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.

David Gushee and “Why Is Christianity Declining?”

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church demolitionEver hear the one about things happening in threes?

I’m a Vine Reviewer with Amazon.com, and recently, David P. Gushee’s new book A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times came up in my review queue. The title sounded interesting, so I bit on reviewing it. Later that afternoon, Gushee was mentioned on an episode of the podcast Breakpoint. Then later that weekend, I read an article at Religion News Service called “Why Is Christianity Declining?” by…well, I’ll let you guess.

So who is David Gushee? Interestingly, he has a Wikipedia entry, so perhaps you should check it out.

Did you? An impressive set of credentials, right? Well, except perhaps for being on the board of directors for Sojourners. But hey, no one’s perfect.

But back to his 10 reasons why Christianity is in decline.

So, you read it and came back. Notice what I noticed?

Yes, all those reasons are largely societal perceptions or sociological in nature. Almost none is related to spirituality.

To me, the great failure of contemporary Christianity is that we have turned everything about the faith into something made by man. It’s about marketing. It’s about demographics. It’s about the intersection of faith and science. It’s about affluence, antisupernaturalism, family tradition, or some other thing rooted in data points.

What it’s almost never about is a person’s relationship with God.

Where is that mentioned in Gushee’s list? Nowhere. Heck, he even adds seven more points and still doesn’t touch on it.

To me, that’s an epic fail, because I think the real reason Christianity may be declining in America is a lot of leading Christians have lost all concept of the faith being about intimacy with God.

People today are not meeting God. They aren’t experiencing the Kingdom of God either. And people who neither meet God nor experience His Kingdom in its fullness won’t stick around in a church more about entertainment and head knowledge than a genuine, living, breathing intimacy with the Creator.

The source of the problem? Christian leaders who are incapable of getting people to that place of intimacy with God. I get tired of the ones who make faith into a solely intellectual endeavor. Or a sociological one. I get upset at leaders who look at every problem and prescribe some kind of change in church programming based on the latest psychology experiments or the trends in marketing espoused by some business guru. More lights! Louder music! The latest fad!

Aren’t you sick to death of all that crap? Because that’s what it is, utter crap.

When you walk into the assembly of believers in church on Sunday, are you encountering the living God of the Universe? If not, why not? And if not, who can blame you for walking out?

There’s a massive number of people getting together each Sunday who have convinced themselves that they have this great Christian thing going in their church, but where is the evidence of God meeting people there in a powerful way that blows away all skepticism? It’s not there in most cases. Which is remarkably sad, especially for those self-deceived people.

Some people don’t like Leonard Ravenhill, but I have to keep going back to what he said: You never have to advertise a fire.

The buzzword in Christian circles is authenticity. In reality, the most authenticity you can have on any given Sunday—or anywhere at anytime—is to meet God on a regular basis in such a way that His Presence changes you just by being near Him.

I think fewer and fewer people are in that position. I think it’s why Christianity may be in decline. We’re wandering around lost, telling ourselves that God is here, but at the same time, we’re not connecting with Him.

It’s not God’s fault. It’s more the fault of people who tell other people what to do and how to be a Christian, and yet those seekers never connect because the tellers aren’t connecting either. That’s where we are in America 2016. Tragic, isn’t it?

I don’t know any other way to fix it, either, than for churches to stop messing with the crap and start getting back to the King and the Kingdom. And that starts with repentance and prayer. Lots of both. Perhaps the kind that will make our church service run too long and force the preacher to ditch the sermon this week. You know, inconvenient stuff that takes us out of our comfort zone and obsoletes all the bulletin bullet points.

So I read why Christian academics and intellectuals think Christianity is in decline, and I wonder how people so smart can miss obvious truths about what is most needed. Because if you and I are not encountering God in profound ways amid the communion of the saints, then nothing in the universe will save us.

A Christian Response to News, Politics, and Current Events

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paperboyIncreasingly, I believe too many Christians do not have a Christian response to most aspects of life. Instead of a true New Testament Kingdom of God mentality, we have firmly ensconced ourselves in an Old Testament judge mentality, despite the Old Covenant’s obsolescence and replacement and the demise of the national Israel of the Old Testament.

Compounding this error, American Christians have a desperate need to be seen as right on everything, regardless of who or what this tramples. To our amazement, we are now eating the fruit of that error and yet remain incredulous and oblivious to how this reversal of fortune came to be.

To sum it up, we’ve been doing it wrong and just can’t admit that we’re the ones who screwed up.

Of course, this does not excuse the world, as the world has screwed up just as badly or worse. But we Christians simply can no longer pretend that we are innocent bystanders to our own undoing.

I write all this because I continue to see rotten and ill-advised behavior by Christians in the public square. We can’t seem to learn our lessons.

This post is about getting ourselves back on course. Take it for what it is, a 50-something Christian attempting to inject some wisdom into the conversation.

How Christians Must Think and Act about the News & Current Events

The most important thing to understand about all news and about all conversations that spring from current events: Most likely, you and I were not there. For this reason, anything we hear in response is hearsay.

The Bible says this:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
—Matthew 5:33-37 NIV

Jesus is talking about oaths and vows here, but His point is that we not go in our speech where we cannot promise or understand. When we go beyond our understanding, we invite Satan into our words.

I believe this is critical for how we speak in the days ahead.

When we comment on news stories and current events, we rely on hearsay, information we cannot corroborate. Most of are old enough and wise enough to know that unbiased reporting is a myth and probably always has been. Human beings always bring their own perspectives and biases into all communications. Period.

If you and I were not there to witness and personally experience an event, commenting on motivations of individuals/groups/governments and speculations beyond what was personally seen with eyes and heard with ears are out of bounds for us. We simply cannot know.

The proper Christian response in that case is not to speculate, but to say instead, “What a tragic event!” or “How sad for those people.”

That is letting your yes be yes and your no no.

The Bible makes the truth of this even more clear:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
—Jeremiah 17:9 KJV

You cannot know another’s motivations. Heck, you cannot even know your own motivations, so how can you speculate on what people involved in crimes or tragic events were thinking or why they acted the way they did? Do you know that person personally? Do you know his or her story? Were you there with them when they did what they did?

No, you do not know and you likely were not there. So don’t speak as if you do know or were there.

In short, don’t add fuel to any fire about which you know nothing. And the fact is, you and I know nothing about most everything.

The only Christian response is to say as little as possible and to leave the speculation to speculators, of which you are not to be.

Instead be as still as possible. Yes yes, and no no.

How Christians Must Think and Act about Politics (I)

The only allegiance the Christian is to have is to the King, Jesus, and to his Kingdom. Jesus Himself said this. He takes precedence even over our families. He is #1, and everyone and everything else is a far distant #2. This is God’s wisdom for our own spiritual health.

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, we are to pursue it first and foremost. In all we do, we do it for the King and the Kingdom.

To this end, when we engage in politics, we are to engage it with a Kingdom perspective and as citizens of the Kingdom of God before considering any earthly Kingdoms:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
—Matthew 6:33 NLT

Therefore, when we consider candidates for political office, we should keep this in mind:

1. The candidates we endorse should pursue and promote the Kingdom of God as much as humanly possible within a system of government, as directed and empowered by God.
2. Candidates for political office who receive our vote must reflect the evidences of the Kingdom of God and its fruit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.
3. We should in no way endorse, promote, or vote for a candidate who does not reflect the two conditions above.

No excuses, Christian. Do not vote for or endorse candidates who cannot or will not reflect the purposes of the Kingdom of God. Vote for someone else. Write in a vote. But do not cast your vote for people who oppose the Kingdom of God and its evidences and fruit.

How Christians Must Think and Act about Politics (II)

If we want to talk about governments and the Bible and attempt to pry verses out of the Bible to endorse the American system of government, we will fail. I’ve looked, and I see no evidence for a democratic system of government in the Scriptures. Likewise, if we want to find a federalist system of government, we might find something similar, but that would be Rome—not the most positive example in most of Scripture. Read Revelation if you don’t believe me.

We Christians in America have it difficult, because in America, the system of government is by the people and for the people. Finding direct Bible verses that speak to how such a form of government would operate and how Christians within it should operate it is like finding a needle in a haystack—except there is no haystack.Monarchies rule in Scripture. Even the Kingdom of God is a monarchy.

This poses a problem for Christians who attempt to pry verses out of the Bible to endorse how our American government is to act.

Christians are given direction on how they are supposed to function as members of the Church, but not so much on how they are to govern on immigration issues, for instance. We are to be kind to all aliens, but would closing down immigration into our country for a set number of years become an unkindness? We don’t have a Bible verse for that.

The problem is, we err sometimes when we attempt to force a verse to say something about government immigration policy when it’s not meant to be used that way.

Part of the problem for the American Christian is that we will NOT find verses that tell us how we should handle gun control, or immigration, or welfare, or any of a number of other topics intended at a governmental level. We are sometimes told what we should do in our churches, but the government is not the Church, nor vice versa, and too many Christians try to meld the two, resulting in an unholy abomination that works neither as a Church nor as a responsible government.

Again, we must go back to the Kingdom of God.

What does the American government look like when American Christians act out their responsibilities as citizens within a representative government of the people and for the people WHILE also promoting their primary responsibility, the advancement of the Kingdom of God?

I find this question is not asked by most Christians, nor even most Christian politicians. Instead, we make futile attempts to make the Bible say things about governance in a federal republic that aren’t there in the Book.

What this means is that Christians in America need to rely on the source of wisdom we perpetually think we can do without: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the mouthpiece and “town cryer” of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Church.

Keep in place the underlying Scriptures that speak to Christian character and practice on a 1:1 level , but govern in such a way that we Christians listen to and operate from the leadership of the Holy Spirit, which we then carry over into our government.

Sadly, most Christians today have no idea how to make that happen, because too many of us are plugged into our gadgets and distractions and not plugged into hearing the voice of God through the Spirit.

Want a godly government? Christian, put the Kingdom first and listen to the voice of the King. We may not have a verse to cover a particular issue, but we will be covered by the voice of the Spirit, who can speak to any situation we face.