Sharing Our Faith with Integrity

When I say the word “lost”, what comes to mind?  For some of you, the word “lost” describes your keys, your wallet, or your glasses.  For others, the word “lost” may remind you of a TV show that was popular a few years ago.  Lost was a show about the survivors of a plane wreck who found themselves on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean.  Or, maybe the word “lost” brings to mind something you’ve seen on the news recently – lost hikers or lost children.  Being lost is never fun.  Being lost and realizing that no one is looking for you is even worse.

            In the gospels, the word “lost” describes people who are separated from God — and the word “found” describes people who are back together with God.  The entire chapter of Luke 15 deals with this topic and Jesus tells stories about a shepherd who lost one of his sheep, and a woman who lost one of her coins, and a father who lost one of his sons.  But ultimately, those stories are not about sheep, or coins, or even sons, but people who are lost because they’re separated from God.

            And it’s God’s desire that people be found rather than lost, so he sent his Son into this world to find them and to save them.  As Jesus once said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

            And the interesting thing to me is that lost people were drawn to Jesus like a magnet, maybe because he was so drawn to them.  People who had been rejected by religious leaders found acceptance from Jesus, and people who had been hurt by their past relationships found love from Jesus.  And so, everywhere Jesus went, there were lost people who wanted to be with him.

            But not everyone appreciated Jesus’ attempts to save the lost.  Luke 15 begins with these words, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2).   The Pharisees and the scribes were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  And “sinners” was a word that they used to identify people who broke God’s Law – social outcasts who were considered morally filthy and were to be avoided at all cost.

            What a sharp contrast!  Jesus spent much of his time interacting with lost people, while the religious leaders surrounded themselves only with other religious people.  And, as I think about that, it’s convicting for me because I’m constantly surrounded by other Christians, which means that I’m more like the scribes and the Pharisees than like Jesus.

            I used to be immersed in a world of lost people.  I went to school with them.  We played baseball and volleyball together.  We worked in the factory together.  We stocked shelves together.  We drove school buses together.  But eventually my encounters with non-Christians became fewer and further apart. 

            And today I have to work hard to build relationships with unsaved people, because I’m a minister.  Which means that I eat meals with my Christian friends.  I have game nights with my Christian friends.  Virtually everywhere I go and everything I do, I’m surrounded by Christians, and yet, I know that’s not what Jesus intended.

            Yes, I know we’re instructed to come together as Christians and encourage one another.  We need our time of fellowship with one another.  But we’re also commanded to be salt and light to the world.  We need to be careful not to confuse morality with isolation from the world.  But unfortunately, the more committed some Christians become to God, the more isolated they become from lost people.

            But, when I read through the gospels, that’s not what I see in Jesus.  Jesus Christ, who had no sin, who was absolutely perfect, spent a lot of time eating with sinners.  As someone has put it, Jesus eagerly ate with sinners on earth because he wanted to eat with them in heaven.  Jesus’ love for lost people was so great that he not only ate with sinners but he also died for them on a cross. Jesus was willing to do whatever it takes to reach the lost, and so should we.

            But here I am, surrounded by Christians in my little world.  But I want to be more like Jesus.  Which means that I need to eat less with Christians and more often with sinners. 

            I’ll discuss this in greater detail in a later lesson, but it’s important for us to understand that eating with someone in the ancient world was much more significant than most of us will ever understand. 

            Jorge is our veteran cruiser in the congregation.  Jorge, when you go on a cruise, you may go with enough people that this isn’t really a factor, but it’s not unusual on a cruise ship for you to be seated at a table for a meal with other people that you don’t know, right?  And so, you might be seated with a Buddhist, a Hindu, an atheist.  And that’s not really a big deal for us.

            But, for someone in the time of Jesus, it was a huge deal.  If you sit at a table and eat with someone, that means that you have a close relationship with them and you fully accept everything about them.  To eat with someone was a statement of hospitality, acceptance, and intimacy.  Because of that, people in the ancient world gave a lot of serious thought to who they were willing to eat with.

            And so, it was one thing for Jesus to talk with sinners, but it was something else entirely for Jesus to eat with them.  But Jesus shared a table with sinners because he wanted to have a relationship with them.  Relationships are the key to reaching lost people.  One of the best definitions of evangelism I’ve heard is this – evangelism is “an intentional relationship through which someone is introduced to Jesus Christ.”  If we want to reach people like Jesus did, then we’re going to have to establish relationships with people like Jesus did.

            A number of years ago, the Institute for American Church Growth asked more than ten thousand people, “What was most responsible for your coming to Christ and this church?”  79 percent said, “A friend or a relative invited me.”

            Which tells us that most people come to faith in Jesus through an intentional relationship.  And the most biblical model we have for building relationships with lost people is eating with them. 

            We understand that, as God’s church, we are called out of this world and we are to be different from the people of this world.  But maybe we’ve taken that too far, and many of us have deserted the very world that Jesus expects us to bring to him.  Most of us are faithful to meet with the saints on a regular basis around the Lord’s table, but perhaps we should be more faithful to meet with lost people around their table.

            For the next several weeks, I want to talk with you about how to share our faith with others.  Throughout these lessons, I will be drawing material from a book that I highly recommend – Eats With Sinners, by Aaron Chambers.

            This morning, I want to talk specifically about the importance of sharing our faith with integrity.  So, what do I mean by integrity?  Integrity is a word that we often use in a very general sense without really understanding what it means.  We may say, “This guy is a man of integrity” and basically what we mean by that is that he’s a good person.

            The dictionary gives us two definitions of integrity.  The first is this.  Integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  And that’s usually what we think of when we think of integrity, and it’s certainly important that we have that kind of integrity as Christians.  Do we keep our promises?  Do we make sure that we always do what we tell people that we’re going to do?  That’s integrity.

            But it’s the second definition that I think is especially important in terms of our evangelistic outreach.  Integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.”  But what does that mean?

            Let me try to explain it in a couple of different ways.  For those of you who like math, the word integrity is closely related to the word integer.  An integer is “a number that is not a fraction; a whole number.”  2,3,4,5,6 – all of those are integers, they’re whole numbers.  If I’ve got two cookies, then I have two whole cookies. 

            But 2 ½ is not an integer, it’s a fraction.  And so, if I have two and a half cookies, now I don’t just have whole cookies.  Now I’ve got some pieces.  A person with integrity has a life that is whole, it’s focused on one thing.  But a person without integrity is focused on lots of different pieces.

            For those of you who are not math students – and I’m guessing that’s about 90% of you — let me give you a different illustration.  My father was a meteorologist who worked for the National Weather Service.  He was a meteorologist before I was born, and he was a meteorologist until the day he retired.  If I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, it was very clear what I needed to do – I needed to become a meteorologist.  In terms of his career, my father had integrity – he was focused on one thing and one thing only.  That’s integrity.

            On the other hand, if any of Tom Smith’s children wanted to follow in his footsteps, they would have had a difficult time.  Would they become a barber or a cosmetologist?  Would they study reflexology?  Would they work in an auto parts store or as a department head in Walmart or at Disney?  Or would they become a preacher?  Tom has done a lot of different stuff which means that he has a lot of different skills and a lot of wonderful life experiences.  But if you’re looking for someone who can serve as an example to you of what a career path ought to look like, Tom Smith would be a difficult role model because his career has gone in so many different directions.

            Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in a career, but when it comes to living out our Christianity, it’s a big problem.  God has told those of us who are Christians that our lives need to be focused on one thing — being faithful to our God.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33)

            But there are some Christians whose lives are all over the place.  Some days, they’re focused on God, but other days, they’re focused on this or on that.  So, when I say that we need to share our faith with integrity, what I’m trying to say is this – we can’t share our faith with other people and teach them to put God first in their lives unless we’ve learned to put God first in our lives.  That’s integrity.

            People with integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 10:9, “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely [confidently].”   Their lives are an open book. They say to a watching world, “Go ahead and look.  My behavior will match my beliefs.  My walk will match my talk.  My character will match what I claim to be.  Who I am on Sunday will be the same person I am on Monday and every other day of the week because I am a person of integrity.  My life is focused on pleasing God and nothing else.”

            In Mark chapter 12, Mark described an encounter between Jesus and some Pharisees and Herodians.  They were trying to trap Jesus in his words and find some way of accusing him to be a fraud or a false prophet.  They began by flattering Jesus, but what they said was true, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” (Mark 12:14, NIV) 

            Jesus was a man of integrity.  He wasn’t swayed by people, or by anything else.  He was focused on following God, and helping other people to find God.

            If we want to be effective in reaching the lost, we’ve got to be a people of integrity.  People need to be able to look at our lives and use that as a guide for what it means to be a Christian, what it means to follow God and put God first.  And if we ever lose our integrity, then there’s no way we can help anyone else to find their way back to God.

            Aaron Chambers tells a story in his book about a friend of his named Gary.  Gary worked on a scallop boat that sailed out of Massachusetts.  Scalloping was hard and dangerous work, but it paid well and so a lot of young men jumped at the chance to fish for scallops.  The crew worked long hours, rotating shifts and manning every station during all hours of the day and night.

            One evening, they put out on an 8-hour trip that would take them far out into the Atlantic.  Gary was assigned to the wheelhouse.  That’s where the wheel is located that steers the boat.  Gary was told not to touch anything, just watch the compass and make sure the boat stayed on course at 280 degrees north.  There was an autopilot, and so there really wasn’t much for Gary to do except keep an eye on things, so he sat down and prepared for a long and boring night.

            At some point, Gary got thirsty and he knew he couldn’t leave his post, so he asked his friend to bring him a canned soft drink.  He finished his Coke, sat it down next to the compass, then continued to watch the controls. 

            After a few hours, Gary got concerned because he thought he could see land out the window and they were supposed to be headed out to sea.  But the compass still pointed at 280 degrees north, so he tried to relax, but something just didn’t feel right.

            Eventually, he went to find the captain who was sleeping and whispered, “I’m not sure we’re going the right direction.”  The captain asked if the compass still pointed to 280 degrees north and Gary said, “Yes.”  He said, “Then I’m sure we’re fine.”

            Several hours later, when the sun came up, Gary’s worst nightmare was confirmed – land was clearly visible.  He woke the captain up again, who confirmed that they were indeed headed in the wrong direction.  He asked Gary what he did.  He said, “Nothing, I just sat here and stared at the compass all night long just like you told me to.”  “Did the compass stay on 280 degrees north all night?”  “Yes.”

            Well, it didn’t take the captain long to find the problem.  He said, “Gary, is this your can of soda?”  It was.  The metal in the soda can messed with the magnet in the compass and it caused the whole ship to deviate off course.  Needless to say, Gary got chewed out pretty bad by the captain.  But he learned an important lesson about compasses, magnets and navigation.  He also learned how easily a ship can be pulled off course by something as simple as a soft drink can.

            When we share the faith with others, our lives provide a compass for the direction that their lives ought to go.  And if we don’t have integrity, if we have anything in our lives that causes our lives to be off course, it’s going to cause their lives to go off course as well.

            So, before we even think about trying to help someone else to get their life right with God, we need to make sure that we get our own lives right with God first.

            That’s why, under the Law of Moses, God required the high priest, on the Day of Atonement, to deal with himself first.  The high priest had to deal with his own sins before dealing with the sins of the people.  Before he could shed one drop of animal blood to atone for anyone else’s sins, the high priest first had to shed the blood of a bull for his own sins and the sins of his family (Lev. 16:6,11)

            God required that, before anything else, the high priest get his own life straight with God, because he knew that if he didn’t deal with his own sin first, then there wasn’t anything he could do to help anyone else.  The priest was God’s representative to the people, so it was essential for him to be godly and to have integrity.

            That’s why God wants those of us who are his priests today – Christians — to be a people of integrity before we begin our ministry to lost people.

            That’s the whole idea behind the log-in-the-eye story that Jesus told in the Sermon on the Mount.  He’s trying to teach us to deal with our own integrity issues before we attempt to help other people to deal with theirs, and so Jesus said,

            “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

            There’s a word in here that tells us what the opposite of integrity is.  The opposite of integrity is hypocrisy.  When we tell people who are lost, “You need to put God first in your life” but they can see that we don’t put God first in our life, then they see us for who we are – a hypocrite.  And hypocrisy is one of the deadliest enemies of evangelism because it will cause lost people to reject Jesus before they even get a chance to know him.  That’s why it’s so important for us to have integrity.

            When I think of people of integrity in the Bible, there are a couple of people that come to mind.  In the book of Nehemiah, when Nehemiah needed someone to make sure the gates in the newly rebuilt walls around Jerusalem were not opened until the right time, he chose a man named Hananiah.  And the reason he chose him is “because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.” (Nehemiah 7:2).

            I think about Job.  When Satan wanted to prove just how sinful man is, God offered him a man of integrity who would be faithful to the end saying, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 2:3).  The New Living Translation says, “He is a man of complete integrity.”

            Like Job, we need to be a people of complete integrity.  I’m not saying we need to be perfect, but we need to be faithful.  We need to that compass that others around us can look to to see what it means to follow Jesus.  We need to be able to say, along with the apostle Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:1, NIV).  Because if we don’t have that kind of integrity, then no one will listen to anything we have to say.

            In the summer of 1805, there were some Native American chiefs and warriors who met at Buffalo Creek, New York to hear a presentation of the Christian message by a Mr. Cram from the Boston Missionary Society. After his sermon, a response was given by Red Jacket, one of the leading chiefs. Among other things, the chief said:

            “Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.”

            Fair enough!  What if everyone waited to see what effect our religion has on us before they decide to accept it?  How many people would accept our message about Jesus based on them observing the difference it has made in our lives?

            The apostle Peter in his first letter said that the people around us, just like Chief Red Jacket, are watching our every move to see what kind of difference our faith makes in our lives. Peter said, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12).  Peter said, “They see your deeds.”  People are making mental notes about us. People are watching us whether we like it or not, especially if we claim to be a Christian.

            What are they watching for?  Like Chief Red Jacket, they’re watching to see if our behavior matches our belief, if our walk matches our talk, if our character matches what we claim to be, and if what we claim to believe on Sunday is put into practice on Monday, Tuesday and the rest of the week.  In a word, they’re watching to see if we have integrity.

            So, whenever we share our faith, let us make sure that we do so with integrity.

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