Chasing the Wrong Dream: The American Dream is Counter to God’s Dream

In Luke 18:18-30, Luke tells of an interaction between Jesus and a rich young ruler. The young ruler approaches Jesus with a question that seeks to find the way to eternal life.

Jesus tells him to follow the commandments, which the young ruler responds by saying he had since he was a little boy. With a response like this you expect Jesus to say, “Good job, good and faithful servant,” but he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus says the young ruler lacks in his devotion to God and challenges him to sell off everything he owned.

Jesus knew the young ruler had made wealth and the accumulation of material goods his god. The young ruler was not seeking after a relationship with the Father. He was too busy being rich and maintaing his riches.

The young ruler turned away. He knew he couldn’t give up his god and follow the True God. He made the choice to choose his dream over God’s desire of a relationship.

Many of us have read this story and have seen it in the context of material riches. We cast ourselves as someone who would make the right choice, especially if we are poor or not as well off as we would like.

What if we saw the story in the a different context? What if instead of giving up money, Jesus told the rich young ruler and perhaps us to give up the American Dream? The response becomes a little more difficult, doesn’t it? Would we still see ourselves as someone who would make the right choice? Would we see ourselves as the rich young ruler having to make a decision of choosing the american Dream or  God’s Dream?

For decades, the American Dream has defined the America’s image. It’s the idea that everyone can make something of themselves. If a person was to put in the hard work, they could provide all they could ever want for their family: A house with a two-car garage, a good job with a pension, and a college education. The American Dream is still a goal for many families event in these tough economic times, however the dream is perhaps modified to wanting a good-paying job that puts food on the table.

Chasing after the American Dream has become our god in America. We will work 40-to-60 hour weeks to chase the riches of the Dream. We will put our families into debt in order to fulfill the Dream. We will do everything we can to “make it” and take hold of the Dream.

As Christians, we are not immune from chasing the American Dream. In recent years, we have taken aspects of the American Dream and applied to Scripture in the promotion of a “prosperity gospel.” This wrong gospel narrative claims that God wants us to be rich, financially, and that financial riches are a sign of God’s favor and blessings. It is the American Dream wrapped in Scripture.

This is not the dream God desires for us. God has a different dream for us. It is a dream that is counter to the American Dream’s idea of riches and fame.

God’s dream for his children is of a deep relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. That is God’s deepest desire. It is for each of us to know that God’s love us and to love God in return. God’s Dream is for each of us to seek after God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Chasing after the American Dream costs us in our desire for God. We abandon our relationship with God when we place the American Dream as our heart’s desire. Instead of seeking a deep relationship with God, we end us speaking a deep relationship with money, fame, and success.

Just like the rich young ruler that Jesus encounter, we are met with a challenge of a response. Which dream will we seek after? Will we continue to seek after the failed promises of the American Dream, or will we seek after the greater and deeper promises of a life with God?

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Use Your Words Carefully

Mondays are typically my day of rest and reflection. It doesn’t always happen this way, such is the life of a pastor, and yesterday was no exception. For a day off, I was quite busy.

Part of my Monday included going to the community’s monthly Lion’s Club meeting. My wife and I attend on a regular basis as a way of being a part of the larger community. Typically, I will walk to the meeting and she will meet me there from work.

As I was walking to the meeting, I noticed three young girls who were playing on the sidewalk. We said hello to each other and the older of the girls asked me, “Are you going to church?” I guess I am sort of known as the “Methodist Pastor” in town even if the girls are not members of my congregation.

I said, “No,  Mondays are meeting days, so I’m headed to a meeting.” That may not seem like a bad thing to say. It was a Monday and I do, occasionally, have meetings on Mondays. I was polite in my answer and I wished them, later, a great night. However, I was not happy with what I said. Before I made five steps, I realized a missed opportunity in that brief five second interaction.

First, I perhaps indicated that meetings are a bad thing. My hurried tone suggested to them that I was going somewhere I didn’t want to go, and that there were other things I would rather be doing. That is not a message I want to express to anyone.

Second, I denied my own belief that worship happens all the time. This is where I was really hurt with what I said. I firmly believe, and proclaim each week in worship, that church happens all the time. That worship of God is a daily activity. I wish I had said something like, “Church happens all the time, whether it is in the building or somewhere else.” What my words said was that “church” only happens on Sunday morning, it begins at 10 a.m., and lasts for one hour.

Now, I am not one that believes I must have the right word for every moment for every situation. That would be impossible. We all struggle, at times, with finding the right words to say in a given moment.

What yesterday’s interaction reminded me was the value and choice of our words. Even an old writer needs this reminder. In our technological culture, we can lose the meaning that words have, both in their real and conveyed sense. We can become so focused on the image or the lights that we forget the message we are saying or implying.

Words can uplift. Words can inspire. And, words can also create unintended separations and meanings that goes against what you really want to say.

In all things, we must be careful about the words we use and be mindful of the opportunities that come our way.

I hope I get another change to do better in this area. I am sure I will. But, I hope that I will be more careful of the words that I say.