This is an edited transcription of President Maier’s address regarding the death of George Floyd. You can see the full video here.
Over the past months, our country has truly gone through a lot: the COVID-19 crisis, sheltering in place and the tensions that are caused by just being and living at home, and then—here in Michigan—the dams breaking, causing horrific destruction in Sandford and Midland. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but the cleanup is just beginning and will be extensive and prolonged. And now the nation as a whole is also being affected—and rightly so—by what took place with George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is to that that I would like to speak to you now.
The death of George Floyd is not the only incident of something happening that was terribly wrong … and it has affected the African and Black community, as it should every community. We need to be aware of that because we are all human beings. All human beings are created in the image of God. All life is precious to God! And as Christians—people belonging to God, purchased by the blood of Jesus, saved by grace through faith, and Christ-followers—we want people to belong to the one body of Christ in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:28). There’s no one except one—not black or white, Jew or Gentile—but being “one” in Christ Jesus.
I mentioned that George Floyd was not the only incident of which we are aware: there’s also Breonna Taylor, who was studying to be a nurse in Louisville, Kentucky, and was shot in her apartment. We’ve recently heard of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while jogging. Many of these things are being caught on film (phones), and so we have a wider understanding of what is taking place. It’s pricking our conscience—or should be.
I also want to make sure that I say that not all police are bad, and we thank God for how they lay their lives on the line to try and maintain or bring about order. But when you put on a badge, it’s an honor and privilege and meant to defend the rights of ALL people, not just of some.
I also want to say that protests are appropriate. In fact, we are given that right. As Christians, we are to speak up against that which is wrong and to point out what is good and right. Riots, however, the destruction of property, is wrong. That illegal behavior needs to be condemned even as the murderous behavior of bad police needs to be condemned and punished.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly
What should we, as God’s people, be thinking about or doing? I so appreciate what the prophet Micah has to say to us. He writes, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
To act justly: to pray for justice, to exercise justice, to encourage justice—and not just for oneself, it’s for all people. In fact, God expects His children to look at those who are lost, limited, lame, lonely, sidelined, and demeaned and help them! We are to do whatever we can to extend the love of Christ as it has been extended to us even at the expense of personal sacrifice.
To show mercy and to act humbly: to walk humbly with our God means that we repent of our own sin—including wherever we have contributed to the sin of others or tried to cover and hide our own sin. We need to closely examine our life for our sin and repent of it. And I’m not just talking racism. Is it lust? Is it that we refuse to recognize spending the right time with our family … or, especially, with God, Who alone transforms and changes us? To walk humbly with God means to acknowledge our sin, our culpability, and to recognize that only by the blood of Jesus Christ are we cleansed and freed to be different; only through our union with Christ are we strengthened to serve Him. These truths are what took place with Christ, in Christ, on Calvary’s cross.
Paul is talking to the churches in Asia minor. I believe Ephesians is an encyclical letter—that it was written for, and made its rounds among, many of the newly formed churches in Asia Minor. This is what he has to write to them from perhaps the most famous chapter in that book—chapter two. He says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh [that’s us], called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel [those who were saved] and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11–12). That was the plight of Gentiles. That was my plight. That was your plight. We weren’t in the “in” group. We weren’t “in Christ.” We didn’t know salvation through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The passage continues: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall (Eph. 2:13–14). That’s what this carpenter from Nazareth did. He broke down—totally dismantled, destroyed—the dividing wall, the barrier wall that separated Jew and Gentile … and, if you will, black and white and yellow, whatever the color might be, whatever the nationality or ethnicity. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14–16).
This is what Christ our Lord has done for us. We were once far off and have been brought near. Those who do not yet know Christ are far off, whatever their color or nationality or ethnicity and, by God’s love and grace, need to be brought near. This is God’s heart. It is His design and desire.
If you want to know what the two major groups are today, it’s not black and white, it’s not those privileged and unprivileged—and by the way, I think “privilege,” and specifically, white privilege, does exist. The two major groups are those who know and believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord and those who don’t! And those who do know Christ have been given the blessed opportunity of letting their light shine “before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
This is not a matter for politicians to solve—may God bless them as they try and rule justly; they deserve our prayers. This is certainly not a matter for media or there will be many biases. This is really a matter for the child of God. We, God’s children, know what’s right, that we are to act justly, to show mercy, to walk humbly with our God.
I think we begin to see a glimpse of God’s intent on Pentecost and what took place there. Of course, we just came off of that incredible celebration. But I want to remind you of part of what took place in Acts chapter two: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven,” believers from every nation under heaven. And when this sound, the sound of the rushing wind, occurred, “the multitude came together and they were bewildered.” Why? “Because each one was hearing them [the disciples] speak in their own language” (Acts 2:5–6).
Now, there’s much that could be said there, because that is a miraculous happening! But I think another commentary is that each of us need to find someone else that we can talk to; learn their love language, maybe even their physical language, in order that we can point them to the enormous love of God, to the reality of Christ—Who He is and why He came, and to the power of that message (Gospel) which frees from enmity and racism and every other sin that can be mentioned.
The text continues by describing how they were amazed and marveled and said, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” And then it lists the nations: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes”—there are the two groups again—“proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:7b–11).
A Picture of the Church
Friends, isn’t that what we should be doing: telling, reporting, sharing the mighty deeds of God? I know we’re all busy. I know we all have lots on our table, or never-ending to-do lists. But I think that God is afoot, using what has been evil for His purposes, endeavoring to work all things together for good. He is allowing us to see and repent of our sins, joyously receive His forgiveness and absolution, and also His strength for a changed way of living. He is surely drawing our attention, through these circumstances, to consider how we can be a part of the healing for our communities, state, and country.
Notice in Acts, at the Pentecost gathering, the many different nations and colors of people and ethnicities that are represented. That’s really the beginning of the New Testament Church. Now, however, I also want to take you to the culmination of the Church—when Christ returns and we are with Him in glory. This picture is found in Revelation chapter seven. “After this,” the apostle John writes, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
We see that picture in Acts—the beginning of the Church; and here, in Revelation, we see the Church Triumphant with her Lord in heaven. This is a picture of all God’s people in glory! Look at what John is seeing: people of every color, of every tribe, of every tongue, of every ethnicity, of every nation gathered before the lamb of God. If this is what the church looks like at the beginning and at the end, friends, we have the privilege and opportunity—and the command from God—to go and find His lost ones, to proclaim the Gospel, to disciple the nations! We are to recognize that those individuals—”of every color, of every tribe, of every tongue, of every ethnicity, of every nation …”—are all greatly loved human beings made in the image of God, and quite possibly brothers and sisters in Christ! It doesn’t matter what they look like! God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son. This is what God expects of His people: that we love, even as we have been loved. That we pursue and stand up for justice, recognize the great mercy of God that was extended to us, and now diligently, concertedly, extend God’s love and mercy and grace to others as we walk humbly with our God.
What We Can Do
So what can we do? There are a number of things, but I would encourage these three:
Please pray. God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). The Church is this great picture: We see all the nations gathered there, and we are in Christ. Paul, in Romans chapter six, talks about how in our Baptism we were joined with Christ. And there’s a number of truths there.
- One is that, joined to Christ, we have a brand new identity. We are Christians, belonging to Christ: “And it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
- Secondly, joined to Christ, we have His power to overcome sin and to live a changed life and to walk in a different way (Romans 6). What a joy, what a privilege and what a responsibility.
- And thirdly, in Christ—and this is where all of us are brought together—barrier walls are taken down by Christ Himself and we are one people.
And that’s how we should look at it: either you’re saved or not. And if you’re not, it doesn’t matter your color or social status or economic wellbeing. If you’re not saved, you need Jesus. No politician and no newspaper and no politics are going to help change that! Only Christ can—and you bear Him. Plus, we have the Word—the power of God unto salvation, and Christ’s presence—He has promised never to leave or forsake us—to make a difference.
So please pray. And remember 2 Chronicles 7:12 and 14. God is telling Solomon, yes, I’m going to come to this temple you have built for me, and I’m going to dwell there. And I’m going to hear the prayers of my people. He says to Solomon, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice … if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:12, 14).
We need healing in our land. And although it’s easy to point out the sins of others, we need to look at our own selves and see what we need to confess and repent of and also what we can do. And if we have sinned, maybe by not talking about the issues that we need to, then let’s talk! If it’s that we have separated ourselves from others then let’s step out … across the fence line, across any barrier, and reach out to others, that everyone—through the opportunities that God would give us—hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the world, and see this good news in the acts of love that we perform. So pray.
We also need to listen. I appreciate a brother member of the Council of Presidents who said, “Remember, that’s what grandma always used to say: God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” We’re to listen, we’re to step across the line and not just wait for people to come to us. We’re to understand where other people are coming from. I mentioned earlier that I do believe that there is such a thing as white privilege. This much I know from talking with people of color: I have never, as they have, had to tell my sons, “If the police pull you over for anything, you are the most polite person in the world. Make sure your hands are always seen. Always agree. Give no reason for any reaction that would cause them to suspect you that they might use violence against you.” And to have to tell my sons that every time they left the house… friends, that’s not right!
God loves everyone. And we need to demonstrate that love. We need to listen. We need to step across the aisle with a message of reconciliation and work to take down the barrier walls. It’s not that just certain people need to be treated specially, but rather that EVERYONE is to be loved and made to feel special as we have been in Christ Jesus.
So pray, listen, and then act. We need to call out for change. We need to stand for what is right. We need to work for it. And we need to do this with a message of reconciliation. Paul is speaking in 2 Corinthians 5: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19). God has committed the power and message of the Gospel to us.
NOW is the time to pray!
NOW is the time to listen!
NOW is the time to act! … as what we are by grace: God’s people, God’s representatives in this world.
Friends, may we unwaveringly carry out these resolves knowing that in Christ we have our identity, we have our strength, and we know and rejoice in God’s design for the Church—that all come to be saved, that all come to the knowledge of the truth. May we daily recognize that we are the instruments that God has chosen to bear the message and the power of the Gospel.
Would you join me in a word of prayer?
Gracious heavenly father, we do thank You in Jesus’ name for the privilege and opportunity of knowing that You will hear and answer our prayer for His sake; and praise and thank You, Holy Spirit, that You are the One who’s called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, applying the righteousness of Christ to our account so that we are Your children. We are in Christ and have been called to recognize that there is one body and to work so that there are no divisions, that all are welcome.
Help us to recognize those who are saved and be thankful; and help us to recognize those who are not saved so that we do everything possible, as did Jesus who crossed the great divide of eternity and came to this earth. Thank You, Jesus, for taking upon Yourself human flesh that You might demonstrate God’s love for all and pay for the sins of all.
And now, through the Gospel message, we know of our salvation, of Your great power for change in life, transformation of all lives, and a demonstration of what that is like within Your Church and our congregations. Help us to share this Good News! Lord, we pray that You would work mightily within us. We pray that we could talk about Your mighty deeds and that we would win that opportunity and privilege by reaching out to those, dear Lord, who are loved by You. We pray this all in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
Please consider these truths from God. May the Holy Spirit work mightily within your life keeping in mind that we, indeed, act justly, love mercifully, walk humbly with our God, and always shine forth the love of our great God and Savior.
As a final appeal to God’s Word, please read the following verses from Colossians 3:8–14: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Thank you and may God bless you richly.
Photo courtesy of Elisa Schulz Photography.