The American Dream

This is part ten of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I don’t normally start my entries with a disclaimer, but I’d like to start this entry by simply stating that I think America is great. I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else and I’m grateful I was born here because of the freedoms that I’ve enjoyed all my life. I do think we’ve seen better days and I fear for the future of my country, but overall, I still think we are the greatest society in human history. I would also like to say that I do not think money is evil. I, do however, think money makes a horrible master. Finally, I must state that I do not think poverty is a virtue. That being said, today I wanted to talk about the American Dream…

Per Wikipedia, the American Dream is a phrase used to describe “a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of prosperity and success.” There are two important things to note about this definition. First is that prosperity and success are somehow promised to us; just because we are born and raised in America we are entitled to prosperity and success. The second thing is that our culture has a very, very materialistic definition of prosperity and success. Maybe this doesn’t apply to all generations and age-groups, but I know for certain that while growing up I was brainwashed by my culture to believe that success meant a six-figure salary, never, ever, under any circumstances allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, and having more stuff than I could ever possibly need.

How does the American Dream stack up against Scripture? As Christians, can we reconcile the American Dream against what Jesus teaches? In Rich from the Nooma series, Rob Bell says:

“There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads “God Bless America,” but hasn’t America already been blessed? It’s easy for us to fall into a mindset of viewing “our” world as “the” world, because it’s all we generally see. We’re constantly bombarded with images of the latest styles and models of everything, and it can easily leave us feeling like what we have isn’t enough because we see people that have even more than us. But how does what we have compare to what most people in the world have? Maybe what we have is enough; maybe it’s more than enough. Maybe God has blessed us with everything we have so we can bless and give to others.”

(This video is just an excerpt.)

Would I be crazy if I suggest that we Americans have enough? Go to the Global Rich List and see where you rank. The American Dream tells us we need more, more, more. Always, constantly more! As Donald Miller writes, “The average American encounters 3,000 commercial messages each day.” And, “these images and messages are designed to cause you to think of your life as incomplete, and desire the product they are selling to make your life complete again.” We’re bombarded with messages that tell us our stuff isn’t good enough. Your $200 watch can’t tell time accurately enough? The brand-new car you bought 6 months ago is too old already? Your life will be full of adventure and excitement if you buy a certain cologne? It may sound crazy in print, but pay attention to the messages that commercials and ads send your way. Beware of brainwashing!

Jesus talks about wealth and money; in fact He has some very timely advice. In Luke 12:15 he says that our life is more than our stuff. His exact words are, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus then tells the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. When I first read that parable I realized that it sounded a lot like my plans and goals for life. I wanted to work most of my young life away, store up as much money as possible, then retire and wait to die. The problem was that I never wanted to serve anyone or give anything back and that I knew I wouldn’t be happy if all I got out of life was a fat nest egg. Instead, I’d rather make a difference with my life. I want to serve God and help people. I want to be remembered. I want to leave a legacy.

In Matt 6:21 Jesus cautions us that our treasure and our heart are tied together. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Then in Matt 6:24, Jesus draws the line and calls us to either be devoted to God or money, but not both. We can either serve God or serve money. Last September Connie and I went to Hawaii and I saw little Tiki gods for sell. I decided to buy the Hawaiian tiki named “Hapa.” That’s the Tiki god of money. I bought it so that, when I look at it, I would be reminded that money is just an idol. Nothing more. I can choose to serve that tiny, powerless tiki god, or I can worship the True and Living God.

So what is a good balance for a Christian to strike? I don’t think we should all give everything away and live in tents outside. In Prov 30:7-9, the author asks God to simply give him enough. “Give me neither poverty nor wealth,” he says. As Christians, I think we should desire enough; we should be satisfied with enough; we should thank God for enough; and anything else extra we should use wisely to bless others.

As Jesus says in Matt 6:33, we should seek to serve God first. He will take care of the rest. This may result in you not retiring with a $2 million retirement fund, a 10,000 square foot house with an indoor pool, and a brand new Mercedes in your garage, but I promise that you will make a difference in the world around you and you will be content. In Phil 4:12-13 Paul tells them the secret to being content: Jesus. Paul was not a rich man, he did not have a nice chariot, he did not retire at an early age. In fact, he was poor, he often went without, and he died in prison. Paul was a man who certainly lived a hard life, but the effects of his faithfulness resulted in him authoring most of the New Testament, starting churches all around the world, and leaving a legacy that has lasted for over 2,000 years.

Do not worry about the American Dream. God has not called us to be successful, He has called us to be faithful.

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Acts 17:26-27

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

It was March 23rd and we were having our fourth meeting of the Forgotten God study series. A friend of mine named Kat was sharing that she had never, ever seen a miraculous work of God in her life. She seemed pretty bummed and discouraged about it. Kat’s very hard on herself…perhaps too hard. Three weeks later, we had our final study session. There was a new guy there named Andrew. It was a little weird for us to have a new guy at the last session, but the Spirit was telling me to just let him be part of the group. To be honest, I wanted to kindly ask Andrew to leave, because I was afraid that a new person would throw off the group dynamics the group has spent the last two months developing. It did. A few people didn’t even talk during the discussion time and I knew it was because of the “new guy.”

Afterwards, I talked to Andrew for a little bit. We had another study, Rob Bell’s Nooma Study Series, that a buddy of mine named Kalob was leading. Andrew showed up at Nooma a time or two. I didn’t really notice when he stopped going and he quietly slipped off the radar.

Fast forward about a month and a half. During that time, the chapel ordered several copies of The Naked Gospel and I am excited to be starting that small group in a few days. I think The Naked Gospel is a book that ALL Christians should read. It has helped me immensely and deepened my walk with Christ. I’m not sure what happened, but Andrew had a conversation with the local wing chaplain last Tuesday. The chaplain gave Andrew a copy of the book and said he should read it. Andrew didn’t get a chance to read it Wednesday, but he read almost 100 pages of the book that Thursday. That night, he went to the chaplain and accepted Christ as his savior!

I find it amazing that, through a simple conversation, Kat invited Andrew to the Bible study and opened the door for him to get involved at the chapel. A few weeks later, my books came in and the Chaplain gave him a copy. The Holy Spirit used the book to put a need on Andrew’s heart to get saved. Andrew accepted Christ.

The part that was truly amazing is that Kat was supposed to leave Wednesday, but her flight got delayed and delayed so that she wound up leaving on Friday night/Saturday morning. I literally found out about Andrew minutes before praying with her and then she left. God kept her here just long enough for her to find out that she had helped lead someone to Christ, and then within the same our, she was on her way home!

God chose to bring Kat to this place just so she could invite Andrew to the chapel so that he could get saved. God chooses who goes where and when so that His master plan of salvation can be worked out.

God put me in Alaska in 2005 so that I would meet the right people and get saved. God sent me to Afghanistan in 2008 to teach me how to rely on Him and to re-affirm my calling to ministry. God brought me here to meet some great people and to help lead a dear friend to Christ. God has put you where you are at right now for a reason. Seek to honor and glorify Him, and He will use you for his purposes and for His glory.

Kat left that night with tears in her eyes, because her prayers to see God work a miracle through her had been answered. All to God’s glory.

The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in ChurchForgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit