Your Pastor's Thoughts After Kenosha's Unraveling

Dear CrossWay Family,

I think you will understand the weight I feel in writing this email.  Yes, I feel, as we all do, the dismay and sadness over what is happening in and to our city.  People’s lives have been forever changed.  Fires burning.  Businesses boarded up.  People having to evacuate their homes.  Most of us live here.  Many of us grew up here.  We love this place.  There is such a great weight of grief we feel over all that is happening.  But I am also feeling the weight of responsibility to speak and to provide some direction.  But what does one say?  What does one think one could possibly say in the face of this apparently uncontrolled civic unraveling?  It almost feels more appropriate for us to be on our faces with our mouths in the dust.

Yet, I know that any clarity we gain in our thinking and in our relating is going to be the product of careful, patient, and extended work that will rely on reasonable discourse.  I certainly don’t profess to have perfect understanding myself but I am burdened that we as Christians, and particularly that we as a church, reflect the heart and mind of God as we process what is going on in our community.  So, I want to share with you a few things that I’ve been thinking and I’m praying that they will be helpful to you.

1. We must insist that our own thinking and acting will be shaped by the truths and values presented in God’s Word.  We must be committed, in our own thinking, to the truth and reality that all people, every single human being, is created by God in His image and therefore has eternal value and has an eternal future at stake every day.  And, as a result of that, we have a responsibility before God toward every individual we encounter no matter who they are.  And we must be committed, in our own thinking, to the truth and reality that sin is pervasive in the human heart and produces all kinds of evil and senselessness.  And we must especially be committed, in our own thinking, to the truth and reality that only in Jesus Christ is there any real redemption, both for individual human beings and for the human race.  These are fundamental truths and realities that cannot be compromised by pressure from any direction.  We must be grounded in biblical truth and we must apply biblical truth to every single facet of life.

2. We must not give up on reasonableness and the importance of getting to the truth of the matter.  One of the most distressing things about what takes place in the midst of these crises is the reductionism that can happen and is so evidently happening.  Things are overly simplified and we can rush to judgments.  We may think, “Why seven shots?”  We may think, “Why didn’t he just stop and turn around?”  There are many factors in a shooting incident like what has happened here, factors that exist on multiple levels.  All those factors need to be taken into consideration and given their proper weight.  Each of us knows the temptation to take a complicated situation and simplify it until it tells the story we want it to tell.  We highlight certain details and dismiss others.  But as Christians we are committed to truth.  The whole picture must be taken into account giving each part the weight it deserves, and that takes time and careful consideration.  The quickness to draw conclusions and to assign blame without due process does not help to move toward lasting solutions.  Reasonable discourse will require great patience and humility.  It will require people actually responding to truth and adjusting their thinking.  But this is what will bear the fruit of rightness and peace, and when I see it actually happening, in myself and in others, it gives me such hope.

Along these lines I believe it is important for us to exercise a wise discernment in our judging of other people.  There are those who are seeking to be heard, trying to communicate that their situation is hard and has been hard.  I’m speaking here of African-Americans who are asking us to listen.  Based on who I am or my life experience I might be tempted to be dismissive but that is something we absolutely cannot do.  There are things being said by them that we need to hear and consider.  Room must be given for voices to be heard and for peaceful protest to be voiced.  Think of our own history, both religious and national, and the right protestations that have been made in the face of wrong and the good that has come of that protest.  But then, totally apart from the legitimate desire to be heard on the part of some, the wanton burning and destruction, as well as the taking of justice into one’s own hands, cannot be condoned.  It is wrong and it is senseless and that wrongfulness and senselessness must be named.

3.  We must actively pursue explicitly Christian virtue.  I heard a friend say recently when commenting on what is happening in our city, “Most news we get we can’t do much about, but this is happening in our town and we can play a role.”  There are, and will be, opportunities for us to serve and to very concretely reach out to and care for others around us.  That could take a hundred shapes.  It could be volunteering to help clean up when that time comes.  It could be simply reaching out with some expression of concern and solidarity to someone you know who has been particularly affected.  It could be getting on your knees and purposefully praying for Jacob Blake and his family, for the police officers involved in the incident and their families, for our state and local leaders, for our police and firemen, for families displaced by the violence, for healing in our community.  All it requires is a heart of love and some attention.  Pray that God would open our eyes and give us hearts of compassion and readiness.

And as I think about Christian virtue I think about how we speak—both directly and on social media.  It is so easy to voice our opinions and the effect of our words can be so harmful.  Yet, thank God, the effect of our words can also be so helpful.  There is a right time and a right place and a right way to speak.  Let us purpose to speak not just civilly, but with words that are full of grace, apt, and edifying.

4.  We must not, under any circumstance in this life, lose hope.  God has made great promises both for this life and the next.  Yet, I can feel weary and discouraged at times.  I have felt a deep sadness these days.  Tears well up at times.  This is my hometown. I hesitate a bit to share this with you.  My purpose is not to draw focus to myself or to garner pity.  I simply am communicating my sadness over the persistence and the devastation of sin.  It makes me long for heaven.  It really does.  I want to be faithful here, all the way through.  I want that for all of us.  But I have put my hope in the promise that all will be well someday.  The prophet Isaiah said, “Tell the righteous it shall be well with them” (3:10).  Or, I think of that passage many of us have known from our youth in John 14—“Let not your hearts be troubled . . . I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also.”  So many times this promise gets spoken in our Bibles and there is no question that God does that for a reason.  He wants us to hear it and believe it and he knows that in this world we will have great need to know it and believe it.  How we long for that day!  How our hearts should long for that time when there will be no more strife or tension or sin of any kind.  So, I want to say to you, “Christian, it shall be well with you.”  Do not put your hope in this world—in politicians, governments, material security, your own wisdom or wealth or strength.  Put your hope in God.  And set your hope on things above.  Yes, in this world labor to think and live rightly for God’s glory now and for the good of those around us.  But set your hope out ahead.  God has promised.  You will not be disappointed.  We all know that in this world there will be grievous things but we should never lose hope.

There are more things I want to say, specifically about the content of the issues facing us—issues of racial tension and justice—and the unique perspective and promise of the Gospel.  Those we will address in opportunities in the coming weeks.  For now it is these things I’ve shared that are on my heart and as your pastor I wanted to share them with you and ask you to consider them and to present your own heart before God after the manner of David in Psalm 139:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

With both trepidation and confidence, and with much love,
Pastor Mike
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