Saturday, March 26, 2011

The American Dream: Am I Doing It Wrong?

Luke 9:23-25
"And [Jesus] 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?'"

Somewhere along the line, (the majority of) Christian Americans started following The American Dream more than the teachings of Jesus. Maybe they've even been getting the two confused. But if you take a long, hard look at the philosophy of The American Dream, it doesn't exactly fit comfortably with what Jesus was all about.

The American Dream probably encapsulates a lot more than I could talk about in a small post, so let me personalize it. You see, this is something I've been struggling with recently. The reality is that Elliott and I have a very different lifestyle than most people our age. It seems that our lifestyle was all well-and-good when it was just us, but with a baby on the way, our way of life may seem--to some--as reckless to the welfare of the baby.

Knowing that some others thought this caused me to question our lifestyle. I suppose that's normal. But when I started to look closely at what "sensible Americans" preach is best for us and our baby, I realized that it doesn't have anything to do with what the Bible tells us.

The American Dream tells me to hold on to material and financial success.
The Bible tells me to leave everything and follow Jesus.

Luke 5:4, 6-7, 10-11
"And [Jesus] said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.' ...And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink... And Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.' And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him."

I love this account because Simon, James, and John have just had great business success and they leave it immediately to follow Jesus. As fisherman, these fish are their livelihood. And here, they just got the biggest catch of their lives! And they leave it all! What happened to the fish? Did the crowd take it? The other fishermen? It doesn't matter. What matters is that they left worldly success behind because Jesus asked them to.

Was it prudent? No. Does Jesus ask this of everyone? Not specifically, but we have to be willing to give up anything for the sake of the Gospel. So in our hearts, we better already have left all of our worldly savings and success for His sake.

The American Dream tells me to be independent and not ask anyone for help.
The Bible tells me to be dependent on the body of Christ in all circumstances.

Luke 9:3-4
"And [Jesus] said to them, 'Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there.'"

In order to make a living, Elliott and I ask others for our salary. That's part of our ministry. God called us into the mission field of college campuses, and asked us to take nothing (not that we had anything to take!). We are completely dependent on Him, and we have seen His abundant provision through the body of Believers. And let me tell you: the body of Christ is an awesome entity.

I firmly believe in support-raising as a ministry, because when we ask others to give, we are also asking them to step into a countercultural lifestyle-- a way of living that is so opposite of what the world believes. But it is the lifestyle to which God calls us.

And when I falter in my convictions on the matter, I only need to turn to the ministry of Paul. The New Testament is littered with examples of Paul asking for support from the body of Christ. It's pretty convicting. Here are a few passages to get you started: Acts 18:1-5, Romans 15:20-24, 2 Cor. 1:16, 1 Cor. 16:6, 2 Cor. 8-9, 1 Cor. 16:1-5.

The American Dream tells me to accumulate and consume.
The Bible tells me to share with anyone who has need.

Luke 3:11
"John answered, 'Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.'"

Yikes. Gotta be honest, friends. I have a lot more than two shirts. And shoes. And dresses. And pants. And... everything. Even after purging my closet over a year ago, I still have way too many clothes. I keep holding on because I buy into the lie that I need a specific outfit for almost every different occasion. Or I think I need the clothes to express myself. The bottom line is I have way. too. much. There are so many people who could use what I have, and Jesus calls me to give, give, give.

I love reading about the early church whenever I have doubts: "All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had a need." Acts 2:44-45

What if we, as Christians, lived like this today?? How radical would our lives be?
Or, maybe, a better question: Why are we, as Christians, not living like this today?

The American Dream tells me to store away and depend on my savings.
The Bible tells me to rely on the Lord's provision.

Matthew 6:26
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not reap or sow or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

Ah, yes. We all know this one. We know it, but do we live it?

The world tells me to rely on the savings and investments I accumulate. And yes, the Bible also teaches to store away in times of plenty for times of need (Prov. 6:6-11, Prov. 13:22, Prov. 21:20, Prov. 30:24-25). But I am not to depend on the money, but on the Lord.

If God ever blesses Elliott and me with a surplus of money, we will be wise and save for our children or for a time when we have an outstanding need. But right now, we are in no position to save. And despite what the world tells me, it's okay. Because our finances are the Lord's. All money belongs to Him. It's all His anyways. And we have heard over the last few years of people getting depressed and going crazy because their finances bottomed out in the market. I don't want to despair because I put my trust in money. I want to rejoice because I put my trust in God.

Bottom Line: I've got The American Dream all wrong.
I'm not living it. I'm not buying it. I'm going to cling to the Lord and watch His glory abound.

What about you? Will you join me?

8 comments:

  1. I had another thought about this exact topic just this morning. In some ways it comes down to what the lifestyle is encouraging. And one thing that the American Dream is encouraging is a FEAR of LOSS and of CHANGE. On the other hand, Christ encourages us to ACCEPT LOSS and EMBRACE CHANGE in so many ways, not just in terms of lifestyle, but also in terms of self... How else would we allow him to come into our lives and work change for the glory of God in and through us?

    Another thought: Stiff trees break and die in strong storms and winds, but supple and flexible trees bend WITH the wind and weather the storm just fine.

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  2. You're not the only ones, for sure. I have friends who are raising their babies in Camden. Their lifestyles seem more than reckless to the vast majority of Americans. And they're most likely subjected to the pearl-clutching and the "how can you raise kids in a place like that?"

    I definitely have more than one coat--although I tend to wonder if Jesus would have altered his message if his listeners had been faced with snow. :)
    Just kidding there. Dorothy Day was even more direct: "If you have two coats, you've stolen one from the poor." Hyperbolic, yes, but she makes a point...

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  3. wonderful entry. I much more prefer the Biblical standards dream over the cultural standards dream.

    You've been doing just fine, in my opinion!!!

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  4. This topic is one that's never far from Brad's and my minds. Since I resigned from my job as a waaay full time nanny last June, we've been having *just* enough money each month to keep all our bills current. And since September, we've been living in the basement of our senior pastor's house. It was hard for a long time (sometimes its still hard) when people would ask us where we live, and we had to say, "In our pastor's basement." But we are so thankful that our senior pastor and his family are willing to share their house with us. Living in a small space really helps us realize what is necessary and what is just extra!!

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  5. Sam, I don' t know if I've mentioned it before in my blog, but we have been living on the top floor of my brother's house and will be moving in with another family in a month. There's really something beautiful about living with people in community. It's not always easy but I've enjoyed it a lot more than I would have if we were living on our own.

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  6. I'm reading this a few days late.... no, I didn't know that! I do enjoy the community part, but would enjoy it more so if 30 years didn't separate our ages... But it is fun to be able to have someone at the top of the stairs to ask "Does this look ok together?"

    ReplyDelete
  7. I had another thought about this exact topic just this morning. In some ways it comes down to what the lifestyle is encouraging. And one thing that the American Dream is encouraging is a FEAR of LOSS and of CHANGE. On the other hand, Christ encourages us to ACCEPT LOSS and EMBRACE CHANGE in so many ways, not just in terms of lifestyle, but also in terms of self... How else would we allow him to come into our lives and work change for the glory of God in and through us?

    Another thought: Stiff trees break and die in strong storms and winds, but supple and flexible trees bend WITH the wind and weather the storm just fine.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm reading this a few days late.... no, I didn't know that! I do enjoy the community part, but would enjoy it more so if 30 years didn't separate our ages... But it is fun to be able to have someone at the top of the stairs to ask "Does this look ok together?"

    ReplyDelete