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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Is ordinary okay?

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.” -C.S. Lewis

Yesterday Jesse had a half day of school, so I drove there to pick him up at 11am only to get home some time after 2pm. What happened in between was this.

I was buckling Jesse in the car of the school parking lot when another parent came over, remarking that I had something in my tire. Well you could definitely hear the air hissing out with a thin, sharp metal object pierced in the rubber. I called Jason to see if he could come check it out and later he determined the tire needed changing.

He changes the tire then makes the executive decision for all of us to eat a late lunch at Chic-Fila (which why would anyone ever oppose that?). After lunch and Jesse playing in their indoor jungle gym (I make a mental note to use a ton of hand sanitizer afterward), we head over to the car shop.

I’m informed that they can’t even look at the tire or replace it until tomorrow morning. So, weary and with a slight stress headache, we head home to watch Frozen for the hundredth time.

This was not a normal day for us, but not anything extraordinary either. It happens every day to people. Most of life isn’t flashy and exciting and like life on vacation. We get up, go to work or school, meal plan, buy groceries, laundry, clean, etc. All to do it over again the next day.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes the subliminal message in our culture seems to be that ordinary is boring and therefore to be avoided. There is a push to be “unique” and in one sense we all are because God didn’t create any of us alike. Even twins develop different personalities (ask me how I know). But if everyone is striving to stand out and be “different”, isn’t that just another kind of conformity?

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In Paul’s letter to Titus he says, “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14).

We still have to work, eat and sleep. Our basic needs still apply and often this includes taking care of others too. My hope is that you and I learn not to despise ordinary living. That even being ordinary is okay even as you use the unique gifts God has blessed you with.

Because it really sums up most of our lives. The moments each day add up over time and turn into weeks, then months and years. It would be a tragedy to have wasted your one life, always seeking the next thrill and not appreciating the commonplace. Our worth isn’t calculated by how “exciting and interesting” we are is it? It’s so much more than that.

 

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So what does Paul encourage Titus and the church to do?

Do good. Live your lives.

I think this is part of “keeping your eyes on your own paper”, to stay faithful right where you are.

When we are faithful to do this, we begin to realize that we are exactly where we need to be. You and I have a different ordinary, but it doesn’t make mine or yours less significant.  Our kingdom work happens here.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

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