The news is filled with unlikely stories this morning.
Two years ago, who would have imagined that Donald Trump would be addressing today's United Nations General Assembly as US president? Bill Cosby was once a cultural icon; now he faces years in prison as his sentencing hearing starts today. A year ago, Tiger Woods couldn't sit or walk because of back pain; his victory Sunday is being called "the greatest comeback story in sports history."
And Mr. Rogers is back in the news.
Google honored Fred Rogers on the homepage of its search engine last Friday to celebrate the filming of his first episode on September 21, 1967.
I encourage you to watch the short video. You'll learn that Mr. Rogers often named his characters for real people in his life (Queen Sara was named after his wife, for instance). His mother hand-knit all the cardigans he wore on his show, including a red sweater that is now at the Smithsonian. And the stoplight at the opening of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood always blinked yellow to remind kids and parents to slow down a little.
Fred Rogers was not the only television personality to begin a show fifty years ago. Hawaii Five-O, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and The Mod Squad would qualify as well. But Google chose to honor Mr. Rogers instead.
What does Fred Rogers' abiding popularity say about our troubled times?
"I like you just the way you are"
Fred Rogers' message was simple: "I like you just the way you are." We are starved for such unconditional affirmation because we find it so seldom in this world.
The root of our problem is not just that others condemn us for our failures. It is that we condemn ourselves for our failures.
When others criticize us, their attacks are hurtful, of course. But no one knows us as we know ourselves. No one knows our failures like we do.
No matter how much we succeed in life, no matter how much we do and own, no matter how much popularity we amass, it's never enough. When others affirm us, there's a voice in the back of our minds that says, "That's because they don't really know me." We can spend our lives trying to compensate for our failures, but we will never succeed.
We need a shift in perspective, a way of seeing ourselves that is life-giving rather than condemning. But nothing in our secular culture affords us this option.
As the Western world moves further and further from a biblical worldview, we lose not only the biblical principles that are foundational for personal and communal morality. We also lose our ability to see ourselves as God sees us.
And this loss changes everything about how we see ourselves.
"The Lord takes pleasure in his people"
So, how does God see us?
"The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).
Why did God save you? "He rescued me, because he delighted in me" (Psalm 18:19).
How much does he love you now? "The love of Christ . . . surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19).
What will make him stop loving you? "Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
In short, "The Lord takes pleasure in his people" (Psalm 149:4). Did you know that the God of the universe "takes pleasure" in you right now?
"If we are faithless, he remains faithful"
Our Father loves us when we cannot love ourselves. He forgives us when we cannot forgive ourselves. No matter how much we succeed or fail in life, "the Lord is faithful" (2 Thessalonians 3:3). In fact, our Father promises that "if we are faithless, he remains faithful" (2 Timothy 2:13).
So, here's your Father's invitation to you this morning: stop measuring yourself by what you think of yourself. Stop trying to do enough good to be good enough.
Your omniscient Creator knows you even better than you know yourself. In fact, he knows all the past sins you've forgotten and all the future sins you don't know you'll commit. Yet he loves you without condition.
Decide that he's right. Decide that your eternal life is worth the death of God's Son. Not because you can ever earn such love, but because you don't have to: "by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:8).
Can our world wait for such love even one more day?