The Journey to Integrity
The Journey to Integrity
Focus: The road to integrity is long, hard and immensely rewarding.
A new preacher went to visit a well-known member of the congregation.
Somebody was obviously at home, but nobody came to the door.
The preacher took out his calling card, wrote on the back "Revelation 3:20," and left it in the mailbox.
The next Sunday, he found the parishioner's business card in the collection plate, with the notation "Genesis 3:10."
Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: If any man hear my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me."
Genesis 3:10: "And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."
Introduction: Integrity Is Tough
If I had just one gift to give you, I think it would be the gift of integrity—such a gift that when you come to the last chapter of your story, you could have the inspired chutzpah of Psalm 26 and say to God, eyeball to eyeball, “Vindicate me, because I have walked in my integrity.” What a way to go! So, let’s read today’s Scripture now. Please turn with me to Psalm 26 and follow along as I read: “Declare me innocent, O LORD, for I have acted with integrity; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
Put me on trial, LORD, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and affections.
For I am constantly aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth.
I do not spend time with liars or go along with hypocrites.
I hate the gatherings of those who do evil, and I refuse to join in with the wicked.
I wash my hands to declare my innocence. I come to your altar, O LORD,
singing a song of thanksgiving and telling of all your miracles.
I love your sanctuary, LORD, the place where your glory shines.
Don't let me suffer the fate of sinners. Don't condemn me along with murderers.
Their hands are dirty with wicked schemes, and they constantly take bribes.
But I am not like that; I do what is right. So in your mercy, save me.
I have taken a stand, and I will publicly praise the LORD”.
When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was almost hearing the stomping of the Gestapo boots to take him away and execute him, he wondered on paper what kind of people the church was going to need most when the last bomb had exploded and the last person had been killed. He said this: “What the church will need, what our century will need, are not people of genius, not brilliant tacticians or strategists, but simple, straightforward, honest men and women.” Bonhoeffer, we need you now. What a gift! People of integrity are people who adhere to a strict code of values. They are honest, open, and sincere.
We may have our Presbyterian panache or our charismatic chic and we may build empires, but if we don’t have integrity, we’re moral cadavers. They haven’t buried us yet, but we’re walking dead people.
If I had the gift, I’d give you the gift of integrity. But I can’t give it to you. This is not a gift that zaps us in the night; this is a gift we have to work at all of our lives as we co-author our stories with God. And it comes very hard.
u I was watching an interview show on television some years ago in which a beautiful, dignified British lady in her eighties appeared as though she had just come from tea at Buckingham Palace—a woman who could have done anything. The parting question she was asked was this: “What has been the hardest thing for you to do in your life?” She said, “Be honest.” I felt an instant rapport with this wonderful lady.
“How can a so-called saint admit that it’s hard to be honest?”
My reply was, “It’s hardest of all for us. There are so many people to please, so many powerful reasons why we should make believe that we are what we appear to be, or pretend to be what we think other people expect us to be—to fake it, to gloss it, to make believe instead of make true. It’s tough to walk in our integrity.” Scripture says we are not to think too highly of ourselves. Romans 12:3 says:” As God's messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you”. Have you ever noticed, it never scolds us for thinking too lowly of ourselves. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says : “If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin.“ It is easier to slip on your tongue than a sheet of northern ice. It is difficult to humble yourself before our God as James tells us in Chapter 4, verse 7: “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you”. Gary Thuveson, District Superintendent in B.C., told us at our District Conference to be HOT communicators – that is honest, open, and transparent.
The American justice system requires you to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Being completely honest is what integrity is all about. That means not fibbing or telling little white lies or even kidding. A lie by any other name is still a lie. Talking truth is challenging but walking truth is even more difficult.
And we’re talking about walking; we’re not talking about talking. We’re not talking about speaking the truth; we’re talking about living truth fully. We’re not talking about having the truth the way you can have a genetic code or have a hundred shares of IBM; we’re talking about living truthfully.
Like a baseball game, the story of our integrity isn’t over until it’s over. Integrity isn’t a possession that we have once and for all. Integrity is a calling. We’re on a journey to integrity. I’d like to suggest a few stages that we’ve got to go through on our private journeys to our own integrity. There are more, but consider these.
I. Accept the Raw Material God Gave You
I think the first thing that we have to do is to accept the raw material that God has given us to write our stories. Every one of us has to write a story—his own, her own, story. I cannot write yours; I cannot write my children’s (though God knows I’ve tried sometimes). I can write only mine, and you can write only yours. And each of us is given by God in his providence some raw material out of which we have to write our story—the way a poker player is dealt a hand with which he has to play the game, though God knows he wishes his hand had been better
u One of the hardest things for some of us to do is to accept the hand God gave us. It is so hard. One of the most powerful stories that I have read in recent years was a book titled Racehoss: Big Emma’s Boy. Here was a man who was born the son of a black prostitute in a little town in Texas, and the son of a white traveling salesman. Big Emma, his mother, was a prostitute, a gambler, and a bootlegger, and she did a good business near one of the railroad stop. But when Big Emma was drunk, she was brutal, very brutal. Albert Sample lasted it out until he was 11 years old then he left home and became a hobo and rode the tracks. He says the one thing that was true about hobo life in America in the thirties was violence. Violence became his being. He was caught and drafted into the Army. They couldn’t hold him there; he was constantly going AWOL, and every time he went AWOL he would be arrested for assault and battery. Violence was his being.
He was sentenced to the toughest prison in Texas for twenty-eight years, and after serving some seventeen years, he had learned the truth that if you treat people like animals, they become animals. One time for a minor infraction he was put into a dungeon—solitary confinement, no light. He stayed there for fourteen days, and he thought he heard water running down the walls and became terrified that he was going to drown in his own dungeon. He fell on the floor and beat the cement with his fists and yelled, “Help me! Help me!”
A voice came, and the voice said, “You’re not an animal. You’re a person. You’re not an animal; you’re a person.” A light shone with a softness, he says, that was the softness of God. In thirty seconds, he says, all the violence of his being was drained from his body. He said to the voice, “What shall I say?” The voice said, “Tell ‘em you met Me here.”
Now that’s not the way I met God, but that’s the way he met God. My point is this: As he went on to create a new life, the one thing that was most urgent for him was to come to terms with his beginning with Big Emma. The one thing he had to do was rise up in the magnificence of forgiveness and forgive and understand her. Because he accepted his beginning, he could go on and make a story of integrity.
It was the only beginning he had, and some of us have beginnings we would rather not have had. We spend our lives demanding that our parents be smarter and wiser and more gentle and more kind and more loving to us than they were. But they’re the only parents we’ve got, the only beginning God gave us. With a dose of forgiveness and a generous portion of understanding, to create a story of our own integrity we’ve got to accept the beginning as the beginning, the raw material God gave us to write our stories with. Don’t say you don’t have the power to forgive and move on. Christ gave us the power, (Ephesians 3:20 tells us
”Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope.”) the sufficiency (2 Corinthians 3:5 tells us that “it is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God.” And in 9:8: “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” ), and the mandate (Ephesians 4:32 says: “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” ) Jesus has provided us with everything needed for godly living. 2 Peter 1:3-4 tells us:
”As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness!
And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature.”
What does the Lord require of you? Look in Deuteronomy chapter 10 and verses 12-13: “"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires you to fear him, to live according to his will, to love and worship him with all your heart and soul,
and to obey the LORD's commands and laws that I am giving you today for your own good.”
Stage number one: Accept the beginning.
II. Own the Bad Chapters You’ve Already Written
Stage number two: Own the bad chapters you’ve already written. All of us have written some paragraphs and sentences and some old chapters that we wish we had not written and would give anything to delete from our story. We can do it with a word processor. It’s wonderful—pressing one button, we can delete a whole chapter and it is gone. But you can’t do that with the story you’re writing with your life; it’s there.
One man running for president of the U.S. wrote an autobiography some years ago in which he said that he knew from God he was never to enter politics. A recent issue of that autobiography deletes that paragraph.
We all do it. Some of you have, as I have, chapters you don’t want to be there, but they’re there. We’ve got to arise in the sublime arrogance of self-forgiveness and own them, but own them as chapters we’re finished with. They’re not the chapters we’re writing now, and they’re not the chapters we’re going to write with God in the future, but they’re chapters that we did write, and they’re part of our story. In self-forgiveness we can own them without being owned by them. In Phillipians there are two applicable verses I want you to look at with me. So turn to Philippians 3. I will start halfway down verse 12 “……But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,” Own the chapters you’ve already written.
III. Create an Unabridged Consciousness
The third stage on the journey to integrity is to create an unabridged consciousness. In other words, live in the real world. We all like to do a Reader’s Digest job on reality. We abridge reality, we leave out the prickly parts of life to suit our comforts, because we don’t want to be troubled or bothered and discomforted by the reality that intrudes on our consciousness.
u I don’t suppose the Americans will ever again gather under one roof such an assembly of wise and noble people as created their Constitution. It declares that all people are created and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. But they abridged their consciousness to the presence of half a million black people who claimed the same rights.
u Huck Finn saw an accident down at the riverside, and a white lady asked him if anybody had gotten hurt down there. He says, “No, Ma’am; nobody got hurt. Just a couple niggers got killed.” She said, “Oh, that’s good. A person could get hurt in an accident like that.” Abridged her consciousness.
u David abridged his consciousness about the reality of Uriah and Bathsheba, and it took a prophet to poke his finger into David’s eyes to pry them open, to let the reality come in. Here, in 2 Samuel chapter 12, verses 1 through 13 is what Nathan said to David and David’s response: “So the LORD sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: "There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor.
The rich man owned many sheep and cattle.
The poor man owned nothing but a little lamb he had worked hard to buy. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man's own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter.
One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing a lamb from his own flocks for food, he took the poor man's lamb and killed it and served it to his guest."
David was furious. "As surely as the LORD lives," he vowed, "any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!
He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity."
Then Nathan said to David, "You are that man! The LORD, the God of Israel, says, `I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul.
I gave you his house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more.
Why, then, have you despised the word of the LORD and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah and stolen his wife.
From this time on, the sword will be a constant threat to your family, because you have despised me by taking Uriah's wife to be your own.
" `Because of what you have done, I, the LORD, will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man, and he will go to bed with them in public view.
You did it secretly, but I will do this to you openly in the sight of all Israel.' "
Then David confessed to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan replied, "Yes, but the LORD has forgiven you, and you won't die for this sin.
We all do it. O God, we all do it. There are pieces of reality we just don’t want to let in. Some evangelicals like us are so blind that we don’t really like to let in the reality of tragedy, that there are people who are morally and spiritually handicapped and that there are scars that never do become stars. We abridge our consciousness because we don’t listen to what Saint Thomas called “the silent voice of reality.” We don’t listen to the cries of the oppressed. We don’t listen to the sighs of the homeless. We don’t listen to the reality that discomforts us. Without creating an unabridged consciousness, to let all of reality in, we will not write a story of integrity. James 1:27 says: “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.’
IV. Keep in Touch with Your Calling
Fourth, the stage that we come to next on our journey to integrity is being in touch with our calling. We can talk all we wish to about the need for integrity in public life these days, but we need to keep integrity with our calling. All of us are called. First we are called into God’s kingdom (Romans 10:13 says: “For "Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." ), chosen for His purpose (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: “As for us, we always thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord. We are thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation, a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and by your belief in the truth.
He called you to salvation when we told you the Good News; now you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. “ We are chosen to know His will (Acts 22:14: "Then he told me, `The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak.” ) and be fruitful (John 15:16: “You didn't choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” We’re here because we believe that God is somehow nudging and pushing and wooing and luring us to write a story, with him, out of our lives.
I don’t believe that God has one calling for us forever, and after that we need only to make sure we’re on the track of that one calling. I think God moves and pushes us in new directions frequently, and that’s precisely why we need to keep in touch. It is so easy to be so preoccupied with our pursuit of success and wealth that we get our eyes off the end, the purpose, the point of it all. And the point of our existence is knowing and serving God (Isaiah 43:10:
"But you are my witnesses, O Israel!" says the LORD. "And you are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God; there never has been and never will be.”
Bible scholar Max De Pree tells a wonderful story, and he swears that it’s true, about those wonderful tomato growers in central California. More successful at tomato growing than the tomato growers of all human history, they grew more tomatoes per acre than anyone ever had. But they did have one problem. That was to get their tomatoes into the salad bowls of Chicago and the fruit baskets of the Bronx unbruised, because a magnificent bruised tomato, in the hands of the tomato squeezers of the world, is only a bruised tomato. So they set agrotechnology to work and accomplished two marvelous things. First, they got a machine to pick the tomatoes while they were still yellow but very firm. Then they put the tomatoes on an assembly belt, passed them under a certain kind of light for seven seconds, and they came out a rosy red—a rosy pink, almost red. And then they devised a packaging such that you could put a bunch of tomatoes in a Styrofoam crate, and lift it twenty feet high above solid concrete, and also take a bumper from a Chevy pickup, lift it twenty feet high above solid concrete, drop them both, and the bumper would come off worse than any one of those tomatoes. Agrotechnology wins again.
But they had one problem: The tomato that the chef sliced into his salad in Chicago and the woman bought from the market in Boston didn’t taste the way a tomato was supposed to taste. Enormous success does not mean, forgetting the point and purpose, the end of it all.
I think that everybody has got to take at least three or four hours out of every week to ask, “What I’ve been doing this week, Lord—is it part of my story with you? Is it part of your plan for Millet? Does it serve the point and purpose of service and servanthood to all people? Or am I being intoxicated with my plans, forgetting the point and purpose of it all: to serve God?” 1Peter 2:9 tells us: “you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God's holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”
Keep in touch with God’s calling on your life daily, weekly, monthly. This is one of the stages on the journey to integrity.
V. Make Sure Your Story Fits into God’s Story
Finally, the fifth stage: Make sure your story fits into God’s story because God is writing a story with his life, too. It’s a story with a beginning and a middle and an ending, like every good story: the beginning with his commitment to his people, the middle with Christ and Calvary, and the ending with his coming again to dwell with his people and create a new people of peace and justice. The question is, Does the paragraph that I’m writing this week, the sentence that I’m writing today, the story that I’m writing with my life, contribute to the making of God’s story?
If you knew my life story, would you get a hint, a clue, of what God’s story is about? If you see me daring to make, and caring to keep, commitments to people, will you get a hint that God is the God who dared to make and continues to care to keep commitments to his people? When you see that in my story being important is not really important, but being a servant is important, will you see a clue that God’s story is really all about divinity at the service of humanity? Will my story, will your story, be one paragraph, one sentence, that contributes to, the climax of God’s story of redemptive love? 1 Peter 2:12 says: “Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world.” Again, “they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God.”
Conclusion: Two Scenarios
Walking in our integrity. Imagine this scenario: You’ve come to the last chapter in your story, and you say to yourself, I’ve struck it rich. I’ve even built an empire. But somewhere along the line I lost my integrity. What a terrible ending to a story!
But imagine this scenario: You’re standing before the Lord God of Glory, and he says to you, “I know that it was tough going sometimes. I know that it cost you something. I know that your story was not a best seller. But I vindicate you, my child, because you with me, together, have walked in your integrity.” What a way to go! Amen.
Let’s look at Psalm 26 again to see what we must do to be people of integrity: “ I do what is right. So in your mercy, save me.
I have taken a stand, and I will publicly praise the LORD”.
Let’s do that now as we sing or final song.