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.

Wandering Away


Our neighbors had a 17-year-old dog, Hickory. I say had because while they were on vacation and the dog was being cared for at home by others, Hickory wandered off and has not been seen since.

It’s common for sick and dying animals to wander away. They separate themselves from their normal world and find a quiet place elsewhere to lay down and die. We all suspect that’s just what Hickory did.

While it’s a sad thing to lose a beloved pet that way, it’s even more heartrending when a person wanders off to die. When people wander away, it’s not usually to due to a terminal illness or decrepitude. Instead, they wander off to die emotionally or spiritually.

I’m sure if God gave me eyes to see the numbers of people I’ve encountered in my life who have wandered away from Him, I’d be staggered. As it is, I already know too many.  I’m sure you do , too. (If not, consider reading this past post and follow the main link in it to see if your memory gets a refresher.)

Jesus had this to say:

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
—Luke 15:4

I’ll go even farther than Jesus does with his illustration, which is about seeking the unsaved, and say that while a lost sinner who remains lost is a tragedy, nearly as bad is a believer who wanders away.

And what is our responsibility to those nameless people in our churches every Sunday who are there for a few months and then are gone, never to be seen again? What is their story? Do we even care to know it? Perhaps if we had, they would not have wandered away.

We live in a world that would prefer that the weak, the disabled, the stunned, and the emotionally shattered would just wander away and die like some animal on its last legs. Better that they do it out of sight than we have to bear with their prolonged downhill slide.

Yet it was those very people, the ones the Romans (who valued youth and virility) ignored and left to die, who were cared for by the early Church. Most historians agree that the exponential growth of the early Church in Rome came because it refused to let the marginalized and weak go ignored in their time of need.

Consider the Best Picture winner of 1978, The Deer Hunter (Spoiler Alert!):

Nick, Mike, and Steven are close friends from a steel town in Pennsylvania. All three ship off to fight in Vietnam, with all three captured and tortured by the Viet Cong. The method of psychological torture? All three are forced to play Russian roulette for their VC captors. When the trio create an opportunity to escape, only Nick is able to board the rescue ‘copter, with Mike and Steven left behind. In the attempt, Steven’s legs are badly damaged. The enemy on their tails, Mike manages to carry Steven to safety in friendly territory. Nick, meanwhile, vanishes.

At war’s end, Steven winds up in a home for disabled vets. Mike wanders the seedier side of Saigon and glimpses Nick in the gallery of a gambling hall where people play Russian roulette for money. The two don’t meet.

Eventually, Mike returns home. He reunites with Steven, only to hear that Nick has been sending Steven huge amounts of money. Mike knows how. Desperate to save his friend, he returns to the gambling hall where Nick is playing Russian roulette. To speak with Nick and convince him to come home, Mike must play Russian roulette too.

I’ll leave the ending for you to see.

Mike wouldn’t let Nick wander away. He risked his life just to speak with his friend, The Deer Hunterwho had, by then, been reduced to a shell by his handlers and the psychological torment he’d endured.

If anyone in this world is equipped to go into the hellholes of life and reach those who have wandered away, it’s the Christian.

Yet what is the answer most often given by Christians to the question Why do other people wander away? I know I have heard the most common answer more often than I can count: “Because their faith is weak.”

It’s a simple enough answer, isn’t it? The only problem is that it’s a simplistic answer, the kind that bears little of the humility of genuine Christian love and more of spiritual pride. It’s the answer of dispassionate church boards, elders who only love status, distracted church members, and tired pastors who long ago stopped caring.

In the Kingdom of God, what is true to the heart of the Lord runs counter to conventional wisdom and simplistic answers. When posed with the same question of why other people wander away, the true Christian responds not only in humility, but also with an answer that begs a deeper question: “Because my faith is weak.”

See, anyone can rationalize why other people fail, leaving them to wander away unmissed, but it takes someone who believes in a big God to put a figurative gun to the head to ensure one of God’s lost sheep doesn’t wander away to die.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
—John 15:13