MISSION POSSIBLE SERMON SERIES
HONORABLE MENTION – LEADING WITH INTEGRITY
JUNE 23, 1996
Integrity. This word can be defined as the state of being complete, unified. When I have integrity my words and my deeds match. I am who I am no matter where I am or who I am with. Sadly, integrity is a vanishing commodity in our culture today. Our society is trying to take short cuts to success and pathways to prosperity. We are watching our standards crumble before our very eyes. From Whitewater to Watergate, from day care centers to the Dallas Cowboys, from televangelists to telecommunications, it seems that everywhere we turn we are running into scandal and problems. In most cases, the lack of credibility can be traced back to the level of integrity of the leaders of the particular organizations and institutions I just mentioned.
I am going to say something that will please most of you on this hot, humid, June summer day. Brace yourself please. Over the next three to five years the majority of you will receive a promotion. If you were asleep, I will say it one more time. I woke a few up. Over the next three to five years, data and research would say that most of you will receive a promotion. Strangely, though, it is easier to handle a demotion than a promotion. We have an easier time negotiating the difficult days than riding the crest of success. Thomas Carlisle put it best when he said, “Adversity is tough on a person, but for every one person who can handle prosperity, there are one hundred who can handle adversity.”
The secret to success, the secret to handling a promotion is found in a little word that we are going to dissect today called integrity. How do you keep your integrity intact when you have been given more money, more power, a better position, more prestige? How do you do it? Because our loving God wants all of us to be able to handle this elevation. He really does. That is why He has given us a great leader like Nehemiah to follow. Nehemiah was one of the best difference makers to ever live. Today we are going to dissect a portion of his life as he mentors us regarding how to lead with integrity.
Let me take a quick step back and set the stage for today’s presentation. Nehemiah was asked by God to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the city walls. You see the walls had been in shambles for the last ninety years. People had tried to rebuild it, but they couldn’t do it. The wall represented security, peace and comfort and it reflected the nature and character and concern of God regarding His city. Nehemiah went back as the point man. He assembled teams of Jews and he rebuilt the wall. Right in the middle of this project, he was tapped again on the shoulder, this time by King Artaxerxes, and he was elevated to the position of governor of Judea. Did he take an ego trip? Did everything go to his head? Did he have some little clique of leaders around him? No. He led with integrity. How do you do it?
First, if you are going to lead with integrity, you have to refuse to lose your unity. It is interesting. Nehemiah was right in the center of God’s plan and purpose for his life, yet God allowed him to go through a lot of pain and a lot of conflict. Some was external conflict like we talked about last week. Today we will see that he also dealt with internal conflict. The Jews began to fight among themselves. Nehemiah 5:1. “Now the men and their wives….” Now, guys, you know it is bad when the Bible singles out not only men but their wives. You see women have a sensitivity. They have an emotional radar that men don’t have. The men would walk around and go, “Well, I think everything is OK in Jerusalem. Everything seems fine to me.” The women were probably going, “Honey, can you believe what is happening. Can you believe that those wealthy Jews are taking advantage of us. My little son can’t even have enough food to eat, and they are taxing us too much.” Ho. Ho. Ho. Nehemiah 4:1 continues, “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers…” What was the situation? They were dealing with overpopulation. They were dealing with a food shortage. They were also dealing with high taxation. Sounds to me like the front page of the Dallas Morning News, doesn’t it? The rich Jews, though, were exploiting the poor Jews and Nehemiah didn’t like it a bit. The unity was threatened in his project. What does a leader do when the unity is threatened in his or her project? We do what Nehemiah did. What did Nehemiah do? The Bible says in Nehemiah 5:6, “I was very angry.” The first stage that you must enter when the unity is threatened in your home, in your business, on your volley ball team, in your corporation, in your church, you have got to get very angry.
One of my favorite television programs is Sesame Street. I was forced to watch it all the time and now I have grown to love it. A great song on Sesame Street is sung by Oscar the Grouch, the man in the trash can. “When I’m climbing up a tree and I fall and skin my knee, I get mad. Very angry. Very, very angry. Real mad. Very angry. Very, very angry.” The next time your unity is threatened remember Nehemiah and remember Oscar the Grouch. The Bible says you better get angry. Don’t stop with anger, though. You will mess up. If you take action on your first reaction, you will say and do things that you will later regret. He didn’t just get angry. Look at the second stage. He did some reflection. Nehemiah 5:7, “I pondered them in my mind….” The word ponder in Hebrew means I consulted with myself. I talked to myself. “Can you believe these wealthy Jews? Can you believe the people financing the rebuilding of the wall are doing this to the less fortunate? I can’t believe it.” He began to talk to himself.
Then the third state is very difficult. It is tough to transfer from stage two, the reflection stage, to stage three, the resolution stage. Leaders take the initiative and they refuse to lose their unity. They have the courage to confront problems and difficulties. Most people, especially in marriages, when there is a problem, will get angry and reflect. Reflect and get angry. Get angry and reflect. They dig a hole for themselves. Nehemiah said that God wants you to move from reflection to resolution. Here is what he did. Talk about having guts, courage. He confronts these heavy hitters, the power players face to face. Nehemiah 5:7, “So I called together a large meeting to deal with them…” Leadership is not a popularity contest. If you are trying to please everybody, you are doing something that God doesn’t do. Nehemiah said forget what the people must think, concentrate on the project. Refuse to lose the unity. He called them together and look what he said. Nehemiah 5:9, “…what you are doing is not right…” In other words, Nehemiah was saying what they were doing was a bad testimony, a poor example. “Hey, Jews, all of the nonbelieving world is looking at you, they know about our belief in God and that we maintain there is a difference when we follow Him. Yet, we are fighting among ourselves to such a degree, we are the laughing stock of the Arabs, the laughing stock of the Samaritans. They are making fun of us.” Internal conflict. Every time God wants to build, Satan will always battle. Every single time. Try to build a marriage, Satan will battle. Try to build a family, Satan will battle. Try to build a company or a church, Satan will battle.
Unity starts in my relationship with God. You see God took the initiative by sending Jesus Christ to pay the price on the cross for all of our foulups and sins. Jesus rose again and God offers us unity with Him by knowing Christ. Once we know Christ, we have this unity. Then the next most important relationship behind our relationship with God is our spouse. God says that our relationship with our husband or wife is a reflection of our relationship with Him and that we should do everything possible to refuse to lose unity with our spouse. Next comes the marketplace, your mission in life. When we work, when we live, when we do our tasks, we are to do everything possible to refuse to lose our unity.
The leadership team here is very jealous for the unity for the Fellowship of Las Colinas. This is the most unified church I have ever seen in my life, bar none. But, whenever we hear about someone spreading rumors, someone causing division or problems, we deal with it rapidly, Biblically and lovingly. We have only had to use this next verse a couple of times in the history of our church. Titus 3:10, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him” The courage to confront. You want to keep your integrity intact? Refuse to lose your unity. Become jealous of anything that threatens the unity of what you are involved in.
Secondly, refuse to abuse your position. Remember, Nehemiah was promoted. He was into the big time now. Have you ever been watching something important on ESPN and then have the television picture fade and an announcement commence saying that what is happening is a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. Whenever you are promoted, whenever you receive a windfall, whenever your company goes public, whenever you become the president, the head coach, the senior pastor, the athletic director…listen for the announcement. This is a test. Because God always gives us a little bit more responsibility, a little bit more stuff to see if we are going to be faithful. If we are faithful over little, the Bible says that God will let us be faithful over much. I am not talking about just financially. I am talking about other profound ways, too.
Let’s see what Nehemiah did. Nehemiah 5:14, “…when I was appointed to be their governor…neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor.” Nehemiah had a huge expense account. He could have charged thousands on his credit card for food and entertainment. He didn’t, though. Why? He didn’t because he knew that if he got involved in a huge expense account, he would have to increase the taxes on the people and he wouldn’t even think of doing that. Leaders use benefits, they never abuse benefits. The greater the elevation, the greater the temptation. What is the temptation? It is to use our position to become more, to use our power to do more, to use our privilege to have more.
Nehemiah said that he was not having any of that. Here is what he said about the people before him. Nehemiah 5:15, “But the earlier governors, those preceding me, placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine.” And I am sure the people around Nehemiah were urging him to do what the other governors had done so that he could make an extra buck here and an extra buck there. The Bible also says that Nehemiah did not acquire any land. This guy could have bought land when the prices were low, when the market was depressed. He could have flipped the land and made millions of dollars. Nehemiah said no. Nehemiah 5:15, “Their assistants also lorded it over the people.” You see the assistants of the ungodly governors followed their example. And your children will parent like you are parenting them. Your children will have values like your values. The people in your company will lead like you are leading. The people you manage will talk like you are talking. That is how the assistants got that idea. They just looked at their ungodly governors and decided to be autocratic and mean spirited. Nehemiah said that he was not having it. Refuse to abuse your leadership. We know that God is the ultimate in position and power and privilege. He could flick His fingers and knock the world a billion miles off of it’s axis if He wanted to. He doesn’t. He is perfectly balanced. And God says, “Reflect my character in the realm of leadership. I’m going to test you. I am going to see if you are really faithful.” Remain faithful.
Thirdly, if you want to keep your integrity intact, refuse to confuse your priorities. William H. Henson tells us that wild animal trainers walk into a cage of lions carrying the most important instrument known in the wild kingdom: a stool. They take the stool and hold it by the seat. When the lion begins to roar, they take the stool and thrust the legs of the stool in the face of this king of beasts. Animal trainers say that when the lion looks and concentrates on the four legs of the stool, it literally paralyzes him. He becomes fragmented. His attention span cannot focus. Thus they are weak and mild and ineffective. What a word to us. So many of us have this priority, that priority, and that priority and we are so focused on this and on that, that we become paralyzed. God says, “Just focus on a couple of things, a couple of absolutes and I will take care of the rest.” Too many of us do second things first and it keeps us from being the kind of leaders and having the kind of integrity that God wants.
Well, how do I do it? Nehemiah doesn’t leave us hanging. He tells us how to prioritize and how to keep integrity. Have you ever been to IMAX before? IMAX. That place is scary, isn’t it? The first time I went to IMAX was when it featured a helicopter tour. It is 3-D. The perspective is different. I am going to list for you how to become a 3-D leader. Your perspective will change and you will see things like you have never seen things before. Here is what Nehemiah did.
Nehemiah 5:15-16, “But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall.” We have got to deepen our reverence for God. What does this mean? Nehemiah knew it was God that promoted him. Nehemiah knew it was God who put him as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes for a special time in history, to be promoted to the governor of Judea and to one day rebuild the wall. Nehemiah said, “God, it is because of you. It is because of my worship and reverence of you.” It was God who promoted Joseph from the pit to the pinnacle of Egypt. It was God who promoted Daniel from a Babylonian boot camp to a big time leadership role. It was God who promoted Amos, that hick fig picker from the countryside, into the hallowed halls of Bethel. Study Joseph and Daniel and Amos, they didn’t say, “Oh, God, You are so lucky to have me. I am so eloquent, I am so handsome, I have got it together. I bet you are so happy I am on Your side.” The moment we say that, the moment we begin to pat ourselves on the back, God will remove His hand. “But this is my company.” “Oh, it is?” “But this is my idea.” “Oh, it is?” “This is my creativity.” “Oh, it is?” “This is my church.” “Oh, it is?” It is God’s. Who gave you the mind, who gave you the drive, who gave you the thought and the perseverance? God wired you up that way. Deepen your reverence for God.
Also, develop your generosity and your hospitality. Let me say this right up front. Nehemiah was a wealthy man. Nehemiah had cash but cash didn’t have Nehemiah. That is why the Bible says hold onto the things of this world very loosely, so when God wants to move them, rearrange them or sometimes take them away, we don’t just wig out. “My dream house is gone. My car is gone.” Hold onto them loosely. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians cannot be wealthy. I know many Christians who are lower middle class and poor. I know many Christians who are extremely wealthy. The issue is do you have things or do things have you. Look what our man Nehemiah did. You won’t believe this. If you don’t usually have people in your home or you are kind of scared to entertain people, this will cause your heart to beat fast. Nehemiah 5:17, “Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations.” If you go on to read, they ate at Nehemiah’s house every single day. The Bible says the fires never went out in Nehemiah’s kitchen. And take a wild stab at who picked up the tab. That’s right. Nehemiah. Nehemiah developed his generosity and hospitality.
I have known a lot of different people in my life. I grew up in the country. Because of basketball, I know a lot of inner city people very well. I know a lot of middle class people. I have also rubbed shoulders with a lot of wealthy people. There is one character quality about wealthy people that I have noticed. This is not true for all wealthy people, but for many it is. Wealthy people do not give of themselves or their finances like middle class and lower class people do. They don’t. I laugh when I read the newspaper and read that Sylvester Stallione donated $175,000 to a local charity. Magic Johnson gave $400,000 to an AIDS benefit. That’s giving? Magic Johnson giving $400,000 is like me giving you 20 bucks. Sylvester Stallione giving $175,000 is like me giving you, maybe, a dime. That’s not giving. God doesn’t care about the amount. God looks at what is left over. We have to become people of hospitality. We have to become people of generosity if we are going to continue in this thing called integrity. Let me tell you something. Those of you who think you are bulletproof and self-sufficient and prideful, like that, it can be gone. If you believe it can never happen to you, just see me after the service and I will give you a list of about ten people who I knew in Houston who were multi-millionaires who lost it all.
Generosity. Then hospitality. The Bible commands hospitality. It is not optional. Hospitality should generate from our generosity. I Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Here is a quick definition of hospitality. Hospitality is offering where you live, what you have and who you are to others. Again I say, it is not optional. You can’t clip out of this one. You have got to do what the Bible says. It is offering where you live: a trailer, an apartment, a track home, a custom home or a mansion. It is offering what you have: from soup to sushi. It is offering who you are: barefooted or wearing a designer dress or suit. The Bible says, offer yourself to others. It is so easy relationally to get involved in little cliques, isn’t it? It is comfortable that way. We come to church and it is so easy to hang out with the same people, talk about the same things. God says that it is great to have a core of friends but engage and explore new relationships. Offer hospitality. The Bible says that the early church met in a large group. Some of their church services had 70,000 people on the weekend. During the week, though, they met from house to house to house. Offer hospitality.
Deepen your reverence for God. Develop your generosity and hospitality. And finally, discipline yourself for eternal rewards. Nehemiah wasn’t worried about the here and now that much. Yeah, he was wealthy and had a lot of things. But he gave much away. He was thinking about standing on the stage in heaven with God’s gold medal around his neck. We are going to watch the Olympics soon. And we are going to see profile after profile of people who have sacrificed and disciplined themselves just to stand on that platform and hear the Star Spangled Banner. We will see the tears. We will see the emotion. It will be a riveting scene for many. Think about your eternal reward. God says that the way you handle leadership, the way you deal with integrity has a direct relationship to how you will be rewarded and the responsibility you will have in heaven. The Bible says that if we handle leadership well on earth, God will give us great responsibility and a greater leadership role in heaven. I like what Moses says. Hebrews 11:26, “Moses kept his eyes on the future reward.” Here is Moses who turned his back on the things we are trying to get, the three Ps of life; position, power and privilege. He turned his back on those to lead a bunch of Jews around the desert. Why? Because he kept his eyes on the eternal reward.
Look down at your outline for just a second. Focus on the word integrity if you would. Look at that word. This week as I was praying and preparing for this message I asked God to show me what integrity was all about. Just like that, the word grit leapt out of the word integrity. You can’t say integrity without saying grit. You can talk all day long about vision and leadership and this and that, but if you want to refuse to lose your unity, if you want to refuse to abuse your leadership, if you want to refuse to confuse your priorities, it takes grit. It takes perseverance. It takes commitment. It takes work. If we have integrity, God will give you and God will give me an honorable mention.