So we have been working our way through this Emotionally Healthy Relationships series, which has been such an important thing for us discuss as we build into and start our church here in Gettysburg. There are couple things that I believe all Christians really need to wrap their minds around when it comes to relationships. The first thing is that you actually were designed to be with people by God. I know, I know for some of us (and I would include myself in this) life would be so much easier without all the people stuff…but whether you like it or not you are dealing with people. I don’t care how hard you try to avoid it, you are dealing with relationships and that is messy at times. Because we have been wired by God to be with people, that pull towards relationships and people can make life pretty messy and challenging at times because we want people to like us, deep inside we want to be with people, not alone. The second thing that I think is really important for Christians to really understand is that loving others matters. People are a big deal and our relationship with God should really be reflected in our relationship with people. I think this is such an important point because so many good, well-meaning church going Christians end up compartmentalizing their spiritual lives. Focusing really well on the loving God thing while continuing to be really rough with people, and it just isn’t supposed to be this way. This is why Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his time by saying that we must do both. Loving God AND loving others are the two pegs that the rest of this religion stuff hangs off of, oh this is so important and really becomes something that I wish all of us really could wrap our minds around. That regardless of how good we are at the church thing, if we don’t love…none of it matters. So really as we have walked through this series, I have come back to some of those thoughts a lot and today I would like to add another really fundamental thought to those two that will probably come back throughout the rest of this series.
Today we are going to talk about the importance of integrity, the consequences of life lived without integrity and what practical things we may need to do to have integrity in our lives. We will do that by looking at the things that Jesus did so well to have integrity. So I think integrity is a word that many of us have heard before, I’d like to start by looking at how we define this term.
Integrity – (1) the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
I think if I asked you what it meant to have integrity many of you would have come up with something close to what I just said, that integrity is all about your moral principles or being honest and truthful and just being a good person with strong principles…that makes a ton of sense, but integrity has a second definition that really caught my eye.
Integrity – (2) the state of being whole and undivided.
So this is really where we are going to head today, integrity is all about having strong moral principles and being trustworthy, but this is really interesting…it is also the state of being whole and undivided. I really like that because that sounds to me like it means that if I am going to have integrity in my life I am going to be the same person in every aspect of my life. I’m going to be the same person at home that I am at work or school. I’m even going to be the same person at church that I’m going to be at work or home. Yikes, right? I mean it is one thing to look the part when no one is looking, but it’s kind of a whole other thing to be the same person everywhere and in every environment am I right? Well this is what I want to get into with you today. We want you to get to a place in your life where you can be the same person in every environment you step into, can you imagine how peaceful that type of life could be? For some of us, we are right now thinking about our jobs, or our peer groups that we hang out in and we are thinking that what I just said is impossible right now, but I will tell you if we are focused and deliberate, if we look at and set our boundaries, priorities, and hold true to our values we can do this. When we are honest and clear about who we are on the inside we can start to be that person on the outside, and in every environment. I think that sounds like a lot of fun, because can we be really honest today, acting like something we are not is exhausting at times isn’t it? Integrity is found in being the same person all the time, in every environment and I will absolutely admit to you that isn’t easy. But think about what your life could look like if you could stand as the person you were created to be, and simply be yourself in every environment you step into. Can you imagine standing in your uniqueness and being ok with that regardless of whether you were on the job site, in the church lobby, at your child’s sporting events or school functions? What about you kids who are in school right now? Try to picture how you would feel to go to school every day and just be you! What would it be like to talk the way you wanted to talk? Dress the way you wanted to dress? And not have to apologize for just being yourself…how cool could that be? What if I told you that you should and can walk in that kind of freedom.
So we know that God created each and every one of us different right? Like there is only one you on this planet very intentionally. I mean I can take you all over the Bible and show you different scriptures that help you and I clearly know that God only made one you and you are everything he wanted you to be! Check this one out here…
Psalms 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. NIV
So we see it all over the Bible, you can go home today and Google search the idea of God creating you unique and special and you will get all kinds of references and lists of scripture and teachings on how valuable you are. So we were created unique, fearfully and wonderfully made which is beautiful and awesome, but then most of us spend our lives trying to be like everyone else. Kind of confusing if you think about it isn’t it? Well this is kind of how it goes. We go to school, and pick up on what is cool and what is not cool, what we can say and what we shouldn’t say to fit in…and the next thing we know we aren’t standing as God’s amazing workmanship, as the fearfully and wonderfully made person He created us to be, we are becoming part of the bigger crowd. I think this is why it’s hard to have integrity. We all want to be liked. We want to fit in, and it can be hard to do the right thing if everyone else is not. What a set up for each of us, and think of the damage done to the kingdom work when I am not standing as the person that God deliberately created me to be!
I will tell you something as a Christian working in the construction industry was not always easy, it’s a pretty rough environment to work in. It isn’t exactly the cool thing to NOT swear, and to NOT tear people down and as a person I had a decision to make on who I was going to be in that industry and I will tell you I do not regret my decision to do the opposite of the crowd there…can’t say it was easy all the time, but I do believe over time it was respected. I also learned that I didn’t have to scream and yell and carry on to get people to work for me, and I believe a big reason for that was the respect they had for me. I was doing my best to be the same person there that they would see on Sunday at my church, and as hard as it was at times socially it worked…and frankly allowed me to witness to them in ways I couldn’t have if I was a Sunday morning Christian then just another one of the guys on Monday.
Listen, this is hard and will take time, and focus and energy…but this is integrity and it’s very important. Being the same person in every environment regardless of the pressure you feel to fit in and go with the flow or the crowd isn’t easy. Often times integrity will mean doing the opposite of what everyone is doing around you…it’s like walking upstream and it is challenging.
Tell me, can you feel what I’m saying? What is it like out there on your job sites? They celebrating your faith with you and really happy that you aren’t doing all the things they are doing? Do you feel the pressure to act like the crowd in those environments? If you don’t I am really happy for you because I think most of us feel it everywhere we go. Think back to those tough years, being a teenager in school…it sure wasn’t easy to do the right thing when everyone around you was doing the wrong thing. I could tell you countless stories today of different moments when I wished I would have just stood my ground back in the school days rather than kind of sliding into the crowd and doing what everyone else was doing. I will tell you as a Preacher’s kid…I felt like I always stood out like a sore thumb and always felt like I was always living that “PK” title down, and now I wished I could have just stood up and owned it!
Integrity is a huge part of our spiritual growth, and really is all about us having and keeping our character and morals…regardless of who is watching, or what environment we are in. It isn’t easy but I want you to understand just how important it is to have integrity. There truly are painful consequences when we are not the same person on the inside that we appear to be on the outside, let’s look at this story in scripture about two parents who simply can’t be honest out of fear of the religious leaders of their time. To set this up a bit, Jesus has just healed a blind man, and the man who now has sight is letting everyone know that He has been healed but no one is believing that this miracle happened and the religious leaders are trying to figure out if this man really was blind and this happens…
John 9:18 The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” NIV
This is an interesting story and one that I read over the years and never really understood why the parent part was in the Bible. I would read that and be like ok, what is going on here, and why is it in our Bible…I never really understood what I was to be learning here…but check this out. The blind man’s parents weren’t willing to tell be honest and truthful because they were afraid of the religious leaders. Back in those days if they were removed from the church they were basically no longer considered human in that world. So they felt pressure here, but there is something really important to see here. They weren’t willing to be honest, or to be the same person regardless of who they are around, and frankly there are painful consequences to not being the same person on the outside that we are on the inside. In Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness he really talks about this exact idea and really highlights some of the consequences of not having integrity. I’m going to read these right from the book, as we read this list I wonder if you can’t relate to some of these, I sure can.
- We lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles
- We sense that something is missing in our lives and search the world for it, not understanding that what is missing is us.
- We feel fraudulent, even invisible, because we are not in the world as we really are.
- Our inauthenticity and projections make real relationships impossible, leading to loneliness.
A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer
When I read that list could you feel it? Remember integrity is about living the same life in every aspect, and in every environment, it’s about living an undivided life. There is real damage done when we live untrue to ourselves, and when we don’t have this integrity, I hope this is something you can see today. Integrity is a bigger deal than many of us realize and so much of the pain we walk in, that we try to escape from is really because we aren’t willing to just be ourselves and be true to the person God created us to be, because we live in a world trying to make us act like everyone else…I really hope you are tracking with this today, I wanted you to understand what integrity really is, and then I also wanted you to see that there are real and painful consequences for not having integrity in your life. So many people aren’t happy with who they are, and it’s typically because they aren’t able to be themselves all the time. They are living a double life, and it doesn’t lead to spiritual freedom, it leads to pain. There inside world and outside world aren’t matching up…and it leaves them feeling off, and running from the pain of life in many different ways. This is the wreckage so many of us walk in.
Listen, the stakes are so high here and I hope you see it. We live in a world pushing you away from being you, with a God in heaven who created you to specifically be you, and stand in who you are regardless of how different or opposite it is to this world. When we can’t do that, we begin to live a double life…we live in a false self and it leads to pain.
So what I would like to do with the time that I have left with you is talk to you about three very simple things you can do to begin to stand as the person you were created to be in every aspect of your life. If you want integrity I think there are three important things that must become part of your to do list. You may be wondering “where did he get this amazing list of three?” Well these are three things that Jesus did extremely well, and we know that Jesus showed us how to live.
- You must learn how to say no.
- You must surrender to God’s will.
- You must set your priorities and stand in them.
Let’s walk through these three very practical things that Jesus modeled for us that can lead us towards living a life of integrity.
- Learning to say no. I’m just going to say this on the front end of talking about learning to say no…it is huge when it comes to being able be the same person in all environments…but it is easier said than done. It isn’t easy to say no to people, you know how I know this? It’s because this is a real challenge for me. In the book Pete Scazzero talks about how many people feel guilty saying no…well I will tell you, as people we can easily slide into that one. We want to be liked, we don’t want to disappoint people, and we perhaps imagine that saying no at some level isn’t a very ‘Christian’ thing to do…but Jesus actually said no often. He was able to look at His priorities, and the mission that His Father sent Him to live out, and He wasn’t going to let people pull Him away from what mattered. Jesus was willing to say no, even if it upset or disappointed people along the way…which is a very important lesson for us to learn. There are places all through the Gospels with different examples of this but I love this one…
Luke 4:42 Early the next morning Jesus went out into the wilderness. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. 43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other places, too, because that is why I was sent.” 44 So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea. NLT
This is a big time moment here. Crowds of people needing Jesus to heal and teach them, begging him not to leave them. Imagine the pressure he felt as he looks at all the need around him and what does he do? He tells them no. He is willing to disappoint people to do what matters most. He knows and tells them God sent me to do something and I’m going to do it. This is so important for us to see, Jesus was willing to say no and disappoint people to stay on mission, and to be who God created you to be. If you want to have integrity, and be the same person in every aspect of your life…you must be willing to say no.
- You must surrender to God’s will. You know this is such a big deal. Can you submit and follow God’s will for your life or do you fight it, always wanting what you want, when you want? This may be the central challenge for all of us spiritually. Giving God full control and following His lead isn’t easy. You know, Jesus models for us profound surrender, the kind of surrender that is required of all of us who want to be His disciples, and in the moments before Jesus heads to the Cross we really see this so clearly.
Luke 22:39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. NIV
This is an unbelievable moment here as we see Jesus moments from the worst kind of death imaginable struggling with the pain and humiliation and anguish ahead…but what does He say? Please, if there is any other way take this from me, but in the end…your will not mine be done. WOW. He prays, and struggles with it but in the end Jesus submits fully to God’s will, and we should do the same. Now just like I told you saying no is easier said than done, I think this one may be even harder. It’s hard to submit fully to God’s will…especially if it isn’t leading to the things I want for me! I want to read this right from the book…
“Most of us don’t have a problem with doing God’s will- as long as it doesn’t involve too much pain. The reality, however, is that we all have particular struggles and vulnerabilities that tempt us to stray from the center of God’s will.” Emotionally Healthy Relationships Page 170
So yeah I have told you about two simple, practical things that lead to integrity…but as we look at them saying no to people is not easy. And submitting fully to God’s will is a real challenge at times too.
- You must set your priorities and stand in them. You know when it comes to Jesus everyone seemed to have things for him to do, have you noticed that? His family, his friends, the religious leaders of the time, the crowds of people…everyone seemed to need something from him. Yet Jesus never seems to get pulled away from what mattered and I will tell you why. It’s because Jesus stayed centered on God. He spent time with Him often and because of that he was able to very clearly focus and remember what mattered, why He was on this planet, and what He should do. Because He was so centered on God, He was even willing to disappoint people in this process. Listen, to be the kind of person who not only has clear priorities but that stands strong in them is not easy, but it is essential and I think the best place to start is to look at Jesus’ life and realize that he was able to do this because of how tied to His Heavenly Father He was…
Luke 5:15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. NIV
We must engage God, understand the clear priorities that we need to have as a Christ follower, and then stand in those priorities and I think it starts with learning from Jesus. The world needed Him. Everyone had their own plans for Him all the time, but he never lost His way…and I think the key is there in verse 16, Jesus stayed close to His Heavenly Father…and because of that he could say no. He was able to surrender to God’s will even though it was really, really going to hurt and He very clearly stayed in His priorities.
I’m really hopeful that today you can look at your life and not only see the importance of integrity but also that you can see it in your life. It is such a big deal to be trustworthy and have that high moral standard…but maybe the biggest deal is that when I lack integrity, and am either unwilling or struggling to be the same person whether I’m at home or church or work or school or play, I begin to live a double life, that leads to a wounded life. I want you to hear me very clearly here today. God loves you, you were created unique and made so intentionally the way you are by God. You have incredible value and God created and wired you just as you are on purpose to serve a greater purpose for Him…and you are to stand in that. When we start living that double life it does great damage to us, it hurts our relationships, and even hurts your ability to help advance God’s Kingdom…and on top of that isn’t it just exhausting to act all the time?
In the end, we desperately need you to be you. God needs you to be you which is why He created you exactly as you are, and unlike anyone else!