Sorry Luke Bryan, “Most People Are NOT Good.”

My family and I took a road trip to Texas over our summer break. Seventeen hours crammed into a minivan will definitely bring people closer together–both figuratively and literally. We talked, slept, watched movies, and listened to music. When it comes to music in the Bell family, we enjoy listening to a variety of styles. Our children want to continuously listen to Disney soundtracks. My wife enjoys country music, but when she hears Texas country, she gives me that look of “Take Me Out to the Dancehall” (Pat Green). For me, I listen to pretty much anything and everything.

Christians can listen to all kinds of styles and forms of music. Music is purposed for our enjoyment, but believers need to listen with a critical ear. Francis Schaeffer encouraged his readers to judge art on the basis of its content because the content “reflects the world view of the artist” (Art and the Bible, 64). In other words, music should be thought of as a medium for conveying a message. Believers need to hear and measure the message with our Christian beliefs. When we listen, we should ask not only, “Do I like this song?” but also, “What is this song trying to tell me about the world we live in?” These questions are important because, whether you recognize it or not, music has the ability to shape us.

On our seventeen hour car ride, I heard “Most People Are Good,” by Luke Bryan. From the outset, Luke Bryan–in my opinion–is a decent country artist. My post is not designed to take away his singing talent and musical gifting. I just disagree with the worldview he sings about. The song repeatedly promotes his belief that “most people are good.” When he sings these words, it intends to make us feel good about ourselves. Who doesn’t want that repeated in a chorus? Plus, “good” rhymes with “sainthood,” which is important for any song. However, is this belief really true? Are “most people good?”

The Reality: The Bible seems to paint a very different picture of us as human beings. Luke Bryan might make me feel good, but the Bible tells me I’m actually evil and condemned. For example, David prayed, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We see the effects of sin in us when Cain murdered his brother Abel after the Fall (Genesis 4:8). Jesus calls us sick people who he came to heal when he states, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). One of the most scathing realities of our condition is from Paul who wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I could go on with other passages, but I think you can see that the Bible sings a different tune about our condition. In other words, the human canvass is not as good as we think we are.

The Consequences: By telling people we believe “most people are good,” we might actually be harming our fellow man. We are harming people because they will not see the depths of their sinfulness in order to see their need for the Savior. Many people will begin to believe they are “good people,” and this belief will push them away from their desperate need to believe in Jesus Christ.

To Believers: The gospel requires us to critically analyze the content of our music. We can listen to any musical genre available, but we need to hear the words and understand the message of the artist. Then, we need to measure what the artist is singing about with Scripture to determine if we are able to accept or reject their worldview.

What does this mean for the believer who hears Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good?” It really depends on you. Maybe you should change the station because you could be influenced by this message. Maybe you can listen to the song with a vocal disclaimer that this song is theologically inaccurate to others who are listening. I would have no problem dancing to this song with my wife in the kitchen while changing the words to, “I believe most [aren’t] good!” My post is not designed to tell you how to live your life, but to show you how to think critically. Therefore, listen with a critical ear, and decide for yourself, your course of action.

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Why A Divorce Will Not Doom Your Future

The statistics on divorce in America might be alarming at first glance. While the divorce rate among Christ followers may be slightly lower than the national average, the church still sees its fair share of broken marriages. Many people know that divorce leads to a wake of hurt, brokenness, and confusion in the lives of the divorcing husband and wife, but children who experience the splitting of two parents are also negatively affected by such actions. Some statistics present a vivid reality for the possible discouraging future of children who experience this traumatic event. However, this data only paints one side of the equation, and misses how the gospel can impact people who have suffered from a divorce.

We need to first understand that this situation happens both inside and outside the church because we live in a fallen and broken world (Rom 3:23). Sin makes us messed up people, and in our raggedness, marriages fall apart due to a variety of issues like unfaithfulness and/or abuse. Yet, many people think because their marriages have been broken them and/or their children are doomed. On the flip side, many children who have experienced this scenario may feel insecure in life, their current marriage, or their future marriage.

While this post is purposed to be one of encouragement, divorce does have negative consequences for everyone who is involved. So please don’t leave this post thinking that a divorce will not adversely effect a family. Nevertheless, the repercussions from a separation should not stigmatize anyone as being a “child of divorced parents” or “a divorced person” for the rest of their lives. In other words, people should not be given an identity based on their past breakup or parents’ actions. For example, this identification could make kids believe, “Well, my parents are divorced so I guess I’m not going to be successful in life or marriage.” That type of insecure thinking is not true because many children who have experienced this scenario were able to move on and become successful adults, husbands, and wives.

If you are a parent or person who has suffered a divorce, be encouraged that you and your children are not doomed. Additionally, children of divorced parents, know that your future is not as bleak as some statistics might suggest. One’s fate is not sealed due to a divorce because everyone can experience hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, the world is broken and divorce happens, but Jesus came to save and redeem all people and things (Col 1:19-20). The gospel gives anyone who experiences a divorce a new identity in Christ. Faith in Jesus makes a person a new creation, and he will give all people the ability to live out that new life regardless of their past experiences (2 Cor 5:17). Therefore, children, parents, and adults who experience divorce do not have a hopeless future, but rather can have a hope filled future in Jesus.

While everyone involved will be emotionally, physically, and spiritually effected by divorce, Jesus Christ desires to give everyone hope to overcome these effects. In other words, there is a gospel hope that will prevent anyone from becoming a negative statistic in the wake of a divorce. Everyone should recognize from this post that a relationship with Christ changes the way we endure, understand, and overcome the negative circumstances of our lives (Phil 4:10-13). Christ, and Christ alone, provides the only hope for all our futures.

Therefore, be comforted if you have experienced the separation of your mother and father. You still have a future and hope in Jesus Christ. If you are a parent or adult who has painfully experienced a divorce, find rest knowing that Jesus Christ will take care of you and your children. We all must remember that Jesus died on the cross in order to save us from our brokenness. Moreover, when we reflect on the empty tomb, we are guaranteed a future hope regardless of our past and current circumstances. Believe in Jesus, and truly begin to live life to the fullest for the glory of God.

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3 Questions to Help Prevent Your Child from Leaving the Church

Children are like human sponges. They are constantly taking in everything they see and hear from us, but as sponges, something will inevitably happen. These little sponges will spill out all they have heard and seen to others. If you are a parent of little children like me, you have probably experienced this scenario before with one of your kids. Our youngest child loves to raise his hands in the air, as if he just won a gold medal at the Olympics, and screams with resounding joy, “I pooped today!” Cute? Yes. Hilarious? Absolutely! Embarrassing when he does it in front of church members? Um…you decide. He is a human sponge after all.

Christian parents, we are all aware that our children soak in everything we project to them, but I’m not quite sure we truly understand the implications of these living, breathing sponges as it pertains to their involvement in Christ’s church. LifeWay Research recently posted an article about the drop out rate of young adults (see article here). The article revealed that 32% of those interviewed dropped out of church because church members were seen as being judgmental or hypocritical. Parents, we might be part of the problem for seeing the mass exodus of our children from the church.

To prove we might be part of the problem, ask yourself: Have I ever criticized the church in front of my children? Have I ever judged the style of worship or the charisma of the pastor while driving in the car home from church when my children were in the backseat? What about judgmentally gossiping about another church member or criticizing a church decision around the lunch table after service with my kids sitting there? Sometimes I fear we as parents in our hypocritical and judgmental conversations are driving a wedge in between our children and Christ’s church.

I am not saying we shouldn’t think critically about sermons or music when it comes to theology, but I am saying we should not present a critical spirit to our children by voicing everything we see wrong in the church–the bride of Christ. The bride, by the way, he shed his own blood to save and purchase for himself (Eph 5:25-27). Therefore, here are three questions to answer in front of your children in order to help them fall more in love with Christ and his church to help combat the mass exodus of young adults.

  1. What did God reveal to you? We live in a day where you can hear many preachers on the internet (some good and some not so good). One of the problems with access to a variety of online sermons is internet pastors are not your pastor. Therefore, we might be tempted to compare the sermon we heard on Sunday to another sermon we heard on the internet. We might pick a part all that the pastor said, didn’t say, and should have said. However, when you sit under biblical preaching, you should be listening with an open heart and expecting to hear what God has spoken through his Word. Instead of criticizing or comparing the preaching to others, talk about what God revealed to your heart. What did you take away? What did God show you about himself? What did the Bible say about something you were experiencing that week? When God’s Word is preached, God speaks, and he speaks to you each time. Talk about it in front of your kids.
  2. What do you see God doing in the local church? We live in a culture that criticizes nearly everyone and every institution. We are notorious for finding flaws in all of our experiences. No church is completely perfect, and we are not expected to be the perfect place of worship. Nevertheless, our imperfection as the bride of Christ points to the perfection we have received in Christ. Look for things that God is doing in your local church. Celebrate where you see God working in front of your kids. For example, highlight for your children when the church you attend is sending missionaries, reaching the lost, or serving each other with loving-kindness. By speaking highly of the church, your children will begin to fall more in love with the body of believers they see God working through and in for his glory.
  3. Where do you see the gospel at work in the lives of others? One of the greatest joys as a pastor and church member is seeing people grow in their walk with the Lord. When you see people growing in their relationship to God, try to acknowledge their transformation to your children. The gospel is life changing. When people believe in Jesus, their lives are truly transformed and being transformed into the image of Christ. Acknowledge the gospel’s power in the lives of others. Show your children how the gospel propels volunteers to serve children and youth with joy. Point out the man who gave his life to Christ, and the way he interacts with his wife and/or children because of it. Maybe point out how the gospel has turned you from being judgmental and hypocritical to compassionate and kindhearted. By pointing out the gospel’s impact in the lives of others, our children will observe the power of the gospel firsthand.

While teenagers and young adults are abandoning the church in droves, perhaps God can use us to point out all the ways we see God working in our lives and within our local churches to prevent them from leaving. Let us speak often and uncritically about God’s Word, goodness, grace, and power, and watch our children fall more in love with Jesus and his bride. May they love the church as much as, if not more than, their mothers and fathers.

Are there any additional questions you would like to add? Please feel free to share them with us in the comments section in order to encourage others.

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Parents, Stop Raising Quitters

I stood with my mouth wide open at the baseball field. It was a moment of both shock and sadness. Our son’s baseball team was determining if we were going to forfeit the next game because the team we were playing was better than us. Forfeit a game because we might get beat (“humiliated” was the word actually used). My heart sank for these boys who had given their all this baseball season. My stomach churned because of the lessons that were being taught. Lessons like quitting, giving up, and you aren’t as good as the other guys (talk about a self-esteem drainer).

What has happened to us in America? What have we become as coaches and parents? What will be the implications of this type of parenting/coaching on our children in the future? Only time will provide the answers to these questions, but I think we might see a generation that will grow up to become pansies who can’t handle difficult situations. They won’t know how to take on challenges. When things get tough, they will just quit. They will have low self-esteem because they will constantly be comparing themselves to others who are better than them.

Parents, WE HAVE TO STOP THIS! Out of all the parents standing there, I was the only one to speak up and say, “Play the game!” Some people might wonder why I spoke up to play a game that we might lose, but there are greater lessons to be learned than simply winning baseball games. Here are four lessons that we teach our children when facing difficult situations where they might lose:

  1. Our children will work to get better. A fact of life is that there are people in the world who are better than us. I am a pastor, and I know other pastors who are better than me. I enjoy doing CrossFit, and I could give you a list of people who are better at CrossFit than me. I am a PhD student, and I know some students who are much smarter and better writers than me. Guess what? Just because people are better than me, doesn’t mean I don’t preach, CrossFit, or study for my PhD. It actually does the opposite. These people push me to get better in life. To put it in context, let your children do things in life where people are better than them because that will actually make them become better. If we shelter our kids from people who are better we are planting soil for them to grow into pansies who can’t handle life’s challenges.
  2. Rally the troops for victory. One of the biggest problems in our American society is that we make decisions based upon our perceived results. I only know of one being who knows the future: God. The coaching group was making an assumption that we not only were going to lose, but also that we had already lost. We haven’t played the game yet, so we don’t truly know the outcome. However, nobody remembers when the powerhouse beats the underdog, but everyone talks about when the underdog beats the power house. Why? Because on any day, the game starts at zero and can be won by either team. Think of all the great movies based on true stories like Rudy, Remember the Titans, or The Pistol. We remember and celebrate when David beats Goliath. When our children take on difficult situations, victory is sweeter when they have to work even harder to earn it.
  3. A lesson on humility. Sometimes the opposite might happen. Our children may get beat by a better team. May I let you in on a little secret? Sometimes you and your children are going to get beat at something in life. Our kids aren’t going to get a job or a promotion or an award, and that’s life. Welcome to the world. If we don’t teach our children now how to deal with getting beat, our children are going to walk around like arrogant people. However, their arrogance will prevent them from dealing with being defeated. As a result, their lives will turn out to be disastrous. Do we really wonder why our children are dealing with certain behavioral disorders? Maybe we should look in the mirror and see that we have not trained them how to deal with getting beat in this world.
  4. A lesson about self-confidence. I still think this old saying has some truth to it, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose it’s how you play the game.” As a competitor, winning and losing does matter. However, these outcomes are not the ONLY thing that matters. We want to teach our children to fight and compete, but we don’t want to make life only about winners and losers. We want to teach children that no matter the outcome as long as they gave everything they had they should hold their heads high. This could apply to any results that our children bring home. When our kids bring a report card home and it has a “C” on it, we ask, “Did you do the very best you could?” Their answer determines their self-confidence. As long as they are giving their “very best,” we are proud of them and tell them to keep their head up. Of course, we coach them to move beyond what they “think” their best is, but we still believe that their work ethic and willingness to take on a difficult task is a reason for building their confidence.

To conclude this story, I’m proud to say that the boys stood up and said, “WE WANT TO PLAY!” That moment my heart went from sinking to jumping and my stomach went from churning to whirling with excitement. Parents, we must allow our children to face some difficult scenarios in life because these situations will teach them valuable lessons.

Are there any additional lessons you would like to add? Please feel free to share them in the comments section to encourage others.

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3 Concepts to Teach Children About the Easter Bunny

Our oldest daughter asked me a pointed question this week. She inquired, “Dad, why do people make a big deal about the Easter bunny? Isn’t Easter about Jesus?” I cannot begin to describe the feelings of joy that pierced my heart when this question left her mouth and infiltrated my ear canal. I was thankful she recognized the distinction between a biblical understanding of Easter with the cultural Easter norms being celebrated around us.

From the outset, I am not anti-Easter bunny guy. Please don’t accuse me of being like an Easter bunny Luddite. However, Christian parents have to think about raising our children by navigating the biblical and cultural meanings of special days like Easter. I want to provide you with three concepts that you should teach your children about the Easter bunny.

  1. The Easter bunny is not real. Some parents might think this is a harsh reality to teach their children. However, I think we should be honest with our children about the Easter bunny. Just because the Easter bunny is not real does not mean we can’t have fun participating in Easter egg hunts or taking pictures. We should allow our children to enjoy their imaginations, but we don’t have to connect their imaginations to biblical truth. In other words, we don’t make Easter about the Easter bunny. Rather we should make Easter about Jesus Christ. We need to highlight the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus to our children not a cute bunny. As we highlight Jesus, we can have fun with all the Easter festivities in our communities (I am indebted to John Piper for his discussion of Santa Clause in a recent podcast for my thoughts on this subject; see his comments here).
  2. Get into gospel conversations at community events. I will unashamedly admit that I use my children as “gospel bait.” The Easter bunny is a cultural conception to our neighbors and community who may not know the gospel of Jesus Christ. To put it another way, many people may not know that Christians have a different reason for celebrating and remembering what Christ has done for us on Easter, but many people in our communities and neighborhoods will gather to hunt eggs and see some poor soul dressed up in a white bunny costume. Teach your children that these are perfect events to share their faith and invite others to church. Training our children for cultural engagements and evangelism is another part of our instruction and raising them as faithful followers. You will be encouraged the first time that one of your children beats you at inviting someone to church. (I can’t wait for the day when one of our children invites the poor soul in the bunny costume).
  3. Make worship at a local church top priority. It amazes me that so many people can make plans to attend a neighborhood Easter egg hunt or find out where the cutest Easter bunny pictures will be taken and not make it to church. People will spend hours in the cold, rain, or sunshine to see their kids joyfully get eggs or take an Easter bunny picture, but they won’t spend an hour and fifteen minutes gathering with the body that was bought by the blood of Christ. We should teach our children that we can plan to have fun at these events, but Good Friday Services and Sunday morning worship gatherings are going to take top priority in our schedule. We remind them that the Easter bunny is not real, but we serve a risen and real Lord, Jesus Christ. We will devote our lives to Christ, and if it comes between a pretend Easter bunny and worshiping the resurrected Savior, we will choose the Savior every time.

I hope these three concepts are helpful as you seek to raise your children in our American society under the authority of God’s Word. By teaching our children that the Easter bunny is not real we are able to highlight the true meaning of Easter, which is Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. As we keep Jesus at the center, we are able to have fun with our children, but teach them how to engage with the culture around them in a more biblical and faithful way. Work hard at teaching them to be little evangelists, but also faithful worshipers during this Easter season. 

Teaching Reconciliation to Children

One of the many joys of parenting comes in the form of teaching our children new things. We all remember the first time we taught our child or children to tie their shoes, to hit a T-Ball, or to ride a bicycle. Most of us were just as thrilled to watch our children learn and succeed as they were in accomplishing the task before them. In this post, I want to encourage Christian parents to teach their children the biblical principle of reconciliation. By reconciliation, I mean restoring a relationship when sin has hurt the relationship.

We need to be honest with ourselves; our children are not perfect. Our children’s hearts are prone to sinful actions (Prov. 22:15). Our children will be sinned against and will sin against others. God has graciously blessed us with our children for only a short amount of time. Which means, God has placed our children with us in order that we may teach them the ways of the Lord. All Christian parents should desire to one day send their children out into the world as godly men and women sharing the gospel and contributing as beneficial members in society (Deut. 6:7, Eph 6:4, and Prov. 22:6).

For this reason, we must teach our children how to reconcile with God and others anytime sin breaks a relationship. How do we go about doing this in the Christian home? I will provide three areas of teaching reconciliation to our children so they may grow in the wisdom and knowledge of the Lord. By the way, if we do not teach our children the biblical principle of reconciliation we may inadvertently teach our children that they are not responsible for their actions in any relationship. This mentality will not only hurt their relationships with others, but will hurt their understanding of the gospel. The three areas for teaching reconciliation are:

1) We must teach our children that anytime they sin they must first seek reconciliation with God.

When we or our children sin, we must first recognize our sin as a direct rebellion against God. We should be like David that pleads with God after his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). We must teach our children to first go to God and ask forgiveness in order to reconcile their relationship with God. I encourage parents to sit down with their child and teach the child how to pray and ask for God’s forgiveness. Feed the words to the child the first few times. After the child starts to see how you pray to ask forgiveness, allow them to start praying and asking forgiveness by themselves. Don’t forget that you are training and teaching your children the biblical principle of reconciliation. This takes time. It’s just like riding a bike or hitting a T-Ball. Once they get it, get excited and celebrate their accomplishment.

2) We must teach our children that anytime they sin against others they must go and seek reconciliation with the other person.

This one will be difficult for your child. Just as this one seems to be the most difficult among Christian brothers and sisters in Christ. Nevertheless, seeking reconciliation with others exists as an essential in the biblical principle of reconciliation. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5: 23-24). When we sin against others, our sin hurts the relationship. We must go and ask forgiveness from the other person that we have sinned against. We must teach our children how to go and ask forgiveness in order to be reconciled to the other person. Teach your child to go ask forgiveness by confessing they are responsible for their actions, and they are sorry for their actions. The child is more likely to do this if you are standing right beside the child during this process. Once they seek reconciliation, praise them for owning up to their actions and seeking reconciliation.

3) We must teach our children that when they are sinned against the gospel mandates that they must forgive the other person.

This concept is another difficult one for children. Just as this concept is difficult for brothers and sisters in Christ. Our children will not only sin against others, but our children will be sinned against by others. They must learn to forgive others in order for relationships to be reconciled. We must teach our children that they have sinned against a Holy God more than anyone has sinned against them. However, Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and glorious resurrection has allowed a Holy God to forgive them of all their rebellion against him. This understanding of the gospel leads Paul to write, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). The best way to teach forgiveness to your child is to forgive them when they rebel against you in the home. Tell them you have forgiven them, and that you will not hold their sin against them. Of course we discipline, but after the discipline has been rendered, forgiveness is immediate.

Reconciliation is a difficult lesson to teach to a child, but reconciliation is a continuous lesson to be taught to a child in the Christian home. A word of example for you as a Christian parent to consider. If you are not seeking reconciliation with others (i.e. spouse, boss, church family, family, etc.), how do you expect your children to seek reconciliation. The lessons you teach are sometimes more effective if you are living out the biblical principle of reconciliation in front of your child. Do they see you asking forgiveness from God, from others, and forgiving others? Before you can teach this lesson, you have to be willing to apply this lesson in your own Christian walk. May we continue to live out 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That includes our parenting and teaching the biblical principle of reconciliation to our children. 

Make Memories, Not Kodak Moments

From the outset, let me clarify that I am not a Luddite. I am not anti-technology, against picture taking, or opposed to people capturing videos of life on their cell phones. However, I am arguing that some of us may be taking our ability to capture moments to such an extreme that we are missing out on life. We are so busy making memories looking through a screen or lens that we are neglecting to take a step back and experience a greater picture of the world and moments around us in our minds.

For example, my family and I recently attended one of our children’s school performances. The children were singing about making healthy food decisions. You would have thought the children were performing “The Phantom of the Opera” by the amount of cell phones capturing the show. They were literally singing about food. Yet, people were experiencing the performance through a tunnel vision like perception with their cell phone screens.

As I witnessed this cultural trend, it began to overwhelm me with grief. I began to ask various questions to myself: Why have we stopped capturing moments in our memories? Why are we watching life go by with our kids through a technological median? Why don’t we just sit and focus our complete and undivided attention on the sights, sounds, and smells of the situation?

One thing I have learned is that we are always making history. Once a moment passes, it’s over. You can’t get it back. It’s in the past. It’s, after all, history. However, we are so caught up trying to catch these moments on film that we are missing all the intricate details of the bigger picture. Again, I’m not anti-technology. There are certain moments that we should capture in pictures and videos like your baby’s first steps, your wedding, and your walk across the stage to get that diploma.

But, not every moment is to be a captured Kodak moment. We want to experience and see all of the details and experiences in our lives with our full attention. You should want to capture those first steps of your baby, but experience with your child where those steps will take them in life. You should capture that wedding moment, but live to see those vows and your life with your spouse lived out in its fullness. You want to capture that walk across the stage, but never forget all the hard work that it took you to even step foot on the stage.

Sometimes we just need to stop trying to make every moment a Kodak moment, and start making a few more memories. More people spend time sitting around talking about memories than pulling out picture albums or video recordings to discuss past events. Yet, I’m afraid we are missing these precious memories by trying to capture the moment through a small, narrowly focused screen. Sometimes we just need to stop forcing Kodak moments, and start enjoying the making of a memory.

We live in such a busy and sometimes exhausting American society that it might be a good thing to stop on occasion and just “smell the roses.” We should take more opportunities to just make a memory by enjoying the moment with our family and friends. We should be thankful that by God’s grace we are still breathing, and in our gratitude for God’s grace we should pause to take in an special occasion with all our senses not simply through a screen.

From my child’s school performance, I will not forget seeing her big smile as she danced to eating her vegetables and drinking her water. I will not forget watching her face light up as her peers walked in front of her carrying poster size coke cans and noodles. I will not forget that each class was either wearing green, yellow, or red shirts to drive home the point that some foods are good, some process slowly, and others you should avoid. I won’t forget t