A Christian Guide to Understanding People and Ministering Reconciliation

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“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
—Romans 3:10a-18

 

When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
—Mark 6:34

Several years ago, I wrote a post called “Trying to Get By,” wherein I attempted to chronicle the most basic fact of the human condition: most people are just trying to get by.

Time has not tempered this impression. If anything, it increasingly drives how I think about people.

Everyone sins. Everyone does “bad” things. Everyone enthrones himself or herself at the center of the universe. Christians believe this is because mankind rebelled against God and tried to become gods themselves. And we got what we wanted—to a point. Obviously, that rebellion did not work out well and continues to fail miserably. One of the reasons I’m a Christian is that the Christian worldview explains the mess we see in this world better than anything else does.

The Book of Romans quote above pulls together several passages of the Old Testament. It also pulls no punches in its tragic description of badly messed up people. People like you and me.

In the passage from Mark, Jesus surveyed the great mass of us and understood our lostness, our condition as brainless sheep, wanderers in search of something we can’t understand.

black_sheep_with_whiteAnd that goes back to my idea of people just trying to get by. Lost sheep will do whatever it is that will sustain life for just one more day. That sheep finds a way to cope. Even if that coping mechanism barely ranks on the scale of great coping mechanisms, it will employ that method so long as it sustains—because that sheep usually doesn’t know any better. With that flawed coping mechanism, it got through one more day, and that’s all that matters. No sense exploring something better if that mechanism worked.

In truth, that’s where people are. If lies worked, they will use lies. If truth worked, they will use truth. If sex, drugs, and rock & roll worked, then sex, drugs, and rock & roll it will be. For most people, the words of John Lennon do indeed guide them:

Whatever gets you through the night, ‘salright, ‘salright.

I think the only way that Christians can understand people is if we acknowledge that all the wrong we see in the world is due to the poor, sinful coping mechanisms of broken people just trying to get by. People use mechanisms that God warns never to do. They do stupid things not with intent to hurt others but because they seek to keep themselves from hurting somehow, even if that coping mechanism only makes the hurt worse in the long run. In that moment, that defective, deficient way sustained just enough, regardless of the destructive wake it left behind.

None of this is to pretend that organized evil does not exist. But even organized evil as expressed through human beings usually starts at the level of just trying to get by.

When we talk about ideological differences between people, we need to understand that one reason others hold a different view from us is because an alternate coping mechanism worked for them. In most cases, it’s all they know. To us, that mechanism may be monstrous, but to those people, it got them through another night, so it must be right.

At this point, it’s tempting to fall into an Old Testament understanding of wickedness as shown in the Romans passage above and miss Jesus’ example of compassion on the teeming crowd. Jesus could have condemned all those wanderers, but instead, He taught them. He gave them something they didn’t have. He gave them a better way to cope, a perfect way: He gave them Himself, both in that moment and, later, on the cross.

Too often, Christians want to change people’s coping mechanism by loading down those people with all the bad news and none of the Good News. We want to act as judges. We want our own sinful coping mechanisms validated, and nothing feels better than wallowing in self-righteousness.

But that’s not how it works. This is how it works:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
—2 Corinthians 5:14-21

The ministry of each Christian on this planet is what you just read: help reconcile people to God. In doing so, God will work out new coping mechanisms in the lives of lost, broken, sinful people. And again, what is that coping mechanism? Himself. God gives people His Son through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The best place for any Christian to begin in this ministry of reconciliation is to acknowledge his or her own need to be reconciled to God. The Christian must see that in God exist all the answers to how we should and should not cope with an existence tainted by our own grab for power, by our sin birthed long ago in the Garden and now at work in our lives, battering and bruising us. We must recognize that both our enemies and our friends are driven by the same basic failing. We must see that everyone needs reconciliation, not just the people who bother, oppose, and persecute us. It is our mutual dunk in the cesspool that unites us in our need for reconciliation to God. It is this realization that should humble us.

Christian, are you a source of reconciliation or a source for division? Yes, Christ brings a sword that divides even families, but that’s His role as Lord. Your role is to be an ambassador. And if you are ministering reconciliation and Jesus should step in and bring that divisive sword, that’s His prerogative, not yours. You work for reconciliation. Bring healing. Work for peace. Build bridges. Be the calm in the storm of other people’s lives.

Manifest the ministry of reconciliation wherever you go. Allow the Holy Spirit to show you how in the lives of each person you meet each day. It’s not hard. If anything, the most countercultural activity we can do for the Kingdom within this age is to be kind to others at all times. It’s not hard to be kind. It’s a choice, and God can empower us to choose it.

When we interact with another person, remember that he or she is just trying to get by. What better example of coping rightly would God have you demonstrate to that person? How can you show that person the better way that is Jesus Himself?

It’s really so simple.

We Are All Wrong–And That’s OK

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Recently, the Phil Vischer Podcast had an episode with a Bible expert, and the team talked about the many ways people mishandle the Scriptures and how not to. It was a good show.

 
More than anything, what God drove home to me from that episode is that all of us, in some way, mangle our use of the Bible. Further, that’s OK.

Well, maybe it’s not OK that the Bible gets used wrongly by people but more that everyone is going to do it at some time. Because people are fallible, broken, wrong, stupid, selfish, and just plain messed up. How then can we expect them to always handle God’s words perfectly?

If you asked me what one piece of wisdom I could contribute to the vast collection of human understanding, I’d offer this: Every person you encounter in your life you see a slice of only. You don’t see their whole life, their joys, their failures. You don’t see what molded them for good or for ill. You just see that slice. And like a core sample from arctic ice, that person’s life consists of multiple layers of events and realizations that can only be interpreted after careful and prolonged study. And truthfully, some of it may never be understood by you because the person himself/herself doesn’t understand it either.

There is no growth in the Christian life without starting from a place of error and moving to a place that is less error-filled. You and I don’t get to decide whether the person before us now is in that error-filled place or not. Sometimes, that person is the one we see in the mirror.

This is why grace exists. Remember grace? It’s meant by God for us to use when we encounter flawed people who are in the process and on the journey. And frankly, that’s every person on earth.

God’s promise to us:

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
—Jeremiah 18: 1-4

That verse applies to Israel, but what it says about God is what matters.

We are all spoiled vessels. We are all mistaken, wrong, off. And if you catch any one of us in the process of being remolded to the potter’s ideal, we will look ill-formed, ugly even.

But God as potter is faithful to mold us into something beautiful.

So when you come across someone who is wrong or “stupid” or acting ignorantly by your standards, realize that he or she is in that molding stage. It is unfair to judge an artistic work mid-stream, by that slice of life that you see now but which is not the entire creation story. The best thing we can do is to be as faithful as we can to stick around and see how that half-finished vessel will turn out. To the potter at least, it will be gorgeous in His eyes. And ultimately, is not the Author of beauty its best judge?

End of All Monsters

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If you ask adults today when America was last “great,” I think many would hearken back to the days of the Internet boom, the mid-1990s. Back then, people made money hand over fist, new, exciting companies popped up left and right, the stock market boomed, and America felt unbeatable. Heck, I got married, lived in the heart of Silicon Valley, and worked for Apple. This was the dream, right?

But didn’t we have a monster in the White House, Bill Clinton? Weren’t those dark days in American history?

I think it was impossible then to underestimate how much conservatives despised and excoriated Clinton. He was the anti-Contract-with-America scourge who threatened all that was good with our country. We had government shutdowns because of that crafty good ol’ boy. BIll sullied the reputation of the presidency with his “cigars and tarts” shenanigans. He was all that was wrong in the world. He was the reason America was in trouble.

But reread that opening paragraph. Funny how we recall those days.

Tired, old Bill ClintonThen check out the picture.

Time and memory are strange bedfellows that obscure, diminish, and erase. Their effect on people is to make us all nostalgic and reflective while our minds cloud and our bodies fail.

All monsters come to an end. Whether tempered by time and memory or summoned to the grave.

Bill Clinton is a tired, old man now. Some people look back at the 1990s and think those were the good, ol’ days. Weird how the stuff that bothered us then is now largely forgotten.

The 1960s had Kruschev. The 1940s, Hitler. The 1920s, Lenin and Stalin. The world has never NOT been filled with monsters, real or imagined. And they are always dying and passing away, along with our memories of them.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
—Psalm 103:15-19

At the beginning and end is God. He was there all along and all through the middle. Monsters come and go, and so do memories, but God remains. He persists. He persistently loves you and wants you to be with Him.

Whatever the monster of today is, or who, God is greater.

Those who are with and in God need never fear the monsters, because God’s throne and His Kingdom are over and above all.