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.

7 Essential Checks for Christian Interaction Online

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I think that 2016 will go down as the year that American Christianity jumped the shark.

And I say that as a Christian.

We have as a right in this country the ability to speak our minds. Fact is, some people shouldn’t. Not because of any totalitarian government silencing them, but because they have no wise filter ensuring that what they say should actually be said.

I think that 2016 is headed toward the nadir because Christian people cannot tone down the rhetoric on social media. Too much of what is said out there by supposed representatives of Christ not only has no Christ in it, but that vacuum gets filled by the Enemy. It’s rage-filled, hateful, denigrating, factious, and in many cases, known lies (which get a shrug when called out).

Blasting our opinionI understand that much of this comes from a place of fear caused by loss of power and control. But are any of those attributes associated with the Kingdom of God? No. In fact, in the Kingdom of God, loss of earthly power is a good thing, and fear gives way to love.

One of the realities that bothers me more and more is that while many Christians can recite chapter and verse from memory, scant few actually take it to heart and live it. There’s a huge disconnect between Christian knowledge and Christian praxis, and the praxis only come through wisdom, which seems in increasingly short supply. I am continually disheartened by Christians who can quote a bunch of verses on peace and love and then go out and attack others with distasteful words.

I do not want to add to the freedom of the Gospel by laying a weight of “do this…” activities on anyone’s list. I offer the following simply as questions that Christians should ask themselves when interacting with others, especially online:

  1. Am I being an ambassador for Christ? (In that role, am I working toward unity and toward finding common ground?)
  2. Or am I actually a fomenter? (Should I really join in an argument that will only further rile me and everyone else here, causing further divisions rather than unity?)
  3. Am I a safe person? (When I wade into a conversation, am I the person who helps tone down the rhetoric and earns the respect of both sides?)
  4. Am I sharing the truth in a winsome way? (Am I actively avoiding trying to score points for myself or my “team”?)
  5. Am I keeping the proper kingdom in view? (Are my eyes set on the Kingdom of God or on earthly kingdoms instead?)
  6. Am I displaying the proper citizenship? (Am I approaching this as a citizen of heaven or as an earthbound, sectarian nationalist?)
  7. Am I advancing the cause of Christ? (Is my speech here bringing people closer to Jesus or driving them away?)

There are too many Christians who believe that because Jesus said He came to bring a sword that divides (Matthew 10:34-36), even between family members, that this is to be their role as well.

Wrong. The role of the Christian is to be an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5: 18-21). Present Christ. Work toward reconciliation. It is not our job to be a divider. If there is to be any divisiveness, let Christ be the one who does it. Dividing is not our job and never has been.

If Christians want to know why our voice is less heeded in the marketplace of ideas today, it’s not because of conspiratorial machinations of shadow governments and their minions. It’s because our speech is no longer infused with the unique aroma of heaven. Instead, it takes on the same stench as the rest of the spewed vitriol the world dishes out. We have become indistinct, and we have done so because we have adopted the world’s speech and not the Lord’s.

Next time we feel compelled to press the Enter key on that Facebook or Twitter post, let’s run the seven checks first. We may find that what we have to say may not pass the tests and should be better left unsaid. Then let’s find a response that does and be those ambassadors we were charged by God to be.

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.