Challenge to the Class of 2012
It is now my honor and pleasure to challenge the Magnolia Heights graduating class of 2012.
It is a special class to me for obvious reasons, but not unlike my other 31 classes I have had the privilege of watching walk down the aisle to receive their high school diplomas. There are future doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, businessmen and women who sit before me tonight. But before you leave to start the next phase of your education I want to leave you with a few thoughts. I was listening to WCRV the other day on the way to a meeting in Jackson. Chuck Swindoll came on and began to talk about integrity.
In our nation there has been a falling away, a breakdown, and a compromise in integrity. Recent headlines have taught us that the boom of the 1990s was built on a foundation devoid of integrity and as a result we experienced the financial meltdown four years ago. But compromise isn't limited to CEOs who greedily sell out their employees or to pork-happy politicians who promise and give any and everything without regard to the cost or how it will be paid for - we also find a moral laxity in our homes. We are so busy we look the other way or take the easy way out. In doing that we cheat, lie, cut corners, and generally do whatever it takes to make sure we find the easiest and most beneficial way to solve whatever dilemma we face or hide behind the “that’s not my business” or “I don’t want to get involved.”
So tonight I thought I would share few of his thoughts and mine.
Last summer Rob and Elizabeth and other youth from our church went to Student Life camp. Each of them returned on fire to serve the Lord and shared with our church scripture from Micah 6:8. It was the same scripture that Swindoll shared on the radio:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
A few years back a poll identified some troubling findings. This was a scientific poll that guaranteed anonymity of the respondents. All they had to do was be truthful. The question asked was - What are you willing to do for $10,000,000? Two-thirds of Americans polled would agree to at least one, some to several of the following:
Would abandon their entire family (25%) 1 in 4
Would abandon their church (25%) 1 in 4
Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
Would give up their American citizenships (16%)
Would leave their spouses (16%)
Refuse to testify and let a murderer go free (10%)
Would murder a stranger (7%)
Would put their children up for adoption (3%)
What does that say about our country and nation?
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor about 100 years after Paul’s ministry, and philosopher, identified the following traits of a successful person:
1)Consciousness of an honest purpose in life.
Knowledge of what an honest life is
2)A just estimate of himself and everyone else.
An accurate self-assessment
4)Steady obedience to what he knows to be right.
Doing what’s right no matter the cost
Definition of discipline – Doing what you are supposed to do – when you’re supposed to do,the best you can do it, and do it that way every time
5)Indifference to what others may think or say.
Webster defines integrity as "an unimpaired condition." It means to be sound.
Integrity is completeness or soundness. You have integrity when you complete a job even though no one is looking. You have integrity when you keep your word even though no one checks up on you. You have integrity if you keep your promises. Integrity means the absence of duplicity and is the opposite of hypocrisy. If you are a person of integrity, you will do what you say. What you declare, you will do your best to be. Integrity also includes financial accountability, personal reliability, and private purity. A person with integrity does not manipulate others. He or she is not prone to arrogance or self-praise. Integrity even invites constructive and necessary criticism because it applauds accountability. It's sound. It's solid. It's complete.
Integrity is rock-like. It won't crack when it has to stand alone, and it won't crumble even when the pressure mounts. Integrity keeps one from fearing the white light of examination or resisting the exacting demands of close scrutiny. It’s transparent. It's honesty at all costs.
Integrity is having the guts to tell the truth, even if it may hurt to do so. Integrity is having the guts to be honest, even though cheating may bring about a better grade. Integrity is having the guts to quote sources rather than to plagiarize.
But there are some things integrity is not. It is not sinless perfection. A person with integrity does not live a life absolutely free of sin. No one does. But one with integrity quickly acknowledges his failures, doesn't hide the wrong and accepts the responsibility. In our senior leadership seminar this semester we read John Miller’s QBQ – The Question behind the Question. In his book Miller talks about the lack of personal accountability that has led to an epidemic of blaming others, complaining or lot in life, and procrastination.
All of us fail to hit this mark consistently. Like everyone else I fail – often multiple times per day or even hourly. I fall short of the mark. I know that neither I, nor you will ever be perfect – after all there was only one perfect person, but that does not mean that I should give up and quit trying. Robert Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.” Each time we fail there is usually a painful reminder of our short comings. It is there for a purpose – to remind us. We must be careful though, lest we become like calluses on our hands which start off as painful reminders that we should have worn gloves, but over time serve to protect our hands from pain. Losing our focus on integrity and doing what’s right can cause our conscious to become calloused as well and we gradually lose all sense of what’s right and wrong.
It is hard to think of any job in which the moral element is lacking. The skill of the dentist is wholly irrelevant if he is unprincipled and irresponsible. There is little, in that case, to keep him from extracting teeth unnecessarily, because the patient is usually in a helpless situation. It is easy to see the harm that can be done by an unprincipled lawyer or financial advisor. Indeed, such a man is far more dangerous if he is skilled than if he is not skilled.
Will you put wire in walls? Repair cars? Work with numbers? Sell clothes? Perhaps you may practice law or medicine. The important thing is not what work you do, but whether you do your work with integrity. Perhaps you will labor behind the scenes, and your only thanks is the inner satisfaction of a job done right. Do you cheat on your exams? Will you cheat on your mate? People do such things everyday and still call themselves Christians. No wonder the world is confused!
You want to shock the world? Have the guts to do what's right when no one is looking. It takes real guts to stand strong with integrity in a culture weakened by hypocrisy.
Swindoll says A life well lived honors the Lord and inspires others, but it also produces rewards for the one who lives it. He identifies six rewards he feels are significant enough to mention.
First, the sustained cultivation of exemplary character.
Day after day, year after year, the one who commits himself or herself to the pursuit of justice, kindness, and humility will most certainly develop strong character. I’ve heard that to create a habit just do something consistently for 30 days – like buckling your seat belt or not texting while driving. If you can conquer those in 30 days – what can you do in a lifetime?
Second, the continued relief of a clear conscience.
Who hasn’t tossed and turned, fretted and struggled through a night filled with feelings of guilt? The voice of our conscience is convincing and strong. It refuses to be silenced when we know that we have compromised where integrity said we should not. When we doggedly do what is right, generously model kindness, and remain intimate with God, our conscience stays free of any nagging emotional aches. A clear conscience provides relief, freedom, and joy.
Third, the personal delight of intimacy with the Almighty.
As author Kent Hughes stated, "A transparent soul is a haven for the Spirit of God.” God is still seeking those whose hearts are fully committed to him. One way we get to know someone is to walk a mile in his shoes. To do what the Lord expects of us is to honor his values and do as his Son did. In this way, we grow in our intimacy with him.
Fourth, the high privilege of being a mentor.
It is one thing to be a teacher and leader for others, but quite another to be a mentor—someone who has earned the right to become a trusted counselor, personal coach, and guide who plays a significant role in shaping another’s life. Heroes, as crucial as they are, generally live at a distance—may live far away – is a celebrity or even have died. But a mentor is someone who lives up close and personal, providing hands-on guidance, correction, and affirmation in face-to-face encounters. A life well lived allows us the opportunity to be a mentor.
Fifth, the crowning reward of finishing well.
As we grow older, one haunting thought that once lingered in the back of our minds begins to dominate all others. It is the fear of approaching the end of our lives beaten down, beached, and broken. In his 1925 poem "The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot expressed the fear well: "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” I cannot think of a more dreadful thought. Yet the possibility exists, even for one who has been actively and productively engaged throughout his or her entire adult life. Even for one as influential and spiritual as the apostle Paul, the thought of finishing his life "disqualified” was neither imaginary nor remote (1 Cor. 9:27). Finishing well was Paul’s lifelong goal. “I have finished the race…”
Sixth, a priceless, lingering legacy for those we love.
When we do what is right, love kindness, and walk in humility, the natural product will be a lingering legacy by which anybody would want to be remembered. Live well now and you will continue to live well in the memories of the people you value.
Finally, I’ll close with a story Swindoll told of a friend named Bob, who comes from a large, closely-knit Italian family. His father’s uncompromising integrity spread across each one of the children from their birth until his death, which came late in life. Bob has nothing but pleasant memories of being with his father, listening to his stories, watching him endure numerous trials, laughing and lingering around the supper table, and observing his tender, affectionate relationship with his wife of many decades. He was clearly the leader of their home—decisive, fair, kind, humble, joyful, and pure.
Without warning, Bob’s father died. Even though all the children were grown up and on their own, the jolt of his death was borderline unbearable. Their grief ran deep. Their hearts broke. After the funeral, it was necessary for all of them to deal with the practical matters of carrying on, which included those difficult tasks of disposing of the man’s clothing, wrapping up his financial affairs, and sifting through the remainder of his personal effects. Bob was chosen to handle that last responsibility. He would be the one to sit down and look through things that other eyes had never seen—not even Bob’s mother.
Bob was reluctant. Fear gripped him as he wondered what possible scandal or dishonor might turn up. Would he uncover some secret sin? Would he find evidence of moral compromise? Would the man’s computer reveal questionable sites he had privately viewed? Would there be a picture or love note from some mystery woman? Bob dreaded the thought of anything tarnishing the image of his father—his hero and mentor.
Though reluctant and fearful, Bob accepted the task. With cautious concern, he dug in. Hour after hour, all alone, he silently examined his deceased father’s personal belongings. He read journal entries, looked through dozens of photographs, examined financial records, thumbed through stacks of handwritten notes, unlocked private areas of his Internet activities, and read letters he had written and received. Meticulously and diligently, Bob looked through everything. To his great delight, he found nothing that was questionable or suspicious. Nothing. The man was as clean and innocent in his private life as he had been before his family and in the eyes of the public.
Will that be your legacy? Will you hear Matthew 25:23, “Well done good and faithful servant?”
That is my challenge for you and the Class of 2012.