Some years ago I was invited to a home in our community to talk with a father about his son, who was into drugs. As I sat in his living room that evening, he described this son to me and how upset he was at the circumstances that were going on in their family. He said, "The thing that bothers me the most about his being into drugs is the fact that drugs have made him a liar."
Hardly were those words out of his lips when the phone rang and his wife went to answer it. She came back and said to him, "S is on the phone and wants to talk to you."
His immediate answer was "Tell him I'm not home."
I ask you, who made that boy a liar? Drugs or his dad?
I think of another father, the father of one of my closest friends. My friend was reminiscing after his father's death and told me of an experience from much earlier about the summer when his sister was looking for employment. She had two job possibilities. One she wanted very much and the other she didn't but would take as a second choice. As you can imagine, the job came up first, and she was offered that job. She wanted to hold out for the other, but she didn't know if the other was going to come. So she went ahead and accepted it for her summer employment. A few days later, as you also could expect, the other job became available to her, and she wanted to quit the first very much and go to the second. So she went to her father.
She said, "Dad, I have a problem." And she portrayed it to him.
He looked her straight in the eye and said, "Did you take the first job?"
She said, "Yes."
"Did you promise you would work there this summer?"
She said, "Yes."
He said, "Why are we having this conversation?"
There are two words that come to my mind when I think of those two fathers. One is the word hypocrite, and the other is the word integrity. The first word we hear frequently, especially in Christian circles and about Christians and Christian organizations, and in synonyms like "rip off," "con artist," "manipulator," or "phony."
The other word, integrity, I sense is a relatively word. I confess to you that I like that word, and I use it frequently.
God is looking for people of integrity
This past year it's been our privilege in Southern California to prepare for the Billy Graham Southern California Crusade, and it was my privilege to be the chairman of the ministers' committee for that crusade. I personally am convinced that Mr. Graham is a man of integrity. Three times I have sat close to him and talked with him in intimate ways over a period of 36 years: in 1949 when I was a senior in college at UCLA; last November. chairing the ministers' committee; and then one week before the crusade began, on a Saturday morning at a hotel in Newport Beach. He had asked if a dozen pastors would come and share their hearts in anticipation with him, and he with them, and pray together. In those three experiences over a period of 36 years, sitting down with a man the world knows and who has entree to kings and prime ministers of the world, I was convinced that here was a man with integrity.
In the three areas that have often tripped up evangelistspride, sex, and moneyit's been my observation, as I've followed Billy Graham over the years, that I have seen a man of humility, a man who has been faithful to his wife, and who has not been tainted by the wrong use of money.
Now, please understand, Billy Graham is not perfect. He's like you and me. There is a streak of hypocrisy that runs through all of our lives. No matter who we are, no matter how much a person of integrity we want to be, there is a streak of hypocrisy that is within every one of us. But the question is, is that controlling your life? Is that dominant in your life? Or, on the other hand, are you attempting to be a person of integrity and to see God conquer the hypocrisy that is present in all of us to some degree?
David, the psalmist, began Psalm 25 with these words, "To you, O Lord, I pray. Don't fail me, Lord, for I am trusting you. Don't let my enemies succeed. Don't give them victory over me," (The Living Bible)
It is no wonder that David offered that prayer. David desperately needed what he wrote in Psalm 25. I especially like verse 21: "Assign me Godliness and Integrity as my bodyguards, for I expect you to protect me...." He turned to the right person for protection. His request is beautiful: "Give me Godliness and Integrity as my bodyguards. ..." You and I should be asking God for godliness and integrity in our lives. I know that I desperately need that.
David needed it, too. Good king that he was, we all know that he was both a blatant adulterer and a murderer, and that one day Nathan, the prophet of God, pointed and said, "You are the man. You have murdered Uriah, and you have taken his wife." Nathan might well have cried out that day, "Hypocrite! Phony!" But the good news was that that was not the end of the story for David, nor does that need to be the end of the story for you or for me.
Listen to David's confession in Psalm 51. He wrote, "O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my transgressions. Oh, wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again." And, by the grace of God, he was cleansed. He was made a man of integrity, and the Bible records that God said, "David was a man after God's own heart."
I have a close friend in my congregation who is a professional writer. He tells me that when he is looking for a story, there are three elements that he searches out in the person about whom he is going to write: first, he is looking for truth; second, he is looking for drama; and third, he is looking for integrity. He is looking for a soundness in that person about whom he is going to write, whether there is a firm adherence to a moral code. My friend said, "We are not looking for better writers, but we are looking for better people writing."
When I questioned him on the subject, he quoted C. S. Lewis: "Whatever spiritual roots a person has struck will come out all unbidden in his writings " Ultimately everything that is in you and me will be revealed. Hypocrisy, integrity it will all be revealed when our individual stories are told. So, writers are looking for men and women of integrity.
So is the business community. I read recently of a survey among managers. The number one element they sought in employees was the element of integrity. I believe that if that kind of a survey were taken of spouses, integrity would be the number one thing they would want of their mates, and I honestly believe that if it were taken of young people, that would be the number one thing that they would want of their parents. And why not? Integrity is what God is looking for.
In 1 Timothy 6:1112 we read, "Set your heart on integrity, true piety, faithfulness, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith, keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses." These two verses are so important because they are validated throughout all the pages of the Bible. God is looking for men and women of integrity.
How many times have you heard it said that in this world it's not what you know but who you know that counts? And that is often true. But in God's world, it is not what you know but who you are that counts. Are you a child of God today through faith in Jesus Christ his Son? Do you stand blameless in the sight of a holy God because the righteousness of his Son, Jesus, has been imparted to you and you are, as the Bible says, "clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ"? And are you a person who is marked by integrity today because the spirit of Jesus Christ is living out his life of integrity through your very personality?
Let me ask that question in some very practical terms. Does your life evidence true piety? And if you don't like that word, as many young people don't, let me ask it another way. Is your life, and are your actions, unquestionably pure? Another question: Are you noted for your faithfulness? Is your life exhibiting a C love, not just to a certain group of special people or to one certain, specific person? As other people look at you, is there exuding from your life that kind of a C love of which Jesus spoke just before he died? He said, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if they see that kind of love in your life "
Is there an endurance and a steadfastness about you? Or do you waver like a reed in the wind? Are you gentle? Are you honest? Would everybody who looks at your life be able to say that you are marked by a good character? If so, then you are a person of integrity.
Note that I am not speaking of your reputation. Your reputation is what people think you are. I am speaking of your character, and your character is what you really are in the brilliant light of a noonday sun. Looking at your life and speaking of you to another, would those who know you best be able to say of you that you are as clean as a hound's tooth?
Integrity, you see, is earned in the trenches of life. It is earned in the crucible of pressure. And to breach one's integrity is to sell one's soul for something that does not begin to have the worth of that integrity. It is to prostitute oneself and to become sullied and dirtied in the process. Remember, my friends, integrity cannot be taken from you. Integrity can only be given up.
Furthermore, integrity is not what you look like on Sunday morning in church. Integrity is not revealed when you are on stage, before the footlights of popularity. Integrity is seen in the ordinary experiences and pursuits of life, and even more, integrity is seen in the crises of life. There in the crises is seen the stuff of which you are made.
Oswald Chambers says in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, that crises always reveal character. And one of my best friends said the other day that you play like you practice. He's right. If you cheat in practice, you'll cheat in the game. If you cheat in your head, you'll cheat on the test. You'll cheat on the girl. You'll cheat in business. You'll cheat on your mate. Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.
Character is not revealed so much by your actions. You see, your actions are premeditated, thought out in advance. You're very careful about your actions. Character is revealed by your reactions. They're not premeditated. They're not thought out in advance. They catch you off guard, and then how you practiced is how you play.
Our integrity is revealed as Jesus Christ lives out his life through us
Have you set your heart on integrity? Have you set your heart on being a person of honesty and good character? History is replete with those who have. Again and again if we'll listen, they, though dead, yet speak to us.
Lincoln said, "No one has a good enough memory to lie." When he did what he believed, even though it might cost him his presidency, he responded, "If I go down under the act, I will go down with my colors flying."
Henry Clay, in a similar circumstance, was quoted as saying, "I would rather be right than president."
Stephen Douglas insisted on being brought into the legislature of Illinois on a bed, desperately ill, because he wanted to be there to speak for honesty at a time when the state of Illinois was considering being less than that.
Mark Twain said, "Always do right"I love this"it will gratify some people and astonish the rest." Always do right.
Woodrow Wilson said, "I would rather fail in a cause that someday will triumph than to win in a cause that I know someday will fail."
I want to suggest to you that the triumphant cause is God's cause. The triumphant way is Christ's way, and the heart that is set on integrity will win in the end.
Let me leave you with two things. First of all let me say what I often say to people who are considering suicide. I look them in the eye and I say, "The choice is yours. The monkey is on your back. I cannot decide for you in the issue of suicide or integrity, and you cannot decide for me." Each one of us decides for ourselves whether we will be honest or dishonest, whether we will be faithful or unfaithful, whether we will be loving or unloving, whether we will exhibit a good characternot reputation but characteror an ill character. Integrity is decided individually in the heart of a man or a woman. It's decided again, and again, and again. And the closer you and I walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the more temptation comes for people of integrity to be less. But I can't answer for you.
Second, some of you want to say to me, "George, I've blown it. I'm a hypocrite and I know it, but I really want to change. I want to do what that passage says, 'to fight the worthwhile battle of faith.' How do I do it?"
Ernest Hemingway wrote a story about a father and his teenage son. In the story, the relationship had become somewhat strained, and the teenage son ran away from home. His father began a journey in search of that rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, Spain, in a last desperate attempt to find the boy, the father put an ad in the local newspaper. The ad read: "Dear Paco, Meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father." The next day, in front of the newspaper office, 800 Pacos showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness. They were all seeking the love of their father.
If you're a Paco this morning, and you want the forgiveness and the integrity of Jesus Christ in your life, tell the heavenly Father that and through Jesus Christ, he will say, "You are forgiven. Welcome home, my child." And if you do that in dead seriousness and with real meaning, you'll rise up and walk out of this building a person of integrity. God wants that for us; we want that for us. Jesus is able to make us that. Amen.
George Munzing was pastor of Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana, California.