Monday, May 28, 2018

HCA Graduation Address- Christ or Babylon?

Will You Follow Christ or Will You Follow Babylon?
A Graduation Address by Pastor Tony Felich
to the Heritage Christian Academy Class of 2018
May 19, 2018

To the Heritage Christian Academy Class of 2018- Congratulations on a job well done!  Completing high school is no small task and you are to be commended. I join your teachers and coaches in looking forward to what the Lord will continue to do in and through you. 

I wish to bring you and this whole assembly an earnest address. I hope you will listen and take my words to heart.  

I begin with a statement from C.S. Lewis-

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Wine would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” 

There were three young people, probably younger than you, who found themselves at a momentous crossroads, where the stakes could not be any higher- life or death.

It seemed that choosing God would mean death. 
It seemed that choosing the world would mean life. 

The year was about 603 BC.
The place was the Kingdom of Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.

The kingdom that preceded Babylon was Assyria, which no one imagined could be defeated, but with aid from the Chaldeans, Babylon was the power on that part of the Earth.

Kingdoms of Earth rise and fall.  

Cultures are considered high and enlightened one moment in history, then they are brought very low the next.

At that time in Babylon there were some notable exiles living in their capital. They were young Jewish men who had been deported from Israel and taken to Babylon. They were strong, intelligent, and influential. This was the practice of ancient empires- to take the best and brightest from conquered territories and put them in their nation’s service. They were stripped of their outward Jewish Identity and given Babylonian names- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

While Israel as a nation had fallen in to God’s discipline on the whole, there were still faithful believers there.  

People like these three men trusted in God and His Word. These faithful Israelites looked forward to the spiritual salvation they would experience through the coming Messiah.

These men were put to the service of Babylon and their King, Nebuchadnezzar. 
The book of Daniel tells their story with a valuable lesson for all of us today, but especially the new graduates before us.

These young men were raised in believing homes and taught to worship the God of Israel. They believed in God’s Word and looked forward to the coming of God’s Messiah as their Redeemer. Now they were in a land that didn’t care about their old names, their families, their churches, or their schools. 

They were believers in God in a land that mocked their God and His Book. 
They were believers in God’s Messiah in a land that thought of itself as it’s own savior with a King who demanded they worship him. 

Babylon called the young men to violate what they were taught, to transgress what they knew was right. “Never mind what your God says”, Babylonian culture declared. It seemed everyone in Babylon thought it was OK to defy the God of Israel’s revelation. “We are wiser than your God!”  said the Babylonian culture.

Their moment of challenge came when the King demanded they bow to an idol of Gold like the rest of the citizens of Babylon. He promised to burn them alive if they did not bow.

But their God- the true and living God- said not to have any other gods besides Him.

Would they follow their God or become Babylonian that day?
To save their life would they betray their eternal Savior?

The book of Daniel records their historic response to this demand of the King-  

They answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 6)

Despite the power of the King and his culture, the young men chose faithfulness to their God and Savior. 

What was the result of their standing firm at that moment? The text says-

Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against them. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated.  And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind them, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace…these three men, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.  (Daniel 6)

The King’s response to their refusal to bow was furious. He meant for them to die because of their loyalty to God and their opposition to him and Babylonian culture. 

Graduates of 2018, I wish I could tell you that you would go from your families, your churches, and this school to a world that is waiting to receive you and your ideas. 

I wish I could tell you that you would go in to a culture that would be friendly to a worldview that comes from Scripture.  

I wish I could tell you that you would find yourself tomorrow in a land that respects it’s own founding principles, especially the right to practice your religion.  

But if I told you those things about the America you are entering, I would have to be naive or flat out lying.  

The America you are entering is much like Babylon of old. 
The culture you are entering no longer tolerates Biblical Christianity. 

The America you are entering is confused about things as simple as when life begins and what determines a person to be male or female and what is the definition and purpose of marriage.

The society you are entering idolizes personal freedom and doesn’t tolerate anyone judging another person’s views, feelings, or practices- unless those views happen to be Christian. 

The America you are entering idolizes personal pleasure. 
The America you are entering demands allegiance or you will be marginalized.
The America you are entering doesn’t want statements of conscience or even common social sense. 
The America you are entering doesn’t believe in actual sin, so it doesn’t believe any kind of redemption is necessary.

Being very honest with you today- if you are a Christ follower, you will likely find great difficulty in this culture. 

You are essentially Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, entering Babylonian culture and rule.

You have two choices.

1. You could choose to trust Christ and follow His Word, no matter the cost. 

2. You could succumb to Babylon and this culture. 

There’s no middle ground.  It’s Christ, or Babylon.  

Some try to reimagine a Christ of their liking who is basically created in a cultural image- but that’s not who Jesus is. Choosing the re-imagined or reconstructed Jesus of this muddled and decaying culture is actually still choosing Babylon.

The choice is clear.  Christ or Babylon? 

Now- Let me shoot straight with you about Babylon for a minute.

It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. 

It’s relatively common for young people who grow up in Christian homes to wonder about the non-Christian world. It’s totally normal they might wonder- "Is life out there all that bad”. They are curious about the offerings of Babylon. 

Here’s the reality about Babylonian life- it doesn’t ultimately live up to it’s billing and the price for devotion is incredibly high. 

The promises of happiness, pleasure, prosperity, wealth, and success cannot ultimately be delivered by Babylon. Sure, there are a few who seem to be enjoying all these things, but it’s at cost of their soul. Most find total emptiness in the lifestyle and philosophies of Babylon. The end for Babylon is always the same- you wont be spared of the inevitable collapse that awaits Babylon. Worse yet, if you choose Babylon, you lose your soul.   

Do you know what eventually happened to the Kingdom of Babylon?  It imploded by the weight of it’s own sinfulness and was overrun by another Kingdom-Persia.  

The Persians eventually caved under the burden of their own indulgences and were swarmed by the Greeks.

The Greeks eventually crumbled under the force of their haughty pursuit of personal freedom and were trampled by the Romans.

Do you know what happened to the Romans and their eternal city? They rotted from within, before being overrun from without.

The Fall of Rome is well documented by Augustine in his classic work “The City of God”.  There he illustrates how Rome’s pursuit of hedonism, decadence, and a culture of anything goes, led them to total collapse as a society. 

Camille Pagglia states well- “History is littered with the remains of eternal empires.”

God didn’t invent standards for human behavior, human relationships, and human sexuality to kill human joy. 

Instead, God designed humanity for certain glorious purposes. But sin ravaged our ability to discern God’s way for us.  

In order to promote human flourishing as He designed it, He gave us Christ for our redemption.

He gave us His Word to reveal Christ and guide us in His truth. 

God’s Word brings redemption to all aspects of this fallen life through Christ. 
God’s Christ brings us redemption and God’s Word brings us light for life. 

Disregarding God’s Word won’t bring freedom and happiness, it will actually bring the exact opposite- slavery and misery.

The popular culture at any given time, one that opposes the principles of God and the people of God, seems safe and right for a time, but it always ends the same catastrophic way.  

In a real sense, when you leave this place, you’ll have a choice- are you a Christian or are you a Babylonian? 

If you choose to be a Babylonian.  You will have difficult road. The life the world tells you is satisfying and rewarding turns out to be a facade.  

If you choose the way of Babylon, it will ultimately lead to confusion, dissatisfaction, sorrow, and regret. 

Avicci was an uber talented DJ from Sweden. He achieved massive fame several years ago for his cutting edge mixes of various popular songs. From all appearances, Avicci was on the top of the world as Babylonian fame goes. 

On April 8th, after an extended period of recording, he travelled to Oman, a country east of Saudi Arabia, where he visited friends in the country’s royal family. 

A Rolling Stone article says- Avicii seemed too excited about his work to take a break entirely. A day after arriving, he held a conference call with members of his management team, talking about which guest artists he wanted to recruit for new music. The conversation continued on e-mail over the following days. “All his notes were in happy mode,” says Per Sundin, the head of Universal Music. “He loved what he had created.” Avicii also posed for photos with fans at a resort and went kite-surfing and sailing with friends. 

So it was a shock when, on April 20th, the DJ-producer – whose house beats, strong pop melodies and Nordic good looks made him one of the world’s most bankable stars- died by suicide on an estate owned by the royal family. The suicide surprised those close to Avicii, who had shown positive changes after quitting touring to deal with health and alcohol issues.“The lifestyle he was living, everywhere he went was this massive party,” says collaborator and guitarist Mike Einziger. “But he seemed like he was achieving the balance he was trying to attain.” 

But his parents said after his death- "He really struggled with thoughts about meaning, life, happiness … he wanted to find peace”

My young brothers and sisters in Christ- Peace cannot be found in Babylon or through Babylon.

Choosing Babylon doesn’t mean life. It actually means the opposite. 

But what if you choose to follow Christ out of this place? When Nebuchadnezzar looked in to the furnace to see the men die, he saw something else:

He was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 6)

Christ was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego whether they lived or died.

If you follow Christ, He will always be with you. He will never forsake you. This is His promise forever. 

I didn’t say your life would be easy or that it would be spared…but Christ will be with you and work through you, whatever His plans are for you.

You are living in Babylon, so following Christ will not be easy.  

There are two possibilities if you follow Christ: 

1. Christ will be with you. God will protect you and bless you as you struggle to uphold His name against opposition. He will make you a blessing to those around you and might possibly impact the godless culture around you toward Himself. That’s what he did with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men.

The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 

Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against their God shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” 

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Following Christ in a culture that opposes Christianity could mean God uses you to impact that culture.  

There is another very real possibility- 

2. Christ will be with you. But it might be God’s will for you to suffer for Christ. The American dream of getting good grades, going to a good college, hanging and partying with your friends, getting a high paying job, and a big house, isn’t rooted in Scripture. Following Christ might mean you don’t experience any of that. You might even lose your life for Him. But Christ will be with you there, and you will be with Him forever. 

Remember the words of Jesus-

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9)

Dear Class of 2018…and all of us really-

There is a choice before you this day as you enter Babylon in a more full fledged way.

Will you follow Christ?
Will you follow Babylon?

Following Babylon will not lead to a safe, happy place as some proclaim.
Following Christ might not lead to a comfortable, happy place either, but Christ will be with you. Christ will do something significant through you in this very short life we live on earth.  

Paul understood Christian suffering in a culture that opposed Christ- 

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4)

Christ will use you for eternal good in the lives of your friends, your families, your teammates, your coworkers, and eventually, your children.  He might even use you to turn the tide of Babylon to Himself. 

In Christ, you will eventually know what Babylon could never deliver: The fullness of Joy that comes from union with Christ in this age and the age to come. 

May you boldly enter this world as young men and women fully committed to Christ.
May God raise up a generation of Christians that rebel against this godless age. 

May God raise up a generation of Christians that when commanded to bow to the gods of this age or die, respond like Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria did to Nebuchadnezzar 2600 years ago. - 

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 6)

A generation of these kinds of Christians will be able to endure the demise of Babylon and be used of God to pick up the pieces after it’s collapse is finished. 

Let us Pray-

Lord God, send your Spirit to be upon these graduates in a special way. That they might see Babylon for what it is and Christ for who He is.  May they be blessed with faith in you, trust in your provisions, and no fear about what a godless culture threatens. If it be your will O Lord, may the impact of these graduates be that of the three men in Daniel’s day, who were used to broadcast the name of the true and living God to all who witnessed their lives and actions. I pray this in Jesus name, Amen. 

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