Updated: Nov 9, 2018
“Jesus said to them, “You make yourselves look good in front of people. But God knows what is really in your hearts. What people think is important is worth nothing to God.”
Luke 16:15 ERV
It was third down, only this time I wasn’t on the field. The other team was highly touted and in fact undefeated. Our defense lined up and prowled the line of scrimmage like pumas. The ball was snapped but it was a failed exchange between their center and quarterback. A teenage referee sheepishly blew the whistle to call the play over.
As the coach of my son’s first grade (yes I said first grade) flag football team, I had been overly eager to knock off the current champs. It would be one less down to worry about as we rolled toward our biggest win of the year. Finally catching myself, I yelled out to the other coach of six and seven year olds, “run it again, re-play the down!” A much-relieved coach and young player thankfully looked over, ran it again and completed a nice pass down the field for a big gain.
It felt good to make the right call. It felt even better to feel my wife and the other parents approve of my decision. But later I questioned my high esteem and wondered, “what would I have done if we were the ones down several touchdowns?” The answer didn’t make me feel so high and mighty.
Integrity Over Success
My friend and great leader, Dustin Krause, recently asked on social media, what one thing do you wish you had been taught when you were in high school? I ran through a laundry list of thoughts. Quotes that had to do with grit, perseverance and goal setting came to mind. But suddenly it hit me, I wish I was taught to choose integrity over success. The exact thought went like this:
Failing with God-inspired integrity is more important than winning world-inspired success.
That’s a value I want my kids to learn and live. The truth is though, I’m still learning this. As the first grade flag football game of all things drew to the surface, I would need to continue strengthening this for when it really counted.
Call Yourself Out
The 11th hole of Worcester Country Club has an elevated green that can cause fits for many golfers. The club is most famous for hosting the US Open in 1925. At that same tournament, one man, perhaps the era’s Babe Ruth of golf, learned this on his approach shot to that very hole. On this particular occasion his ball rolled off the green into a patch of rough, making his set up more difficult. When addressing the ball his club ever-so-gently rubbed the grass causing, in his opinion, the ball to slightly move.
What would you do in this situation? Success is on the line. A major championship against some of the greatest competitors of your day is up for grabs. No one saw it, who would know? Bobby Jones though begged to differ. He would know.
Jones, who in 1948 was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cavity in his spinal cord which put him in agonizing pain and eventually led to paralysis, was also later known for being baptized three days before his eventual death. He decided to make the right call. Following his shot, Jones called a penalty on himself rather than play as if nothing happened.
Jones would later lose due to the one stroke self-imposed penalty. Praised for his class and integrity, the humble Jones replied, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.” 
In the military soldiers train again and again to hone their reactions in the heat of combat. Boy Scouts train to survive should they get lost in the wilderness. Quarterbacks train to react quickly should an all-out blitz come during the game. Why then should we expect to make the right decision if we haven’t trained?
I would argue that we are being trained, just in the wrong way. Kids in the inner city see the drug dealer with the flashy car and jewelry who chose personal gain over the lives of his community. Coaches are praised more for their winning record than for kids graduating and becoming men living with a purpose. Pastors are praised for hyper-growing a church more than for serving the weak and oppressed around us.
What can we do to combat this? Train smart now before it counts. God gives us several lessons within the Bible about those who made the right decisions (i.e. Daniel) and the wrong decisions (i.e. Saul) about what really mattered. Talk with someone you respect about potential temptations you could face in life or work and how to best handle them.
"What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?" Luke 9:25 NIV
Read biographies of history’s greatest leaders and learn how they responded to adversity. And when faced with it next, choose wisely. Choose God-inspired integrity. Choose eternal over worldly success. Make the right call.