Integrity Deficit – Part Three

Let’s look at four serious benefits of living a life of integrity. While there are many more, these are some of my favourites:

1> You’ll walk closely with God.

Think of it like this: If I can clearly impart my family values to my children, and they choose to live their lives according to those principles and values, then obviously, this will increase our harmony with each other. On the other hand, consider what would happen if I clearly shared my important values with my children, and one or more of them decided to go their own way, contrary to what I had taught them. Now, of course, I’ll still love that child, but certainly their choices are going to interfere with our intimacy, our communion, and our ongoing fellowship. Our relationship with God follows a similar dynamic. When you live according to His values, you’ll naturally walk with Him, enjoying His presence daily.

2> You’ll have divine GPS.

Proverbs 11:3 says that “the integrity of the upright guides them.” When you allow integrity to lead you, you don’t have to guess what’s right. Decisions become much easier when they’re based not on what you think you can get away with but on what’s right in God’s eyes. It’s the difference between following your best guesses on how to reach your destination versus using a first-rate GPS that tells you how to proceed every step along the way. We must allow our integrity to guide us.

3> You’ll feel constant peace.

This is the benefit that means the most to me. When I lay my head on my pillow at night, I don’t ever lie there worrying, “Man, I sure hope nobody finds out what I’ve done today.” When you live with integrity, you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder, fearful of getting caught, wondering how long it will be until you’re found out. When you simply do the right thing, you abide in constant peace. There’s no fear, guilt, shame, or regret; just peace.

4> You’ll gain trust, respect, honour, and influence.

If you want to lead and inspire your family and friends, be a person of integrity. If you want great children, be a parent of integrity. If you want influence in the business community, be a person of your word. When you live with integrity, people will follow you and honour you. They’ll listen when you speak. Over time, they’ll even begin to seek out your wisdom and advice. Such is the legacy of integrity.

The benefits of integrity may seem obvious, yet they remain out of reach for many people, including those who should be the best examples — Christians. One of the most common complaints I hear from people outside the church is that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites, clearly a problem since a hypocrite is the opposite of a person of integrity.

Hypokrites, the Greek word that we translate “hypocrite,” means literally “an actor or stage player.” In the tradition of ancient Greek drama, each actor played several different roles. They used a different carved wooden mask for each of the various characters they were playing. Maybe you’ve seen the smiling comic mask alongside the frowning tragic mask used as symbols for the theatre or to represent drama in general. When an actor in ancient Greece needed to switch to a different character, he simply picked up a different mask and held it in front of his face. It was as simple as that.

I think many of us do exactly the same thing. For each social circumstance we find ourselves in, we present ourselves in the best possible light, even if it’s not honest, accurate, or authentic. We calculate who we think someone wants us to be, and then we select the appropriate mask to play that part for them. But it’s only a mask. It’s not who you really are; it’s just who you’re pretending to be.

It may be hard to see it in yourself, but each of us lacks integrity at some point or other. But it seems like we can always justify our pet behaviours, whether it’s by calling them “little white lies” or telling ourselves that we’re protecting the feelings of others. But consider how God looks at our “little quirks.” While Jesus openly welcomed repentant prostitutes, adulterers, and other vile sinners into His Kingdom, He was relentless in condemning hypocrites. Here’s what He says in Matthew 23:25-28:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus exposed them for what they were. He essentially said, “You fakers. You play actors. You have zero integrity. You put on your game face and you look religious. You look nice and righteous on the outside. But inside, your heart us absolutely filthy with sin.”

It doesn’t make any difference if people appear to be righteous. What matters is to be pure on the inside. Woe to you if you lack integrity, full of hypocrisy. We must start with what’s inside us, allowing Christ to transform us, and then our actions will follow suit. Through Christ, we clean the inside of the cup before we move on to the outside. We sacrifice our selfish, deceitful, ego-driven impulses on the altar of truth so that our behaviour reflects God’s righteousness. Integrity starts from the inside out, not the outside in. 

Integrity Deficit – Part Two

With integrity we see a consistency of character. A person of integrity is the same no matter where he is or who he is with. One of the best examples of a person of integrity is the biblical Samuel, from the Old Testament.

Toward the end of his life, Samuel recaps his record of faithful service before the Israelite people:

Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”“You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”

(1 Samuel 12:3-4 NIV)

At the end of his life, Samuel stood before his entire community and said, “Have I lived a life of integrity? If I’ve ever wronged any of you, just tell me, and I’ll make it right.”

And they answered him, “No, you’ve always done the right thing. You are a person of integrity, Samuel. You’ve been faithful.”

At the end of my life, I want to be able to ask the same question and get the same response. I want my children, my grandchildren, and generations of Howes after me, to be able to do exactly as Samuel’s community did. At the end of my life, I want to be able to say honestly, “Here’s your free shot. Did I do what I claimed I would do? Did I practice what I preached?”

People may even answer, “Well, we didn’t like your sense of humour or the way you dressed or your style of ministry. But, yes, you are a person of integrity. All the things you said you believed you actually lived.”

Another biblical man of integrity was David, perhaps made more credible because he failed big time and tried to hide it but in the end couldn’t live with himself. He offers another picture of what integrity looks like. In one of his psalms, David asks, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” And then catalogs the traits of such a godly person (Psalm 15:1-5):

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?

Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,

who does what is righteous,

who speaks the truth from their heart;

whose tongue utters no slander,

who does no wrong to a neighbour,

and casts no slur on others;

who despises a vile person

but honours those who fear the Lord;

who keeps an oath even when it hurts,

and does not change their mind;

who lends money to the poor without interest;

who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things

will never be shaken.

David asks, “LORD, who gets to enjoy your continued presence? Who gets to walk with you and fellowship with you?” In each case, the answer is the person who lives a life of integrity, and the promise is that “whoever does these things will never be shaken.”

When we live this way, we will never be shaken! Do you realize what an incredible statement that is?

So, the question remains: Are you a person of integrity? Be really honest with yourself. And, if there are some areas where you could do better, where your walk and talk don’t line up … decide today to make some changes. You may be able to make the changes on your own or you may need someone to walk with you through them. But, the bottom line is simple: do what it takes to be a person of integrity.

Integrity Deficit – Part One

Isn’t it tragic that we live in a world where people are more shocked by a display of integrity than a lack of it? More and more often, people seem surprised when someone does the right thing instead of when someone fails the morality test. This inversion is a sad indictment of how corrupt and self-absorbed our culture has become. Our ethics are determined by what we want and when we want it. It is all about us.

Integrity is living what you believe. It is walking on the outside what you believe on the inside. As Tony Dungy so brilliantly stated, “Integrity doesn’t come in degrees: low, medium, or high. You either have integrity or you don’t.” Integrity is living with all aspects of your life lining up into one whole.

You don’t have to look far to find a story about people who lack integrity. Maybe it’s a professional athlete everyone looks up to. He’s the best at what he does, but on top of that, he selflessly gives of himself to some charitable organization that’s making people’s lives better. Then one day the news comes out: he had a whole other sordid secret life that we never knew about.

Some politicians do this same thing. They run for office on a platform to make things better, and one day we discover they’ve been living covertly s though they’re above the law. It even happens to Christian leaders – pastors, ministers, evangelists – who preach God’s Word but are taking drugs, visiting prostitutes, or embezzling from their churches. They are living without integrity. They are not ‘integrated’ or functioning as a unified whole. They live contrary to their beliefs. They say one thing and live another.

All of these things are so “normal” that they don’t really take us by surprise anymore. It’s only worse, it seems, when the same thing happens to a close friend. You thought you knew them. You loved them, trusted them, and then boom, the curtain falls and you see the mess that was going on all along behind the scenes.

So if the lack of integrity is clear, what is true integrity? Here’s a simple definition: Practicing integrity means that your behaviour matches your beliefs.

That’s all there is to it. All the parts of your life seamlessly form one united whole. There are no secret compartments or double lives. What you say actually matches what you do. Your lifestyle is integrated. Your private life matches your public life, with no surprises. What other people see is that they get no matter what the setting in which they meet you. You may have heard the term defined  this way: “Integrity is what you do when no one else is looking.”:

Just to clarify, personal integrity is not the same thing as your reputation. No, your reputation is who other people think you are. Your integrity (or lack thereof) is who you really are.

God’s Word tells us, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3). How true. Just think of all the people who were destroyed when their house of cards – built on the shaky foundation of deception – came crashing down. I think many segments of society are being destroyed today by the duplicity of leaders, even entire organizations, who claim to believe one thing, yet practice something else. 

Some biblical examples next time (Part Two)

Deal Or No Meal – Part Two

It seems absurd to imagine someone trading something so valuable for something so temporary. Why would Esau make sure a bad trade? Why do generation after generation of intelligent adults make similar decisions every day? It’s simple. We allow our out-of-control fleshly desires to overwhelm our better sense. We allow our egos, instead of our spirit guided by the holy Spirit, to drive our desires.

In the first letter of John, the apostle writes… “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16). 

The world offers to fulfill all our cravings. “I’m hungry and I want it. I’m lonely, so I need that person., I’m empty, so maybe that thing will satisfy me.” The world offers substitutes for (or counterfeits of) real things: physical pleasure, material things, pride in what we have and what we do. Before long, our sinful desires for the counterfeits of this world lure us into short-term decisions with long-term consequences.

You unquestionably know lots of people whose lives have been ruined by unchecked and untamed desires. It could be the person who buys what she can’t afford, charging and borrowing her way into final fiscal destruction. Each purchase makes her feel good about herself for a fleeting moment; she can wear the latest styles and have the newest phone and iGadget. But one day she wakes up, buried alive under a mountain of debt.

If could be the guy who knows looking at pornography isn’t good for his spiritual life or relationships. But when he’s tempted with the opportunity, his immediate desire overwhelms his desire to obey God. Before long, what seemed harmless enough at first becomes deadly. He’s trapped and believes he can’t stop. He had no idea that taking one drink of porn poison would lead to an addiction that slowly kills his soul. 

You probably know a young woman who wanted to honour God and her future husband by saving herself for marriage. But since she thought she loved the guy she was dating, and because she didn’t want to lose him, she compromised her values by giving her body to him. After her “true love” got what he wanted, he eventually dumped her and moved on to other conquests. At first she felt horrible, but eventually she decided, “Since I’m not a virgin anymore, why shouldn’t I find some comfort wherever I can? And over the years, she accumulated sinful sexual memories, ones that still cloud her marriage and haunt her with regret. 

You might know the guy who told himself he’d provide a “better life” for his family., (Have you ever noticed how ‘better life’ never means more time, deeper relationships, or spiritual intimacy? A better life generally means giving them things that won’t last and don’t really matter). Armed with good intentions, he threw himself into his career and did whatever it took — sixty-hour weeks, travelling half the month, working at home on weekends. Then one day his company downsized and he found himself looking for a  new job. Worse still, he woke up to a failed marriage and children he still sees but doesn’t really know.

What have there people and millions of others like you and me done to ourselves? We’ve traded the ultimate (God’s blessings) for the immediate (our selfish desires). We’ve given away our birthright for a stupid bowl of stew. 

If  trading your birthright for a bowl of stew seems farfetched, then let me share another example. 

In 1894, the US mint in San Francisco produced only twenty-four coins, relatively few for its time but certainly staggering when we consider the millions of coins produced by the American mints now. The superintendent of the San Francisco mint then was a man named John Dagget. Knowing the rarity of the few coins produced that year, Dagget acquired several and gave three of the dimes to his daughter, Hallie. “Hold on to these, my dear, and they’ll be worth much more than ten cents someday,” he told her.

On her way home from her father’s office, young Hallie did what many kids would do. She stopped in her favourite soda shop and exchanged what would become one of the world’s rarest coins for a scoop of her favourite ice cream. Almost a century later, in 1981, the coin surfaced and sold for $34,100. Today only ten 1894-S Barber dimes are known to exist, and they’re considered one of the most sought after and valuable coins in the world. Poor Hallie’s scoop of vanilla ended up costing her much more than she could ever imagine.

We would be wise to embrace the principle of delayed gratification when to comes to our finances, not just our dimes. Because of a spirit of entitlement, it’s common for teenagers (and adults still in adolescence) to believe they really need to latest iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (If their iPad doesn’t have 5G, they need counselling to overcome their childhood abuse.) Some teens actually believe they need (or deserve) a thirty-thousand dollar car. Or a debt-ridden twenty-year-old believes a spring break to Cancun is a necessity. Or the young couple just out of college feels it is their right to live in a house as nice as their parent’s home. 

Like Esau and Hallie we often trade the ultimate (our birthright as believers) for the immediate. We would do well to remind ourselves … “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:16-17). 

Deal Or No Meal – Part One

In pursuit of immediate pleasure, people trade the ultimate for the expendable. Andy Stanley (pastor and Bible teacher) describe this phenomenon in the biblical story of Jacob and Esau. If you are not familiar with the story, Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. Esau was the oldest, born minutes before his younger brother, Jacob. I’ve been told that the younger brothers are often jealous of their older siblings, which was certainly the case in this story. Esau was a man’s man, while younger Jacob was more a mama’s boy.

During this time in history, the firstborn son had extreme advantages. He had what’s known as the birthright. Upon the father’s death, the firstborn received twice the inheritance of any of his siblings. He also became the judge (or executor) of the father’s estate. Throughout his life, the older brother lived with advantages and favour simply because he was born first. You can imagine how this could get under the skin of the younger brother.

Well, with these two guys, the scene went down something like this … “One day when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau arrived home from the wilderness exhausted and hungry. Esau said to Jacob, “I’m starved! Give me some of that stew!” “All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.” “Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?”  (Genesis 25:29-32 NLT)

The conflict seems very basic, a temporary physical appetite battling an eternal familial blessing. Esau, the older brother, has been out hunting and works up a huge appetite. Perhaps his journey home took longer than he expected and his stomach is long past growling. He’s not just hungry. He’s HUNGRY. When he sees Jacob cooking some stew, Esau demands some lunch. 

Suddenly, the younger brother has the advantage, perhaps for the first time ever. I can imagine Jacob, sensing he has the upper hand, thinking, “I’ve got you now. All those years that you picked on me, all those times you don’t let me play with your friends, all those times you outshined me … now you’re going to get yours.”

Esau said something that’s funny to me. He whined, “Look,, I’m going to die if I don’t get something to eat.” Just in case you’re tempted to believe him. Let’s tell it like it is. He was being a big baby, a drama king, an entitled brat. Esau wasn’t about to die. He was just hungry and was used to having food the moment he wanted something to eat.

Jacob corners his brother and strikes a deal. “You want some of this delicious, hot beef stew, with your favourite carrots and tomatoes? Then it’s going to cost you. If you give me your birthright, I’ll give you some stew.”

And that’s when Esau makes the worst trade of his life. Esau trades the ultimate (his birthright) for the immediate (a bowl of stew). In the end, he will not be able to put a price on what he pays for a simple meal.

You might ask, “Who in the world would do something as stupid as trade their birthright for a bowl of stew?

If you think about it, you already know the answer.

We, as believers, do it every single day.

More next time – Part Two

Forbidden Fruit

Our culture and society has trained us that if something is worth having, it is worth having now. If you are going to do it, you should never be forced to wait. In order to feel important, our entitled egos tell us we should get what we want when we want it. After all, we are the “entitled generation.” We want it our way; and we want it now. 

You have heard the mantras: “If it feels good, do it.” “It’s my life; I can do whatever I want.” “Why should I wait when I can have it now?” Thus we often think that we actually deserve whatever we want and should never be forced to wait, plan, prepare, or put something off. Thus the reason for the massive personal debt many have accumulated by using their credit cards to indulge themselves. We tend to forget that short-term decisions can lead to long-term consequences.

While I believe this problem has become progressively worse, it’s certainly not new. The Bible is loaded with stories of people who failed to realize the consequences of their short-term, ego-driven decisions. In the very first story in God’s Word, Eve craves the forbidden fruit. When you think about it, she has it all — everything any woman could ever desire. An intimate relationship with the God of the universe. A husband who adored her. Paradise as her home.

She also doesn’t have some of the things that make us crazy. Eve doesn’t have another woman in the world to compare herself with. She never has to wonder, “Do you think she’s prettier than me?” She never fears that someone else is a better mom, a better cook, or a better employee, or that someone else has a better body. Eve can’t compare kitchens, closets, or husbands; she never has to sink into the trap of comparison envy. The first woman who has ever lived has everything — really everything — except the fruit of the one tree that God said is off limits. 

Even though this woman has it all, the serpent still managed to tempt her by asking, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). In our world the question might be, “Did God really say you need to wait until marriage until you get to have sex?” “Did God really say that you should love your enemies when you’d rather kill them?” “Did God really say that you should stay married when you’d prefer to be married to someone else?”

Even though Eve has everything but a piece of fruit, the one thing she is denied becomes the all-consuming, gotta-have-it thing. All of us have reached out to grab some forbidden fruit (or at least a slice of apple pie) and taken a bite that costs more than we ever imagined. Moses did it when he was angry and killed a man. David did it when he was lonely and committed adultery. Judas did it when he became greedy and betrayed Jesus. And we do it when we lose our temper, have sex before marriage, buy something we can’t afford, or stuff our faces until we’re fat.

We see this common problem described clearly in Scripture: “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:16-17).

It seems that people commonly trade the long-term greater blessings that come later for the quick-fix lower things they can have right now.

How about you? Most of us, I am afraid, are following the example of society and our culture. We are being ego-driven to want what we want when we want. And, as a result we are making quick decisions giving us short-term pleasure and gain but costing us long-term consequences that are often very damaging. 

And it is only after the fact, when we realize what we could have had if we had waited, that we understand the cost of our decision. We understand that we settled for far less than what God wanted us to have.

It is so easy to live reacting to our impulses, making decisions as if this moment is the only thing that matters., Sadly, so many people remain dangerously shortsighted when it comes to judging what’s important and when it is important. While it’s good to “be in the moment,” many people find it hard to see even two minutes into the future, recognizing the problems their decisions might create. 

Again, this isn’t totally the fault of those who live with this mindset. Strategic marketing, improved technology, and selfish living have trained us well. You grew up on commercials and advertisements that said, “You deserve the best. Have it your way. Live in luxury.” Some people believe the microwave triggered a universal lust for now. Zap my problem, and it will be fixed in sixty seconds or less. If their iPhone takes more than five seconds to download a site, they get impatient and complain about how pathetic their phone is, or they just go to another site instead, or they upgrade to a newer version of the phone. 

If you look around, you see it everywhere. A grown man throwing a tirade because his fast food burger took three minutes to make. A mom coming unglued because the high school guy at the cash register slows her down. A young couple becoming furious because they were denied the loan to buy their dream home (which was way over their budget) and they have to do something that’ve never done before — wait. Our society has trained us that if it is worth having, it is worth having now. If you are going to do it, you should never be forced to wait. In order to feel important – and feed that ego – our entitled egos tell us we should get what we want when we want it. And, we seldom think of the long-term consequences of the decisions we make on impulse today.

So, take a look at your life as it is right now and see if you are making some decisions today that will have long-term consequences that will hinder your walk with the Lord one day. Don’t skip over this little assignment. It’s important. Are you following the “must have it now” culture or the biblical principle of ‘delayed gratification. 

Following along on this theme – see tomorrow’s blog “Deal Or No Meal”