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 Quoting Jesus Harshes Your Mellow


If the Internet were somehow the complete representation of the words of Jesus, the Bible would pretty much come down to this:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
—Mark 12:29-31

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
—Matthew 7: 1-5

Jesus, sword in mouthIn summary: Love God and love your neighbor—and don’t badly judge your neighbor, either.

If the Internet is any indicator, that’s the sole breadth of what Jesus supposedly said.

And thinking that is pretty stupid, when you ponder it. But then many of the greatest quoters of the Bible have actually never read it from cover to cover, so what should we expect?

When some bad stuff went down in ancient Palestine, a group of people came to Jesus for an explanation:

There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

Yeah, He went there.

“Way to harsh the mellow, Jesus! Those people came to you for some comfort, not criticism. What a buzzkill!”

But you see, the thing about the Christian faith is that it’s not a departure from reality. It’s not the puppy dogs and rainbow-farting unicorns you see on the Web. It’s blood, guts, and in your face. It’s as real as it gets. And Jesus isn’t going to selectively filter what He says to people so they can feel good about themselves and bad about the bad people, which, coincidentally, is what Jesus is saying everyone standing before Him is, bad.

Good people don’t have to repent. Only the wicked, rotten, evil ones.

When Jesus tells the crowd, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” He’s not mincing words. He’s saying this:

That terrible thing that happened to those people? If you don’t turn from your own wickedness and turn to God, something like it is going to happen to you too.

Except the Bible also says that the bad thing that is going to happen to people who don’t repent is going to go on and on and on.

Jesus also said this:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:6

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
—John 17:3

Jesus said a lot of things people should listen to.

Don’t be a total hypocrite in your judging. Love God and love your neighbor.

And don’t be a complete dumbass by selectively quoting Jesus without knowing the rest of what He said. Because whatever your agenda is in doing so, you need to get over it. Why? Because unless you turn from your evil personal agenda and turn to God and His agenda, you also will end very, very badly.

3 Major Ways a Church Misses the Mark with Insufficient Theology


The Bible, old school style...Cerulean Sanctum deals largely with how the American Church lives out what it believes. Where I only occasionally stray is into the theology that undergirds that belief.

In crisscrossing the Christian blogosphere, visiting local churches, and viewing Christians posting in social media, I’ve witnessed repeated thought patterns based on “insufficient” theology. Too many statements made by supposed believers lack something essential to well-rounded Christian belief.

While the whole of Christian theology and apologetics encompasses a staggering breadth of topics and issues, I want to stick to three areas of deficiency that continually cripple solid understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century.

That said, an obvious one must be discussed, too, as well as one that is a “major minor.” But I’ll get to those two later.

First, a declaration. To do this subject justice requires a ton of footnotes and a plethora of Bible quoting. If I put all that in this post, it would end up in the TL;DR pile. So, we’re all adults here: I will leave the study to you. Please do look up these issues in your Bible and confirm them for yourself. I will be writing from the 30,000-foot view. I want to put these ideas out there. You can follow up as you see fit.

The Obvious

The Trinity.

Now you know why I’m keeping this high level. A study of The Trinity could fill 20 posts and still not touch on everything.

By Trinity, I mean God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. Three unique, co-existing persons enveloped in one Godhood.

I say with no hesitation that if a church gets The Trinity wrong, everything else is wrong. Stop right there. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

While the word cult raises hackles in a politically correct age, you can separate a genuine, orthodox Christian church from a pseudo-Christian cult 99.999% of the time by how it portrays the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That criterium alone. Seriously.

What does your church believe about The Trinity? How does that square with small-“o” orthodox Christian belief? Find out. Really.

The Three Majors

How a church thinks and how that thinking informs its practice is not something most people ponder. They show up on Sunday, sing a few hymns, listen to someone talk about God, share an awkward handshake or two with some folks they don’t know as well as they should, and they go home.

You don’t want to be that person. You want something more.

I think that more you want hinges on how your church deals with the following three issues:

  1. Sin
  2. The Journey of Christ
  3. The Kingdom of God

These three rise to the top because most people, even Christian leaders, don’t think much about them once they’ve convinced themselves of the basics, especially how teaching and understanding them manifests itself in practice.


We need to look at sin as two component parts:

  1. Estrangement from God
  2. Bad behaviors we do (because of estrangement from God)

Many Christians spend their entire lives managing bad behavior because that’s what their churches teach. The Christian life becomes an endless wrestling against those couple rotten behaviors we can’t seem to overcome.

That’s picking nits, though, and it’s doomed to failure. Constantly monitoring oneself for sin slipping in here or there leads only to despair. And that’s where many Christians are regarding their sin.

In reality, the core problem isn’t sinful behaviors but estrangement from God. The first thing God said to Adam and Eve after the Fall was not “What have you done?” but “Where are you?”

Whenever we talk about sin, the word repentance follows close behind.

Want an interesting exercise? If you have a King James Bible, do a word search in the Old Testament for the word repent.

Not many uses, are there? And usually only related to God changing His mind about something.

Yet the history of God and His People in the Old Testament was a history of God doing what? Asking those people to repent. But if God didn’t use that word, how did He ask? By holding open His arms and longing for His beloved people to walk away from their idols and return to Him. To come Home.

What does biblical repentance that ends estrangement from God look like? Read Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15).

God wants a relationship with us. He wants us to turn from whatever it is that distracts us and come back home to Him. At its core, that’s what repentance truly is.

A funny side effect occurs when that happens. You find it in this classic hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

When it comes to the second half of that sin theology, first dealing with our estrangement from God tends also to diminish greatly our sinful behaviors. The closer we draw to Him after we’ve come home, the less those sins bedevil us. Drawing close to God matters most.

The Bible says this:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
—John 17:3 ESV

The problem many churches have with their theology of sin is a focus on managing sinful behaviors rather than a focus on coming home to God and deepening intimacy with Him. Knowing God deep in our very core makes all the difference. THAT is eternal life. If a church does not spend the majority of its time helping us deepen our intimacy with God, then we may forever struggle to manage sinful behaviors.

The Journey of Christ

Ministry –> The Cross –> The Resurrection –> The Ascension/Pentecost

Please note the four component parts of The Journey of Christ. Now realize it is highly likely that a church will not fully teach and minister from an understanding and practice of all four parts equally.

That’s a huge theological deficiency.

The worst part: Most churches and denominations insist they teach and practice it all equally. They don’t, though. Most cherry-pick a place or two in that journey and throw those select few all their time and effort. This diminishes how they frame the Christian life, teach it to others, and practice it.

For instance, it’s easy to see many charismatic churches skip right to the end and spend most of their time living their faith out of The Ascension/Pentecost. Sure, there’s a little talk of the other three parts, but they remain forever secondary. That diminishment skews the way charismatics look at everything. A lack of teaching on The Cross as a means to end the willfulness of the Christian almost never gets discussed. It’s one reason why so little humility exists in some sectors of the charismatic movement.

Many mainline churches jump right to The Resurrection. They talk a lot about new life and clearly perk up around Easter time, but they don’t do as well dealing with the old life and its troubles or with the charismata. The Cross and The Ascension/Pentecost get short shrift.

Likewise, stopping at The Cross with one foot into The Resurrection explains why some of the loudest Reformed voices on the Web get hung-up on sin, talk less about what a new life looks like in full, and rarely venture into The Ascension/Pentecost and what that means for the Church. As a result, you hear a whole lot of sinner and not much saint. Oddly, as much as Reformed and Holiness churches clash in the rest of their theology, they both share this affinity.

It is highly probable that your church and mine do not deal equally with the four parts of The Journey of Christ. Again, leaders will protest this like crazy, but it’s true. Something in that journey is being overemphasized and something under-. It’s a very human failing.

To be a balanced Christian in our theology, we must identify the dearth in our church in regard to The Journey of Christ and supplement from other sources that highlight the underserved part(s) of the path. Those sources will likely fall outside the ghetto of our church or denomination. Because, hey, blinders. Don’t be afraid to step outside your familiar church neighborhood. You will be a more well-rounded Christian if you do.

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God consists of both The Kingdom Now and The Kingdom Not Yet. Jesus brought The Kingdom of God with Him in His incarnation and it persists in the Church (Now) until He comes again and restores everything (Not Yet). Almost every church will insist it believes The Kingdom of God is both Now and Not Yet, but too many of them don’t act as if they do. The Church in America struggles with its teaching and practice of The Kingdom more than almost any issue.

When a church is heavy in Kingdom Now, we see a strong emphasis on ministry to others and on the power to do so. Nothing wrong with believing that The Kingdom manifests in power through the living, dynamic Church. Charismatic churches tend to dwell in Kingdom Now theology.

However, that’s not all The Kingdom is. And this explains why so many charismatics become disillusioned when they assume Kingdom Now, but God is directing them toward Not Yet. We simply will not see every tear dried until Christ returns. We have the Lord’s Supper now, but the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will far, far outstrip it in glory. Kingdom Now folks need to bear this in mind and recall that our ultimate destination is not here and now.

When a church is heavy in Kingdom Not Yet, everything feels delayed until we die and go to heaven. This thinking reminds us of the temporality of this life and the eternity of the life to come, where we will see the fulfillment of everything we hoped for here and now. That’s a good thing.

However, too much Kingdom Not Yet can ignore the present. The Cult of Suffering I see in some Reformed and mainline churches today is a result of thinking only Kingdom Not Yet. That leads to a church that is powerless in the face of current problems, always preaching muddling through rather than any kind of triumph over the vicissitudes of life. Everything positive feels delayed until we see the Pearly Gates. Obviously, that’s a deficient way of looking at The Kingdom and what Christ empowered the Church to be and do this side of heaven.

The Kingdom is both Now and Not Yet. We must live and believe both parts fully to have a fully realized faith.

The Major Minor

How Christians view The Atonement of Christ, while a major aspect of our theology, runs under our radar and is therefore often assumed rather than understood. Pastors know which type of atonement theory they teach and preach, but most people in the seats can’t distinguish Penal Substitution from Christ Victor, much less define them.

By The Atonement, we mean what Jesus accomplished for us by His death on the cross. Many theories exist for what happened in Christ’s sacrificial act. Theologians will defend their particular favorite theory almost to the death and to the point of calling anyone who doesn’t share their singular belief a heretic.

I find that ludicrous. I look at the many Atonement theories and each has something interesting to say about the breadth of Christ’s finished work that I can see the Bible validating. Excluding all other theories to the acceptance of one alone is unwise, in my opinion. While YMMV, I believe we should familiarize ourselves with the many theories and use them as a means to widen our understanding of the enormity of Christ’s Atonement. This can only lead to a greater appreciation for all Jesus did for us.

Like the three Majors listed above, what we think about The Atonement will flavor what we believe about the Christian faith and how we manifest it…


…so will many other aspects of Christian theology. Our eschatology, how we view the End, factors into how we live now. As does our soteriology, what we believe about how Jesus saves. And many other -ologies within our theology. All have importance. All will lead us to the expression of the Faith we believe and show to the world.

Still, each of us must ask how our churches and denominations bend our beliefs and practices in one direction or another. Because the direction we do not go is likely valid, too, and when we skip it, we may just find ourselves believing and living a less-than-optimal Christian life.