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.

Why the Kitschy “God’s Not Done with Me Yet” Is the Most Profound Truth You’ll Encounter Today

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It starts with a girl, because for many a guy, that’s where life lessons often begin.

I’d known her for years, but one day she took me into the off-limits basement of her home to show me a secret. There sat her dad, engineer’s hat in place, surrounded by his model train “kingdom.”

I say kingdom because the spread was impressive, perhaps 20 feet by 15, and from his perch, her dad controlled it all. Multiple trains, switches, throttles, and on and on. You could tell by the look on his face: He loved this hobby.

And nothing on those tracks escaped him. He knew the beginning, end, and everything in-between.

This imagery comes back to me because I continue to think we all need some perspective about perspective.

It bothers me greatly to see America descending into factions so imprisoning that no one seems capable of understanding anyone else. Soon, the verbal sparring turns into questions of an opponents’ intelligence, and all parties retreat to their corners still attempting murder with words.

We have become a people with no ability to step outside ourselves and to inhabit another person’s perspective. Worse, we question the other person’s motives, without any understanding of that person’s past, upbringing, hurts, joys, or hidden beliefs.

One of the sad realities I see played out online every day consists of the “enlightened” Christian believer tearing to shreds the novice. The sage must publicly destroy the naïf to show not only the sage’s wisdom but also to defend the honor of God against fools, regardless of how much punishment the supposed fool must endure and its personal cost.

And because pounding idiots into the dust is fun.

But it shouldn’t be.

You see, God is not done with any of us yet. Each of us is made in the image of God, yet we are all marred by sin. In our current form, we are flawed, but God can reshape us as He will. And He promises He will if we let Him.

When you and I encounter another human soul, we see a slice of a life, a moment in another’s journey. We do not see the departure from the gate, nor the arrival at the final destination.

But Father God watches over it all. Like my friend’s dad, He is the celestial engineer who knows the entirety of the track and all that is possible on the journey. He stands apart from time and sees the beginning, the end, and everything in-between. To Him, no surprises are possible, and the ultimate journey of each passenger He knows down to the second.

But only the Father knows.

The Bible says this:

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
—Colossians 3:3-4 ESV

Not only can we not know another’s life, we cannot even know our own. We do not know the future. We incorrectly process the past. And we don’t see at all the workings of God in our inmost person. Our life truly is hidden in Him.

But He sees everything.

Which is why it’s such foolishness for any person to presume superiority over any other. We see a fleeting slice of another’s life, but if we try to draw suppositions from that slice, chances are we will miss the truth entirely. We critique another, and the criticism is based on vapor. If each of us cannot comprehend even our own thoughts and lives correctly, how can we be assured of anything about another’s life, especially as to where that person might be in the journey?

Each of us is a clay pot in God’s hands. The final form we take is not up to us but to God:

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
—Isaiah 29:16b ESV

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
—Isaiah 64:8 ESV

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel….”
—Jeremiah 18:1-6 ESV

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
—Philippians 1:6 ESV

Potter & clayUltimately, if we rashly condemn another believer in Jesus and deem him or her inadequate by our standard, we presume to judge God’s working in that person’s life. We stand in judgement over God Himself, questioning His sanctification, His timing, and His thoroughness.

This does not mean that if we think that young woman over there is about to throw her life away or that elderly man is slandering someone without cause that we cannot make a judgment in that moment, one that might demand we intervene or correct.

But what we cannot do is write them off or think that they are outside of God’s redemption. If we do, then we presume to play engineer and to see all of the track, every train, switch, tree, hill, co-passenger, and all beginnings, middles, and endings. Or in the potter’s case, we question the artistry, the process, and the outcome. We commit the sin of the Garden. We attempt to strip God of His title and instead enthrone ourselves in His place as the engineer or potter.

Each one of us is in process. What you see in me now is neither who I was or who I will become. The same for you.

For the Christian, the journey is to make us more like Jesus. It’s an effort God undertakes but never completes this side of heaven. Much now is hidden. Only when the End comes, and Christ who is our life appears, will all be revealed.

Let’s not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. Instead, let us partner with God in the journey, whether it’s our journey or another’s. Let’s trust Him that He knows what He is doing in the lives of you, me, and everyone.

God’s not finished with any of us yet.

Doing What God Places in Our Hands–No More, No Less

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I was talking with a friend the other day about the fear of being an ineffective Christian. Both of us face some difficult challenges in our lives, some the same, some different. Those challenges have taken their toll on us both.

No one gets through life unscathed, though. Everyone has challenges. Everyone. If not now, then later. If not when we’re young, then when we’re old. Life is hard, and no one has a magic mirror to peer into the future or a gilded passport to avoid trials.

Christianity in America consists largely of two polar camps.

You have the Radical camp that defines Christians by what they do or do not do for God. Some even go so far as to say one’s ultimate standing with God depends entirely on how radically engaged one is for the Kingdom. It all comes down to what you do, and you better do a lot.

Then you have the Rest camp. “Do? What is that? I’m resting in the Lord and in my salvation!” The funny thing about that camp is that it never seems to do anything, ever. The world ends at the tip of their noses (or, in some cases, the outline of their belly).

I don’t think the truth dwells in either camp. The Church in America can lull you to sleep or work you to death. Neither is healthy–or godly.

Open, cupped handsOne day, I cupped my hands in prayer and said, “God, fill these hands.”

And He did.

He filled them with a mix of normal American life and stuff no sane person would want. Do my best for Him at work, at home, and out there in the world. You know, everyday normality. This blog was part of that mix. Then came the outrageous stuff, most of which consisted of challenges that would push me to the edge.

All God asks of me is to address what He has put in my hands right now, or as one wise Christian once told me, “Jesus hung on one cross only.”

We have this tendency to either drop our cupped hands and let things spill out, or we let guilt force us to take on so much we can’t hold it all and panic sets in.

We need to examine our lives. What is immediately before us? What is in our hands right now? Do those things to the glory of God.

Little things that daily fall into our cupped hands matter too. When God puts a person in front of me, I can give that person my attention and be in the present. I can be Christ in that moment to that one person. That fits in my hand. That I can always do. I may not be the answer to that person’s deep need, but the little bit o’ grace I dispense in our connecting matters to that person. I can always be kind and empathetic. Maybe I can help that person financially or emotionally if he needs it. But then, maybe I can’t. God, what can I do right now? In what ways can I be your ambassador to this person now? What have you put in my hand?

Regarding the challenges of life, let no one judge you. Anyone who has had to caretake a dying parent knows how debilitating such a task can be and how it consumes all of life. That’s reality, and it’s OK. It’s what is in your hand right now. It won’t always be there. God is not judging you by what else you try to carry. Sometimes, something that big is enough. It doesn’t matter what other people think of your inability to say yes to everything else they ask of you. You can only do what you can do. Taking on too much means you do everything poorly and stress yourself. Don’t. All you can do is what is in your hand. Too few Christians understand this, and one of the most toxic tricks a local church can pull is to guilt people “in the name of Jesus” into doing more than God expects.

God knows what you can and cannot do. Keep your eyes on Him. Learn to say no when He wants you to. Never feel guilty for saying no when it’s God leading you to say it.

If the contents of that open hand begin to overflow, get help anywhere you can. God rewards the resourceful, and admitting to being overwhelmed is no sin. Where humility is, Jesus is. You’re not a superhero, so don’t try to be. We are all dust; without God, we can do nothing.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the man going on a journey gave five talents to one servant, two to another, and one to a third. He didn’t give five to the servant who could handle two only. Similarly, he gave five to the one who could handle that many in the moment. When the talent dispenser returned to his servants, all he expected was to see what each servant had done with what each was given. Each was accountable solely for making something out of what the journeyman had placed in their hands. No more, no less.

Those Rest folks need to step up. Those Radical folks need to calm down.

Where are you?

Know that you can do only what God has placed in your hands at this time. A year from now, what is in your hands may be different, possibly more or perhaps less. Give your best to God for what you have before you now, and stop beating yourself up. If only one thing occupies your hands right now, do it for His glory. If God wants to add something, He will. Trust Him to get it right. And if it seems too much, trust that God will put people in your life to help. Ask for that help and keep asking until you get it.

Most of all, trust God. Pray over everything He puts in your hands and never stop offering it back to Him as you partner with Him to make it happen. In the end, it’s not really about you and how well you perform anyway. It’s about moving the whole Kingdom forward. And that happens one cupped-hand item at a time.