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.

Word to an Elder–And to Us All


I’ve been going to our church’s Sunday evening meeting rather than to the morning one. My son enjoys the teaching for teens more because it allows for interaction that a one-way sermon lacks. (Churches, take note.)

During the adult teaching, one of our church elders sat beside me. Afterward, he asked me a question:

“So Dan, what’s the word?”

He may have been asking how things were going with me, but I’d been ruminating on something all day, and it seemed like now was the right time to share it.

“I think we need to love people where they’re at,” I replied. “Not by some standard we impose on them or by our hopes for where we want them to be, but just as they are in that face-to-face moment with us.”

Men huggingEarlier in the day, I was thinking about a wonderful, Spirit-filled man who has since gone on to glory. He always wanted better for others, but he never approached people with that as his primary touchpoint. He met them where they were. In whatever sin they were ensnared. In their sadness or in their joy. In their fullness or in their need. He loved them in the moment, and he was loved by them for that reason.

Later that day, during worship time before the teaching, I thought about where we are as a society and how many people miss out on a relationship with God because they see Christians as a group of people with impossibly high standards. They don’t see Christians as capable of loving people in the moment, with no other expectations.

This elder and I are both in our 50s, with life experience similarities. Right now, I know a lot of men our age who are dying inside because circumstances weigh on them. Today, no demographic commits suicide at a higher rate (and increasing exponentially) than middle-aged, white males. It’s not hard to see why. Many have been laid off at that point in their careers when they should be stepping into the next level of career success; instead they find themselves unwanted, reduced to flipping burgers to make ends meet, and not even succeeding at that. Others are dealing with illness, either in themselves, their spouse, or their parents, and trying to be a caregiver and work a 60-hour week is grinding them down to a nub. Others grabbed for the brass ring and not only missed it, but they fell off the carousel entirely and can’t find a way to get back on. Others struggle with understanding what God put them on earth to do, especially if their map to purpose dried up and blew away, and they see nothing on the horizon except infirmity and uselessness.

These men often feel no one cares about them. That they’re used up. Done. Finished. Kaput. And no one tells them otherwise. Or they feel they need to be a fount of knowledge and wisdom, but they can’t immediately answer the questions they’re asked or meet the demands of others. Everyone expects something great now, and sometimes being great is for another day and not this second.

I looked at this elder, and I wondered if this is how he felt in that moment. I wondered if my word was for him.

Then I realized it’s for us all.

Love the people in front of you for who they are. Not for what they can do for you. Not for what you want them to be.

Husbands, wives, children, coworkers, bosses, cashiers at the grocery store, mailmen, garbage collectors, politicians, neighbors, strangers–hope for the best for them, but love them where they are.

None of us is good enough. Even in those rare times of greatness, peak performance may exist only for today or for this week. Tomorrow, we may only rise to the level of middling. Next week, we may utterly fail. Or not. Neither failure nor success should matter.

Love people for where they are right now.

Your unconditional love and mine may be what another needs to become what God hopes he or she will be.

No More Fear: Peace, Love, and Confidence as a Witness for Jesus


The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
—Psalms 118:6 ESV

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
—John 14:27 ESV

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
—1 John 4:18 ESV

If you were to ask me what word described American Christians at this moment in time, I would not hesitate. That word is fear.

Fear of terrorists

Fear of homosexuals

Fear of whichever political party is not ours

Fear of someone who might take our means of defense away

Fear that America has been usurped by people who hate America

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.

Social media is increasingly a fear fest, where the whole world can see American “Christians” publicly display their myriad fears of this or that.

Desperation undergirds that fear. Powerlessness too. People are flailing, looking for anything they can grab onto, as if they’re drowning. Which they are—in fear.

I was born near the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My father told me he was sure his soon-to-be first child would never see the light of day, obliterated in a nuclear exchange between the world powers of that time.

We can talk about whether this age is more rightful in its fear than that one, but that’s missing the point. We always seem to be missing the point, which is this:

For the Christian, there must be no fear.

Jesus commanded that we not be afraid. Is that not enough?

For the person who does not know Jesus, there is good reason to fear. But there is no good reason for the Christian to be afraid. If Christians fear, it is because we love our lives too much. It is because we fear punishment. It is because we are not perfected in love.

If that’s you, go to the Lord and let Him deal with that fear in you.

Every generation of Christians believes it is the terminal generation, the final one before Christ returns. Whether this generation is or isn’t changes nothing. The Lord says, “Don’t be afraid.”

Everyone is watching the news for more terrorism, more war, more natural disasters—more of everything that should cause fear.

The Christian instead responds with peace amid the turmoil, love amid the hate, confidence amid the questions.

The Christian is the one lost people go to for comfort because the Christian knows the One in whom she trusts is faithful.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 8:35-39 ESV

Lost people watch us. They search for something, anything different about Christians that shows us to have something no one else possesses.

Standing on the rockThey look to find someone who loves his enemies.

They seek to find someone who models fearlessness.

They long to find someone who is a rock of peacefulness, unmoved by shifting tides.

People everywhere are dying for the Church to be unflinching in the face of fear.

Christian, if you refuse to give into fear because you rest on the finished work of Jesus and on His faithfulness, then the result will show in your words and actions. You will be an ambassador for Christ and for His Kingdom, which not only cannot be destroyed, but also cannot even be blemished in any way because it is impervious to anything that comes against it.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
—John 12:25 ESV

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
—Romans 14:8 ESV

Even if you die, nothing can be taken away from you, because Jesus has already given you everything, and your life is hidden in Him. What is His cannot be taken away from Him—ever.

Be an instrument of peace.

Be a vessel of love.

Be the person who does not fear.

Be the person who comforts others when they do.

The world is watching.