. This is a hard truth for all of us, but especially for teenagers. You may have to decide between popularity and faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
What will you do when you are tempted to do that which you know is wrong? Don’t wait until then to make up your mind. Don’t wait until Potiphar’s wife is playing kissy-face with you. Don’t wait until you’re all alone at home together. It’s too late then! Make up your mind now, before it happens, so that when it happens, you’ll know exactly what to do.
The good news is, you can stand up to temptation. The bad news is, you may end up losing your popularity in the process. Someone says, “I don’t mind living for the Lord, but I don’t want people to put me down.” “Neither do I.” “Sorry about that.”
After all, the world crucified Jesus. Why should you and I expect to get off any easier?
YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD MAN DOWN
Before we leave this story, we need to see how it ends. It’s not the way we think. Remember, Joseph is now in jail:
But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him,
and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. And the
chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who
were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible
for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s
charge because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the
Lord made to prosper. (21-23)
Let me say it plainly: GOD HONORS THOSE WHO DARE TO SAY NO. It may not appear that way at first. But he does. Things may not work out exactly like we think they will. But when we have the courage to say No to temptation, God takes care of the details. In the end, we will never be disappointed. Remember, it’s always better to do right the first time.
There are some things worse than going to jail for doing right. One of them is living in the prison of a guilty conscience. It is better to right and sleep well than to toss and turn because you couldn’t say No when temptation came knocking at your door.
There is a neat symmetry to this story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. It opens with Joseph enjoying good success because “the Lord was with him.” Although he ends up in jail, even there he prospers because “the Lord was with him.” In between he proves himself worthy of greatness because he knew how to say No.
THE AWESOME POWER OF SAYING NO!!!
Let me repeat the four great lessons we learn from this story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife:
# 1. TEMPTATION OFTEN COMES WHEN WE LEAST EXPECT IT.
# 2. REPEATED TEMPTATION MAY BE RESISTED, BUT ONLY
BY THOSE WHO KNOW WHO THEY ARE.
# 3. THOSE WHO RESIST TEMPTATION ARE RARELY REWARDED
BY THE WORLD.
# 4. GOD HONORS THOSE WHO DARE TO SAY NO.
I end where I began. Lou Holtz said that pressure is what happens when you face a situation for which you are not adequately prepared ahead of time. If you are prepared, you may (like Joseph) face all manner of difficulty but there will be no pressure.
There is no escape from temptation as long as you live on this earth. The only question is, will you be prepared for it when it comes knocking on your door? Many of us are not prepared and that’s why we have trouble saying No.
“IT’S NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS”
That brings me back to “The Challengers.” My part was over and Evan and I took our seats in the audience to see how Julie would do on the Ultimate Challenge. I sat down with a mixture of frustration and relief, knowing that my TV career had come to an abrupt end. Sitting next to me was Aleta, one of the contestant coordinators. I leaned over and said, “It’s not as easy as it looks.” She smiled and said, “No, it‘s not easy. It’s a lot harder when you stand in front of the camera.” Then she said, “But you made it.”
Indeed I did. Not much richer but a lot wiser for the experience. And I take it as a parable of the Christian life. You can say No to temptation. You can do right and sleep well tonight. You can live by your convictions. It’s not always easy or pleasant. You may find yourself out on a limb. Others may not understand. But you can do it.
THREE SIMPLE WORDS
How do you handle temptation? You do what Joseph did. Just Say No.
— When you are tempted to do wrong this week, you have to Just Say No.
— When Sweet Cheeks says, “Come sleep with me,” you have to take a deep breath, leave
your coat in her hands, run the other way and Just Say No.
— When Satan whispers in your ear, “Go on. Everyone else is doing it.” Remember,
everyone else isn’t doing it, and Just Say No.
— When you feel like giving someone a piece of your mind, remember that you don’t have
a piece to spare, so grin and bear it and Just Say No.
— When a friend says, “You want to hear a good joke?” you know the joke will do you no
good, look him straight in the eye and Just Say No.
— When the boss asks you to sign a report and you know the numbers on it aren’t right,
remember who you are, smile sweetly at him, and Just Say No.
— When your mind plays tricks on you and says, “Go ahead. No one will see you.”
Remember that God sees everything you do, and then Just Say No.
— When it’s 6:30 p.m. and the kids are cranky and your husband isn’t home yet, and
supper isn’t ready and the house is filled with dirty socks and dirty diapers, before you
reach for the nearest sharp instrument, take a deep breath, look to heaven, count your
blessings instead of your problems and Just Say No.
— When you go to your 20th high school reunion and some friends ask you out for lunch and
you are tempted to keep quiet about your Christian faith, Just Say No to your fears and
Yes to your faith.
— When you find yourself down and out, up against the wall, and under the pile, when
nothing is going right and you are hopelessly entangled and you see no way out of the
mess you are in, before you say something you shouldn’t say or do something you
shouldn’t do, before you blow your top or give up the ghost, remember that God still
loves you and then Just Say No.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
So now it’s you up on the stage of life. The Ultimate Director calls out, “Lights, camera, action.” No time to think, it’s too late to prepare yourself. What do you do when the spotlight settles on you?
The answer is, you remember who you are and whose you are. You belong to God. You stand upon His Word. You know Jesus Christ who was tempted in all points like we are yet He did not sin. You have the power of the Holy Spirit. You are a child of God. You belong to the fellowship of the saints.
In that moment … when the pressure is really on … just remember this … if the question is about temptation … you already know the answer … Just Say No.