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.

Learning the Kingdom


40 Days of God's Kingdom @ AmazonOne reason Christians “settle” in their faith and become inert is a lack of comprehension of the Kingdom of God. We teach creeds, disconnected Bible verses, and what some nationally known preacher thinks, and then we wonder why people have no investment in the story of God’s redemption.

But the Kingdom of God is an ongoing narrative in which you and I play a vital role. We are part of that story, and our story within it matters.

Even then, we are not the protagonist; Jesus is. Churches fail in their education of the flock when they don’t connect all of the Bible narrative back to Jesus and to His Kingdom. People end up missing the story of glory. They see that story as a jumble of scenes and characters, and the thread of Jesus and His Kingdom, from Genesis to Revelation, goes uncomprehended.

Scot McKnight points out a new book that attempts to rectify our lack of Kingdom teaching in the Western Church: 40 Days of God’s Kingdom.

I have not read the book myself, but it looks intriguing. God knows it fills a need! That it comes with a study guide helps even more.

Finding the Center—The Response


Last week, I asked the question of centeredness. You can’t be a Christian for any length of time and not hear someone talking about themselves or their church as being Christ-centered, Bible-centered, outreach-centered, Gospel-centered, and on and on. After a while, it gets confusing to people. I think this clash of centers also explains much about the condition of the Church today and why we can’t seem to see eye to eye on a lot of issues. Two people with two different centers of operation and experience are simply never going to be on the same page. In essence, they are operating out of two different worldviews.

All that may not be a bad thing, as variety is indeed the spice of life. But as any master chef will tell you, it’s one thing to understand how to mix spices tastefully and quite another to just throw anything into the pot. Our tendency to do the latter is one reason why lost people sample the stew that is American Christianity and wince.

What follows in this post is my opinion. Over the years, I’ve been everywhere on the map on this issue of center. And in each center I explored in the past, I found some glaring problems. Many of those problems stem from simple human nature and our tendency to latch onto one idea and run it into the ground. The idea itself is perfectly sound—under perfect conditions. But the last time I checked, the world wasn’t perfected just yet.

Rather than start with reasons why I think some of the other centers are problematic, I’m just going to come right out and say which center is the only one I think fully reflects what God desires for us. (Feel free to disagree!)

About the Gospel preached by the apostles and early Church:

And [Paul] entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
—Acts 19:8

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
—Acts 8:12

In the four Gospels, Jesus references this center nearly 120 times. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a subject He spoke about more often:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
—Matthew 6:33

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay….”
—Matthew 10:5-8

But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
—Mark 10:14-15

But [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
—Luke 4:43

To another [Jesus] said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
—Luke 9:59-62

And [Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come….”
—Luke 11:2

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom….”
—Luke 12:32

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
—John 3:5

And even when Jesus was not doing the speaking, this is how His emphasis was portrayed:

And [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
—Matthew 4:23

And why was the Kingdom so important to Jesus? Because it encompasses all that is seen and unseen. With a Kingdom center, nothing is ignored. It is a truth that maintains a fully systemic expression, not one centered in just one area. As such, it proves more immune to the problems of extremism that may back into a corner other views based on other, more limiting, centers.

A kingdom has a king, lands, work, and people. Those people work the land for the king and offer themselves to him as his subjects. kingdom_castle.jpgThey also interact with each other, sharing a collective purpose found within the kingdom. When a king is a good king, he is loved, honored, and obeyed, and his kingdom grows. And as the kingdom grows, the king’s subjects benefit, and he rewards those who faithfully serve him.

In a Kingdom-centered Christianity, the Triune God is honored as King, with those who have given their allegiance to Him comprising His Kingdom people. They do the work God has called them to do in the lands that the He has provided, and they proclaim the truths of the Kingdom and the King in those lands. In the Kingdom of God, He rewards those who serve Him ably, because He loves them and is pleased by their service to Him.

The Kingdom center is the only center that permits the full truth of the following passage without falling into extremes that miss the greater picture:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
—Luke 10:25-28

The lawyer correctly sums up the Bible, and Jesus Himself verifies his answer: love God and love your neighbor. The problem with many of the other centers is that their practice tends to diminish one or the other portion of that summation.

Take for example a commonly expressed center. When people talk about being Christ-centered, one has to ask what that center looks like if taken to its natural conclusion in an imperfect world. If history has shown us anything, it’s that the answer can only be monasticism.

Few people more devotedly pursued the Christ-centered life than the monastic mystics. Theirs was the sold-out expression of Christ-centeredness, verging on a mysticism few of us understand today and rarely see in America 2009.

But such a center, as practiced by these people utterly devoted to making Christ the center of everything in their existence, didn’t leave much room for loving one’s neighbor. Because, honestly, it’s hard to be that specifically devoted without losing something in practice. Especially when you’ve locked yourself away in a monastery so no one will bother your centering.

Many people who say they are Christ-centered really aren’t. And that’s not to say they are not devoted to Christ, only that their praxis never truly lines up with their devotion. If it did, I believe it would end up moving toward the monastic mystic lifestyle, where loving Christ is everything, while loving people by truly serving them in a Kingdom manner eventually winds up forgotten.

Most of the centers readers listed last week are beautiful and needed. Yet I would contend that they may be too sharply focused, more focused than what even Christ Himself preached.

By being Kingdom-centered, we are forced to look more broadly at what defines the Christian life. While that may be messier than some people are used to confronting, I believe the Kingdom center is the only center that holds in real life. It doesn’t allow us to choose a monastic existence or the social gospel. We can’t latch onto parts we like while ignoring those we don’t. Instead, being Kingdom-centered asks us to embrace a larger vision that is greater than the sum of its parts.

And that’s an enormous problem because so few Christians, Christian leaders, and churches in America comprehend the Kingdom. Despite the fact that Jesus spoke about it more than just about anything else, I can’t remember the last sermon I heard about the Kingdom of God.

We tend to shy away from the Kingdom because it’s so vast. It’s God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, Earth, angels, demons, you, me, us, them, grace, mercy, wealth, poverty, healings, miracles, prophecy, tongues, deliverance, peace, war, love, hate—it just goes on and on. It’s all wrapped up in one very big package that is hard for an adult to grasp (though the Scriptures claim that even children understand it).

Despite its enormity, we can’t excuse ourselves from the scope of a Kingdom center, because the Kingdom stretches all through history and into eternity.

When I look at the ending of the Scriptures, I see that God’s original intent for His creation is the same at its end as it was at its beginning. The difference is that evil has been utterly destroyed. The kind of Kingdom God created for Man in the beginning is, for the most part, the same kind of Kingdom we will see in eternity. The roles and relationships of God to Man, Man to God, and Man to Man are spiritually the same. There are kingdoms and sub-kingdoms. Work will exist, even in eternity, only it will no longer be under the curse. The Kingdom will persist.

All this is why I can’t see any better center than a Kingdom one. If that’s what Jesus focused on, then how can I focus on anything else?