Have you ever been to a fete? I am sure you have, but maybe you did not know it. A fete, a rarely used term anymore, is nothing more than an outdoor party, celebration, or festival, sometimes used to honor someone. It was a common term for fun events that I was very familiar with as a young boy in England in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
One particular fete I attended, probably when I was 10 years old or less, left a lasting impact on me. I have no recollection of the reason for the event, but I do remember there were many children there, and it was held at Major Vickers, a wealthy landowner’s estate. I remember towering trees, a beautifully manicured lawn, and large groupings of shrubbery throughout. Regular townsfolk rarely got to go into Major Vickers’ grounds, which had a huge ornate fence around it and whose only access was through a driveway entrance guarded by a beautiful gate. So, there we were playing and, I’m sure, eating when it came time for a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey contest. Oh, how excited I was. I’m sure the anticipation grew as I waited. I was one of the last ones to try. I walked up and had the blindfold placed on me, and I was asked if I could see. I said no. But I lied; I could see, albeit barely. But it was enough for me to pin the tail precisely on the spot. Kids were cheering, and adults clapped and fussed over me at the award ceremony. I couldn’t tell you what the prize was. I must have feigned happiness, but I knew I had cheated and felt terrible. That guilt grew as I went home. I always told my mum everything but couldn’t bring myself to tell her what I did. It would have broken her heart to know I had been dishonest. I didn’t ever want to make her sad. So, I must have masked my shame and played the role of the hero for the next week or so. I am sure I made that prize disappear as it brought me no joy, but it took years for me to come to grips with being a fraud. Fortunately, I think I was lucky to win a far more valuable prize, and that was the realization that being honest and doing things the right way is far more rewarding than gaining things deceitfully. It was an early life lesson on integrity, the topic of my previous testimony, that will be concluded with this edition of Glory Magazine.
To recap from last time, I mentioned that integrity is a precious commodity; it requires doing the right thing in all circumstances. It is described as “doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” As a young boy, I could cheat and win a contest as only I knew I could see the donkey. Pleasing my mum was important to me as a young boy. I couldn’t let her down by telling the truth. No one was watching, only me. It turns out I was wrong. This latter description doesn’t work well for Christians, as God is always watching. Previously, I wrote that “integrity is the very fabric of being a Christian.” You are no longer living per what you think or what society tells you is right or wrong. There is only one measure: what God expects of you. This is spiritual integrity, the bedrock of being a Christian. I then shared five intertwined Godly areas that, for me, capture the essence of spiritual integrity as I seek to please God. I call them the 5G’s: God, Grace, Generosity, Gentleness, and Glory.
In the previous edition, I elaborated on God and Grace. Succinctly, integrity for Christians is about living by His Word and His commands no matter the situation. It’s called obedience, hear the word, do the word. Jesus told us that for us to show our love for Him, we need to keep His commands. Billy Graham calls this living by God’s truths, not by what society or current culture tells you. So, truthfulness began and continues for me with learning God’s truths and how to apply them to my daily life.
Is living a life of obedience or spiritual integrity easy? In today’s world, we face all sorts of cultural challenges, worries, temptations, hurts, fears, frustrations, etc., all of which bring opportunities to compromise ourselves. Our once cherished freedom and forms of religion are under attack to the worry of many believers. On Sundays, churches lock their doors during services to keep evil out, i.e., for safety reasons. No, doing the right thing is not always easy, and I don’t think it was ever meant to be. Jesus telling us to take up our cross and follow Him suggests challenging times ahead. He faced Satan’s temptations directly and never wavered; Daniel faced a myriad of compromising situations, even the threat of death, yet he stayed rock solid; and the Apostle Paul stood firm in his faith while enduring a lifetime of brutality following his conversion. Whether rough waters or smooth sailing, obedience is meant to be pursued, and you do that by choosing a life of integrity based on God’s truths.
We are blessed that God also knew it wouldn’t be easy. He knew we would need His help. When we are saved, He pours His Grace upon us and sends His Holy Spirit to help us. I previously wrote, “I believe that an obedient life is impossible without God’s Grace.” It was His Grace that equipped me to live uprightly. The following scripture applies to us as it did centuries ago, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV). When I was saved, I immediately realized that something happened to me. I didn’t understand it, nor could I explain it. I began to see things differently; my old ways, desires, and activities no longer seemed important. Before being saved, I can say with certainty that God’s priorities were not mine. Getting saved reversed what was most important to me. It led me to start living a life that hopefully pleases God and is less about me. Little did I realize at the time that His grace was becoming more sufficient within me, allowing me to grow closer to Him. Without His Grace, spiritual integrity would be impossible for me.
In summary, God and Grace are the first two G’s of my understanding of spiritual integrity. They are the most important. The other three flow from it. God’s truths are out there for all. They are the standards against which real integrity is measured. He offers salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. If you accept His invitation, He will pour His Grace of salvation on you and equip you to live obediently. That brings us to the remaining 3 G’s, Generosity, Gentleness, and Glory, which, to me, capture how I should live my life of loving and serving God. They are what guide me in my walk with Him.
“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all ‘grace’ abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”2 Corinthians: 6-8 (NKJV)
What a powerful piece of scripture worthy of rereading and meditating upon!
Generosity, what a lovely word, what a loving word, what a Godly word! I didn’t always think of it that way, as I thought it was associated with the church or someone wanting my money. Looking back, although not miserly, at least in my own eyes, I tended to be very close-fisted when it came to people wanting or needing something from me, especially money. Early on, if I wanted or needed something, I knew I had to work for it. Very few people gave me anything. From the seventh grade, I worked continuously, often at the bowling alley from 6–11 p.m. on weekdays. It was hard work, and we didn’t get breaks. Sadly, I missed out on most regular kids’ activities. I worked for three years after high school to earn enough money to go to college and worked throughout. I supplemented my college finances with a national defense student loan which I paid off every penny. I did it the old-fashioned way; I earned it, making me very frugal with my money. Other than a dollar in the Sunday offering plate, that was the extent of my monetary generosity. Getting married changed that.
Liva said we had to tithe 10 percent. Yikes, that much! Of course, I bit my tongue and went along begrudgingly. Decades later, when I had retired from the Air Force and worked for a company in the D.C. area, I received a nice Christmas bonus. When I took it home, Liva was happy and immediately said 10 percent. I said, why? It’s not wages; it’s a bonus. Grumble, grumble, but 10 percent it was. I now thank God I was so blessed to have married someone who understood “doing the right thing all the time.” We have been blessed immeasurably for it.
I look at generosity from a much larger perspective since being saved. It is much more than money. It is a way to live a life that allows me to realize my spiritual integrity not for obedience’s sake but to please Him and to bring Him glory. I see it as a way of expressing gratitude to God for the abundant grace He has poured out on me. Paul urged the Corinthians “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (See 2 Corinthians 6:1-2). God was so gracious in sending His Son to die for the forgiveness of our sins, to pour out His grace and mercy so abundantly, to send us His Holy Spirit to help us, to provide angels to watch over us, to provide each of us unique gifts to serve Him and to allow us to spend eternity with Him. We shouldn’t be miserly about anything: we must be willing to share our abundance with others. Developing a spirit of generosity has allowed me to focus on what matters most, loving God and loving others. This process has immeasurably enriched me, just as Jesus said in Luke 6:37-38 (NLT), “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Oh, how it has been poured into our lives. He is a promise keeper.
A spirit of generosity is manifested in so many ways. One of the first ways I noticed how grace changed me was realizing that God had forgiven me for everything, and I needed to forgive others. I had heard a lot of forgiveness sermons over the years, and if they happened to go in one ear, they quickly went out the other. I had my hurts, grudges, and dislikes and wore them secretly as badges of honor. As a friend once said jokingly, “Can’t I hang on to being mad a little longer.” It seemed fair to me; how can you get it even if it still doesn’t bother you? But the answer is no, forget about it, let it go, resolve it. Why? Because as it is written in Ephesians 4:31-31 (MSG), we should “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” I always thought forgiving others, especially some, would be difficult. But as the scripture goes, “all things are possible with God.” It is refreshing to have that weight of bitterness removed from my shoulders. Only God’s grace made it possible for me to restore broken relationships.
There are so many ways that a spirit of generosity allows you to please God and bless you in return. Things like speaking graciously to others, treating them with respect and thoughtfulness, being an encourager, building people up, and being there when needed. These kindnesses should be an active part of every Christian’s life. They apply to the “doing unto others as you would have done unto yourself.” God expects us to be extremely generous in being kind: “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you” (1 Thessalonians 5 3:12 NKJV). One of the joys of my life is trying to find ways to pass God’s grace onto others. I do that by actively sharing my spirit of generosity, which comes from God. It allows me to try to do the right thing all the time.
The past few months have been extremely difficult for me and my wife. We lost my dear niece, Liz, to cancer a few weeks ago. She battled it valiantly for well over a decade. It didn’t define her; her spirit of generosity did, and it shone brightly. No disruption to her life was big enough to keep Liz from being there when needed. A young woman with two teenagers was at Liz’s celebration of life. Liva spoke to the mother, who said, “Liz came into my life at the moment I needed someone. I couldn’t have made it without her.” That was ten-plus years ago when the children’s grandfather passed away unexpectedly. He was everything to his daughter-in-law and grandchildren. The father had been out of the kids’ lives for quite some time and had passed away earlier. The grandfather loved his grandkids and their mom and became a surrogate father to all three. His sudden death devastated the young family; they were lost, per the mom. Liz had been a good friend of the grandfather and was aware of the challenges he faced caring for his loved ones, and she helped out when needed. Liz did not hesitate to fill the void when the grandfather passed away, just as she had done many times before in her life. Liz looked out for them for the next several years as if she were their mother/grandmother. She often had them in her home for dinner and Christmas and made sure to attend all the family’s important events. Liz bought them clothes and other things they needed. She took them to the movies and many other places. She made sure they had everything they needed, especially love. That wasn’t a singular event. Liz did it over and over for family and friends during her lifetime. She embodied the spirit of generosity. She lived Galatians 6:2 (NRSVA) more than anyone I ever knew: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” And oh, how Liz loved God. She gave Him all the praise and glory and often said, “I would be nothing without God.” What a testimony!
Coupled with Generosity is the 4th G, Gentleness. These go hand-in-hand to maximize the impact of your spiritual integrity. For most of my life, if you asked me if gentleness was a desirable trait. I would not have ranked it very high on the desirable priority list. I grew up in a world where an independent, tough John Wayne attitude prevailed, with so much emphasis on personal achievement and success. It was a world of ‘get-er done at all costs’ focus and with a ‘suck it up buttercup’ mentality. Gentleness, humility, and soft-spokenness were considered to be weaknesses. However, once in a while, I would run across someone different, someone who was not only extraordinarily confident and competent but possessed a great strength of character.
Brigadier General John Russell was such a man. He was the Tactical Air Command Inspector General (IG) when I was on the IG team from 1979 to 1982. He replaced a take-no-prisoners, self-serving type of general, which was all about his next promotion. General Russell was tough. You needed to have your act together when you sat down to review your report on the inspection you had conducted. He was a man of a thousand questions; if you didn’t have the answer, you had to go and get it. He did it tactfully and almost from a teaching perspective, never from an angry, get-it-right attitude. He made me a better inspector and a better officer. He was clearly a man of God. I hadn’t encountered many fighter pilots who demonstrated their faith as he did. He often added Godspeed at the end when he wrote you a note. I was so impressed with his strength of faith that I adopted Godspeed for myself.
People possessing such Godly character stand out. I think God wants it that way because it reflects those with a heart filled with the Holy Spirit: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6 NKJV). When we are saved, we start a journey to become Christ-like. To the disappointment of the Jews, Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they were hoping for: the ultimate warrior who would establish a new kingdom to rule the earth by annihilating their enemies. Instead of bitterness, harshness, and revenge, he was full of gentility: soft-spoken, forgiving, merciful, compassionate, kind, tender, and loving. He came teaching new commandments to love God with all we have and love our neighbors as ourselves, healing the sick and offering peace and salvation. The Jews couldn’t abide such heresy and were so fearful of Him that they crucified Him, per Jesus, not knowing what they did.
I realized the importance of gentleness early in my faith journey through my scripture, Bible study, and devotional reading. To grow and become Christ-like, modeling His behaviors and traits had to be my goal. To change, I’ve learned that you must think about what you think. Thinking about the past, the world, current events, or things I once liked to do gets me no place, only stuck looking backward. Good works come from thinking about good things, while bad behaviors or actions come from pondering on such things. Jesus told us, “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you” (Matthew 15:18 NIV). I was lucky when I was saved. I was around many friends who exhibited Godly traits. You can learn a lot by observing and listening. You can’t force gentleness; it has to be nurtured within you. Learning to speak more generously, treat others with thoughtfulness, encourage and build others up, and pass along the abundance of grace God has given me are behaviors I had to learn and develop. I am still a work in progress, but with God’s guidance, that work will continue. I’ve learned that if you are not walking the talk (God’s truths), you are just a fake pleasing no one, not even yourself. Anyone can talk the talk; however, walking gently and treating others like Jesus would both take conscious effort sprinkled with God’s grace.
That brings me to the final and 5th G, Glory. Jesus tells us to let our “light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16. NKJV). Peter further reminds us we are to be faithful stewards of God’s grace by using the unique gifts we’ve been given to serve Him and others for the sole purpose “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11b NIV).
I once was a competitor. I competed to win not only in sports but in life in general. That independent John Wayne syndrome I mentioned earlier drove me to personal achievement and success. Since being saved, I have focused on matters important to God, serving Him and others to glorify Him. Too often, I receive too much praise, and I try to find ways to deflect that. Pleasing, honoring, and glorifying God drives me now, and I try to follow the path He illuminates for me. I do find great joy in trying to reveal God’s Glory. I have and will continue to anchor my faith in God’s truths and share the Grace he pours upon me by being very Generous and Gentle in the process, all to bring Him Glory. Seventy-plus years ago, a little boy could have let his mother down when he cheated. Fortunately, his mum never knew as he wasn’t caught. Fast forward decades later, an old man has seen the light and is now trying not to disappoint God by compromising his integrity. Thankfully, my 5G’s are serving me well in that quest.
If you are concerned about your spiritual integrity or you cannot say like the Psalmist, “I treasure His word in my heart so that I may not sin against Him” (Psalm 119:11 CSB), and would like to learn more, seek out a pastor or a friend with strong faith, you will never regret it. Until next time, Godspeed!
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