Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Falseness of the American Dream

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:32-34)

There’s a pretty well known song out there that tells us “You can’t always get what you want.” And yet, funnily enough, that’s the exact reverse of what the American culture (and Western culture in general) tells us. We are constantly told, through the billboards, commercials, and other advertisements that have embedded themselves in our lives, not only that we CAN have everything that we want, but that we SHOULD have everything that we want, that we DESERVE it, and that if we obtain all the material things we crave, then we will be happy. As David reminded us on in the message on Sunday, the idea that America is the “land of opportunity where you can achieve your dreams” is built upon the idea that we have certain God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Or, as David explicated, that “you have a right to the life that you want, that you should have the liberty to pursue that, and ultimately you should pursue your own happiness.”

And yet, in our attempts to live the lives we want, to pursue our own happiness, we find, ultimately, that we can never gain all of the things we want. As David explained, “When you’re pursuing comfort, your hope is that you will never know mourning, you will never know pain, you will never know injury.” However, we all experience these things: mourning, death, and broken-heartedness is just part of the human condition in this fallen world.

More importantly, God will not allow the false promises of comfort to last forever. In Revelation 18, we see that even though the city of Babylon (representative of all cities) in her heart says “mourning I shall never see,” that for this very reason, because she has pursued pleasure and comfort instead of pursuing God, “her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8).

So what should our response be? It is so hard, when surrounded by companies telling us to BUY, when surrounded by magazines and books and TV shows and music telling us to ENJOY and CONSUME (not just things, but one another), to pull ourselves away and realize that none of this will last. In Luke 12, Jesus tells a parable of a rich man who says to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years: relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). How often do we say this to ourselves? While it is not wrong to enjoy the good things that God has given us or to save up money to provide for our future, what we do need to do is change what we are focusing on. Jesus tells us not to spend our lives focused on material things, things that “all the nations of the world seek after,” but rather instead to seek God and his kingdom, “and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:29-31).

There’s a great film that gets its name from this passage in Luke. “Lilies of the Field” stars Sidney Poitier as a traveling handyman who gets sidetracked from his journeys by a group of German nuns who are convinced that God has sent him to help them build a chapel in the desert. The entire premise of the movie rests on the nuns’ faith that God has called them to this place, and so God, just as He clothes the lilies of the field, will provide for them what they need. The great part about this movie, though, is that He chooses to provide for them through this handyman, and, subsequently, through the people of the surrounding towns.

What this reminds me of is this truth: While the City of Babylon encourages us to use and ultimately destroy ourselves and one another to find our own “happiness,” in God’s kingdom we are asked to love and help one another- to build others up, instead of ourselves, and lay aside for ourselves treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33). God’s message of sacrificing our material pleasures to help others in need is the antithesis of the City’s message to get what we want while the getting is good, because God knows that this material world will not last forever. The City of Babylon will one day be destroyed (Revelation18:21-24), and God’s True City, the New Jerusalem, will endure. And in the True City, it won’t matter how much money we’ve made, or how many things we’ve bought, or how much sex we’ve had. The only thing that will matter is whether we have been rich in God, whether we have loved and honored Him, and loved and served our neighbors. That is the legacy that will last.

Some things to ponder:

  • Luke 12:34 tells us that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Often we can tell what we are prioritizing by what we are spending our energies, resources, and time on (and what we are worrying about!). For myself, I often find that every few months I have to re-examine my priorities. If you’re able to, take a moment to journal or meditate on where your treasure (and hence your heart) is, and on where God wants it to be.
  • How can we extricate ourselves from the constant message of the City to live for luxury instead of God? One thing we can do is to be aware of how the City is encouraging us to use one another, and to fight against that. Vicky gave a great blog post last week about how to help in the battle against human trafficking. Revisit her post and pray about what role you can play.

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