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.

When Right-Hearted Christians Defend Wrong-Headed Theology


Someone had let a whirlwind into the room.

Elder George Merriweather gazed at his Rolex. They’d been at this for only 10 minutes, but it felt like 10 hours. He glanced at Deaconess Lisbeth Cartwright and sighed. The former Miss America candidate from Connecticut nodded, and her blonde curls went bouncing.

Westminster Wesleyan had endured plenty of storms in the church’s nearly 200-year history, but it had scarcely seen the likes of this present hurricane, all 300-pounds in fluorescent eyeshadow of her, Miss T’juana Dupree Jones.

“It ain’t right to call Zion no ’xperiment,” the woman responded. “Alls I sayin’ is that Miss Thelma could use that food too. And Miss Laetitia and Miss Lucinda.”

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III regretted his choice of words. In a way, Zion Holiness Temple was an experiment. Changing demographics in the neighborhood abutting Westminster Wesleyan, while not exactly forcing the church’s hand, made it essential that the church consider an outreach that would bring the Gospel to more of the people who lived in the nearby area. Church leaders also recognized that Zion might need to have its own “flavor” if it was to develop its own style of ministry, one that Hill recognized he wasn’t equipped to understand. While Zion shared much with its parent church, Westminster encouraged the Zion congregation that met under its roof to develop its own programs.

Zion didn’t have a home meals delivery program like Westminster did. And at least one person did not like this disparity.

“Miss Thelma be 91 years old, livin’ alone in a one-room ’partment with no A/C,” Jones continued. “You been up to her place?”

Benevolence Committee leader Quentin Greenway shook his head.

“No, ” Jones said, barely hiding her ire, “I don’t think you been.”

Olivia Brentwell, co-leader of the committee, spoke up.

“You have to understand, Miss Jones, we’re trying to encourage the Zion congregation to—”

“And I’m trying to encourage y’all to recall that Miss Lucinda done got her man blowed up in that desert war and got three precious little babies she need to feed, and y’all got the money and food.”

Greenway leaned forward and attempted his own interjection. He failed miserably.

“And Miss Laetitia been a widow lady for 20 years. You remember her man? Worked hisself to death probably.”

Pastor Hill, who had been listening all the while he played with his Mont Blanc pen, grimaced at the mention. Laetitia Washington’s husband, Franklin, had been Westminster Wesleyan’s janitor for three decades before he passed away.

“Y’all could drive that little van a couple more blocks and drop off them ladies something decent to eat at least once a day,” Jones said. “I don’t see why not. It ain’t right the way it be now. That’s all I gots to say.”

Jones folded her hands into her prodigious lap and stared straight ahead, the laser focus of her eyes burning a hole in the far wall an inch to the right of Greenway’s bald head.

He spoke.

“We have solid, biblical reasons, Miss Jones, for denying the request.”

Jones’s brow knitted.

“We do not wish to enable neediness,” Greenway began. “People fall into a pattern of victimhood that is disempowering. They lose the ability to care for themselves as God intends, instead developing an unhealthy reliance on others.”

Cartwright called on her training and raised herself perfectly erect. “And suffering is good for the soul, Miss Jones. The Bible clearly states that in this world we will have suffering. We should look on it as a gift from the Lord and thank Him for it. Suffering builds character, strength, and perseverance, qualities that every Christian should possess.”

Brentwell smoothed her silk dress and added , “Miss Jones, if we were to give these three women what you ask, how many more should expect the same treatment? God shows no partiality, and neither should we.”

To which Greenway added, “And our own resources aren’t infinite. We have to be able to meet the needs of Westminster’s own.”

The brow-knitting on Jones’s face was beginning to develop its own Zip code.

As he always did, Elder Merriweather saw the moment as a teachable one.

“This is clearly an issue of God’s sovereignty,” he said through steepled fingers, eyes trained on Jones. “While I can commiserate with the plight of these women, they are in the state they are because of God’s will. He alone raises up, and He alone brings low. For us to stand as His judge and claim that we know better by meddling in God’s ways, I daresay our presumption will come back to bite us.”

The human storm stirred again. A hand rose from Jones’s lap, one finger emerging from five, straightening, filled with indignation.

“You with the enabling. You with the suffering. You with the partiality,” Jones said, her eyes flashing, “and you with that word I done never heard before. What all wrong with you? You pushin’ me to sin with what I’m thinkin’, but I’m just gonna say it: Y’all don’t got the common sense God done give a goose.”

Pastor Hill thought to reply when he saw the shock on his leadership team’s faces, but that was before he noticed something on Jones’s face: the track of a lone tear.

“I don’t got nothin’ in this world, not even the stuff in this one office, ” Jones said. “But I can see that I’m gonna have to take my nothin’ and make somethin’ of it so I can take care of three widow ladies who don’t get the food in one day y’all get from one of your brunches.”

At this, Jones lifted herself, collected her faux leopard-skin bag and left, making sure the door of the office slammed with just the right amount of force to make one final statement.

No one said anything.

Finally, Greenway spoke.

“For one, I look at this as a success. That woman left here empowered to take responsibility for the care of these women. By standing our ground, we empowered rather than enabled.”

Brentwell and Merriweather agreed.

“Ministry is hard,” Cartwright added, still a little frazzled by the encounter.

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III didn’t hear his leadership team’s self-congratulations, though. Instead, he could not take his eyes from the old, wooden cross that hung on the wall opposite his desk, just as it had for as long as he could remember.


Here is how another leadership team, long ago and far away, handled a similar situation in a much godlier way:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
—Acts 6:1-4 ESV

God help us when we make up spiritual-sounding excuses supposedly based on “biblical theology” to ignore doing the right thing.

Ministry, Decomplexified


Over in another forum, I was reading a lament about starting an affinity group for Christians. For those who don’t know that term affinity, it means people in the group share something in common. Harley Davidson riders, parents who had a child die, board gamers, survivors of sexual assault, fans of the TV show Firefly—get two people together who share a commonality, and you can have the start of an affinity group.

Except the writer of that forum post was in full lament. In his case, he had a hard time getting groups to work. There was prayer time to consider, worship to plan, Bible study…

Now hold on there!

I don’t know what it is about Evangelical Christianity, but there’s this rampant thinking—perhaps a remnant of the sacred/secular split mentality—that for something to be fully Christian, Christians MUST add layers of obvious Christian practice over the top. There must be the sanctification of the secular.

Just stop.

Look, no matter where Christians go, we are the Church. By definition. Also, it’s almost always the case that when Christians get together, we act like Christians organically. (If we must be cajoled into being Christians, then a deeper problem exists.)

I know this sounds antispiritual on the surface, but nothing kills real practice of the Faith deader than dead than forcing it on people. An overweening sense of duty doth not a vibrant faith make.

Which is why so many Christians’ efforts to launch affinity groups fail. We try to Christianize the hell out of them.

But there’s only a need to Christianize an assembly if one goes into it with a mentality that there’s nothing inherently spiritual about a half dozen people getting together to do something they enjoy or that brings them comfort.

That thinking is lunkheaded, though. It not only drives away people, it explains why something as simple as a half dozen people getting together to share an enjoyment of comic books suddenly feels burdened by all the Christianese that must be added so as to make it a Christian comic book fan group.

My experience is this: If you want to run an affinity group as a ministry, don’t. Your thinking is wrong from the start. Don’t treat it as a ministry, even if it is. Thinking about the group as a ministry will only taint it.Escher, Stairs, Complexity

The only factor you must include is to let the group breathe. Let it do that thing for which it exists. If prayer happens because someone wants it, then pray. If you need to anchor a holy moment in Scripture, then do it when that need arises and the timing is right, but don’t ramrod it.

The more we feel compelled to do such and such spiritual activity during a simple get-together of likeminded people, the more we run the risk of driving that get-together into the ground.

Where Christians are, Christ is. We don’t need more than that. And it’s high time we believe that to be the truth.

Let’s stop “complexifying” the Christian life and adding millstones around people’s necks. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden light. C’mon, folks, let’s cut the endless burdens we keep adding to life. Or else we may wake up one day and find we are not living at all.