Posts Tagged ‘the American Dream’

Deuteronomy 5:8-10
Make No Idols

If any of you who actually read my blogs have been wondering what’s going on. Yes, I am on vacation in the Orlando area. I have not been here since probably maybe it was the late 1990’s or right after the turn of the century, but boy, has a lot changed and also so have I. Back then I was much younger and wanted my vacations to be about going and doing and cramming as much in as possible. During those years, I had three stepsons to entertain which made vacations about the going and the doing. Vacations now almost two decades later are, to me, about a cooler and a beach and doing nothing. Relaxation from a busy lifestyle of one and half jobs and all that entails is what I am after when I pick my vacation spot. Although this trip to probably the busiest place on earth with its lines and lots of people everywhere and it take a half hour to go somewhere that should take ten minutes has been unique, it will be marked off as having done that but to never return.

Yesterday, we had an “interesting” experience to say the least. In an effort to get discounted tickets to Epcot Center, we agreed to sit through a time share presentation at a Wyndham resort here in Orlando where they sell time shares. We have spent the better part of 7 years getting our finances in order and we knew what this was going to be about. Elena and I did not have to say anything to each other about the fact that we were not going to buy anything or agree to anything or sign away our names on anything. We would just endure the high pressure sails tactics and get our discounted tickets and get out of there. It was brutal. When you know that you are not going to buy, sitting and listening to some slick talking brother going through his schpeel was an excruciatingly painful exercise in boredom and trying not to say key words and phrases that these guys jump on. These guys are trained to convince you that you need something that you didn’t even know you needed before you walked in the door. It’s the classic bait and switch. They get you in there with promises of discount tickets, prizes, vacations, etc. just so they can have the opportunity to do the hard sell. I have been through these things before. Time share sales presentation, I know how they work. What bothers me about them is that there are people that were in this place with us that I knew were succumbing to the pressure. There were those that were going to be seduced by the seeming privileges of the time share program was going to give them. They were going to be seduced by the beauty of the place. They were going to be seduced by desire for something finer than what they have in their lives now. With that established, these vultures then swoop in with the deal. We actually got to see what this deal was. $104,000 financed for 10 years at 17.99% interest. Can you believe that??? 17.99% interest exists in 2016? Wow! What may have been an acceptable interest rate in the late 1970’s of that nature is now only reserved for those who have incredibly bad credit. And they are selling this interest rate to people and they are buying off on it. Otherwise, these guys would not still be in business. It’s selling! I just laughed a hearty laugh when the salesman showed me that schedule. They lost whatever little credibility they had left with me at that point…and I just lost it….although in a nice way. You know how it works. When the initial salesman doesn’t make the sale, you have to endure another grueling presentation from his “manager.” When that guy got over there, I had come to the point of having enough. No discount tickets were worth this. I told him flat to his face, I don’t care what you are going to say, I just want my voucher for my discount tickets and I want out of here NOW! The dude actually threw his pen on the table as if I had offended him. I said to myself, you can act all offended with your 17.99% interest rate all you want to buuuuud! I’m out! Microphone drop!

The pity of it all is that there are people who are seduced by the god of excess. They will buy up these time shares at exorbitant interest rates because it will give them status that they can show off to their friends. It does not matter whether you can afford it or not. You are just shark meat in in the shark tank of the American Dream. Americans what immediate gratification. We want immediate riches and entertainment and whatever makes me feel good for the moment. That’s our god. That’s what we worship. The graven images are time share condos in Orlando. They are cruises to the Caribbean Islands. They are houses that we cannot afford. They are cars that cost as much as houses used to. The cars now are shrines to what we think we have to have, that were considered luxuries years ago. We are seduced by the god of excess. We craft images of high rise condos with exclusivities that massage your need for segregation from the normal people. We craft images of houses, and cars, and jewelry, and you name it.

That trip through this sales presentation yesterday morning that lasted 3 plus hours (when they said it was only going to be 90 minutes) and how they prey upon our need for graven images in our lives is what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 5:8-10, this morning. Let’s read it now:
8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

That was ultimately the comforting thing to me yesterday is that Elena and I do not have to have the symbols of luxury to make us happy. We used to be that way. However, since we have met Jesus Christ as our Savior and have matured in our walk with Him, it is such a release to know that none of this stuff here on this planet really matters. As the old saying goes, “you will never find a U-Haul trailer behind a hearse!” When we realize that we are here to give glory to God and to God only, it changes the mindset. The trinkets that once seemed so important are almost laughable now. To think that we NEED the opulent excess of the place that we saw yesterday that we would be willing to sell our soul for $1,270 a month at 17.99% interest for a place that we might use two or three weeks a year, it makes me laugh in incredulity. It also makes me cry that that there are those that are still chasing that humanistic dream of wealth and riches such that these things become gods. They will buy the $1,270 a month payment. They will go bankrupt doing it. And they will come up empty. May God show them the light. May God become the central focus of their lives such that these time share scams no longer have an audience.

Amen and Amen.

Luke 12:13-21 — The parable of the rich fool is appropriate for the American reader. Jesus is in the middle of a sermon teaching his disciples to fear God alone, when he is suddenly interrupted by a man who is dissatisfied over what he considers to be an unfair division of his father’s estate between himself and his brother. The man says in verse thirteen, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Then, Jesus responds with the parable. Jesus’ story ends with the point that a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not a have a rich relationship with God.

Today, we are taught by each other and by the media that we should live the good life. We need to have the biggest house we can afford and maybe more than we can afford. We are taught by each other and by the media that we need the biggest, newest car on the market. We are taught by bumper stickers that you whoever dies with the most toys wins. We are made slaves to our own goods that we purchase. We finance our lives away. And we live our lives in hopes of retiring with a big house on the coast of Florida or on some tropical locale. This is the parable of the rich fool in modern times. Americans are so enamored with the good life that it has become our god. We have bought the story that we need all the latest gadgets and that what we have now is not good enough.

You know sometimes that God sends us messages in multiple different formats and in multiple different ways when He really wants you to hear something. That is why this passage makes you go, wow, I think God is trying to say something that I need to share. Right now, I am leading a book study at church based on the book, I Was Broke Now I’m Not by Joseph Sengl. At the same time, for my personal reading time, I am currently reading the book, Counter Culture by David Platt. These two things are converging by the Holy Spirit in my heart for today’s message. First, Pursuit of earthly wealth and all the debt that goes with keeps us from being effective witnesses for the Lord. Second, pursuit of wealth takes our mind off things that really matter in this life and in eternity.

In leading the I Was Broke Now I’m Not six week study, one of the most poignant statements that Joseph Sengl makes is that Satan wants us broke because it makes us ineffective. When we are mired in debt and living paycheck to paycheck always seeking the next greatest thing to buy to make us happy, we lose sight of God. We become slaves to our money. Having too little money can become a god just as much as having too much. When we mortgage our lives to the hilt, it dominates who we are. We think about it all the time. But, yet, we continue to buy things. Joseph Sengl says that how Satan wants it. He wants to spend 100% or more of what we make so that we cannot help the homeless man in need. He wants us to spend, spend, spend, so that we cannot help the single mom whose husband has left her. He wants us mortgaged to eyeballs so that we cannot help finance a friend’s mission trip. He wants to have so much debt that we cannot follow a holy calling from God on our lives. Switch careers to become a missionary in India or Africa or Asia? No way, I have got this 2015 Lexus to pay for, the house in River Falls Plantation to pay for, and the 2014 Corvette too. You know the tune. Most all of us sing it. Why not though be radical? Start paying off debts and keeping assets longer. If we become less enamored with things, we will start to pay down all these debts to the point one day we will be debt free. As the debt stranglehold loosens maybe then we can become what God intended us to be, what he called us to be. When we have earthly treasures in the right perspective (that they are to be used by us to help expand God’s kingdom) and that our ability to earn all these things comes from God, maybe then we will become effective tools for the kingdom. Maybe then, we can make a difference in a world that needs change.

There is so much injustice in the world that we sit in our pretty little homes in the United States and say that is so sad and then we do nothing. Sometimes it is because we are so in debt that we cannot do anything financially. Most times it is because we really are so enamored with the good life that we are unwilling to do more than watch a news show. For example, in the book, Counter Culture, David Platt tells us that there are so many social issues out there that we need to be addressing as Christians (not in protest but in ways that are compassionate that bring about real change). Yet, we are more interested in our houses, cars, movies on the weekend, the parties we go to. There was a song on this subject back in the 80s about how we ignore the issues of the world around as Americans. It is about how we seek pleasure and ignore the social issues of the world around us. Don Henley’s “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” is a searing indictment of us as pleasure seeking Americans. David Platt tells that we need to open our eyes. For example, there are 27 Million women in this world that are currently in sex slavery around the world. 27 Million women that have no hope. Yet all we want to do is dance. We spend more on going to the movies than we do on contributing to our churches. There are 27 Million women who are forced to have sex 20 times or more a day and are kept drugged and beaten and they have no hope. We paint Red X’s on our hands and say we support ending sex trafficking but as long as it doesn’t interfere with my weekends at the lake in the summer or my season tickets to Clemson football in the fall. All she wants to do is dance. Poverty abounds around the world but we spend more on video games than we do on charity. All she wants to do is dance.

What would happen if we lived as Christ followers who did not get wrapped up in the good life. What if we decided this much is enough for me to live on and now use the rest to be effective missionaries at home and abroad. What if we managed our finances so well that we could follow when God calls. What if we put God first in our finances such that we were satisfied with this much. What if we put God first so that we could see all the injustices in the world and actually could address them because we are not seeking the American dream. What if we really put God first in our finances so that we were free to as the body of Christ to address issues of sex trafficking, of poverty, of illiteracy, of social injustice. What if we wanted to do more than seek our own pleasure. What if we wanted to do more than pay lip service to the causes that we care about. What if we were free of earthly wealth concerns and could go to the places here in America and around the world and rescue 27 Million women from sex slavery instead of just painting Red X’s on our hands. What if we could do more? Satan wants us to support our favorite causes but do nothing about them. He wants us to be ineffective. He wants the sex slave to have no hope of any Christ follower ever really doing anything real to help her.

Let us store up treasure in heaven rather than in our driveway. Let us make arrange our financial lives such that we put God first and things second. Let us arrange our lives such that we can respond to God’s call when He calls. Let us arrange our lives such that we can pick up and move to southeast Asia or Hong Kong or the streets of any large American city to fight against sex slavery. Let us care more about our fellow man’s plight than arranging our next flight – for our vacation in Vale. Let us live our lives to use our resources to address the things that need addressing. Let us live our lives to make a difference for the kingdom of God. Let it not be said of us as Christ followers that “all she wants to do is dance.”

Romans 12:16 — “Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” There is so much discord in the world, among nations, within nations, and in our homes. Pride can destroy. Harmony and humility go hand in hand.

How do we live in harmony with each other? It requires that we exchange pride for humility. Discord in life comes from competing pride. Your pride vs. my pride. My way vs. your way. In order to live in harmony with one another, I must consider your feelings and desires as equal to mine. You must consider my feelings and desires as equal to yours. That’s easier said than done, Paul! I want what I want and I want it now. I am right and you are wrong. Selfish desires are the American way. Our economy is built on pursuing our own self-interest. The whole theory of capitalism is built on competing self-interest. Adam Smith, the 18th century economist, established this very theory as the basis of capitalism. He stated that competing self-interests would bring prosperity. Competition is the hallmark of our lifestyle. Because of our self-interests, our economy has become the most powerful in the world and any nation that aspires to reach the pinnacle of economic development that we have must unleash capitalistic attitudes. So, Paul’s comments seem completely opposite of human nature. Harmony sounds like communism to us. Paul is not calling us to communism, but he is calling us to humility. We must turn our American dream ideals on their head. The American dream is all about me. It’s a me-me-me mentality. It fits in with our nature. Look out for number one. Have pride in yourself. We pick and choose our friends based on what they can do for us. We discard them when they do not. Paul calls us to humility and to love another. When we have humility, we can see others as just as valuable as we are. That is what God intended for us. We are all created in His image. Each of us has value. Should we not take advantage of the talents that God gave us. Certainly, using the talents that God gave us is why He gave them to us. However, we should not use our talents to crush and destroy others. We should use our talents daily as a way to glorify God and to lift others up rather than destroy them.

How do we enjoy the company of ordinary people? First, we do not consider them ordinary. Jesus demonstrated that everyone has value. He cared for those whom society had discarded. He did not choose who He touched based on what political advantage they could give Him. Same with us. When we serve others less fortunate than us, we should accord them the same dignity as we would folks that could be of great advantage to us. For example, if you serve in a soup kitchen, let us not walk away from it as prideful that we are better than those people. Soup kitchens are filled with people who sometimes by mistakes they have made are there. Sometimes they are there because of no fault of their own. Circumstances beyond their control may have brought them there. Do we serve them to boost our own ego or do we do it because we truly care about them. Are you moved to help them or do you do it to check off a box in your self-image about doing good so others see you doing good. Each of us is a child of God with a right to exist. None of us is better than the other. When we die, they put each of our bodies in a box. You can’t take your social standing into eternity. You can’t take your big fine house into eternity. Rich and poor alike meet death and must deal with the judgment of our maker as to whether we accepted or rejected Jesus Christ. Do you feel uncomfortable with people of less social stature than you? It is all pride and vanity. The bum on the side of the road is just as much a child of God as we are. We do not know everyone’s story from their outward appearances. Each of us no matter their social stature is deserving of our respect and are deserving of God’s love and are deserving of receiving the gospel. Who are we to judge? It takes humility to see others as equals regardless of the trappings of this life. The trappings of this life do not matter in eternity. Help us to be the kind of people that judge others by the content of their character, as Martin Luther King said, not by the color of their skin or any other segregating prideful mechanism we may use. All are welcome in God’s kingdom. The only segregator that God uses on judgment day is whether we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior or not.

How do we go about thinking that we don’t know it all? Humility. Humility. It’s all about humility. When we think we know it all. It is again a matter of pride. When we think we have all the answers, it says that we think we have arrived. We have made ourselves god. Pride is fertile soil for sin. When we think we know it all, we think that everything we do is right. We fall prey to our own pride. We rationalize our behavior away and slowly anything becomes fair game. Sin awaits. Discord awaits. When we realize that we do not know it all is the beginning of humility. When we realize that there are others more talented than us is the beginning of humility. When we realize that we do not have the answers is when God can work on us. When we realize that we have so much to learn is when God can really use us. An humble heart is putty in God’s hands. When we stop trying to rule our own world and tear others down when they expose our weaknesses is when we realize that we are not greater than we are. It is when we realize that we have need of something greater than ourselves. It is when we realize that we will never be God for He is God alone. He is above and beyond us. When we realize that we are not god, God can begin to mold us and use us for the purpose He intended for our lives. For the Christ follower, the most freeing moment in our life history is when we realize that we are not god and that He is. Let go and let God. When we humble ourselves to realize we are not our own god, it is the beginning of humility. When we realize that we are not god, we can see others as just as deserving of God’s grace as we are. When we realize that we are not god, everyone is deserving of love and respect. When we realize that we are sinners and are not perfect, we begin to give others some slack for not being perfect. When we realize that if it were not for the grace of Jesus Christ, we would be destined for hell, it takes our pride away. Humility begins. Love begins. Harmony begins.

Father, thank you for today’s meditation of a single verse of Scripture that says so much. Help me Father to love others because you love them. Help me to seek humility and not pride. Help me to see every fellow human being as deserving of being here. Help me to see everyone as equally deserving of dignity and respect. Help me to see them as your children. Help me to see them as deserving of hearing your gospel. Help me to see every person through the eyes that you see them with. Amen.