God blesses a heart of integrity

compass 06Thursday would have been the ninety-ninth birthday of Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer, a man worth remembering on this All Saints Sunday. A war correspondent during World War II and colleague of the great Edward R. Murrow, you probably know him, if you know him at all, as Fred Friendly. A former president of CBS News, Friendly essentially invented the form of the news documentary for television and over the course of his career won ten Peabody Awards, the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for broadcasting. But that’s not why I remember him today.

On this All Saints Sunday, I remember Fred Friendly for his integrity. In the 1950s, when the nation was in the grip of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his hysterical fear of communism, Friendly worked with Ed Murrow to produce the exposé on McCarthy and the Red Scare that helped bring the senator down and end that national darkness. Friendly took the risk of confronting fear and acting on his values, even though it might have cost him dearly.

Later, Friendly butted heads with the executives of his own network over their commitment to commercial interests over hard news. His forthright criticism of the network’s priorities caused him to leave CBS in 1966 when coverage of a hearing on Vietnam was scrapped in place of a rerun of I Love Lucy. His colleague Dan Rather remembered him as “a fierce and mighty warrior for the best principles in journalism, for his friends, and for his country. He never gave up, he never gave in; he never backed down, and he never backed up.” He was a man of integrity.

You probably won’t find Fred Friendly in any list of saints. But I think he embodied some of the best of what makes a saint, one of the qualities Jesus singled out as being specially blessed by God. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus said (Matt. 5:8).

Blessed are those who live with single-minded sincerity; those who live free of mixed motives and conflicted priorities; those who live with undivided loyalty. When I hear “integrity,” other words come to mind, words like “whole,” “complete,” “authentic,” “genuine.” For people who live with integrity, the clouds will be scattered, the veil lifted, and they will see God face to face. They will be able to sing in the words of the old hymn, “Nothing between [my soul and my Savior]; habits of life, though harmless they seem, must not my heart from him ever sever; he is my all, there’s nothing between” (Charles Albert Tindley, “Nothing Between,” ca. 1906).

I need people like Fred Friendly as much as I need the saints of the church to remind me what a life of integrity looks like, and what it costs, and what it gains. And a life of integrity gains a lot. For example, it gains confidence. “People with integrity have firm footing,” Proverbs tells us, “but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall” (Prov. 10:9 NLT). Live with integrity, and you stand on solid ground in life. You “will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (Ps. 46:2). Even if the life you’ve known falls apart.

Do you want that kind of security when nothing in the world appears to be secure? Live with integrity. Do you want stability in life when nothing in the world seems to offer firm footing? Live with integrity. Do you want a chance of having your vision cleared so you can pierce the darkness of life with a trust in its outcome? Live with integrity. But how do you do that? How do you make your way in this world and live with integrity? Here, pulled from scripture, are a few ways to do it.

First: Keep your promises. If you say you’ll do something, do it; if you say you’ll be there, be there; if you say you’ll help, help. If you make sacred vows to support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and (now) your witness, then support the church with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Who can enter the presence of God, the psalmist asked? “Those who keep their promises even when it hurts” (Ps. 15:4 NLT). If you want the blessing that comes from living a life of integrity, keep your promises, even if it’s inconvenient, even when it hurts.

Second: Pay your bills. The Bible says over and over again that the way you use your money is a test of your integrity. Do you spend more money than you make? That’s a lack of integrity. Do you get into debt for things you can’t pay off? That’s lack of integrity. Do you spend so much on yourself that you can’t afford your obligation to share your resources with the poor? That’s lack of integrity. “The wicked borrow and never repay,” the psalmist wrote, “but the godly are generous givers” (Ps. 37:21). If you want the blessing that comes from living a life of integrity, pay your bills, and give as Christ commands.

Third: Don’t gossip. Don’t say one thing to one person and something different to another. Don’t treat someone with respect to their face and undercut them behind their back. Don’t even listen to such talk. And if you listen to something in confidence, maintain the confidence. “A gadabout gossip can’t be trusted with a secret,” Proverbs says, “but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence” (Prov. 11:13 The Message). If you want the blessing that comes from living a life of integrity, don’t gossip.

Four: Tithe faithfully. Dedicate ten percent of your income to the work of God, and stop cheating God. When did you cheat God? The prophet Malachi raised the question and heard God answer, “You have cheated me of tithes and offerings due to me. Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams” (Mal. 3:8-10 NLT, The Message).

A few of our members are giving faithfully and generously; most are not. Our stewardship team reports that the average level of giving among our members is about 1.2%. Some are giving significantly more, and that means many are giving far less than one percent. If every member were tithing, giving ten percent of your income, we could be spending about $17-million annually on ministries of mercy, justice, and transformation. If you want the blessing that comes from living a life of integrity, stop cheating God and start tithing faithfully.

Five: Do your best at work. Do you work as if you were working for God? Do you do that even if your supervisor is despicable? “Work hard,” St. Paul wrote, “but not just to please your [supervisors] when they are watching. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Eph. 6:6-7 NLT). As a Christian, your boss isn’t your boss. Your true boss is God. Whatever you do, do it for God, who sees everything. How you work is a test of integrity. If you want the blessing that comes from living a life of integrity, do your best at work.

And six: Be real with others. Don’t fake it; don’t pretend; don’t wear a mask and try to be someone you’re not. Don’t act one way in church and another way at work and another way in town when you think no one is watching. “We refuse to wear masks and play games,” St. Paul wrote of Christians. “We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s word to suit ourselves. Rather we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display” (2 Cor. 4:2 The Message). If you want the blessing that comes from living a life of integrity, be real with others.

“How can a young person stay pure?” the psalmist asked. How can one live with integrity? “By obeying [God’s] word and following its rules” (Ps. 119:9 NLT); by carefully reading and following the map of life that’s laid out in scripture. You’ve got to give quality time every day to immersing yourself in scripture. “Let the words of Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:16-17).

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