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Roots of Good Character

A wise person gets known for insight; gracious words add to one's reputation. (Proverbs 16:21 MSG)

Boy, it has been a rocky year we have come through and most are glad to see it in their rearview mirror! Between the pandemic, political climate change, and the constant struggles with just 'getting along with each other', this has been a hard year indeed. Things will stand out in your memory that describe this year in some way. I would like to ask what makes you stand out from another in a crowd - especially the crowds that scream the loudest, protest the most, or seek the most prominent positions? Lately, I have been observing all kinds of things that make folks stand out. More than just multiple body piercings - loops dangling here and there, chains connecting this to that, and studs outlining their facial features like eyeliner. I am referring to the ways people act, speak, and especially the way they treat others. This seems to be the thing that intrigues me so much right now. The 'character' of a man or woman is what I am referring to here. So, what is it we desire to have on display in the way of character? That is the question I would like us to consider this morning - how is it we 'stand out' in this world?

God offers us one insight into what we put on 'display' for others to see - get known for your insight! It isn't what we 'display' on our bodies - it is what is displayed in the outpouring of our minds, hearts, and spirits! Where do gracious words emanate from? The scripture points us to the heart - out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). How is the heart made reliable? Scripture points to the fact of our heart being "deceitful" and "desperately wicked" - a puzzle no one can truly figure out (Jeremiah 17:9). We are faced with a conundrum of sorts, aren't we? We want a great reputation or character on display, but our heart betrays us with 'not so good' character being displayed at times! We are directed to consider our words - we find the root of our words is really the heart - therefore, the root of a good reputation lies in a changed or renewed heart. In allowing the examination of the heart, we often are providing the means to 'uproot' the stuff which negatively impacts our reputation (our character). A plant grows in various kinds of soil because it finds various forms of nourishment.

In my travels, I have observed the well-cultivated gardens of the Southern portion of the states where I find rich, dark soil. It is filled with all kinds of nourishment for the plants. The soil is easily worked and relatively free of barriers to growth. In Arizona, our soil is hard, filled with pebbles and stones, and oftentimes quite unwilling to be a growth medium to anything but weeds. All soil is affected by "external" things - like rain or sunshine. Too much rain and a lack of sunshine - mold and mildew begin to affect the roots. Not enough rain and too much sunshine - plants wither and die. It is a fine balance, isn't it? So, "intake" is important to maintaining the health of the plant. This is the purpose of the roots, is it not? Intake also involves spreading leaves wide to receive the rays of the sun. A different type of plant grows in the shadows of the tree than that which is out in the blistering sun of day! Too much of even a good thing can affect us adversely! The importance of "balance" in our lives is not to be missed.

Looking at the rocky desert landscape of Arizona, I find alkaline soil - hard, impenetrable, and almost hostile to growth. The things which grow in this soil are much different in appearance than those of the deep South. In fact, many of the plants growing in the deserts have to struggle to grow. There are rocks in the soil, impeding the deep reaches of the roots to much needed water sources. The "leaves" of the desert plants resemble spikes! In fact, they often repel rather than attract. Most of the time, you don't hear anyone saying, "Oh my! Just look at the beauty of that cactus over there!" But...there is something to be said about the roots of these desert plants. Their roots go deep! They have to in order to survive! Strong winds apply pressures each monsoon season - easily ripping up those which are not anchored deep. Hot seasons produce very little relief in drenching rains. Consider the "reputation" of the two types of "growth". The plant of the deep South - it is beautiful, lush looking, and admirable. But...will it endure the harshness of the seasons? I challenge us to consider again the plant of the Arizona desert. First, it is adaptable. When the seasons of dryness come, it may not bloom as much or as vividly, but it sinks its roots deeper and endures. Second, it has adapted to where it is planted. The spines may look a little "rough", but they are simply "adapted" leaves. Last, but definitely not least, they grow where others tend to wither.

Bringing this back to our discussion of "heart", here's what I want us to see. An "adaptable" heart reflects the soil its roots are planted within! At first, we may only see the spikes of "adapted leaves", but in time, we see the beauty of sturdy, steady, and deeply anchored roots. The woodpecker makes his nest in the hollow of the cactus, carving out a safe habitation for its young. He looks beyond the long spikes of the cactus, anchoring his trust in the shelter of the stately cacti. I wonder if this is what God had in mind when he reminds us of the reputation of the wise? They may not "fit the mold" of what the world calls wise. If you have ever been drawn to the words of one touched by God in the depths of their heart, you will soon realize they have adapted to the soil they are planted within, allowing it to affect them deeply. In turn, their words provide a little nourishment to all who take them in - a shelter of sorts. The external appearance may not always reflect the internal source of strength realized in the "rooting" of the wise person - but their words betray their roots - the roots of good character! Just sayin.

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