Ask Chuck: Reshaping the American Dream
Watching the news lately makes me question the American Dream. In a disaster, things suddenly lose their meaning. It’s relationships that count. How can I pass this on to my loved ones?
Life is a Vapor
Dear Life is a Vapor,
I am with you on this one! Life is but a vapor. The Bible says we are all like grass that grows briefly then withers away and dies.
My wife’s family recently lost a loved one to cancer. Two others are walking through the valley in their fight against it now. “Things” lose their luster in light of our certain mortality. We are all standing in the same line that leads to the exit door.
Health challenges, the devastation of the recent hurricane, fires, and mass shootings do indeed cause many to reassess their “treasures.” These horrifying events expose the reality that we are all very temporal and so are our worldly possessions.
The term “American Dream” is thought to have first been used or coined in 1931 by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America. He wrote: The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.
Geographic, economic, and political factors made the “Dream” possible for millions in our nation, which is good. It has brought about unprecedented prosperity, lifted millions into the middle class and advanced charitable causes the world over.
But, some now say that the American Dream has become a far less lofty objective, reduced to the pursuit of material prosperity, bigger cars, fancier homes or simply “a comfortable and high standard of living.” Regardless of how you personally define the American dream, it is worthwhile to rethink it in light of God’s Word.
Treasure in the New Testament
We have many Biblical references to better and lasting treasures that eclipse any rewards of the American Dream. Pay close attention to just a few I have highlighted here:
Promise of Lasting Treasures
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:4-7 NIV)
Priceless Treasures in Christ
I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3)
Treasures Beyond this Life
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6: 17-19 NIV)
Treasures of Greater Value
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)
Replacing the American Dream with a Biblical Dream
With a proper understanding of treasure, our lives should be marked by practical goals that are obvious to others.
- Retirement: Don’t prepare for this phase of life out of fear which leads to hoarding. Determine how much is enough before setting financial goals. Pursue meaning, not leisure.
- Housing: As many have learned the hard way, bigger is not always better. Buy within your means with the goal of owning your home debt-free.
- Cars: Instead of buying the newest models, drive used cars and save on depreciation. It is just transportation.
- Vacations: Prioritize family time and rest. Save for these times, plan trips within your means, and avoid extravagant and expensive get-aways.
- Education: There are many ways to save money. One option is for children to live at home and attend a community college. Trade schools or apprenticeships are great considerations as well.
- Saving: Build an emergency fund of three months of living expenses. And save ten percent of everything you earn.
In the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus warned the crowd: Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15 NIV)
Contentment and gratitude are essential in living a life with purpose, free of greed. With our eyes focused on Jesus, the things of this world grow strangely dim.
At the end of life, possessions don’t matter. What counts is that you purposed your life and the use of what God provided to please and glorify Him. Our final evaluation will be determined on that measure, not by our achievement or loss of the “American dream.”
Originally published on the Christian Post, September 6, 2019