One of the highlights of late night television over the past 30 years has been the regular segments on Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show with David Letterman called The Top Ten List. Who could forget the infamous “Top 10 Christmas Tips from General Electric” where G.E. humorously lets you know that if “one light bulb in your house goes out, replace them all,” or the “Top 10 Things never before said on The Sopranos.” Each night, host David Letterman (or a special guest) would present a list of ten items built around a particular theme. In honor of The Top Ten List, and our core value of integrity at Renovate Church, here are my personal top ten tests of integrity with a little humor added (in reverse order of course):
10. The keeping your word even when it hurts test also called the “pay the hotel bill from halfway around the world rule.” Psalm 15 is a short psalm that talks about the character of those who dwell and walk with God. Verse 4 is particularly challenging, “He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.” I got to go through this particular test of integrity one time on a short-term mission trip to Zimbabwe. I was involved in leading a large team to do outreach in the capital city of Harare and in their second largest city Bulawayo. While we were in Bulawayo we stayed at a nice hotel right outside the city. All week long we had many great conversations with the owner of the hotel who himself was not a Christian. He was very intrigued with why a group of Americans would spend their time and money to come all the way to the interior of Africa. Well, when it came time to check out the last day I went to pay for all of our team’s rooms and pulled out my credit card. At that time he apologized and let me
know that he only took cash. We were running late and getting that amount of cash in Zimbabwe was very complicated so I didn’t know what to do. Then he said something that shocked me. He said, “you are a Christian and a God-fearing person and I trust that you will do the right thing. When you get back to the United States just wire me the money you owe me.” What?!? Are you kidding me?!? I honestly couldn’t believe he was willing to do this. When I got back to the U.S. and was sitting in my office going through all my receipts, I have to admit the thought crossed my mind to just blow it off. “Hey, I’m probably never going back to Zimbabwe again anyway and even if I did I would almost certainly not run into this gentleman. Furthermore, it was going to be an inconvenience to arrange all the details to wire the money and I was really tired.” Lastly, it was over $3,000 that I owed him. But then I thought, “I need to do the right thing period, but I especially need to do the right thing after spending an entire week
telling this guy about Jesus.” You think?!
9. The doing the right thing with the smallest things test also called the “don’t rip off your employer rule.” Luke 16:10 captures this biblical truth well, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” We all get to live this one out on a regular basis I’m sure, but for me it was in the seemingly most insignificant of ways. While working at Traders Point Christian Church we had a metered mail machine in our office to be used for church mail. Well, several times out of convenience I used the machine for personal mail. The question then became was I going to pay for the postage? Once again, it seemed like such a small thing that no one would really care about but what if everybody on staff used the machine for their personal mail? Writing those $1.76 checks were a bigger test of character than you could imagine. Funny isn’t it that we would think of compromising for the price of a candy bar.
8. The asking for forgiveness for your actions test even when you feel justified also named the “call the person and apologize when you act like a jerk rule.” This was a tough test. When we were living in Austin the first time we were having a sport court put into our backyard and it was not going as planned. Surprise. Anyway, during one of my conversations with their representative I became pretty accusatory toward them. Honestly, I felt pretty justified by my actions but then I felt that I had grieved the Holy Spirit with my actions. I wrestled with it for about 24 hours and then called the gentleman back to apologize for my actions. His answer stunned me. “This is the first time in all my years of doing business that anyone has ever called me and apologized.” He was actually quite emotional which led to a great conversation and on-going relationship.
7. The integrity with what doesn’t belong to you test also called the “dude, just give the money back rule.” One time I was walking through the Columbus, Ohio, airport getting ready to go through security on my way to the gate. As I walked along I saw a wad of money laying on the floor. I picked it up and counted out close to $600 in differing bills. Once again, the temptation was to just put the money in my pocket and praise the Lord for my good fortune. Hey, you can do a lot with $600. But then I thought, “man, if I lost $600 I would want someone to try and get it back to me.” I took it up to a ticket counter and within two minutes a lady came frantically walking by searching the floor. I asked her if she had lost something and she said, “yes, I’ve lost my money clip with close to $600 in it.” She went on to describe the clip perfectly and I pointed her to the ticket counter where she was reunited with her cash.
6. The don’t exaggerate or embellish facts test also called the “were there really a thousand people at your meeting rule.” Isn’t it easy to embellish the truth a little bit? To make yourself look better? To brag? I know it is for me. This can be especially true in the church world where you are always tempted to exaggerate the impact you are making. As one friend told me, “If churches and evangelists were really telling the truth about how many people have given their lives to Christ through their ministry or attend their church the whole world would be Christian two times over.”
5. The integrity in your actions when no one is around and most likely would never find out test also identified as the “there’s always someone watching rule.” This became real to me a few years ago when I was flying back through Amsterdam on my way back from a conference in South Africa. Due to the nature of the trip and the rest of our team’s itineraries I had to fly back by myself. As I walked through the airport and saw a lot of compromising literature I thought, “if I went in there and looked at this
stuff no one would probably ever know.” The truth is I would know and God would know and decisions do have impact on us. Galatians 5:1 says it so well, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
4. The integrity despite peer pressure test aptly named the “who are you trying to please rule.” Will we make the right decision when it could cost us “cool points” with our friends or peer group? This was one of the biggest challenges I faced while playing professional basketball. I had just been picked up by a very successful team and the second night I was with them the team decided to bring in some exotic dancers to the hotel (sorry, but I don’t know any other way to put it). I had a very difficult decision to make. I was the new guy on the team and definitely didn’t want to make any waves. Should I just sit there and endure everything or should I get up and leave? I decided to get up and leave and as difficult as it was to walk the proverbial “green mile” I don’t ever regret it. Scripture says that Joseph ran away from Potiphar’s wife when confronted with temptation (Genesis 39:12). He was more concerned with pleasing God than himself.
3. The have integrity with your words by not criticizing or gossiping test also called the “dude, seriously, would you just shut up rule.” Admittedly, this is a very tough one for most of us. Proverbs 21:23 says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten in trouble with this one and how many times the Holy Spirit has nudged me in this area. There’s a reason that James 3: 5-6 states, ‘So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life.”
2. The sexual purity and marital faithfulness test also called the “do you really want to ruin your life or ‘Fatal Attraction’ rule.” This test of integrity came early and often during my time in professional basketball. For those of you unfamiliar with late 80’s blockbuster movies there is one thriller that stands out in my mind above all the rest starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas. The movie was called Fatal Attraction and told the story of an up and coming New York lawyer named Dan Gallagher who, despite being happily married, has an affair with a book editor named Alex (Close’s character). The ensuing pain, suffering, heartache, and loss that comes to Dan and his family is hard to watch. Still to this day when I’m flipping through the channels and see this movie on I stop and yell at the television screen. “Don’t do it Dan, don’t do it. Don’t share the umbrella. No! Don’t go to dinner. Walk away, it’s not going to be worth it!” Unfortunately, every time he still goes down that road despite all my yelling. In the same way the apostle Paul shouts out to us from Romans 6: 15-16 where he says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
1. The don’t be ashamed of the gospel test also called the “just let them know rule.” I had to face this test early in my Christian journey. It was the summer of 1991 and I had made a commitment to Jesus Christ just a few months after the conclusion
of my rookie year. As I reported back to the team for the next season one of the beat reporters for the Houston Post asked to sit down with me and do an interview. The first question out of his mouth was, “did anything new and interesting happen to you this summer?” Honestly, I sat there for about thirty seconds contemplating whether or not to say anything. Truly, we don’t always have to say something about our Christian faith. There’s nothing worse than seeing an athlete force his faith awkwardly into interviews and conversations when the question was about why the other team outrebounded you that night. But as I sat there I kept getting the sense that I was supposed to share about what God had done in my life. The verse in II Timothy 1:8 was ringing in my ears, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” I finally looked back at the writer and said, “Yes, actually a lot has happened. I gave my life to Jesus Christ this summer.” That statement then led to a lot of other questions and an article on the front
page of the Post sports section titled “Born-again Jamerson Ready for New Season.” I have to admit I had conflicting emotions that day. Aligning with Jesus on one hand was not a hard decision. I truly believed he was who he said he was and he was worthy to
be followed. I was thankful for what he had done for me on the cross. I was humbled by his love and grace and mercy. But aligning with Jesus was also hard on my flesh and pride and not wanting to be “that guy.” Oh, he’s the religious guy (disdain and sarcasm thick). It was if God, in his sovereignty, allowed me right from the beginning to not hide my faith. I remember thinking that morning as I read the sports page in Le Peep restaurant, “Man, it feels like everyone is looking at me, and two, there’s no going back from this!” Any thoughts I had about staying quiet or having one foot in the world and one foot with Jesus were shot that day. Yep, that kind of happens when four million people hear you say you are following Jesus. Actually, I’m glad it happened this way. I’m glad I settled the “I’m with Jesus” issue way at the beginning. Well, there they are, my top 10 personal tests of integrity. I hope this list has made you laugh a little, made you think a little, and reinforced in your heart a commitment to living a life of integrity. As we learned last week, “Success will come and go, but integrity is forever.”
Dave and April