Fight like a good neighbor

For my birthday Jason and I rented Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the recent documentary about Fred Rogers’ life. Most of us knew him as Mister Rogers from his children’s show, with the same name, on PBS. I was reduced to tears halfway through the film, seeing this man fight for goodness in a culture hell bent on being hell bent. Mister Rogers was a counter-cultural show, and relevant at the same time.

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He purposely talked slower, keeping a quiet pace for his viewers, in reaction to the fast moving, in-your-face entertainment catered toward young consumers. Mister Rogers never dumbed down his message but instead spoke directly to children as people, not half-human martians. He also addressed the current issues of his day with subjects about assassination, politics and race. It was never overt but more like a gentle conversation, leading by example.

The documentary shows how Fred Rogers used his life to display kindness to all people. In essence, he saw every person with inherent value, choosing to treat others with dignity. Mister Rogers demonstrated what it means to show grace in an angry world. It’s a good lesson for Christians too.

It doesn’t mean we ignore the wickedness of our time, but first view each person as an image-bearer in need of God’s salvation and grace.

We start the good fight here, not for external moralism, but compassion for heart transformation. The greater war within each of us is spiritual. A person, a people, a nation cannot change without the inner man being renewed.

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It is so easy to become disheartened in our current climate, to watch evil win. When everyone does what is right in his own eyes sin will prevail. We do what we want under the disguise of “tolerance” to justify our sin. Helplessness sets in for the Christian so we keep our heads down.

But Fred Rogers bravely and publicly lived out his conviction to reach children with the hope of transforming the next generation from hate to love, anger to kindness. And yet we go a step further because it isn’t enough. Outward change only results from inner change first. We operate out of our own regenerated hearts before engaging in spiritual battles/culture wars. Only then can we approach others from a place of sincerity and live out the Gospel message.

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Friends, don’t grow weary in doing good. Even with mass chaos in our world we have the invaluable gift of giving the lost what they need most- Hope. We are the Light Bearers to darkness.

Remember who you are in Jesus Christ and fight the good fight right in your own neighborhood.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Go deeper:

Revelation 2:2-7

Hebrews 12:3

Galatians 6:9-10

 

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Fighting for slow

Some mornings the day seems to begin without me. I’m not ready to keep up with the pace it demands. My body and spirit are a little sluggish and sleepy-eyed on those days. Like the time I tried a Zumba class with disastrous results- I fall behind in the steps and can’t keep rhythm. Some days feel like that leaving me frustrated, packing up 15 minutes into the class as I awkwardly dance toward the exit.

We weren’t meant to keep a fast paced life 24/7. Sometimes for the sake of our spirit it is necessary to take a breath and turn off the noise.  Step away and bench ourselves to the sidelines, just for a while.

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I recently took a break from Instagram this past winter to reset. I wanted to make sure my priorities were in order. Was social media serving me or was I serving social media? Saints will need to fight for fellowship with God even more as busyness and distractions invade our calendars.

These devices aren’t wrong when used in the right way. But they can easily become idols as they fill a desire in us to be worshipped or noticed. I’m afraid we will forget how to be still without something entertaining us. For believers this is a serious danger because God only carries us deeper with Him once the white noise is gone.

 

We risk a shallow existence with the Lord when the culture dictates our free time. My former pastor often said we need to “go hard after God”. I’ve mulled over that phrase, trying to see how that is practically done. I think part of what it means to “go hard after God” is to fight for time with Him. The world is already against God’s ways so our culture could care less whether you have quiet time with Him or not. It’s irrelevant to the unbeliever. But it is life for those who believe. To keep our souls fed, to direct our thoughts, and whisper prayers only for His ears, we need to get quiet and alone.

 

If you still have doubts just look to Jesus as your example. He was busy after His ministry became public with thousands of people wanting His time and attention. Yet He still made it a priority to slip away and pray to His Father. It was His lifeline. And it is ours too.

Cultivating a deep-seated relationship with the Lord isn’t an option but a necessity if we want to stand firm.  And maybe your unbelieving friend, neighbor or co-worker will notice how you set boundaries for your free time, how you don’t subscribe to the fast-moving life the rest of society does. FOMO is not something that bothers you.

Stop, look and listen right where you are. You might be surprised to discover things you never noticed before. God’s wonder and message of redemption is all around us when we take time to see. Spend time nestled in Scripture and wrestle with a passage. Seek God and ask Him questions. Let’s not waste the valuable time we have here.

To quote the teenage guru Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Those seem like good words to adopt.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Christian Chameleon

I don’t remember the play, but I do remember that not even halfway through the 1st Act that I wasn’t going to stay. It was crude and filled with sexual innuendo, mocking sin. I sat contemplating how I was going to make my exit, since my seat was right in the middle of a row, there would be a whole lot of climbing over theatre-goers and “excuse me’s” as I tried not to step on toes, literally. I couldn’t slink out the back door without making a bit of a scene. For this girl who DOES NOT want to draw attention and is more comfortable observing as a wallflower than a participant, this was not an easy move. On top of that, I was with a group of college friends and it crossed my mind that I might be the only one to leave before the curtain came down.

Conviction is a funny thing though. It doesn’t leave room for much negotiation. I knew I couldn’t stay solely on the purpose that God’s values were mocked; HE was mocked. Fumbling in the dark to the nearest door I walked out despite what my friends thought. I can’t remember if all of them followed, but a few did. Driving home I considered how even believers today learn to compromise personal holiness just for the sake of fitting in. I have had my share of compromising as well, but this was one moment where I didn’t. It makes me wonder how the world views Christians. Do we look any different or do we try to blend in?

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Jewish men wear a kippah on their head as a sign of recognition. Muslim women cover themselves from head to toe in a burka. Mormon young men evangelize usually wearing black suits and riding bicycles all across the land. So how does the world spot a Christian? Jesus told the Pharisees they were like “whitewashed tombs”, beautifully religious on the outside but like dead bones on the inside. The Jewish leaders were zealous for their laws, traditions, and customs, but missed Perfect Holiness standing right in front of them. Christ pointed out that the people had lost zeal for His Glory.

Not too long ago legalism in the modern Church ruled the day as well. In recent years the pendulum has shifted with the aide of millennials to the opposite end. Christians are more relaxed in dress for church and worship preferences. These changes aren’t necessarily wrong as long as the preaching stands firm and the church is true. But I see the Church cowering to the culture and the consequence is that our Biblical convictions are watered down. Grace is abused and personal holiness neglected. We trade in reverence for Christ wanting to be entertained on Sundays instead.

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When the Church follows the trend of tolerance that the world has constructed, apathy for God’s righteousness ensues. Shallowness and compromise seep into our pews because of the belief that to evangelize the world you have to look like it. When believers lack discernment on what movies to watch, music to listen to, plays to attend, and just in general how we spend our time, we lose our privilege to be seen as God’s set apart. Jesus also says in another passage, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). The product of our desires and what we genuinely value will come out in our everyday speech, actions and thoughts. This is what the world will see. Ask and trust God to move your heart to be zealous for Him, not lukewarm. Let the world know that you are not ashamed to stand up, or stand out, for Jesus’ Glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Examples to Follow

The waiting room at the doctor’s office wasn’t much bigger than a shipping container. We were packed in like sardines except for maybe two empty chairs. An elderly man eagerly talked to whoever would listen. He spoke with another couple near his age sitting across from him, right beside me. I sat amused and slightly horrified as he conversed openly and joyfully about the Bible and attending church. He asked the man and woman where they went to church as well. “This isn’t normal,” I thought, especially in public with complete strangers! A twinge of embarrassment and shame came over me as I saw this man doing something I should be too.

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Jesse and I stepped out of the waiting room to find a restroom. I needed a moment to regroup anyway. What in the world had I just seen and heard? Why was I ashamed? I asked God to forgive my initial reaction and help me to be like this man, who was bold and unashamed for what he stood for. He didn’t seem to care what people thought of him. Loving the stranger, a soul, was more important because he clearly loved the Lord.

As we re-entered the waiting room two women came out of the doctor’s office to sit as well. In one of the last available seats a Bible sat on it. When the older gentleman realized his Bible needed to be moved he cheerfully offered the Book for one of the women to read before he picked it up. He exclaimed that there was no better Book and that it was full of wisdom. I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open like a fish, dumbfounded at his confidence and sincerity. You could feel the tension mounting in this confined space. In a politically correct society this was a major taboo. “Doesn’t he know the social norms?” the thought flickered somewhere in the back of my mind. His actions seemed ludicrous but I wonder if Paul, Peter, or John the Baptist would have been tight-lipped.

 

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Over the past year I attended a Bible study going through the book of John. God began placing on my heart a desire and conviction to intertwine boldness with humility when speaking about my faith. I wondered what this would look like and saw wonderful examples starting with John the Baptist. Now I was seeing a modern-day John the Baptist of sorts. He was plain, simple, and straightforward, even in how he dressed, clad in an Alabama t-shirt and ball cap with jeans. This man simply started conversations and spoke truth. I saw a faith that was bold, yet humble and cheerful.

I kept thinking we need more believers like this. I wanted a backbone like that too, made from a place of love for people. Why is it that I can stand for God inside the walls of my own home, or at church, in places we deem “acceptable” but not in a doctor’s office, or the grocery store, or my neighborhood? I thought about what persecution for Christians in America would look like. What if I was arrested or worse for speaking about Christ in public? Who would still stand? Would I?

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I needed this man’s reminder to set my perspective on things of eternal worth. It wasn’t just what he stood for, but how he did it. Boldness with humility makes the Christian faith attractive, if not curious, for others to witness. Sometimes it is hard to “practice what you preach”, but the only way I know to do this is when I rely on the Holy Spirit to work in and through me. It starts with one small step of obedience after another. This older believer taught me more than he’ll ever know, and I didn’t get his name, but he left a lasting example to follow.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Insta-faith

I like Instagram. It’s my favorite form of social media because it gets to the point, along with posting a visual that ranges from inspiring, funny, or cute. We are wired in our culture to hustle, no time to waste, even in recreational things. Our society has transformed into an instantaneous one.

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The reason I know this goes no further than my own lack of patience. Whether it be corralling my son each morning, getting him ready for school, or waiting in line at the Starbucks drive-through, or impatiently tapping my foot for the Internet to load faster. I hate to wait. I’ve been trained for instant gratification. But this doesn’t follow the model for deep faith in the Christian life. On some level I know this, but I also want the fast track for spiritual maturity. There must be some corners to cut, right?

Last summer I decided to find an older woman in the faith to soak up all her Biblical knowledge like a sponge. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be mentored; in fact it’s a very good thing! I was just going about it the wrong way. Instead, it became a works based attitude (the more I know, the more I’m validated as a Christian) and a source of pride.

It seems that most of my sanctification does not happen mainly by acquiring facts about the Bible but through daily decisions, responses, thoughts, and people. People and situations are real sticklers for personal growth or failure. Honestly, sometimes I take one step forward and two steps back. Although new life in Christ IS instantaneous the moment we trust Him for our salvation, spiritual maturity takes an entire lifetime.

             For those of us who like to “get to the point” this is not great news, but it is gracious news. We learn to abide in His strength and remember once again that God is the Only One who makes things grow. So we wait. He reminds us to do this, as we trust in His limitless power.

We are limited beings and it isn’t until we realize this that humility can nourish faith. In Hannah Anderson’s book ‘Humble Roots’ she uncovers this wisdom with each chapter. She says,

“In God’s wisdom the very process of learning binds us to Him in a way that simply knowing the answers cannot. And so He asks you to trust Him. He asks you to live in dependence. He asks you to humble yourself to wait for Him.” (p. 130)

There isn’t an “Insta-faith” for deeper fellowship with the Lord. This is what makes it so beautiful and organic, something worth being patient for! Over time and trials, when we allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts, our character is transformed to look more like Christ.

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It’s a little ironic that the more I seek communion with God, I see how deeply underground and twisted the vines of pride around my heart are. If we take Anderson’s analogy of gardening, the uprooting and pruning of our hearts is tedious and painful. But we also know that it is needed for spiritual health and abundant fruit one day. Weeds of pride, disease of instant gratification have to be dug up, pulled out and treated if we want to persevere in this life.

You and I don’t have to become discouraged and give up either. God is faithful to finish all He does, and that includes the good work He is doing in you and me. The Bible says we can be confident in knowing this (Philippians 1:6). And that is gracious news.

 

Grace upon grace,

April