Lessons from Daniel Tiger: Find Something Good

The very first episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood centers around Daniel’s birthday. He goes to get a special tiger cake from the bakery only to find out it got ruined on the trip home. His dad redirects Daniel’s disappointment by asking him to find something good about his cake. He asks, “What’s good about all cakes?” And Daniel decides that, even though his cake is in pieces, it will still be delicious. Something seems bad, and they turn it around to find something good.

There are so many negative things to dwell on in this life. We consistently hear bad news through the media. Tragedy strikes when we least expect. Friendships end. Jobs dry up. Times can get tough. It’s easy to dwell on the negative and let it eat us up, but we can’t let that happen. Paul says, in Romans 12:12:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

How many times do we see disciples of Christ find the time to worship and praise God for his blessings in the midst of trials and persecution? Sometimes they even rejoice that they are persecuted, for they take joy in the knowledge that they suffer for God’s sake. I Thessalonians 5:16 simply tells us to rejoice always, and Psalm 31:7 reminds us that, even in affliction, we can be joyful because our Lord is mindful of us.

As Christians, we should never clothe ourselves in negativity. Yes, there will be times and events that will dampen our spirits, that will cause us pain, that will cause us grief. But these moments should not define us. Those times of sadness should be the exception, not the rule. We should be people of hope. We should be people who are looking for something better, people who exude joy and optimism. We should seek the good in this world and be forces of good as well. When something seems bad, turn it around and find something good. Then share that goodness with others around you.

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Lessons from Daniel Tiger

daniel-rogers

Author Amy Hollingsworth wrote the following about Fred Rogers in her book The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers:

Every day he taught God’s message without preaching a word.

Fred Rogers is one of the very few celebrities in this world I still hold in high esteem. Whenever I’m down or frustrated, I watch an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. When I am angry at others, I watch interviews of him interacting with other adults. I try to channel his care and calmness in my classroom teaching. To me, he is one of the best examples we have had of Christian conduct in modern culture. While I understand we have God’s word to explain so much to us, Fred Rogers has had an effect on me in that I can see those teachings exemplified in the conduct of such a public figure.

Mr. Rogers took the moral of the good Samaritan parable – that we are all neighbors one to another – and turned it into a regular children’s show. Not only was he teaching children during his half-hour program, but he taught adults as well. He taught us how to be patient, how to listen, how to be both trusting and trustworthy. He imparted God’s message without so much as a scripture, all the time asking us to care for each other as neighbors. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Please won’t you be my neighbor? 

That legacy continues in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which is one of the very few television shows my daughter gets to watch. (The other regular is Dinosaur Train, if you must know. Other than that, she occasionally watches YouTube videos of ballet and astronauts – separately. Okay, rabbit chase done.) And I have to say it is one of the most positive things on television today. Every episode demonstrates such care and kindness between the characters, it’s almost unbelievable. Every aspect of the show seems planned around providing the best example it can to children and parents.

Also, every episode features a short song snippet that gets repeated throughout the episode, reinforcing the lesson of the day. The characters may sing about taking turns, trying new things, sharing, helping, or dealing with anger. Over the next few posts, I want to take some of these songs and look at the lessons they teach and what we adults can learn from them in our Christian walks. In Matthew 18, Jesus says we should all become like little children, so I’m inviting you to join me over the next few weeks in shelving my jaded and sometimes frustrated adulthood and becoming more childlike. And perhaps some of these lessons from the Land of Make Believe will help us make a better reality for ourselves in this world.

Trolly, take us home!

Gandhi: Living Christ Without the Name

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is quite possibly the most well-known figure to come out of India in the last century. He was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience, a champion to the poor and disenfranchised, and he sought to bring India out from under the influence of foreign domination. He is the type of patriot that few Americans know what to do with, for he was unwilling to raise arms to defend his countrymen. He protested quietly. He discouraged outward revolution, and he left an indelible mark on the cultural development of the Twentieth Century.

To some, he is among the greatest men who ever lived. To others, he was simply misguided and wrong in in his attempts at nonviolence. To a few, he is the Antichrist. He is praised by the Left. He is ridiculed by the Right, but I think Martin Luther King, Jr. perhaps has one of the best summations of Gandhi’s life and legacy:

“Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”

Life Magazine: “Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. 40 Years Later.” Time Inc, 2008. Pg 12

A fellow Christian once made the observation that he felt Gandhi was perhaps the most Christ-like individual to walk on the face of the earth while never himself wearing the name of Christ. This was a man who, in his youth, was put off by the Christian missionaries who seemed more interested in converting Indians to British culture than anything, but, when hearing the Sermon on the Mount in Hindu, said to have delighted in the teachings of Christ. What can we learn from this gentle soul?

Forgiveness

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

– “Interview to the Press,” published in Young India (April 1931)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…

– Luke 6:37

Forgiveness is one of the basic foundations of Christianity, but too often we are like Peter in Matthew 18:21, looking for a reason to cut off our forgiveness. This quote by Gandhi was in context of a man judged worthy of the death penalty by his government, someone seen as a traitor. Would we be so kind? Forgiveness does indeed require strength, and Christ’s teachings make it clear that we are to be infinitely forgiving. It is a trait of our Father, and it should be a trait of ours too. It simply takes resolve and strength of character to realize that forgiveness is possible in all cases.

Nonvengeance

In the dictionary of Satyagraha, there is no enemy.

Non-Violence in Peace and War (1948)

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

– Matthew 5:38-39

As a species, we feel we have purpose when our enmity has a target. We say sin is our enemy, but it is so much easier to personify that enemy in human faces, seeking vengeance for their wrongs. That is not the Christian way. Gandhi didn’t even vilify Hitler, instead trying to seek the good qualities in that man hated and feared by so many. If Gandhi could see glimpses of good even in Hitler, why can’t we see the good in a telemarketer; in the President; in a homeless person; in our neighbors? Are we really that hard up for enemies? Do we desire a target for our vengeance so badly? Instead, we should be striving to live peaceably with all, as Paul writes in Romans 12:18.

Nonviolence

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.

– Satyagraha Leaflet No. 13

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

– Matthew 26:52

The politicization of Christianity is evident in this: we have allowed faith and violence to intermingle in a way foreign to the New Testament. Yes, God used violence prior to the perfect covenant of His Son, but something changes in the New Testament. Where does Jesus take up arms to resist assailants? Where does Paul hurl stones back at those trying to kill him? Why doesn’t Stephen defend himself against the Scribes and Pharisees? We have only one example of a disciple using violence to defend religious freedoms, and Jesus rebukes him for the action. We could learn much from Gandhi’s attitude toward violence if we wish to be more like Christ.

Humility

It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

Harijan (17 February 1940)

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

– I Corinthians 10:12

When we think we are at our strongest, that is when we become most vulnerable. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, pleads for us to keep asking, seeking, knocking. Paul, in Philippians 3:12, claims he is continually trying to improve himself and push forward toward his goal. The most influential of the apostles never felt he could stop growing. Gandhi never felt his search for wisdom was over. Neither should we be content to stagnate in a sense of self-satisfaction on our Christian walk. We should always be testing, self-correcting, and improving ourselves so we may not fall.

Caring for Others

A man of truth must also be a man of care.

An Autobiography (1927)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

– James 1:27

Gandhi and Christ’s followers realized the same thing – to make a difference in the world, we must make a difference to individuals. How often can we read of Jesus or one of His disciples reaching out to an impoverished individual, a widow, a sick person, an outcast? Can the same be said of us? Are we so concerned with saving the world that we forget those closest to us? We often quote the Zen teaching that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The same is true of souls. If we want to make a difference to millions of wandering souls, it begins with those we can reach out to and care for within our reach.

Living the Message

My life is my message.

Mahatma : Life of Gandhi 1869-1948

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

– Colossians 3:17

The end of the matter is this: live your message. You want to spread the word of Christ? Live it – and not only when it is convenient or when it agrees with your politics or your personal preferences. Live the message day in and day out. As Gandhi might say, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” We may speak the words of the gospel, but our actions can drown out the message if they do not agree with those words of truth. If we are Christ’s, we have died to self, and it is He who lives in us. Our conduct should reflect that.

There are many in this world who claim to wear the name of Christ – conservative political leaders, TV personalities, radio talk show hosts – whose actions deny the name they so loudly claim to defend. They sell a gospel of violence, of greed, of hatred, and of anger. Christ was and is none of these things. Instead of letting people like these influence us, I’d encourage us to take a look at this humble man from India, a lawyer who gave up all to hold up the poor; a man who resisted injustice with peace; a man who cared that his words and his actions agreed. Though he never wore the name of Christ, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi gave us an example of what it means to deny self, pick up a cross, and live selflessly.

Esau’s Spiritual Struggles

In Jeremiah 49:8, Jehovah promises to bring the “calamity of Esau” upon Edom, and, a couple weeks ago, we looked at that calamity in Genesis 25 and the implication in Esau’s rejection of his birthright. In Genesis 25:23, the Lord calls these two children separate nations who would strive with each other, and we see that bear out in the lives of the peoples descended from these two. Likewise, in I Corinthians 3:1, Paul categorizes people as either spiritually minded or carnally minded; again, two opposites destined to strive with each other in eternal conflict, and the case can be made that Esau – and the nation that descends from him – typifies worldly thinking in his life.

The Legacy of Esau

First, we return to Genesis 25:29-34 where Esau forsakes his heritage, his inheritance, and his responsibilities as the firstborn for the sake of a meal. He is said to despise that birthright, with all of the rights, responsibilities, and promises attendant to that heritage. He knew the importance of this birthright, but he treats it as worthless because it could not satiate an immediate physical hunger.

Genesis 26:34 reveals this same Esau then marries into a Hittite family when choosing a wife. These were an idolatrous people who did not honor God, and verse 36 says this family makes life bitter for Isaac and Rebekeh. In chapter 28:8, when Esau sees his wife does not please his family, he seeks to rectify things by taking more wives – not because he was concerned for his spiritual health but because he hoped to please his parents.

II Chronicles 25:14-16 then records a king of Judah bowing down before the idols of Edom, those descendants of Esau. The precedent Esau had set down during his life set up a nation that did not know God, did not honor God, and bowed down before idols that were unable to deliver them. These same descendants, generations before in Numbers 20:14-21, despite Moses’ appeal to ancient family ties, refused passage to the children of Israel over the King’s Highway during their pilgrimage to Canaan. They set themselves against their brothers.

Edom’s Fate and Ours

Terrible judgment is proclaimed against Edom in Isaiah 34:6-7, from the greatest to the least, for their mistreatment of God’s people. They were founded in spiritual emptiness, and they persecuted those who sought to live in the spirituality of God. As their father was uninterested in God’s promises, so are his descendants invested too heavily in this world. From birthright to marriage, Esau invested in this world, and he set up a heritage without foundation in God’s promises.

Likewise, we can be spiritually dead. We can marry ourselves to the things of this world. We can reject our Father’s heritage for the temporary blessings here. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. We can accept our birthright; we can become heirs of Abraham as in Galatians 3:27-29. We can choose to be spiritually minded. We can invest in things above. We can choose redemption and walk the King’s Highway and create spiritual heritage that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, passing on a spiritual birthright of our own.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

– Romans 8:12-17

lesson by Tim Smelser

 

The Calamity of Esau

In Jeremiah 41, we are in the middle of God affirming His sovereignty over all nations, and He is proclaiming judgment upon various Gentile nations. During the prophecy against Edom, God, in verse 8, speaks of the “calamity of Esau.” It is from Esau that the nation of Edom descended, and it is a calamity like his own that befalls the nation. What is this calamity of Esau?

In Genesis 25:23, the Lord tells Rebecca that she had two nations struggling within her, and that the older would serve the younger. This prophecy begins to gain form in verses 27-34 when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob in exchange for physical sustenance. In this, verse 27 says Esau despised his birthright.

Rejecting His Birthright

God sees this event as a calamity in Esau’s life.

  • Esau despised his birthright. Not only was Esau rejecting all of the material blessings of the birthright, but he was also rejecting God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac.
  • Esau had the wrong priorities. Jacob and Esau were old enough to understand what the promises of that birthright meant. He was old enough to understand the import of those words, but he saw those as doing him no good in the face of immediate hunger.
  • Esau repented too late. Hebrews 12:15-17 speaks to this, that Esau could never recapture what he had lost, having recognized the significance too late.

Avoiding Our Own Calamity

There are lessons for us in the life of Esau. We cannot be guilty of the same errors made by this man. Esau had, through his birthright, a spiritual heritage, and we also have a great spiritual heritage in Jesus Christ. We are part of a spiritual family that goes all the way back to the cross and God’s plan for our salvation. In Hebrews 11:39-40, as the author wraps up example after example of great faith, we are told that what we have in Christ completes their heritage.

III John 4 records John calling those with whom he has shared the gospel as spiritual children. They are our spiritual forefathers, and we fulfill those promises in which they had faith. When we reject that heritage, we affect not only ourselves but those who will come after us, those who will not know of God’s promises because we rejected them. We cannot and must not view God’s birthright as common or disposable.

We must also avoid Esau’s priorities. Colossians 3:1-2 and Matthew 6:19 call on us to set our minds on the things above because the things of this life do not last. How long did Esau’s bowl of stew last him? How long was it until he was hungry again? I Peter 1:5-9 calls us to work on our spiritual growth and to avoid being nearsighted, forgetting what is truly important. So much in this life can crowd out our spiritual heritage, but how much of it will benefit us eternally as God’s gifts will?

Finally, we cannot wait too long to accept God’s gifts. In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus speaks of a rich man who waited too long until nothing more could be done for him. Felix, in Acts 24:25, wanted to wait until a more convenient time, and King Agrippa, a couple of chapters later, says he was “almost” persuaded to respond to the message of Christ. Matthew 25:41, after a parable of unprepared wedding guests, warns of the consequences of waiting until it is too late. We have a strong tendency to put things off, but we cannot procrastinate accepting our spiritual heritage.

Conclusion

In contrast to all of this, Luke 17 tells a parable of another child who wastes his birthright. In contrast to Esau, this prodigal son came to recognize the worth of what he had lost. He realigned his priorities, and he returned to his father for forgiveness and restoration. Who will we be more like? Will we fall into the calamity of Esau, or will we avert disaster by humbly coming to God and accepting the heritage and birthright offered by His grace?

lesson by Tim Smelser

Good King Hezekiah

In II Kings 18, we read of a king in Judah called Hezekiah. The scriptures tell us there was no one like him before or after him of those kings of Judah. In the first month of his reign, Hezekiah begins to restore Jehovah worship. He tears down idols and idolatrous places of worship. He stands up to overwhelming forces due to his steadfast faith in the Lord. What is it, though, that really made him such a great man? Why is it that the Bible tells us no king before or after him was greater?

Factors Working Against Him

It was not his father who made him great. His father Ahaz, recorded in II Kings 16, was very wicked. In II Kings 16, Ahaz engages in child sacrifice. He shuts up the temple of the Lord. He participates in excessive idolatry, and he leads the nation of Judah into those same practices. Hezekiah is not the product of his father. Still, remember II Timothy 1:5, Proverbs 3:1, and Ephesians 6:4. God does want us to set the proper examples for our children. He does care about the responsibilities of parenthood, but Ezekiel 18:20 reminds us that children can do well despite our parents. Hezekiah was great despite his upbringing.

Unfortunately, neither was Hezekiah great because of his family legacy. In II Kings 21, we read of Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, who rebuilds the idols, even placing alters to false gods in God’s temple. Manasseh restores child sacrifice to the land of Judah. Now Manasseh does repent in his old age, but his actions lead to deep personal loss on his own part. Hezekiah may have been a great king, but the legacy he left was far from great.

In II Kings 20, we see that pride does not make Hezekiah great while he shows off his great possessions to the Babylonian emissaries – people from that same nation that would eventually enslave Judah. Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that pride precedes a fall, and Hezekiah’s pride did not please his God.

Hezekiah’s Great Stature

Despite these things, we cannot discount II Kings 18:5.

…There was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.

Why? Because he sought God’s word first. II Chronicles 31:20-21 tells it all.

Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.

He may not have been the leader the people wanted, but he was the leader they needed. He spoke out against, and removed, evil. II Kings 18:4 records him purging idolatry from the nation, even idolatry introduced by his own father. In II Chronicles 31, we can read the details of his restoration of true Jehovah worship in Judah – to the point of inviting their rival brethren from the northern kingdom of Israel to that worship.

Hezekiah sought to know and do God’s word. He sought to restore true worship in the land and purge all forms of evil from among his people. Finally, II Kings 18:5 tells us that Hezekiah trusted in the Lord. In II Kings 19:14, when Hezekiah receives an ultimatum from an unstoppable enemy, we see the king abandon self, go to the temple, spread the letter out on the floor of the temple, and prayed.

Conclusion

That the same could be said of us! Could God claim about you or me, “There was none like him/her,” in our efforts to follow God’s word, in keeping evil from our lives, and in trusting Him in all things. Nothing can keep us from that standard – our upbringing, our culture, our flaws. We can be like Hezekiah, setting our hearts to serve the Lord. We may never be great in the world’s eyes, but we can be good and faithful servants to our Lord, great in His eyes.

lesson by Tim Smelser