A Christian Guide to Understanding People and Ministering Reconciliation


“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.

Lonely Christian Men


Man aloneLast night, I got together with a friend I had not seen in about six or seven years. We shot the breeze on the porch of a pub and talked science fiction, trivia contests, copyright laws, and work. Reconnecting felt good.

Somewhere I read that by the time a man reaches his mid-40s, he has one close friend, the kind who would be there no matter the situation. Peripheral friends account for another two or three, at most.

Unlike women, who seem to keep their friends and add to them readily, men get married, have kids, and gradually so immerse themselves in their families that many of their friendships wither and die. One day, a man wakes up and wonders where all the the other guys he hung with vanished to.

For men, it’s all too easy to let friends gradually drift away.

I wish I could say that in the Church it was better, but I wonder about that. When I watch people who don’t know Jesus, it seems that the very lack of Him in their lives forces them to reach out, to value friendship just a wee bit more. I know a lot of Christian men who, if asked in confidence, would confess they are lonely.

In talking with this friend last night, we both noted how hard it was to get any group of people together. Everyone is so scheduled. Some have bought into a cocoon mentality and can’t seem to break out. Instead of doing anything as a group with friends, we instead pursue hobbies that can work without a group or we fall into a routine of only doing activities with our wives or kids.

Some of this is surely because of the guilt ladeled out by many parachurch organizations and some churches that contend that if we’re not spending time with our families, then we’re poor fathers and husbands. I think a lot of Christian men feel that oppressive burden. They can’t determine how much is enough or too little, so they spend all their time with their wife and kids, just to be safe—just to be “Christian.”

This is, in part, a lie.

Jesus said this:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. ”
—Matthew 12:25b ESV

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…”
—Luke 22:31 ESV

I am increasingly aware that the Good can be the enemy of the Best. There is too much in today’s church that appears Good on the surface, but it wars against the Best, ultimately hurting Christians and churches. Because so few Christians are actually listening to the Holy Spirit, that Best goes missing, while the Good prevails.

It is good that a man spends time with his wife and family, but the Church begins to hurt when men do not gather together regularly as just men. The lonely Christian man is a symptom of a breakdown in fellowship that is hurting our churches.

Some churches may offer a large group gathering for men every now and then. While that’s a start, it is no substitute for getting together more regularly. It’s also not a replacement for small groups of men gathering for a more intimate fellowship. Larger groups tend to stifle the kind of relational intimacy that men are dying for.

Whether large or small, groups of Christian men getting together offer the chance for men to get down on their knees together and pray the way men pray. Men and women pray differently, and it is to the shame of men that the prayers groups in most churches are comprised almost entirely of elderly women.

In reference to those Bible verses above, division is a bad thing. And Christian men are too often divided/separated by the world. We have believed lies about responsibilities that prevent us from getting together, and the result is that the Church limps along because men are off being individuals at a time when we should be united.

A house divided cannnot stand. Keep men apart; that’s the Enemy’s strategy.

Back in the 1990s, the whole men’s movement was a welcome awakening, but it was so heavily commercialized that it was doomed to fail. Too many moneychangers saw it as an opportunity to make some moolah, and love of money has a way of dooming many worthwhile Christian ministries.

In addition, the men’s movement of the 1990s was too national. It needed to be localized, and it never was, so it was doomed there too.

Christian men don’t need a commercialized, national movement. We need to cultivate friendships with other men on a local level. And as Christians, we need to rediscover what it means to be standing in the gap and covering each other’s backs.

Time is running out for us to do this. But too few recognize this because we are not getting together to discuss and counter it in the way that only Christian men can.

Doctrinal Silence and Spiritual Abuse


There are times when I think Jesus’ spitting on the ground and smearing the resulting mud over the blind man’s eyes gave too many Christians a supposed license to be weirdos in church on Sunday.

I’m not saying Jesus was out of bounds (He enjoyed perfect communion with the Father, remember), only that I wish more Christians showed wisdom in how they dealt with others.

So a guy comes up for healing prayer and is told to lie down while the people stack Bibles on him and then walk around him seven times while chanting. Did the Holy Spirit really direct the people praying to do this? REALLY? And was that direction verified, not only beforehand by checking with the elders but also by noting whether such an odd means of dealing with the problem actually resulted in a positive outcome?

Spiritual abuse has many forms. From bizarre charismania passed off as ministry to the cult of personality favored by some church leader “celebrities,” one can find some type of spiritual abuse in nearly every church. It’s just that most churches and the people in them are often too timid to point out their own failings. And the beat goes on…

While it may be easy for outsiders to walk into a church and immediately notice what might be “off,” people are far better at noticing a present problem than recognizing what is absent.

The issue for us as Christians today is what might be absent may form a more egregious example of spiritual abuse than the presence of any obviously bizarre practice.

Over at Church A, everyone talks about finding freedom in Christ (present) but no one ever talks about the perseverance of the saints (absent). Likewise, at the Church B, the talk is always that the shed blood of Christ on the cross bought healing from sin (present), but no one ever hears the blood and cross bought us healing from physical illness and disease (absent).

At Church A, the people there live in constant fear of losing their salvation. At Church B, people wrongly make peace with their physical sufferings and never take hold of the healing Christ bought them.

When we do not preach the whole Gospel to the whole man, are we not perpetrating spiritual abuse?

I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Ravenhill, the British revivalist. One of his consistent jabs was to call denominations “abominations” and then “correct” himself, as if he’d made a slip of the tongue. Let the nervous tittering commence.

When you get to the heart of this issue, though, the truth hurts, and I think that Ravenhill was closer to the truth regarding denominations than some think.

I enjoy musical theater, and one of my favorite musicals is South Pacific. The theme of that musical concerns racism and its devastating warping of people’s thoughts. The highlight song of that theme is “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (see video).

The problem with denominationalism and the conformance to one ingrained “brand” of Christianity over another is that such adherence not only teaches through the presence of ideas, it also teaches by absence. You’ve got to be carefully taught, and in many cases what is not taught is as important as what is. And it is the absent teaching that most often rattles people when they encounter other Christians who are content with a valid, present theological concept the “lackees” have never heard (or have been told doesn’t matter). More divisiveness enters the Church for this reason than any other.

If we are not preaching and teaching the entirety of the Gospel, if we pick and choose our theology so as to create doctrinal silence here and there, then it is likely that we are spiritually abusing those charged to our care.