It's Never Too Late to Do the Right Thing
We are in a series called “With God, Its Never Too Late.” We talked about the fact that with God, it’s never too late for a new start and it’s never too late to hope.
This morning I want to talk to you about “Its Never Too Late to Do the Right Thing”. What I mean by that is it’s never too late to show up and do what’s right. The fact is that we don’t always do the right thing. I am not trying to guilt anyone thins morning. My focus is primarily on the word “integrity.”
Kouzes and Posner have written about leadership in the marketplace and they focus on best business practices. They did a survey of 1,500 managers across the United States and they asked a question: “What’s the trait you most admire in a supervisor or leader?” After compiling all the results they identified 225 different traits. They categorized these traits into fifteen different categories and the number one thing managers look for in a leader was integrity. Following close behind were words like “trustworthy,” “truthful,” “has character,” “lives by their convictions.”
The word “integrity” is an interesting word. It means to live an integrated life, a life that is whole, consistent, without compartment or without fragmentation.
William Barclay said:
“Here’s a great eternal truth. Life cannot be divided into compartments, some of which God is involved, others in which He is not involved. There cannot be one kind of language in the church and another kind of language in the factory or office. There cannot be one kind of conduct in the church and another in the business world.”
After the essential doctrine of salvation, once someone receives Christ as Savior the next most crucial doctrine is known as “the Lordship of Jesus Christ”. This is the truth that Jesus is Lord, of leader, ruler over every single area of my life. The Lordship of Christ needs to be integrated into every area of my world. In other words my relationship with Christ should impact all my relationships, my finances, my thought life, how I raise my kids and the list goes on. For a Biblical Christian there should be no component in my life which goes untouched by my relationship with the Jesus.
So if I'm going to live an integrated life, a life of integrity, then the discussion has to start with a focus in here - inside, it must be related to my soul and my character. Integrity is first and foremost an inside job. That means I have to pay attention to the development of my character. Character is a moral compass for my life. MY relationship with Christ is like spiritual GPS that helps me navigate through the minefields of life's decisions. Christ is the true north.
So my relationship with Christ is what beings clarity about what’s right and then it lives me the will to do what’s right in the right way no matter what it costs me. It tells us what we stand for and what we won’t stand for. It informs you and people around you what you value most. It means being the same person whether everybody’s looking or whether nobody’s watching.
It seems that our culture has missed this one. Today in our culture there is an importance placed upon how you look, but so little attention is placed upon who you actually are.
The result of physical beauty, without moral beauty, the result of acquiring possessions without the sense of responsible stewardship is causing all kinds of depression, addictions and emptiness. Just ask Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan two people who in our culture’s eyes have everything, they are the epitome of the American dream and yet their lives are on a self-destructive path.
Character does matters. A good and fulfilled life is a life full of integrity, a life that is integrated with purpose and values.
Maybe the reason why character is ignored is because character is something that is forged in our life over the course of a lifetime. There are no quick fix routes to take here. You can’t cram for it like a final exam. The deepest parts of our character are forged through the difficult times as we exercise faith and endure.
The good news is that with God, it’s never too late to start paying attention to your character. It’s never too late to start living a life of integrity.
There are many places in the Bible we could turn to discover this. The one I want to call your attention to this morning is found in the Old Testament. It’s a true story. It’s from the book of Daniel, the third chapter. I am not going to read it all; you can read it later if you like.
It’s the story of an out of control king with an out of control ego. One day this king, named Nebuchadnezzar, who was the king of Babylon, came up with this great idea that what he thought would bring him more fame, his focus was on how he looked in eyes of people. So he decided to build a ninety-foot image of himself – a statue. Then he would mandate Nebuchadnezzar day, a day where everyone was required to bow down in front of the statue as a sign of loyalty and they were to worship his image.
So Nebuchadnezzar gives the mandate throughout the kingdom. Oh, and by the way, the second part of the mandate was that any one who refused would be immediately executed.
So on Nebuchadnezzar day everyone is given the day off so they could participate in the day’s celebration. The statue has been created and the mandate has gone out, the image is unveiled and king Nebuchadnezzar has instructed that when the band begins to play everyone is to fall to their knees. So the notes begin to sound and everyone as far as you can see falls on their knees and begins to worship. Everyone except three men; three young Jewish men. These three men had been captured in Jerusalem and were taken to Babylon. They were placed into training to become leaders in this new country. They’re on the fast track in career development. If they graduated, they would be set for life. Humanly speaking they had absolutely nothing to gain by defying the king and they had a lot to lose. So they refuse to bow down.
When Nebuchadnezzar finds out he is absolutely furious. He has these three men brought to him. I think from the context the king actually likes these guys. Because he entertains a dialogue with them that goes something like this: Nebuchadnezzar says, “Boys, you’re not from these parts. Maybe you didn’t understand the edict. I built this ninety-foot image. It’s a replica of me. The deal is that when the band plays you are to get on your knees and worship. Now maybe you didn’t understand that the first time so I'm giving you a second chance. We’re going to strike up the band here in just a moment. If you guys will fall down on your knees and worship, everything’s ok with me.”
Now I think many people would have given a lot of thought at this point; “Ok. Enough’s enough. This is serious now. We’ve all lodged our protest in support of the first two commandments, we did our part. But the king seems real serious about this. So why not just go along to get along. After all just because we bow the knee in front of the statue, doesn’t mean it’s really in our hearts, we can still worship the true God in our hearts and outwardly compile with the rules. But that’s not what happens in the story. In fact, these three young men just simply say no, for integrities sake, they said no.
I don't know about you but there’s something in my spirit that resonates with people who live by their convictions. They’re willing to stand and say, No. We won’t just go along to get along. It’s not that they are a bunch or rabble-rousers who just like to protest stuff. Sort of like those angry people on the news who just like to argue. No, these guys up to this point have cooperated with the training program. They could change their habits, without loosing their values; at least they could up to this point.
I don’t know about you but I'm attracted to people who have that kind of courage and conviction. I don’t always have that myself. I mean there have been days when I look back on times and some decisions I’ve made and I realize that I really didn’t live by what I said I believed. My courage and convictions weren’t as strong as I wanted them to be at times. But it is something that I strive for all the time. There is something magnificent about integrity, something beautiful and powerful. I am not talking about being perfect, always hitting 100, because that is not going to happen. But character does matter, it mattes a lot.
Let me suggest some things that we all can do to help build integrity into our lives. I want to give you some keys that I think come out of this story.
KEY #1: DECIDE WHAT’S RIGHT AHEAD OF TIME
Along life’s journey you’re going to face tens of thousands of ethical and moral decisions. Some of them will be life defining and may even cost you some comfort, popularity or even money. Other decisions won’t seem that big. But they will all shape and form your character. It’s imperative that you have a well-established moral compass to help you navigate the minefield of those decisions.
We face character tests like the situations these young men are faced, ours are not often as dramatic. But every one of them will test your integrity; they will test what you really value and really believe. Character is forged over the long haul, one choice a time. So it’s important that you determine ahead of time before those tests comes, what you value and believe. Because if you wait until test day, you’ll likely falter and compromise.
That was true for these three amazing young men. They had a set of pre-determined convictions that they were not willing to compromise. The word of God had become their moral compass. When these guys were young they were taught the truths of the Bible and these truths had been so engrained into them that they have become a part of the fabric of their character.
Let me just make a parenthetical challenge: Moms, Dads, grandparents – that’s why it’s so important that you take ownership of building into your kids and into your grandkids the kind of moral compass they’re going to need later in life. They need good and sufficient things to be placed in their moral warehouse. That is not the job of the church or the school; it’s the job of parents.
These young men had it. Where did they get it from? Go back to Exodus 20 when the Lord gave the Ten Commandments. He said this; “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above, or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Case closed! These three young men said that’s our conviction. We’re not bending.
Friends, that is why we constantly emphasize the need to read and study the truth of the Bible to determine what your non-negotiables are in life, the convictions that will guide you, your moral compass.
How big of an issue is this in our culture? George Barna does a lot of surveying of popular culture. In a recent survey he discovered that fifty percent of adults said that they base their moral decisions on “whatever will bring them the most pleasing or satisfying results.” Barna’s conclusion was this: Most people do not believe there is any source of absolute moral truth.
In a separate survey, in July of 2005, he also discovered that only thirty-five percent of Americans believe in absolute standards of morality.
But we in this church are laying a different foundation. We unapologetically believe in absolute truth. What I mean by that is we believe that there are truths that are always true, for everyone, at all times. This presupposition is based upon the reality that God exists and that He has spoken. Look at Isaiah 45:19:
"I publicly proclaim bold promises. I do not whisper obscurities in some dark corner. I would not have told the people of Israel to seek me if I could not be found. I, the Lord, speak only what is true and declare only what is right." (Isaiah 45:19, NLT)
Foundational to Christianity is that our faith is revelational. That means that we believe God has spoken, that He is not silent. That He has not hidden truth off in a corner and kept it from us. God has given us His word and He means what He says. Look at Psalm 119:130;
The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand. (Psalm 119:130, NLT)
There are some passages of the Bible that I struggle to understand. Some things that are not real clear. But, let’s be honest. Most of it is pretty easy to understand. When God says “Do not worship anything else but Me.” That’s easy to understand. We can know with certainty what the standard is and I think these three young men had already made this decision. They thought about their life and they decided to do what God had said. They had a moral compass, a set of non-negotiables. They were clear about these conditions.
So they look King Nebuchadnezzar in the eye and respond to his second chance in Daniel 3: 16-18:
…“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. [We already know what is right] If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NLT)
Notice the respect that their response had for the king. They were not there to make a big deal. They just simple said, “We already know what is right and we are prepared to live that out no matter what.” That’s key number one.
KEY #2: DO WHAT’S RIGHT EVERY TIME
This is about bringing alignment between our belief, what we say we believe and our behavior. It’s one thing to know what’s right and have a sense of truth, a sense of understanding. But it is something else to say, I have the courage to act on it. In this story their actions verify what they say they believe. What they say is a conviction in their heart..
Living with character, living an integrated life, means that we do the right thing. Knowing without action is not really knowing. You may know the right thing to do, but if you don’t do it, you really don’t have the right thing as your compass. When you live under the Lordship of Christ, you really don’t have a lot of options. There’s no backdoor, no loopholes, no exception clause. You are left only to be obedient.
That fact is not easy. It’s not easy for any of us. It’s not easy for me. I’ve discovered that as a twenty-first century follower of Jesus Christ I need a moral perimeter around my life and around my behavior.
Let me explain. Recently I was reading an article about a group of Australian soldiers who, during World War II, fought a battle off the southeast coast of Borneo. In this battle they landed on the shore, secured a beachhead and then they took the land they had predetermined they needed to be successful in their campaign. Once they secured it they also realized that they needed to patrol the parameter to make sure they didn’t give back any land that they had secured. In the article there was this interesting statement, “The only means of securing the perimeter was by a constant offensive patrol. The enemy had not fully evacuated the area.
I was struck by that phrase “offense patrolling.” You and I need to offensively patrol the parameter of our integrity. That means no cheating around the edges. That means no small indiscretions. That means no telling little white lies. That means not listening to the lies we often tell ourselves when confronted with moral and ethical decisions. Things like “No one will ever know… This is just how I am… That’s just how we do it in this business… or, this is the last time, I promise.”
In those moments of temptation, in those moments when we’re wrestling with this, there is the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, which says to us, “You know its wrong.”
In your mind you can come up with a thousand rationalizations and reasons and excuses why you could ignore that little voice. But it keeps coming back and saying, “You know this isn’t right.” An offensive patrol fights the pull of compromise.
If you study the book of Genesis you will find a story about Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer, Abel was a rancher. The Bible says they both brought their offerings before the Lord. Cain brought that which he had grown from the ground. Able brought some of his livestock. For whatever reason – we’re not told in Genesis – Abel’s offering was pleasing to God, but Cain’s was not. We do know that the distinguishing factor between the two was the issue of faith. You can discover that in Hebrews 11. So some how Abel’s offering represented his belief in God. But Cain’s represented his disbelief.
Well Cain gets upset and angry that his offering was rejected. So the Lord comes to him and says to him in Genesis 4 “Cain, why are you angry? Why are you depressed and downcast?” Then He just says to him, “Do what is right and it will be well with you.” Then He makes an interesting word picture. He says, “Sin is crouching at your door and it desires to have you but you must master it.”
When I first read that I thought that was a little harsh. But as I have thought about it I think what God was saying was Cain, if you do the right thing, everything will be fine for you. But you must not give an inch. You are under attack and you must fight.
In other words, we must be actively patrolling the parameters of our integrity. It must be an offensive patrol. Why? Because we are always just one decision, one compromise away from putting a crack in our character.
People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall. (Proverbs 10:9, NLT)
I want to be honest and candid with you this morning. There can be a price tag attached to doing what’s right. These three young Jewish men knew that. They say to the king, “We’re not going to obey you. We’re going to refuse to follow along and worship you. Our God is able to save us.” Then I like the next verse, Daniel 3:18 “But even if He doesn’t do that. Even if God chooses no to rescue us, we want you to know, O king, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
They said we’ve made up our minds. We’re not going to be pressured, bribed, manipulated, or coerced. We’ve drawing a line in the sand and we are willing to even pay the ultimate price of losing our lives because we are so convinced of these convictions are from God.
The irony sometimes of being a person with honorable character and deciding that you will do what’s right is that sometimes it will impact your climb up the ladder of success.
Let me tell you a couple of things I have found helpful for me. When I'm faced with these tough decisions a couple of things have helped me. Number one, I try to focus on the bigness and greatness of God. Because sometimes I can start to worry about what’ll happen and what are the consequences if I do this and what might happen to me. But when I focus on the bigness and greatness of God and realize how powerful He is and He really is in control and He really does care about my life and He’s bigger than my stuff then I find my fears begin to shrink.
So first you’ve got to know what’s right ahead of time. That’s the Test of Conviction. Then you need to aim at doing what’s right every time, in all areas of your life. You may miss, but the goal is to have integrity in all areas of life at all times.
Let me wrap up the story. The king is so enraged at these three guys that he says to the guys, “Heat up the furnace seven times hotter than usual.” And then he has these three young men thrown in the fire.
As the king watches the first he becomes confused when he looks in the furnace because he sees something that he is having a hard time believing. The Bible says he leaps up from his chair and he gets as close to the fire as he can and he looks in. And not only are the three men still in there and not burned up, walking around unharmed. But there was a fourth person in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar describes him that He was like as a Son of God. Most Bible scholars think that that was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
Here’s the thing I want you to get. When you choose to do what’s right and live by your convictions I can’t promise you what’s going to happen. I can’t promise you a fairy tale ending or that everything is going to turn out exactly like you’d hoped. What I do feel confident in promising you is that Jesus will walk with you through whatever you go through. And that’s enough. If you have that it is enough.