How many of you grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? I did! Every day began the same, didn’t it? He walked through the door, put on his sweater and told us it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Every day. Every day he invited us to be his neighbor. On television, his neighborhood did look beautiful. The sky was always blue. The porch swing always looked welcoming. His shoes were always where they should be, and the trolley was never late. All of the young parents in the house are thinking, “That sounds like Heaven!” You’re thinking, “Mr. Rogers didn’t live in my neighborhood.”
He didn’t live in the main character, Lloyd Vogel’s neighborhood for sure. As a journalist for Esquire magazine, Lloyd had seen his share of ugly days in ugly neighborhoods. Lloyd didn’t do beautiful anymore. He didn’t see beautiful anymore. Not for a long time, maybe not since his alcoholic father ran out on him. He didn’t write about anything beautiful because in his experience it didn’t exist. The real world wasn’t beautiful. Such things, for Lloyd, belonged in make-believe realms filled with cardboard castles and talking tigers, like the ones on the Mr. Rogers TV show.
But then Esquire, for a special edition on “heroes,” asked Lloyd to write a profile piece on “Mister Fred Rogers”. The editor wasn’t looking for a cynical unpacking or a scathing expose’, like Lloyd was used to writing; just 400 words that give a wee bit of insight to the man behind that (in Lloyd’s words) “hokey kids’ show.” Mister Rogers, a hero? “A guy who plays with puppets for a living?” How does that qualify as heroic? And why did Lloyd have to interview him?
Throughout the movie, through extended interaction with Mr. Rogers, Lloyd unpacked his past wounds and pain to the point where he experienced healing and found freedom that came from forgiving the father who had hurt him so terribly. Mr. Rogers’ love, listening ear and words of wisdom were the catalyst for the whole transformation. A skeptic became a believer. A doubter became different, all because a Presbyterian minister, who used puppets and a kids’ TV show for a pulpit, spent time with Lloyd Vogel.
I want to offer three takeaways for us as followers of Christ that are seen in the life of Mr. Rogers. There are three “I-words” for you to consider: Integrity, Inspiration and Intentionality.
Let’s start with the first word, INTEGRITY.
Take a look at this movie clip where Lloyd suggested Mr. Rogers plays a character on the show that is different from who he is in real life.
He said, “There’s you, Fred, and then there’s the character you play, Mr. Rogers.” I suppose it is an easy assumption to make, I mean, Mr. Rogers was on TV. People on TV played roles. They were actors. They weren’t doctors, for example, they only played one on TV. Lloyd was trying to get the story below the story except there was no story below the story, no dirt below the deck, because Fred Rogers was Fred Rogers at home, at the grocery store, in his neighborhood and in his make-believe neighborhood on TV. He was the same everywhere he went. There was no character versus real life Mr. Rogers. His show was an accurate portrayal of his real-life values and character. Fred Rogers was a man of integrity, and that integrity flowed from his relationship with Christ.
Listen, more than knowledge, more than talent, more than a network of friends, if you want to leave an impact on this world, if you want to leave the imprint of Jesus on the people around you, you have to have integrity. Mr. Rogers had incredible integrity.
When I think of a Bible character who possessed incredible integrity, Daniel, in the Old Testament, comes to mind. He was a Hebrew, who was taken into captivity in Babylon. Daniel 1:4 tells us that he had great intellect. We also read in Daniel 1:8 that he was focused and determined. He lived with great intention to please God. The Scripture says that he purposed in his heart that he wouldn’t eat the food the King asked him to eat because it had been sacrificed to idols which would have gone against his relationship with God. We know Daniel was also a man who had great insight. He could interpret people’s dreams and things like handwriting that appeared on a wall, and he knew they were words and warnings from God. But none of those attributes, his intellect, his intention, or his insight, would have taken him where God wanted him to go if he didn’t also possess great integrity.
Integrity set Daniel apart. Look at Daniel 6:3 from the ESV: “Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him.” That excellent spirit is also known as integrity. It refers to choosing to do the right thing in any circumstance. It involves consistency of character and conduct. It means you are the same in public as you are in private. It speaks about a moral excellence with which you live your life.
Integrity is cultivated on the inside of a person. It comes from a growing relationship with God with whom there is no inconsistency. God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He never lies. He never fails. He is who He says He is, and He delivers what He promises. Hear me, the more time you spend cultivating your relationship with God, the more integrity you will possess. It is the cultivation of that integrity that will help you stand strong even in times of persecution.
Daniel was a praying man. It was his lifestyle. Three times a day he would kneel down by his window to talk to the God of Heaven. He had been given some special responsibility and authority and he knew in order to live well, to serve well, he had to spend time with God. Daniel was loyal to the King, but above that, he was loyal to God. That prayer time kept Daniel humble and dependent on God. It kept Daniel strong so that he could withstand pressure when it came, and it did.
Daniel was so good at his job that others became jealous of him and tried to find fault in him, but they couldn’t. Why? Because he was a man of integrity. Listen, if you possess integrity you don’t have to worry about people being able to discredit you. Well, the jealous bunch talked the King into signing a law that said no one could pray to anyone but the King for 30 days, and anyone who prayed to any other god would be thrown into the den of lions. That was the only way they could think to trap Daniel because they had nothing on him BUT his integrity to always pray to the Lord. They could count on him continuing that.
Because of Daniel’s integrity, because of the quiet strength that had been placed in him through that intentional time with God, Daniel wasn’t changing his prayer strategy. He continued to pray to the Lord. Listen, Integrity means that we don’t change who we are as Christ-followers because of a change in culture or even, in Daniel’s case, a government edict.
You see, integrity doesn’t just mean we are a good person, but it means we are God’s person and that we do things God’s way. A Christian’s integrity is based on a much higher standard than some worldly goodness. It is based on the perfection of Christ and our desire to be like Him. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
Integrity with the Lord will keep you safe, friends. This Scripture was proven to be true when Daniel, God’s man, continued to pray to the God of Heaven even after the King’s edict was proclaimed. It earned him a spot in the lion’s den, but hallelujah, the God of Heaven, entered that lion’s den and shut the lion’s mouths, keeping Daniel protected, keeping him safe. That is what happens for the Christian man or woman of integrity who has cultivated a humble and dependence on God.
And people of integrity wind up shaping the culture instead of being shaped by it. We read in Daniel 6:25-27 that because of Daniel’s integrity, because he continued to be the same man of God he had always been and continued in his praying to God, the King actually issued a new edict that Daniel’s God would be the God of his kingdom. Wow! You want to see things change in our community, in our country, in our world? Live as a Christian with integrity.
The second word I would use to describe Fred Rogers is INSPIRATION.
Take a look at this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uu-HrDA5Pm8
Lloyd’s dad was an alcoholic. He had run out on Lloyd and his sister when their mother got sick, leaving them to care for her until her death. There was a lot of hurt. Many years of distance and pain took place. But then Lloyd encountered Mister Rogers, a man who would openly share his love for all people, a man who would listen to you and your problems as if he had all the time in the world and nothing better to do, a man who could see something positive and encourage something productive from the worst of circumstances. Rogers helped Lloyd see that Lloyd had chosen the bitterness and cynicism that comes with un-forgiveness. Rogers helped Lloyd reframe his past and move forward to forgive his father which is likely the most moving part of the movie.
For 31 TV seasons, Fred Rogers inspired kindness from millions of people and even after he left the show, he became a sought-after inspirational speaker and was widely traveled. Allow me to share just some of the inspiring quotes I found online that are attributed to Fred Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
“Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go.”
“The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.”
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
“Often out of periods of losing come the greatest strivings toward a new winning streak.”
“How great it is when we come to know that times of disappointment can be followed by joy.”
“Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness.”
“Real strength has to do with helping others.”
“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world.”
“There is no normal life that is free of pain.”
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
“What’s been important in my understanding of myself and others is the fact that each one of us is so much more than any one thing. A sick child is much more than his or her sickness.”
Fred Rogers gave people permission to be human and inspired them to become the best they could be. When I think of a Bible character who exuded this same quality, Barnabus came to mind. His name actually means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encourages are others-centered. They are builders. They are blessers.
The Christians in Jerusalem didn’t want anything to do with Saul who was also known as the Apostle Paul. He had been a bad dude with a bad past. He had been a persecutor and murderer of Christians. Were they now supposed to accept that Paul was “one of them” and could be trusted? Barnabus came to Paul’s rescue in Acts 9 as he put in the good word for him and encouraged the brothers in Jerusalem to accept him as a Christian leader.
Like Mr. Rogers, Barnabus could look beyond someone’s past. He could look into someone’s potential. That is the springboard from which encouragement flows. Mr. Rogers and Barnabus both could help people see their strengths and look to what they could become. Some of us need to quit holding people hostage to their past. We need to pray to see the new thing God wants to do in and around the people around us and speak that thing. Confess that thing. Prophesy that way.
I love to hear my sister Rita Yoder pray because she just calls things not as they are, but as they will be when the Lord has full control. She prays that people are healed, mentally alert, obedient to their parents or whatever and then she goes to people and gives them the encouragement to propel them into their God-given destiny. Encouragement is powerful, friends.
Lloyd didn’t see any way things would ever change between him and his dad. It was over as far as he was concerned, but because of Mr. Rogers’ encouragement, Lloyd found courage, he found motivation, he found strength, he found the inspiration to hope for change. That’s what encouragement does. How can we harness the transforming power of encouragement to move people toward the change they need and if they were honest, wanted, for their lives?
Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another day after day.” God put those words in there so that we would be involved in His transformation business in the lives of other people. Encouragement will do so much more than criticism to bring change to someone’s life.
Mr. Rogers was an encourager even though people faced tough times like we are facing today. He took on social justice issues like racism in the 1970’s and led a “love-your-neighbor campaign” long before anyone else was talking about it. He inspired confidence and self-worth in millions of children. His TV program was like group therapy each day as kids were encouraged to process their feelings about things like divorce and death and even world happenings such as the assassination of JFK. As a result, he transformed many hearts and homes. Who are you currently inspiring?
Quickly, the last “I” word I think characterizes Mr. Rogers’ life is: INTENTIONALITY
Take a look at this clip where Mr. Roger’s wife talks about how intentionally he lived his life: https://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood/married-to-a-saint
Fred Rogers wasn’t perfect, but he lived on purpose. He didn’t wake up each day and say, “I hope it’s a great day.” No, he chose to make every day great. He worked to make his life great. He worked to make his life count. He disciplined himself to do the things he knew would be good for him. He ate well and exercised. He maintained a weight of 143 pounds his entire adult life. He didn’t drink or smoke. He didn’t go to bed late. He stayed in the Word. He stayed on his knees. Pursuing his best life as a Christian and as a citizen and as a cultural impactor was the intention of his heart every day.
Those of us who have a few years on us can testify that life goes so fast, and the older we get, the faster it goes. Time is so precious. While all we have is today, if we just drift through the day, what can we say we have done to be a steward of this resource called time that God has given to us? I love what Tony Evans said about living on purpose: “Purpose is not measured by what you have done compared to what someone else has done, but by what you have done compared to what you are supposed to do.” Do you know what you are supposed to be doing?
Fred Rogers lived with a clear awareness regarding what he was supposed to do, what God wanted from him and for his life, and he disciplined himself to be able to be productive in those ways. Out of that clarity came a motivation for Fred Rogers to live well.
Once there was a Scotsman who wanted to demonstrate the new game of golf to President Ulysses Grant. Carefully placing the ball on the tee, he took a mighty swing. The club hit the turf and scattered dirt all over the President’s beard, while the ball placidly waited on the tee. Again, the Scotsman swung, and again he missed. Our President waited patiently through six tries and then quietly stated, “There seems to be a fair amount of exercise in this game, but I fail to see the purpose of the ball.” Many of are swinging wildly away at life, but we have missed the whole purpose for which God intended. (https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/living-on-purpose-david-derry-sermon-on-finding-fulfillment-52902)
Let’s not swing and miss and swing and miss and swing and miss and sort of float through life, taking it as it comes and just get by. Let’s live with intention, purpose and discipline ourselves to be at our best every day so that we live and others can live their best possible life.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
There is no greater joy, no greater satisfaction, no higher high than knowing you are living for the purposes God has ordained.
Integrity, Inspiration and Intentionality. With Christ as our example and the Holy Spirit as our Source, we can choose to live this way and truly make it a beautiful day in the neighborhood.