The following is written by Steve Fredlund, who has been to Rwanda and leads Our Response, a partnership with World Vision bringing transformation to Kivaruga, Rwanda, by united East Central Minnesota to respond to global poverty, disease and suffering:
This morning, I took my daughter's bike and rode to the Campbell Creek Trail. It is a scenic trail that winds along a gurgling creek. I was a little concerned about remembering how to get back without getting lost and turned around after a few miles.
This is the range of mountains I see from my daughter's home in Anchorage, Alaska. My wife, mother-in-law and I are here to visit our daughter and son-in-law for a week. Allison married Philip over a year ago and moved over two thousand miles to begin a new adventure.
Today, the final day of this year, is the day to set spiritual goals for 2017.
The real goal is to grow more in love with Jesus throughout the year.
Finish 2016 strong with a desire to grow more in love with Jesus throughout 2017!
Two weeks after Thanksgiving, I noticed an ornament on one of our pine trees a few hundred yards down the driveway. It was a single, red ornament higher than a tall person could place it on a branch. I thought our daughter had put it there while standing on the running boards of her car. It was not her, but she had noticed it also and was curious who put it there.
My daughter’s friend was grilled at church. I was certain it was her. She has denied it, but finds it funny I have charged her with this action as though a crime. I asked our other children and their spouses. Not them.
Our next door neighbor was the next suspect. He takes his horse for a ride down our driveway. The height of the ornament would be that of a person atop a horse. Not our neighbor either. Every time I leave and every trip home, I intentionally look at the ornament. Even the windiest days did not blow it off the tree. It is about four inches in diameter and larger than any of the tree ornaments we own. For now, I am filled with a joy over this simple, mysterious gift given.
I am reminded of the simple birth of Jesus Christ. God sent His one and only son, Jesus into our world. You may have questions how God put Jesus here. A virgin Mary, a stable, a manger, angels, shepherds and a world that is not deserving.
Be filled with joy over the simple gift of Jesus given that whoever believes in Him will never perish, but have eternal life. A profound mystery.
Today seems like a Monday, because yesterday was a day off of work, but felt like a Saturday and Sunday was Christmas Day. Many people are asking themselves and others, “What day is it today?” Next week will not be any better because New Year’s Eve is Saturday, which means New Year’s Day is Sunday. Most people will have Monday, January 2 as their holiday and will once again be wondering what day it is during most of next week. Not until we reach the second Monday of the month will we get back to a regular rhythm!
The writer of Psalms 90 tells us to number our days; not to keep track of the day of the week. You are to commit your day to the Lord. Jesus has purpose and destiny in your day that could be lost if you are n ot looking for it.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Your thoughts as well as mine have been jarred by the confession of Danny Heinrich as he described the abduction of Jacob Wetterling. Danny Heinrich has kept this grisly secret for years. He was able to keep it inside of himself while questioned repeatedly over the years.
Danny Heinrich has something very broken in his psychological, spiritual and physical life.
We do not know how long will he be in prison. We do not know if Danny Heinrich will change before his life on earth is over. We do know what Jesus desires of Danny. Jesus offers love, forgiveness and healing to him.
If Danny accepts Jesus offer and you are a Christian, then you and I will be a spiritual brother and spiritual sister to him. How do you feel about that? I am not so excited about the prospect.
There are things about me that are not like Jesus. My head knows about complete forgiveness, but my heart does not completely forgive. If you are like me, then you and I are exactly like the Pharisees who were angry at Jesus for hanging out with “sinners” and offering them love, forgiveness and healing. I am bothered by that.
You and I are not faced with a life together with Danny Heinrich. It may or may not ever happen. You and I are faced with becoming like Jesus and closing the gap of our old tendencies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Racism. Tragic events in Minnesota and across our nation have placed racial problems repeatedly in the news. Funerals have been held for officers and two young African American men.
How should the mostly white population of Isanti County respond? Are there things that the churches and people of faith in our communities can do? How do we value the men and women who protect us at the risk of their own safety? How do we reach across racial lines in love and unity? What would Jesus do?
Authors of the book, Divided By Faith, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probed the grassroots of white evangelical America through a nationwide survey. Their findings reported was written in 2000 and concluded that despite efforts to address the problem of racial discrimination, evangelicals themselves seem to be preserving America’s racial divide. Because I am a white evangelical Christian, I was defensive of their findings.
Jesus often frustrated His followers by showing up at controversial gatherings. If Jesus were here today would He show up on I-35 blocking traffic? Would Jesus be among the wounded or killed in Dallas’ protest? Would He attend the funerals of both white officers and African American offenders?
The authors are not accusing evangelicals of active racism. Instead it is the emphasis on individualism, free-will and personal relationships that perpetuates racial inequality. In their surveys, white conservative Protestants hold blacks more individually accountable than other whites do. Nearly two-thirds of white conservative Protestants say that blacks are poor because they lack sufficient motivation compared to half of other white Americans. White conservative Protestants are less likely to explain racial inequality in structural terms such as economic, political, educational, social and religious systems.
Most white American evangelicals have good intentions for positive race relations. Movements such as Promise-Keepers have helped white Christians form friendships across race lines. The emphasis on the need for confession and forgiveness of past injustices have offered important contributions towards healing. They are good beginnings, but alone falls short.
In the Bible there was great hostility among the Jews and Greeks, much like our race differences today. Jesus came to break hostility between people groups.
Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV)
For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in His flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.
Jesus purpose is not a color-blind humanity that ignores that differences and value that each race brings into the world. His purpose is an end to hostility that is accomplished by embracing the salvation through Jesus that brings reconciliation.
Emerson and Smith’s final words of their book reads, “Educated, sacrificial, realistic efforts made in faith across racial lines can help us together move towards a more just equitable, and peaceful society. And that is a purpose worth striving toward.”
May “reconciled” become the new “R” word.
The news of Prince’s death has left people stunned, remembering, reflecting, questioning, and doubting. Bridges were highlighted in purple and even the Eiffel Tower was lit in purple. Vigils, dances and musical remembrances celebrated Prince’s musical impact in the world.
I have no personal encounters with Prince. I never went to his concerts or any venues where he was performing. I am aware of his incredible abilities and gifted musicianship. Through the news feeds, I have learned that Prince was out for basketball in junior high school, but that activity ended when his growing stopped at 5’ 2”. I also learned his full name is Prince Rogers Nelson and that his childhood nickname was “Skipper”. He had lawsuits over copyright issues, artistic and financial controls of his musical productions. Prince was a vegan, had many romances, was married twice, and became a Jehovah’s Witness.
Tipper Gore heard her daughter listening to Prince’s music and it caused Tipper to begin the work that brought warning labels to the music industry. Through tributes on the radio and internet I heard soundbites of a number of Prince’s songs. The song, “My Name is Prince” made me curious about his relationship with God and Jesus Christ. Here are some of the lyrics:
In the beginning God made the sea
But on the 7th day he made me
He was tryin' to rest y'all when He heard the sound
Sound like a guitar cold gettin' down
I tried to bust a high note, but I bust a string
My God was worried 'til he heard me sing
My name is Prince and I am funky
When it come to funk I am a junky
I know from righteous I know from sin
I got 2 sides and they both friends
My name is Prince, I don't wanna be king
Cuz I've seen the top and it's just a dream
Big cars and women and fancy clothes
Will save your face but it won't save your soul
I'm here to tell you that there's a better way
Would our Lord be happy if He came 2 day?
I ain't sayin' I'm better, no better than u
But if u want 2 play with me, u better learn the rules
I have no basis to say whether Prince’s soul is saved or not. All I know that Prince is dead. Jesus, the Prince of Peace lives. Jesus was present when God made the sea and formed Adam and Eve on the seventh day. Only Jesus can remove son and make a person righteous, which means right and pure. Only Jesus can save a soul. There is a better way.
John 14:6 (NIV)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Husband of one, father of five, pastor and friend of many.