Friday, November 25, 2011

The American Dream

If you haven't read Radical by David Platt, I highly suggest reading it. I am over halfway through and it's been changing my life page by page. Platt, the pastor of a megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote this book challenging the American church and American Christians to evaluate the way we live. But I want to avoid writing a book review, so I'll instead share how it's challenged me.

In this post, I want to talk about the American dream. I've never considered myself to desire the American dream. I had considered the American dream to be having a family, a dog, a job, two cars, and a nice house living in the suburbs. This basically describes the stereotypical American family, I think (though there are naturally many exceptions). Platt points out that James Truslow Adams is credited with coining the phrase "American dream" in 1931. Adams spoke of it as "a dream... in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest statue of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are" (James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America; Boston: Little, Brown, 1933). I believe this definition, the original definition, perfectly illustrates America today. We are a self-reliant, self-serving people. It's all about promotions, pay raises, climbing the corporate ladder. We say it's a dog-eat-dog world. Kill or be killed.

I love the way Platt explains it. He says, "The America dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves and, we are drawn toward such thinking. But the Gospel has different priorities. The Gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in His power. In the Gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from Him."

Platt would go on to say how this is what Jesus meant when in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart form me you can do nothing." This is so counter cultural to the way we live today in America. As Americans, we have been led to believe that everything is about us. Just read Adam's definition of the American dream and the selfishness of our nature speaks for itself.

A very wise man once told me that the root of all sin is pride. And it's true. Because of pride, we are able to splurge on ourselves yet turn blind eyes and ears to the poor and needy. Because of pride, we become stubborn, thinking only of ourselves and not of others. Because of pride, we bully people or lie or steal or kill, or commit any other sin. And even insecurity and self-consciousness is another form of pride.

But the gospel is radically different than the American dream. Where the American dream calls us to do what we can to call attention and glory to ourselves, the gospel calls us to do what we can to call attention and glory to God. And this is what hinders so many from truly following Jesus. They simply cannot fathom the idea that they are not the center of the world.

I want to challenge you to examine your own life and see if you are leading a life that's all about Christ. And I don't mean going to church, reading Christian books, watching Christian movies, listening to Christian music, going to a Christian school (or better yet, being home schooled), having only Christian friends, etc. I believe it's easy to assume this type of lifestyle is tantamount to a Christlike life. And I'm not saying these are necessarily bad things. But this is not a Christlike lifestyle. No, a Christlike life is one where you die to yourself and live for the glory of God, not the glory of you. It's a life where you are willing to leave everything if God asks you to. It's a life where you live every day trying to figure out how you can glorify God and spread His name that day, and then doing it. It's a lifestyle that cares for the poor, the needy, the hungry, the widows, the orphans, the starving, the sick, the naked, the jailed, those "less fortunate than us."

The American dream is to do everything you can to bring glory to yourself. Is this how you live? Is this why you serve or give? Is this why you go to church or play sports or pursue higher education or fight for the promotion? Is it to make you look good and to make others notice how good you are? Or are you living a radical life? A life maxed out with selfless love? A life that models Jesus' love and dedication to the least of these? Jesus said it Himself: You cannot have two masters. You cannot serve yourself and Jesus. So which is it? Who will you serve?

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