During the time of the Apostle Paul, many worldly philosophies and traditions of men had crept into the church. Many of his epistles were written to churches to combat these false teachings with the truth of God’s Word. There is a philosophy just as dangerous and heretical that has crept into our churches today. It is called “The American Dream.”
Practically speaking, the American dream is the belief that we not only have the right to but we deserve a nice home filled with nice things, a good stable job with a generous income, yearly family vacations to Disney World, new cars, a retirement plan, etc. As Americans, we believe that our Constitution grants us all of these things. However, as Christians, we need to realize that our citizenship is not of this world (Philippians 3:20). As the old hymn says, “This world is not my home; I’m just a passin’ through!” The American Dream has no biblical foundation and is fundamentally opposed to the great commission. It has made us complacent regarding eternal matters and oblivious to the needs of the body of Christ as a whole.
According to Open Doors USA, these are some things that happened to Christians around the world in 2019:
- Over 260 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution
- 2,983 Christians killed for their faith
- 9,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.
- 3,711 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
In their book The Privilege of Persecution, Dr. Carl Moeller and David Hegg explain the dichotomy of reality between American Christians and those Christians suffering for their faith. Our ways of thinking are so radically different that it is difficult for us to understand their lives. And it is just as difficult for them to understand ours. The authors say, “[Persecuted Christians] pray for things [American Christians] probably wouldn’t think to pray for, and never pray for many of the things we do…It can be difficult for someone who has been fully immersed in the culture of the persecuted church to relate to Western believers who think it’s a really tough day when their daughter doesn’t make the cheerleading squad.”
Shallowness pervades our congregations. But the simple truth is that to whom much is given, much is required. God has given us political, spiritual, and material blessings and freedoms so that we can encourage and strengthen through prayer and advocacy those Christians who have no freedoms and no resources.
First Corinthians chapter 12 compares the church, the body of Christ, to a physical body, with each member having a different function. Verse 26 says that if one member suffers, then all the members suffer with it. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember the prisoners as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated since you yourselves are also in the body.” As Christians with religious freedom, we have the awesome privilege and responsibility of supporting and standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who share our faith but not our freedom.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused an increase in persecution of Christians in places such as India. In many villages Christians are in danger of dying from starvation because local aid distribution bypasses them because of their faith.
I have seen a lot of lamenting from American Christians over disappointed hopes – cancelled graduation ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and vacations. And, yes, those disappointments are real and shouldn’t be discounted. However, not one person I know has been worried about starving to death. On the contrary, most of us have our own COVID-19 crisis going on – as in gaining 19 pounds because of being home with all the snacks!
So what can we do? We can mourn our disappointments without getting stuck there. We can pray for those who are suffering not only the effects of the pandemic but are suffering an extra measure because of their faith in Jesus Christ. We can put our money where our prayers are and give to organizations sending aid to our brothers and sisters such as Open Doors and Hope and Help International. We can find ways to serve Him in new and creative ways. We can use our time wisely and not wastefully. Ultimately, we can let go of our dreams and expectations, and ask God to make our dreams the same as His dreams for us.
The American Dream is selfish and empty because it focuses on temporal things. God’s dream for us – also known as His will for our lives – focuses on others and on things that count for eternity. Which dream do you want?