What Would Jesus Say About The American Dream?

Evelyn Adams achieved the American dream: she won not one but two lotteries. In both 1985 and 1986 she won the New Jersey lottery to the tune of $US5.4 million. According to the Consumer Price Index, that’s equivalent to $US10.5 million today.

Today, Evelyn Adams comments that, “Winning the lottery isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.” Today the money is all gone and Adams lives in a trailer.

“I won the American dream but I lost it, too. It was a very hard fall. It’s called rock bottom,” says Adams. “Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language—‘No.’ I wish I had the chance to do it all over again. I’d be much smarter about it now.”

Sure, Evelyn Adams gave her money away, but she’ll also admit that hedging her bets, she wasted most of her money on the slot machines in Atlantic City.

Jesus And The American Dream

Despite the fact that we make more money than 90% of the world, Americans are fascinated with becoming independently wealthy. Turn on your TV on a Saturday morning, and you’ll see dozens of programs promising to teach you how to become America’s next millionaire.

It’s the American Dream: to live in such a way that we don’t need anyone else. To do whatever we want and control our destinies.

But is that what we really want? Is that what we really need?

A man ran up to Jesus and, fell on his knees and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus rattled off a few commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Then, with eyes full of love, Jesus said to the earnest man, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The man was devastated because he was quite wealthy. Slowly he walked away from Jesus.

Jesus then turned to his disciples. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Astonished, the disciples looked at each other and said “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

The Jesus Dream

Over the centuries, pastors, priests, and theologians have debated the meaning of this passage in Mark 10:17-31 (which also appears in Matthew 19 and Luke 18).

Does this mean that we’re all supposed to live in poverty? Is Jesus calling us to sell everything and give it to the poor? It’s passages like these that motivated people like Tony Campolo to say “You can’t be a follower of Jesus and drive a BMW at the same time.”

If all of us sold everything and lived in poverty, how would anyone pay their bills? Is God opposed to the wealthy? Are we all supposed to be homeless? Sounds a little unreasonable.

Other people say, “In this passage, Jesus is addressing the man’s god. The man was a good person, but his riches were standing in the way of following Jesus. So God wants us to abandon whatever it is that prevents us from following him completely.”

I agree with that, but it seems to subjective, and it doesn’t seem to reach far enough.

Selling Everything Means Selling Everything

So what is Jesus calling this man to—and what is he calling us to?

Jesus told the man to “Sell everything” Everything. Selling out to Jesus goes beyond our possessions. It means letting go of all attachments and attaching ourselves solely to him.

It means pledging allegiance solely to him. That’s why I’m uncomfortable with the Pledge of Allegiance. I understand the intention of it, but I trip over the words. I can’t pledge allegiance to the flag when I’ve pledged allegiance to Jesus because we can pledge our allegiance to only one person, entity, or thing.

Selling out means giving him our darkest secret, our dream of a comfortable life, our rights, reputation, comfort, desire for approval. It means giving up all dignity, propriety, respect, coolness, habits, addictions. It means attaching our self-worth to what Jesus says about us–and not the opinion of our parents, friends, or spouse.

Selling out is kind of a misnomer because we really own nothing. Everything we have already belongs to God.

Selling Out Places Us In The Position For God To Use Us

Deep down, I know this is the place God wants to bring me. The full awareness of my poverty-stricken condition, that I have nothing. Naked I came into this world and naked I depart.

And when I sell out, I can hear him saying, “I have you right where I want you. Now I can use you.”

Shovel my neighbors’ driveway after a big snowstorm? Okay, I’ll shovel. I’m not above that.

Make time to listen to my irritating co-worker whose life is falling apart? Yeah, I’ll do that.

Risk being transparent about my allegiance to him. I can do that.

Years ago, people used a different word for selling out: consecration. It means devoting something solely to God.

When the great 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody was a young man, his mentor challenged him, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.”

D.L. Moody’s response: “By God’s help, I aim to be that man.”

Oswald Chambers wrote, “Jesus Christ does not claim any of our possessions. One of the most subtle errors is that God wants our possessions. He does not; they are not of any use to Him. He does not want my property, He wants myself.”

What would your life look like if you sold out to Jesus?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. For him, selling out means taking more risks to share his faith, and working less while trusting God more with his finances.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “What Would Jesus Say About The American Dream?

  1. Evan Roth

    Thanks for the post Mike. I really like that idea of consecration. I also struggle with the pledge as my pledge first and foremost is to Jesus. I believe that is how He calls us to be.

  2. Georgie-ann

    “The American Dream” is sometimes called “The American Nightmare”,…by the way! Not only can it become surprisingly “empty and lonely at the top” — (one wonders if people suddenly wake-up and realize that they have actually sold their own eternal and perishable soul just to get there?) — but it might also prove to be quite the impossible hassle just to pursue it, not to mention the disappointments and frustrations of NOT getting anywhere close to the “desired/imagined” level or goal one has had in mind.

    And gambling, considered as a “legitimate” (or respectable) way to obtain it, is kind of a “new” societal concept as well,…not that I can actually buy into it very well, (as I’ve “been pre-programmed” to consider gambling to be part of the “filthy lucre” realm, and probably much better avoided). I do know that suddenly being “in a heady swoon” over possessing a lottery ticket that just “might could” possibly win me millions in the slimmest margin of chances, is much more of a weird and unpleasant sensation/distraction/obviously-addicting-fantasy-trigger to me, rather than some kind of pleasurable diversion and good kind of excitement. And when I don’t feel appropriate in myself while doing something, I would much rather decide to not do it at all — when we respect how we personally feel about/experience what happens to our own selves, it can guide us in unique and possibly better ways. The only exception to this that I have considered, but not yet pursued, is the “group” lottery ticket concept,…that sounds like it could be kind of fun, one way OR the other. You could hope that the others would be blessed, and that takes the focus and pressure off yourself meanwhile!,…(nothing ventured, nothing gained,…and ca sera sera,…and all that, I suppose!,…but who knows for sure?) … Anything that takes our focus and trust off of God, pulling us too far into another compelling energy vortex, is not really to be trusted, in my experience so far.

    Obtaining “The American Dream” — (at one time: the modest family home with the white picket fence around it and one car for the needs of the whole family, one telephone, and one small black & white TV in the living room) — used to be preceded by (assumed/presumed) hard work and diligence, study and judicious applications of talent, thrift, individual responsibility AND a dependable support network and trusted co-operation with others. The “little guys,” (then known fondly as “the average man”), needed to stick together and work together, while corporate “giantism” was more distant, kind of fewer and far between, exclusive, and more or less out of reach for most. We were “all for one, and one for all” in many (mostly now almost forgotten) ways. And even those early and modest rewards were fairly satisfying to us, until “keeping up with the Joneses” and the larger appetites and greedier impulses, that were stimulated and boldly fueled by media-animated commercialism and competition, fanned the epic “eternal flames” of our now rampant, flamboyant and self-centered “conspicuous consumption” cultural epidemic.

    After reading your very apt “modern” description of what “The American Dream” has morphed into since those earlier days,…

    “It’s the American Dream: to live in such a way that we don’t need anyone else. To do whatever we want and control our destinies.”

    … we can realize what a long way we have come from our “more humble beginnings.” Sometimes I feel that the following verses could apply to us in an interesting contemporary application:

    Galatians 3:1-3 (excerpted)
    1 “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, … ? 2 … 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” and:

    Mark 4:9 “And he said unto them, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.'” and:

    Matthew 6:24-34
    24 “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

    25 “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. IS NOT THE LIFE MORE THAN MEAT, and the body than raiment?

    26 “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

    27 “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

    28 “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

    29 “And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

    30 “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O YE OF LITTLE FAITH?

    31 “Therefore TAKE NO THOUGHT, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

    32 “(FOR AFTER ALL THESE THINGS DO THE GENTILES SEEK:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

    33 “BUT SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS; and all these things shall be added unto you.

    34 “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. SUFFICIENT UNTO THE DAY IS THE EVIL THEREOF.”

    I certainly think that Jesus would find us to be very much overly pre-occupied with “things” if He were living “in the flesh” here among us today.

    • Georgie-ann

      We’ve “super-sized” the American Dream, along with a lot of other things that aren’t necessary, ’til we seem to be losing touch with reality,…is this becoming a modern parallel to the Tower of Babel?

      Genesis 11:1-9

      1 “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

      2 “And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

      3 “And they said one to another, ‘Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

      4 “And they said, ‘Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’

      5 “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

      6 “And the LORD said, ‘Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

      7 “‘Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’

      8 “So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

      9 “Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”

  3. Georgie-ann

    All that said, I have to be the very very very first to admit that I have puh-lenty of “stuff” that I like and enjoy having around me quite a lot. None of it is very “high end,” but a lifetime of accumulation yields many relics and fond souvenirs of memories and times past, that are not so easy to part with just to say that you did, or in order “to prove” something. Anyway, it’s all there,…and I admit that I do like it well enough,…and I don’t have lots of “extra time and energy” to spend fussing around about it either, trying to look like something else, since anyway, it would really just be the same old me at this point, no matter what I did! And our time — (what’s left of it and how we spend it actively) — is an important value and commodity too!,…”each now moment” is precious, alive and extremely valuable, to offer to God to use as He directs, and as an investment in His Kingdom and our eternal future,…

    BUT,…IF,…the Jesus of the Bible days — (the way I sense or picture Him), — were to actually walk past my comfortable-enough-to-me-21st-century-home, — like say, “on His Way to the Cross” — I can imagine feeling more than a little apologetic or uncomfortable about my own “21st century comfortableness.” Realistically, it seems that there are many things that go on around us that we can’t do too much about, but within our own personal zones, are we really making the best and most true choices? Well, it’s always a good question to keep in mind,…

    I really started writing this section, because I’m thrilled about a phrase that came to me in the e-mail last night, from an on-line ministry (from Jim Collins in FL). It’s a great question, too!

    “Are you addicted to the sense realm?”

    ARE we addicted to the sense realm?

    Of course, he went on to a further teaching from the Bible,…but I think I’ll just leave that question here as is,…it seems somehow very appropriate to the topic,…

  4. Linda

    Well said. I’m really happy to hear what you said about the Pledge. I’ve had the same qualms since becoming a Christian…my son, when he was really little, would often exclaim “amen!” at the end of the Pledge because to his young mind it felt — rightly — like a group prayer or liturgy. And at the risk of stirring the political cauldron, I do fear that many believers drink the Kool-Aid that equates intense patriotism with devout Christianity. Like the bumper sticker says: God bless the whole world.

    After all, doesn’t God love everyone? “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…”

    • Georgie-ann

      I know what you all mean about the Pledge,…I usually pray a quiet but sincere prayer for our country with my hand on my heart, maybe even with my head bowed, and then I feel ok about at least being there,…

      since I don’t really try to be too obvious or pronounced anyway, nobody seems to notice or mind,…a few patriotic looking tears never hurt once in awhile either, even though that might not exactly be what brings tears to my eyes,…

    • Linda, I call the intensely patriotic Christianity “American civic religion.” Whenever our country faces a national crisis, it seems as if we get more patriotic, rather than press in to God.

      • Georgie-ann

        I think one of the worst things about it, is the unabashed and unreflective, and highly impervious “self righteous” quality which is communicated,…it doesn’t feel like a spiritual quality,…

        I think it also becomes an obstinate over-reaction to those who would in a sense “sell out” the importance of basic true principles, so it ends up being a difficult mixed-bag of problems. It seems that argumentative Americans can often easily miss the subtle nuances of clarification and having a broader perspective, which is still possible while NOT selling out the important values in question,…

        Zealous we are,…but that’s not necessarily enough,…

        Romans 10:2 “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”

  5. Georgie-ann

    btw,…I just “shared” a (2 minute) local news video of a recent important (to our town) funeral in our church, on Facebook. I think you can see it there, Michael. I was interviewed very briefly, so it makes for an opportunity for me to connect a little bit more of myself with you guys, and without any travelling involved! … (although, of course, it’s an uncomfortable feeling to “see yourself” like that,…but what the heck,…)

    iow,…howdy!

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