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A Zebra is Known by Its Stripes, by Kimberly Trask

My reputation does not precede me. It's not too far behind me, however.

The second week of school, I overheard our secretary telling a student they would need to "talk to the counselor, Mrs. Trask," about their concern.

"Who's that?" the student asked.

The reply: "She's the one with all the cool shoes."

"Oh, yeah! Okay."

There are worse things to be known for. A quote found on many educational posters is: "Character is what you stand for. Reputation is what you fall for."

I guess I fall for shoes. And, yes, some would say that my "gracefulness" indicates I sometimes FALL in shoes. But the question comes to my mind: What am I known for - my character or my reputation?

Jesus told His disciples, "'By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another'" (John 13:35 NIV) In the next chapter, Jesus provides another tell-tale sign of His disciples: "'Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me'...'If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching'" (John 14:21, 23 NIV).

Love and obedience out of love - character.

Then, the often sermonized passage in John 15:

Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing...If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. THIS IS TO MY FATHER'S GLORY, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples (John 15:4-5, 7-8 NIV, emphasis added).

Love in action - character.

So how do we show character, love in action; how do we "bear fruit?" For those of us who tend to be obsessive-compulsive and like step-by-step instructions to make sure we don't mess up, the apostle Paul laid it out in Romans, chapter 12:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal...keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction (OUCH - stepped on my toes!), faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you...Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony...Do not be proud...Do not be conceited. Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right...IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, LIVE AT PEACE WITH EVERYONE (emphasis added). Do not take revenge...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12: 9-21).

You can't force someone to be "at peace" with you. But you sure can control what you bring into the relationship. I think our school's principal would rephrase that as "Don't stir the pot," or "Don't feed the drama monster." Being the "spoon" (aka "stirring the pot") is a reputation; living at peace with everyone when it is possible and as far as it depends on you, is character.

Did you catch the first part? "Love must be sincere."

Pretty tall order. Pretty impossible to do 100% of the time. Pretty impossible any time we try on our own. What did Jesus say in John 15? "Apart from Me you can do nothing...Remain in Me...bear much the Father's glory...showing yourselves to be My disciples." Paul described the "fruit" Christ said we would bear if we "remain in [Him]." (Also see Galatians 5:22-23.)

It all goes back to love: love God, love others, obedience out of love, love in action. That is character. It is pretty easy to spot. About as easy as finding a zebra in a herd of horses.

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