Monday, February 13, 2012

All Things To All People

By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service

SWARTZ CREEK MI (ANS) -- A political season can get people thinking about promises – promises for the future (by candidates we like) and the potential of broken promises (by those whom we don’t). When I was a kid I wrote a fan letter to Walt Kelly, the cartoonist of “Pogo,” who sent a drawing of Albert the Alligator’s platform as a political advisor: “I promise you voters to not promise anything. And if I do make a promise, I promise not to keep it.”

It would be refreshing, really. But the problem with promises is not politics or politicians -– it’s human nature; which, I promise you, will never change on its own.

Truth is something we all must confront, and deal with. Even Pontius Pilate, yielding to public pressure, desperately trying by symbolism to wash his hands of the guilty act of condemning an innocent man to die, looked at Jesus, probably knowing better than the mob did Whom he addressed, and asked, “What is Truth?” People don’t ask such questions of criminals or strangers or even politicians, of Pilate’s day or our own day.

One aspect of human nature is that when we are confronted with Truth, it frequently is our tendency not to change ourselves or our habits, but to bend truth, explain it away, weaken it, even deny it. Heretics through the history of Christianity, “relativists” in philosophy, and leaders of the Emergent movement on the fringes of today’s religion, all have tacked adjectives to the word “truth.” They give us relational truth, conditional truth, relative truth... everything except the firmly rejected Absolute Truth. Which the Bible teaches. And what God IS. And what Jesus embodied -– “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

I have noticed that a lot of Christians can be timid about the truth, and frequently they justify it by not wanting to offend non-believers. Some even think that being too bold with the truth about God -– maybe at first, anyway -– might alienate prospective Christians. “Meet them at the their level,” because, after all, doesn’t God say He loves us just as we are? ... and pretty soon, the well-meaning Christian is the enabler of sin and a rebellious lifestyle, instead of speaking the truth.

If someone were to approach you on the street, and say, “Sic enim dilexit Deus mundum ut Filium suum unigenitum daret ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat sed habeat vitam aeternam,” chance are you would not know what the person said. I wouldn’t. How about if someone in the supermarket called to you, “Denn so hat Gott die Welt geliebt, daß er seinen eingeborenen Sohn gab, damit jeder, der an ihn glaubt, nicht verloren gehe, sondern ewiges Leben habe!” it probably would not be much different. Are they asking a question, telling a joke, or cursing at you? Then you get a phone call: “Car Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu'il a donné son Fils unique, afin que quiconque croit en lui ne périsse point, mais qu'il ait la vie éternelle.”

Well, these are the Latin, German, and French translations of John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” If you went to Sunday School, if you watch football games on TV, you know the verse. Do you know it in Latin?

It makes no difference whether you understand it or not: it is still true.

And there’s a lesson for how you and I should relate to non-believers. Some Christian counselors dismiss bad behavior, for fear of offending those who need help. Some youth workers try to dress and talk and act like adolescents, subconsciously (maybe quite deliberately) thinking that they have found a way to reach kids that is better than sharing God’s truth. We speak the truth, and the Holy Spirit takes over when the seed is planted -– part of the job description.

Most of us live on smaller stages, but we should remember that when St Paul explained that he was willing to be “all things to all people,” he didn’t mean compromising his faith; he meant that, unlike haughty priests, he knew it was necessary to meet everyone where they were, literally. He “spoke Greek to Greeks,” and showed up in front of pagan temples -– not join in their rituals but to share Jesus with people who would never otherwise hear such words.

Likewise, Jesus Himself. He had fellowship with Mary Magdalene, and the woman at the well, not to have sex but to discuss their sins. Not even to condemn, but to forgive. But He did not “accept” them “where they were” in terms of accepting their transgressions. Just the opposite. Jesus was, and is, quick and hard with the Truth. “Sin no more.”

If we do less -– whether confronting our own sins; or the sometimes excruciating obligation to share the gospel with others; or in debating integrity in national debates -– if we do less, we fail not by slight degree, but miserably.

For then we brand ourselves with as “half-truthers,” which is tradition’s polite term for liars. All things to all people? Unless you define it as Paul did… far better to be one thing to the One God, if truth be told.

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Truth does not vary according to the audience or the culture or the times. That is the definition of truth. Like a rock. Not just as a last refuge but a first affection, we should cling to the Rock of Ages. Here some Homecoming singers at the Cove, Billy Graham’s conference center, gathered to sing the classic hymn. Sitting next to Gloria Gaither that day, under a portrait of Billy Graham, was Billy’s late wife Ruth.

Rick Marschall is the author of 65 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia Magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture”) to history and criticism; country music, television history, biography and children’s books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals; co-author of The Secret Revealed with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. His history of cartoon Advertising, Drawing Power, will be published in July 2011 by the Marschall Books imprint of fantagraphics Books. In October his major biography of Theodore Roosevelt, BULLY!, will be publ;ished by Regnery History of Washington DC. He is currently working on a One-Year CDevotional for Tyndale House; and edits the the reissue of Harper's Weekly -- the Civil War Years for NOVOink e-books. Rick is a former Director of Product Development for Youth Specialties. He is recipient of the 2008 “Christian Writer of the Year” award from the Greater Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, and produces a weekly e-mail devotional, “Monday Morning Music Ministry.” His e-mail address is:

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