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Who is the person behind the sign?

The overall quality of character is what determines if a man or woman will be "favorably" known.  We call this "reputation" - something which "precedes" you into every venture in life.  Get a "bad rep" and you might just have to "start over" in a new "life" in order to escape the "unfavorable" reputation you have acquired.  Many people try to do this by moving to a new location, starting a new job, or entering into a new relationship.  Trouble is, until you deal with whatever got you the "bad rep" in the first place, you will just redo the same things wherever you start anew.  I know this because I speak from personal experience.  I was a little bit of a trouble-maker as a teenager, and there were times when my reputation preceded me wherever I went.  Despite the attempts to convince others I had "started over", the bad events of my past just followed me.  What I failed to recognize it that others looked for evidence in the actions I exhibited, not in the words I spoke.  The "convincing" only came once God fully got hold of my life and my "reputation" began to change because my CHARACTER began to change!

A good reputation is better than much wealth; high esteem is better than silver and gold.  The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord made them both.   Prudent people see trouble and hide, while the simpleminded go right to it and get punished.  The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord is wealth, honor, and life.  Thorns and nets are in the path of the crooked; those who guard their lives keep their distance.  Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it. The wealthy rule over the poor; a borrower is a slave to a lender.  Those who sow injustice will harvest evil; the rod of their fury will come to an end.  Happy are generous people, because they give some of their food to the poor.  Remove the mocker and conflict disappears; judgment and shame also stop.  (Proverbs 21:1-10 CEB)

Character is the basis of everything others might come to believe about us. We can determine to "show" one thing, but if the character is not there behind what it is we are "showing", it won't hold up to the test of time or the scrutiny of the observing eye.  God asks for us to "guard" the "clean" reputation that comes from simply serving him.  It is as though we need to "protect" it - not because we need to "shine it up" to make it appear good, but because there are lots of opportunities for it to get "dings" and "gouges" along the way. All we respond to in life provides opportunity for getting a few dings or gouges in our reputation - it is the responses we give in the moment of testing which often need our greatest attention.

A prudent person "foresees" the dangers ahead and as a result, he takes the necessary actions to avoid those dangers.  This is where I went wrong in my teenage years - I thought I could just trudge ahead, unconcerned about the consequences of my decisions.  I forgot to consider my actions producing certain consequences - some of which damaged my reputation.  This is where a good many of us fail in life - not considering the dangers ahead by giving full-steam to the actions we take in the moment.  When God reminds us to "guard" our reputation, I think he is telling us to think about the actions before we take them - considering well the consequences which could come as a result of certain actions.

Part of our reputation is our commitment to being honest.  Deceitful people walk a treacherous, thorny path.  Mom always used to remind me that my lies would "snowball".  In other words, it was like rolling the tiny snowball into the bigger one which eventually became the part of the snowman's body!  The more you "roll around" in the lie, the more lies you attract and use to cover up the original one.  Eventually, there is more effort in being dishonest than there ever would have been in maintaining your integrity and just coming clean about what it is you wanted to cover up in the first place.  At the moment, a lie seems like an easy fix to a miserable situation, but in the end, the situation is made more miserable by the lies.  As a mother and grandmother, I try to emphasize this to both my children and grandchildren. No amount of "cover-up" actually stays covered up very long.  Eventually some form of "heat" will cause the truth to surface - and when it does, the damage the lies do to your reputation leave a bigger "hole" to fix.

Another aspect of our reputation is determined in the way we treat others. We are reminded to consider how we treat the poor or those who seem to have injustices done to them all the time.  Right now, I cannot recite the entire song, or even tell you the name of it, but there is a Christian artist who sings about going past the same woman on the street corner day after day, seemingly oblivious to the fact the "beggar" is really a person behind the sign. At one moment in time, it dawns on him to see beyond the sign.  I think this is probably good advice for all of us.  We see the "outward", but forget about the person behind the outward display.  I think God wants us to consider the person and not their "display" - for the person is the one with the true need for our touch, consideration, and empathy.  Injustice is any event or circumstance which inflicts undeserved hurt.  Thinking on that one for just a little bit might just help us to see beyond the "sign" in another's life and look for the ways we can turn-around the "hurts" they have experienced.

Last, let's consider the mocker this morning.  The mocker is really exhibiting some foolish behavior which affects those around him.  Fighting, quarrels, and event simply insults leave their devastation behind wherever the mocker has had his influence.  The reason this occurs is found in the underlying "mode of operation" of the mocker.  He really has the intention of seeking to disappoint the hopes of those he is around - he defies and challenges just for the sake of an argument without regard to the outcome or the cost.  So we have to guard against maintaining company with the mocker - because they do damage without any concern for the damage inflicted.  If you find yourself "downing" the hopes of another, you might just be venturing into the realm of the mocker.  Check yourself if this occurs, for you are not only damaging the delight of another, but developing a bad reputation for yourself.  

Reputation is both gained and maintained.  What we might not realize is how it can also be "re-gained".  It is through the work of Christ in our lives, taking apart the pieces which don't "fit" any longer after we give him control.  In turn, he replaces these pieces with the type of actions which "fit".  It is this "refitting" operation which reveals new evidence consistent with a change in character.  This change in character is what gives us a renewed or new reputation in the eyes of others.  If you have found yourself in the place of living with a damaged reputation because of past actions on your part, don't be discouraged.  God's plan is to restore in ways you would never dream possible.  You just need to give him the damaged parts and let him have his way in taking away what no longer "befits" the child of God and "outfitting" you with his character in turn.  Just sayin!

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