There is a very famous floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California – it is the Queen Mary. When this magnificent vessel was first launched in 1936, it was the largest ship to cross any ocean. It served through four decades and even in WW II. It has a fascinating history and there are many wonderful stories about this magnificent vessel. One of those stories is not very grand at all – it concerns what happened during its conversion process from a sailing vessel to a museum. As you can imagine, everything had to be restored, repaired, re-painted and made ready for the millions of people who would enter this grand floating mansion. One of the tasks was to remove her three massive smoke stacks to be stripped down and repainted. The three huge structures which had been the most stunning feature of this magnificent vessel – were lowered onto the dock by crane.
As the workmen began applying paint stripper to remove external layer, each of the three smoke stacks disintegrated right before their eyes. What had once been 4 inch steel plate had become wafer-thin. The steel, in fact, had rusted completely away. All that remained were 30 coats of paint that had been applied over the years. There was nothing left but an appearance, an outward shell – with nothing of substance inside. Simply put, they had no integrity. There was no real substance beneath the painted surface.
Soon after I read about this discovery years ago I was driving home to Orange from Sydney when I got caught behind some turning vehicles on the outskirts of Bathurst and found myself stopped for 30 seconds or so alongside the local cemetery. As I was waiting for the traffic to clear I glanced across and saw a man applying a fresh coat of brilliant white paint to this enormous tombstone. From what I could tell, he was almost finished because he kept stepping back to view the finished job and then forward again to touch up a few places here and there. I’m not sure if he was a relative of the deceased or a cemetery employee, but I remember saying to myself as I watched him, “No matter how good the paint job, they are still dead buddy!”
I drove away thinking of the futility of such an exercise but I soon realised that yet again, I was set up by God. That little traffic jam, in a place I have never encountered one before in the hundreds of times I have driven along that stretch of road, was one of those divine appointments which leave a lasting impression.All the way home the words of Jesus in Matthew 23 kept confronting me. I think you know the passage … it was a long trip home .. let me assure you! This is what Jesus said to people like me many years ago … to the Senior Pastors and leaders of God’s people:
Matthew 23:27-29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.”
I turned the radio on to blot out these annoying and confronting thoughts – I couldn’t wait to get home and fill my mind with less confronting thoughts! However, that challenge from the Lord did not go away and it’s one I have reflected on many times.
Integrity has been defined as “the state of being whole and undivided.” If the word is applied to the huge metal smoke stacks on the Queen Mary, it means there is substance, strength and reality beneath the paintwork. If applied to our lives it means who we project ourselves to be on the outside, actually comes from the real substance of our life on the inside. We practice what we preach. We walk the talk. Who we are when nobody is looking is our true condition.
It is amazing how long we can last applying fresh coats of paint to the exterior of our lives … while what is inside is rotting away. However God is in the business of revealing hearts and transforming lives, not concealing flaws in our character and life. So don’t be surprised if one day while you are putting another coat of white paint on your exterior, God reveals your heart – your true condition. He never does that in judgement – always in love and always with the desire and the promise to empower your desire to change.