Living a Life of Integrity

by Bill Rudge

Every day brings opportunities to cheat, lie and exaggerate. We live in a society where lying and deceit are rampant and considered by many to be normal and acceptable. But are they beneficial or detrimental?

Before becoming a Christian, I had been a con artist, liar, manipulator and thief. I had stolen and robbed and cheated many people. After giving my life to Christ there were so many things that needed to change – and the God of the Bible, through His Word and Spirit, began to transform my life.

Deception Breeds Deception

One week after giving my life to Jesus Christ, Karen and I decided to run away to West Virginia to get married. I was 18 and she was 17. Once the clerk at the courthouse verified our ages, she told us we needed to get blood tests and to get parental consent as well since we were underage. After getting our blood tests in West Virginia, we went back to Pennsylvania where we filled out the marriage application form. The notary, who was a neighbor of mine, said we needed to have at least one of each of our parents sign in his presence. Knowing our parents would never sign, I deceived the notary by saying that my mom was very sick at home in bed and unable to come to sign and that Karen’s mother was also unable to do so. We forged our mothers’ signatures and took the form back to the notary to be notarized.

After forging the signatures, we thought that was the end of it, but we were wrong. As the Scriptures illustrate through the lives of such important biblical figures as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, deceit leads to deceit:

• Abraham deceived the Pharaoh in Egypt, and later King Abimelech, by claiming his beautiful wife Sarah was merely his sister (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18).

• Abraham’s son Isaac did the same thing by saying his wife Rebekah was his sister (Genesis 26:7-11).

• Isaac’s son Jacob, coached by his mother Rebekah, deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau (Genesis 27:1-29).

On and on, through the generations, deceit and dishonesty continued.

• Jacob was deceived by his Uncle Laban who substituted Leah, his oldest daughter, for Rachel (the one Jacob loved) after he had worked seven years for her (Genesis 29:13-30).

• Jacob’s sons deceived him by taking their brother Joseph’s multicolored robe, dipping it in goat’s blood and showing it to their father, letting him think Joseph was killed by a wild animal. In fact, they sold him as a slave into Egypt (Genesis 37:21-36).

• For many years they let their father Jacob be deceived, until Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt and saved his family from starvation.

But back to our story: When Karen and I returned to West Virginia with the appropriate paperwork, we were informed by the courthouse clerk that we needed both sets of parents’ signatures. So we lied and told her our parents were at a racetrack just down the road and we would have them sign. We forged the signatures and returned the signed document to the clerk who said, “Okay, you can get married now.”

Learning Integrity

So what happened to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Scripture informs us that God began to work in their hearts to such a degree that they are presented in Hebrews chapter 11 as heroes of the faith!

• Abraham grew so much in faith that he was willing to offer his son on the altar as a sacrifice before God.

• Jacob was humbled by God; he wrestled with an angel who touched his hip and caused him to walk with a limp the rest of his life, showing us that God will not let anyone get away with deceit and a lack of integrity.

• Joseph’s brothers were changed men when he met them years later in Egypt, and they became heads of the tribes of Israel.

Years passed before Karen and I realized that the minister who married us never sent us a copy of our marriage license. We wondered whether he even recorded it at the courthouse, and even if our marriage was legal since we forged the signatures. Not certain of the name of the city we were married in, and not wanting the hassle of tracking everything down, we forgot about it.

While working on my records for an upcoming book entitled The Impossible, I decided to get a copy of our marriage certificate – if one existed. By doing some research into our old scrapbooks I discovered we were married in New Cumberland, West Virginia. I talked on the phone to the Hancock County clerk and told her I was compiling information for an upcoming article and book. She was most cooperative and even went to the courthouse basement to dig out the records from 1971. She graciously sent us a copy of our marriage certificate.

I told her that when we ran away to get married, I was a brand-new Christian and we had forged our parents’ signatures. She replied that regardless of that, the marriage was still legally binding, and many people had often lied about their ages and later wanted to change the records for Social Security reasons, etc.

She was happy to hear that we got our start in West Virginia and were still married, and was excited to hear how God had worked in our lives and ministry. In appreciation for her help I sent her a few of the books and pamphlets I had written.

Like our forefathers in the faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God has brought us a long way. We suffered many consequences and challenges because of our youthful deceit, but God takes each of us where we are and works in us by the power of His Holy Spirit to transform our lives.

Stolen Items

Before giving my life to Christ, I had stolen hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise. A Christian for only a few months, God’s Spirit began to deal with me, and I began to return things to the different stores and places from which I had stolen them. At first I took back the things I liked the least: the rock albums, the clothes, the jewelry and the colognes. Then after a few more weeks, God’s Spirit dealt with me even more strongly, and I looked for more things I had stolen. I returned a billy club, bayonet and other weapons. Finally, a few weeks later, God’s Spirit came heavily upon me to get rid of everything. I returned the weights, the remaining clothes, my favorite speed bag and other things I knew I could never afford, but I had to obey.

As new teenage Christians, Karen and I even took money to some of the stores where we could not return the items, because they were ruined or lost. The store clerks were bewildered. I told them, “Listen, I stole things before I was a Christian. Now I am a believer in Jesus Christ. Please take the money.” They thought we were crazy, but before my Lord, I wanted to maintain my integrity.

$5 Becomes $1,800

A couple years ago, our water distiller no longer worked but the 1-gallon plastic water collector was still like new. Rather than discarding it, Karen decided to sell it on E-bay for a minimal cost that would at least cover the postage to mail it to the buyer. She always encloses one of my books as an additional gift and as a spiritual inspiration.

Karen received a response from a man who wanted to buy it at a lower price but said she couldn’t because the price she was asking barely covered the postage. The man then paid the asking price. When Karen received the payment, she realized that a shipping fee had been added to the amount he paid. Realizing that it was not free shipping for the buyer as she had thought, she refunded the $5.00 shipping fee to him with a brief note of explanation. He thanked her for her honesty, and within hours, he went to our website and donated $1,800 online to the ministry. What an unexpected blessing that helped at a crucial time! God is always faithful and uses our longtime ministry friends as well as new friends – some whom we have never even met.

All in a Decimal

Another of the many examples I could cite occurred when Karen received an order for two of my booklets from an ad in a magazine. However, she noticed the enclosed money order was for $250 instead of $2.50 (the cost for postage). With the volume of mail Karen has to deal with, she could have easily deposited it, not taking the time to check it out, thinking that maybe this person wanted to give an additional contribution as many do. However, she felt it was a mistake. She notified our local post office, who then contacted the Florida post office which issued the money order. The clerk at that post office greatly appreciated our honesty because she would have had to pay the difference of $247.50 out of her pocket.

Gimmickry and the Gospel

Honesty and integrity are obviously lacking in much of the secular world. Sad to say, even in many churches and ministries today, financial scandals, fraudulent fundraising and merchandising the Gospel are rampant. Some use manipulation to control followers, coercion to obtain funds or gimmicks to generate growth and excitement. Others charge exorbitant fees for their services and resources.

How far removed we are from Jesus’ words to His twelve disciples of, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Choosing to operate on this biblical principle of “freely giving” I do not charge for speaking engagements, books, tracts, audio messages, the obstacle course, defense clinics, school assemblies or other services and resources our ministry provides. One of the points in my prayer and fasting list reminds me: I own no possessions, for all I have is Yours. I realize that God is my Source – I do not own a house or vehicle – and have little retirement since I gave most away and waived out of Social Security. Nevertheless, I persevere in faith knowing that He has met my needs thus far and will continue to do so as long as I continue to honor and obey Him.

Some pastors and ministry leaders who misuse funds enrich themselves with great material wealth from those who have given sacrificially. Some suggest that donors give multiple tithes or even borrow money to donate to them! Religious shysters sometimes use “anointed” artifacts or promise healings and special blessings to those who give generous donations. In contrast to this deceitful gimmickry and blatant merchandising of the Gospel today, the Apostle Paul stated:

Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:17).

Ponder on, and be inspired by, Paul’s last words to the elders of Ephesus:

You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:18, 33-35).

Samuel was a person of integrity all the days of his life. Before his death he asked the people of Israel to evaluate his life before the LORD:

I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right. “You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” Samuel said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and also His anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” “He is witness,” they said (1 Samuel 12:2-5).

Despite varied opportunities to obtain temporal material gain through taking advantage of people or circumstances, believers and Christian leaders must walk before the Lord and the world in integrity. Financial scandals will cease in the body of Christ if believers and Christian leaders really believe God’s Word:

[W]ait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Once you make a heart commitment to walk upright before the Lord, a life of integrity will become as natural as breathing.

Not For Sale

Sometimes we cannot defend ourselves, or what we appear to do, we must just handle ourselves with integrity until He vindicates us. This has happened to me several times. For example, I began to feel the Lord would have us sell the ministry center (mini-gym, all-purpose room, reception area, several offices, prayer room, radio studio, media room, fitness room and half of the property we used for recreation and the obstacle course) in order to have additional funds for expansion of the ministry and to print tens of thousands more books to meet increasing requests for free copies of my books and audio messages, from around the world. My hope was to relocate to a smaller facility in the area (with outsourced staff and volunteers) that would enable us to continue our growing ministry with less overhead and provide funds for additional outreaches.

However, I was advised that to put a For Sale sign on the street in front of the ministry center would result in a loss of support due to the uncertainty of where we would relocate. Nevertheless, I felt that to be upright and transparent, the realtor should put up the sign. They were right about losing support – we lost almost one third of our regular donations while the building sat unsold. But we continued to trust the Lord to fulfill what He led me to do.

Then a rumor circulated from a source who deliberately distorted the facts, claiming that I was selling the building, keeping the money personally and moving to California (where our daughter was then living). When later we dedicated our new ministry center on our original property – subdivided from and adjacent to the former ministry center – all was proved to be false and many people came to the Open House. With tears in her eyes, one woman who had discontinued support because of us selling the ministry center, apologized and began her support again – along with many new supporters. (Years later I officiated for her and her husband’s funerals. And instead of moving the ministry to California, my daughter and her family moved to Pennsylvania – volunteering in many ways to help with the expanding ministry.) God is faithful to defend us; we just must maintain our integrity and let our lives resonate the love and truth of Jesus Christ.

A final note: During the construction of our current ministry center, even as the previous ministry center sat unsold and as the funds diminished, a man I do not recall meeting, but who had heard me speak (I was later told) left a large amount of money – the largest donation ever made to the ministry – in his will. It was just what we needed to make up for losses. When I meet this man in eternity I will be certain to thank him!

A Verbal Commitment and Handshake

In January of 2001, I sold my dream – the ministry center – to have additional funds to reach the world. That in itself is a long and amazing story. However, what I want to focus on is that by a mere verbal agreement and a handshake the deal was done – there was no contract at the time. Shortly thereafter, a doctor called to offer cash for our building, payable the next day. I explained that I had made a verbal agreement with the Area Agency on Aging, and my word was as good as a contract.

At the dedication of the new building for the Mercer County Area Agency on Aging a state representative commented how amazed he was that by a mere verbal agreement and a handshake the sale of our former ministry center was accomplished. He went on to say that it would be great if all government agreements and transactions could be done in the same manner.

Only As Good As Your Word

“You are only as good as your word” is a principle I seek to live by. I am reminded of my fifth trip to Haiti: I gave my word to a former voodoo witch doctor in Haiti that I would return to see him. Yet, every imaginable obstacle and dangerous circumstance rose up to thwart the fulfillment of that promise:

• I was told by the host mission I could not come because they were expecting violence against Americans. Haitians had blocked roads and stopped some American missionaries, harming them and damaging their vehicle.

• There was to be a nationwide strike and there would be a lot of violence since there had already been several deaths from recent demonstrations.

• Because of a gas shortage they could not run the generator at the mission compound.

• The Iraq war was on the near horizon and things were very unstable and volatile.

Nevertheless, I felt compelled to go because I had made a promise, and this was the only opportunity I would have for several years to return. So in spite of other obstacles and impossible circumstances, the Lord made the way possible.

Before we left Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, for Gonaives, I told some vendors outside the mission guest house I would buy something when I returned. One of the women yelled out in Creole, “They all say that, but they never keep their word.” I assured her I would keep my word but she did not believe me. Several days later I returned. She was elated to see me and as promised, I bought souvenirs from her and the other vendors. They were most appreciative and repeatedly said, “You kept your word! You kept your word!”

I promised my dad on his death bed I would take care of my mother. For 21 years I kept that promise – sometimes joyfully and a few times under great duress.

I promised my mother that I would do everything possible to get all our family members into Heaven with her. That was sometimes a difficult promise but I persevered in sharing the love and truth of Christ with a growing family of several generations. Thus far, all who have gone on, have done so with the Lord!

God Sees

Character is not what you do when people are watching. Character is what you do when you think no one else sees. However, Somebody does see. Take a few moments to read Psalm 139 and Proverbs 5:21 which indicate that God sees and knows all about us.

Frank Outlaw sums up the importance of character:

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

My Prayer

God is looking for men, women and young people who will live a life of integrity before Him and this world in these last days. That is why my prayer is:

Lord, I am a person who was far from Your standard and made many mistakes. But early in my walk with You, You began to burn deceit and dishonesty out of me. Your Word and Spirit have taught and enabled me to overcome and walk upright before You. Cause me to always speak the truth in love without ulterior motives for selfish gain. Help me to honor You in all things.
I also pray that Your Spirit speaks to the hearts of every person reading this article. Reveal any area of their lives where they are allowing deception, lying lips, dishonest gain or selfish motivation. Bring them to repentance; give them the assurance of Your forgiveness. Put within them a desire to walk in integrity all the days of their lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.