Well, actually there are two. I and I. You and me. Integrity is the foremost measure of character between you and me. The dictionary will define integrity as an adherence to a code of values, but even that is ambiguous. Integrity means that you will do what you say you will do and I do what I say I will do. Anything less and the bond between us begins to fray and eventually snap. When it finally breaks it’s much like the rupture of a taut Achilles tendon. The two ends will curl away from each other and must be stretched under great pressure to even come close enough to begin the net back together. There is much pain and a long period of time elapses before the bond is trusted again, if it ever is.
In leadership, whether in the church or in a secular setting, surveys have demonstrated over and over that the most important character trait in a leader’s integrity. If people are going to follow a leader into battle or into ministry they must know that the leader’s word is rock solid. They do what they say they’re going to do. Always. Without excuses. Even if it requires sacrifice on their part.
They are often misappropriated verse in the epistle of James speaks to the impact that integrity can have.
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. James 2:18
It is as easy to claim to have faith as it is to pound your chest and claim the solidity of your integrity. Because we do not exist in a vacuum it’s also easy enough for those around us to evaluate our claims of both faith and integrity. If we claim faith in the God of the universe and His Son Jesus Christ but live lives contrary to the obedience and character demanded of a recipient of his magnificent grace that our faith is certainly questionable. In the same way, proclamations of integrity fall on deaf ears when our actions demonstrate that we cannot be trusted. The Christian leader who finds themselves in this position also has a ministry that is over before it starts. God is not going to bless something that begins by bringing dishonor to His name.
Our hope would be to be found like Israel’s leaders Samuel. After having led Israel for decade after decade Samuel stands before all the people and lays himself bare. (1 Samuel 12:1-4) He states without hesitation that if he has wrongly taken anything from anyone he will repay. If he has cheated or oppressed anyone he will make reparation. If he has been less than honest in any of his dealings he will confess and make right any illicit bargain. “I will make it right” are Samuel’s farewell words before Israel and his God.
The people reply “you have not cheated or oppressed us,” and “you have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” Samuel had integrity.
The Metrics of Mission
Measuring the performance of a missional church community is not performed using the same yardstick as many modern churches utilize. While the paramount measure of success in some church circles is bottoms in seats, the missional church evaluates their adherence to the missio dei by how many seats are provided for bottoms. Rather than making a mission of increasing the budget year over year, a missional community will consider the percentage of their budget turned around into the mission field. Tallying the noses of the churched kids who attend a VBS is one number, taking the VBS under various guises to the unreached children of the area is an entirely different count. In every missional metric the priority is reaching, touching and influencing the lives of our neighbors with the truth and reality of the gospel.
As Willow Creek discovered years ago, the metric used to evaluate success doesn’t always align with God’s intention for the church. Their numbers in terms of attendance and conversion were staggering by any measure but the culture that generated those numbers also came at a high cost. As the adage goes, they were a mile wide and an inch deep. “Go and make disciples” had reduced to “baptize them”, a crucial measure but only half the mission. The Commission is holistic and intended to build a self-replicating community of believers who will join the cycle and further the mission.
The missional church may never attain the size of a market-entertainment-self help driven church. That will always be more attractive to the itching ears of our time. The missional body will grow, perhaps not as numerically quickly, but in a more important aspect, they will grow spiritually. The numbers in this world may not impress but the results in the Kingdom ahead will be staggering.
image by Roland Tanglao
And He Wants You to Know He Knows…
Christians will rightly spend time coming to know the attributes and Word of God in order to “know” Him better. To develop a relationship with God is to know what he has revealed about himself and come to see how those attributes affect one’s life. There is also a symmetry to relationship and it increases in depth and meaning when we contemplate those things that God knows about us. Not only does God know these things about us,He he also wants us to know that He is mindful of His people in this way.
ONE: He knows how you’re put together. You are not just a random assembly of cells. You are a vessel so unique and valuable that God imprints his image upon you. This is not a licensing deal; God has elected to take an active role in the knitting together of those who will bear the divine image (Ps 139:13; Jer 1:5)
TWO: Because of his intimate involvement in shaping the vessel of his image, the Potter also knows your heart and mind. He knows you to the depth of your personality and soul. He knows what makes you tick and what ticks you off. (Jer 17; 1 Kg 8:39)
THREE: Every corner of your heart is familiar territory to God and there are no shadows obscuring any feeling from His gaze. He knows your joys and triumphs as well as your hurts and troubles and He cares about both. (Ps 56:6; Ps 103:13)
FOUR: God knows your needs even before you can find the words to declare them. This might be a challenge to understand sometimes because, as people, we often are more aware of our surface desires than we are of our deepest needs. God does not struggle with that differentiation and wants to help us to recognize what our deepest and most fundamental needs are. (Mt 6:8)
FIVE: The irreplaceable image of God baked into every human being creates within them a desire to be reunited with the creator. In other words, God knows that you want to know him even before you become aware of that desire. In this knowledge God has commissioned his Spirit to be about the work of heightening awareness and creating opportunity for this reunification to occur. (Eph 1:17-19; John 17:3)
SIX: Your name summarizes the essence of who you are as God demonstrated to Moses with the thunderous “I Am” and God knows your name. You are not a chance occurrence, but rather, an infinitely valuable creation, known and treasured by God. (Is 43:1)
In the title you likely recognized a very familiar passage from Romans often ripped from its context and applied to different life situations indiscriminately. When that happens the meaning of the verse in the larger passage becomes muddled, and even lost. The idea of God working all things for good can adopt a diminished connotation, taking on the secular definition of good — a positive, pleasing outcome.
So where was God at work for those who love Him when the shooter in Charleston entered His house and began making martyrs with a pistol?
The answer requires that you travel back months and years in the faithful journey of the pastor and the disciples of the church who were mindful of preparing their hearts and souls for an event that they never imagined would be visited upon their church. They took seriously what the Lord taught in the Beatitudes and shaped their souls with his command to love your neighbor as yourself. They knew the necessity of recognizing the heart as the wellspring of life and were diligent in prayer and study to strengthen in shape that heart.
The good that God had worked in his people in the AME Church in Charleston was seen almost immediately in the aftermath of the shooting. A feverish news media descended on the crime scene looking high and low for someone who would shout words of racial division or a demand for the scalp of the shooter. Disappointed, all they received from the remaining members of the church were Christ-like words of forgiveness and love for the young man who had made such life shattering decision.
This is a challenge to understand until we grasp what Paul is saying in this verse in its context. The good that God works for is those things that increasingly conform us to the likeness of our Savior. It may be positive things and it may be life-changing events. Both stretch and test our souls in different ways giving the Holy Spirit ample opportunity to shape and mold us into the people that our Father intends us to be.
People whose first impulse is to love and forgive when hateful revenge seems to be the most appealing course.
image by Ken Wilcox