February 8, 2004
Words can be powerful -- ideas have influence. Anyone who has been the target of a gossip campaign knows this.
Three notorious atheists from the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century Germany unleashed a firestorm on Christians in the later parts of the Twentieth Century. All they had were ideas! Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx were the least hateful. They considered religious belief a mere fantasy, a delusion to help the grief of death. Of course, Marx' influence on communism indirectly lead to the martyrdom of millions of Christians.
But the worst of the three Germans was philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He considered Christianity to be something much worse than a fairy tale. He wrote, "I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous . . . perversion -- I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind" (from The Twilight of the Idols, 1888). Physically, he was sickly, unimpressive, but he continues to have a powerful influence on philosophers and university professors to this day with his ideas. With Marx and Freud he would have to take much of the credit for more Christians being killed for their faith in the Twentieth Century than in the previous nineteen combined.
Nietzsche continues to impact us through main stream media types and academics who have been educated by university professors enamored with him. This helps explain how Dan Rather could write in the April 1994 issue of The Nation, "Gays and lesbians are beaten to death in the streets with increasing frequency in part due to irrational fear of AIDS but also because of hate mongers . . . of the Christian right."
I see no evidence of what he has written and what he continues on a regular basis to imply, but none of his peers have suggested he was even a little biased. Instead they join the chorus, as did the editor of the Washington Post who wrote that Christians are "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." This is typical of what media and entertainment celebrities think. If they said the same thing about any other minority group or ethnic class they would be publicly castigated and lose their jobs. We live in an age when most leaders consider it helpful to the culture to fire on Christians. It is not the first time people of God have been hated. If you have your Bible turn with me to Daniel.
The book of Daniel is a record of Israel/Judah in exile. Exile is an important event or concept to understand in terms of the impact it had on the Jews. The people of Israel-Jacob were formed into a nation with a theocratic constitution at Sinai (Exodus). God had been growing and preparing some of the offspring of Abraham for this event. After rescuing them from Egypt they were officially organized by God to be a "kingdom of priests." Bridge builders.
In Moses' last message, he reminded them of their privilege and responsibility as God's priests. In Deuteronomy 29 he reviews the terms of their covenant - including God's promise of blessings for faithfulness and curses for infidelity.
As a nation they struggled with faithfulness. They consequently went through a long cyclic period of degenerated paganism, followed by judgement, followed by revival. Around 922 BC the kingdom divided. The northern ten tribes experienced almost continuous rebellion until 722 BC when Assyria destroyed them - in a way that they would never recover.
The southern two tribes escaped this disaster with Assyria, but they also degenerated spiritually to a place where God was forced to bring judgement. It started in 605 BC (after the Battle of Carcamesh). God spoke through Jeremiah to say - don't depend on Egypt! Babylon began to dominate and control Judah. In the first siege Daniel and his three friends were taken into exile. By 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the Temple built by Solomon and its furnishings, and all Jews were taken to Babylon.
The southern kingdom maintained its religious and ethnic integrity - even in exile - through the ministry of men like Ezekiel and Daniel. Ultimately a small percentage of the exiled Jews were allowed to return under the liberal policies of Cyrus the Persian ruler who defeated the Babylonians in 515 BC.
However the exile marks an important bridge for the Jews. Never again would they be a fully independent nation with their religious rituals as the core of their life. In fact the rebuilt temple was so uninspiring it caused weeping at the completion of its foundation. The Ark of the Covenant was lost forever (Day of Atonement - blood) and the Spirit of God never filled the Holy of Holies (Exodus 40; I Kings 8).
Yet exile for Judah was not totally destructive in the way it had been for Israel. The Jews seemed to have learned their lesson, in terms of compromising with paganism and idolatry. When they did return - unlike the ten tribes, much smaller and weaker - they were purer in their faith.
Some of this change can be credited to the example of Daniel. Daniel was part of a hated minority, initially with very little influence. But he and his friends determined to be faithful to God whatever the circumstances and whatever the consequences. The first six chapters of Daniel recount six moral challenges to this determination.
The challenge in the first chapter was to maintain faith in God while being encouraged with everything desirable to become Babylonian pagans. He was given a new name, a new status. He was given an extensive Babylonian education in writing, math and the sciences, making him equal to a magi. But he drew the line at a new diet. This seems strange to us, but accepting the diet was the same as accepting the Babylonian religion. The food and drink was only consumable after going through a worship service to the pagan gods, and by consuming it you were accepting the spirit of these gods! Daniel was asking for a simple diet untainted by pagan rituals. He maintained his loyalty to God. And because of that God blessed him with significant influence - even as a minority - in his new land. He was beginning to be a priest to the world!
When we come to chapter six a historical change has occurred. Chapter five records the fall of Babylon and the rise of Persia. Daniel is now a very old man, essentially working for a new empire. He is respected as intelligent and a person of integrity -- two qualities hard to find an any bureaucracy. Yet he is at the mercy of the majority people-- those in charge. And a few significant "wanna be" leaders are filled with malicious jealousy.
Remember that Daniel is about Caleb's age when Caleb asked Joshua for his mountain, not the time to begin a career fighting lions. It is also important to notice that Daniel never went out looking for trouble, but when it came he never let it chase him away from God.
Would it come as a shock to you if I suggested that American culture does not belong to Christians? If you want proof I would suggest as exhibit A: Super Bowl commercials. So many of them were grossly stupid in a pagan sort of way. The half time entertainment was appropriate to a pagan ceremony of ritual prostitution; and that was long before the Janet Jackson climax. That episode was only shocking if you missed what the entertainers were trying to suggest in the scenes leading up to it. Apparently this is typical of everyday programming for MTV -- a kind of Baal worship for agnostics. The whole Super Bowl experience - outside of the game itself - was of such a nature that "a degenerate could be proud."
But please don't get distracted by the current state of entertainment. In so many far more critical areas our culture is experiencing spiritual death tremors. The horrors of abortion are getting worse as one of the Democratic candidates suggests that babies have no right to life until the mother gives the okay. Wesley Clark told the Manchester, NH, Union Leader, "Life begins with the mother's decision." This potentially advances abortion to the level of infanticide! Then there is the rewriting of history and politics to take God out of government and education. And as of today we are witnessing the collapse of the basic trans-cultural concept of marriage. I refuse to modify marriage by hyphenating it as hetero-sexual marriage.
Followers of Jesus live in a darker world today than the one we were born into. Many of the academic elite consider "us" the enemy. And the culture is becoming more comfortable disposing of unwanted life in all forms. We must wonder -- where will this attitude leave us?
Among the very last written words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3: 12-13 were, "everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse."
Most of you have avoided the lions den. Yet we can sense the restlessness of "our enemy the devil . . .." If this "roaring lion" were to try to eat you tomorrow, where would he attack first? At school? At work? In your neighborhood? At home?
What are your resources for defense? Do you try to blend in so that you're not noticed as a Christian? Or do you run off in a panic and try to bring the Kingdom of God in by human effort? Or do you depend on the resources of Jesus?
Daniel continued to be faithful to prayer and his time alone with God. He found resources of grace in his relationship with God. He continued to abstain from compromise with a godless lifestyle, and he lived a life of integrity to the point that his enemies could not arrest him for anything hinting of scandal. They could only attack him for his faithfulness to God. And God rescued him. One way or the other God always takes care of His faithful followers.
The final words of Paul written from his cell on death row may someday be important to us: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 4:18).