Archives For The American Dream

Danger SignEverything comes with a warning these days. Open ditches might cause injuries and hot coffee is liable to burn you—good thing they’re warning us! Commercials for prescription drugs (which should make us wonder why these companies are advertising to us instead of our doctors) are almost comical in the warnings they’re required to give. Sure, this product will curb your sneezing fits, but it’s likely to make you drowsy, give you constant diarrhea, and it just might kill you.

But one of the most dangerous activities our modern world offers us—an activity that almost every single person is engaged in—comes with no warning whatsoever. Unless we read the Bible. What is this dangerous activity? Pursuing wealth.

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:6–9, emphasis added)

Paul is advocating contentment here. If you have food and clothes, you’re set. Jesus reminded us that he provides these things for the birds and flowers, so we shouldn’t be worried about going without.

But Paul gives a warning to those who lack contentment, “those who desire to be rich.” What happens to them? They fall into temptation, they get caught in a snare, and they get lured into “senseless and harmful desires.” The result? These people are plunged into ruin and destruction. Yikes.

What would you say the big ticket sins are? Lust? Unfaithfulness in a relationship? Lying? Stealing? Murder? Doctrinal Error?

All are bad. All will lead you into trouble. But according to this passage, the American Dream belongs on that list. For Paul, the American Dream is nothing but a big bear trap, ready to snap down on the legs of those blinded by dollar signs.

Let me be clear. There are many things that make America great. But if we asked what most Americans share in common, if we asked what makes up the heartbeat of the American Dream, the pursuit of riches is probably the common denominator. We’re not all greedy, but we do want a little bit more. Desiring God’s good gifts glorifies the Creator, but if you find yourself driven by that nagging urge to obtain just a little more, you’re in dangerous territory.

We tend to measure success in dollar signs and potential influence. Everything about God’s economy cuts in the opposite direction. We know this. As Christians, we’ve never truly believed that happiness comes through stuff. And yet the lie is all around us. Everyone believes it. The rich in this world appear so happy, so many of our problems could be at least alleviated with an increased cash flow, everyone around us is focused on the pursuit of wealth. Given enough time and enough subtle influence, we all find ourselves in the unrelenting pursuit of riches.

LadderSo be careful. If you’ve ever wondered where that ladder you’ve spent your career climbing ends, Paul can remove the mystery for you. It doesn’t end at happiness, as you’ve been promised since birth. The ladder ends with a sharp drop. Ruin. Destruction.

It’s better not to climb that ladder at all. Or to climb it with a sharp focus on the God who is the Giver of all good gifts and the Sustainer of all who find their satisfaction in him alone. If he leads you up the ladder, then he has a purpose in doing so. If he keeps you on the bottom rung, then he will keep you better fed than the ravens and more gloriously clothed than the lilies. After all, there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

 

I’ll never forget hearing John Piper talk about growing old to the glory of God, in several sermons years ago. Maybe you’ve heard them too. In the middle of one particular sermon about missions, Piper goes off in his characteristic bluntness on how “old people” should do missions instead of settling down. “You get discounts on airfare,” Piper said. “Why not buy a one way ticket to the hardest to reach country instead of retiring. You’ve got nothing to loose!” Piper was about 55 when he said this, and I have no doubt he believed what he said. But for me, I was only 20 years old. And even though I cheered and “amened” with excessive zeal, deep down I wondered if I would be willing to do this: to live radically for Christ when I get old.

This is why I so appreciate my father in law, Howard Foreman. His story is an all too rare example of someone who has unshackled his soul from the American dream by doing missions instead of building white-picket fences.

Saved through a radical conversion at 19, Howard hit the ground running with his faith. A few years later, he and his wife took off to France where they would minister for the next 12 years, planting churches in one of the toughest countries. After returning home, Howard would plant or pastor churches in Idaho, Michigan, and then in Fresno (CA). While pastoring in Fresno, the American dream lurched around the corner ready to snuff out Howard’s passion. He was settled. He owned a house. He had a steady income. Things were going well at the church and life was getting quite comfortable. I think I even spotted him pricing some white picket fences at Home Depot!

But then it happened. Howard got hit by a car. No, I mean he literally got hit by a moving vehicle going 35 mph, as he was stepping out of his truck. Howard was hurled to the unforgiving ground, which chewed up his body from head to toe. Miraculously, he survived but with some serious damage. He was laid up in bed for the next 6 months, contemplating how he would spend the rest of his divinely spared life. So at the age of 52, Howard decided that life is too short—too precious—to sit around planning his retirement. In many ways, life begun for Howard in 2003.

A year later, Howard and his wife sold their house and moved to Scotland to do a Ph.D. in order to open up more doors for future ministry. Howard spent his mid-fifties learning Latin and writing a 250 page dissertation, which he successfully completed 3 years later. After returning home to California, Howard tried to find ministry work, but found that there were a glut of pastors and teachers without jobs. Schools looking for teachers would sift through 150 applicants. Churches looking for pastors would sift through 300. We live in a country with apparently no need for seasoned pastors/missionaries with Ph.D’s. So Howard decided to do what he knew best. Howard decided to go back into missions.

Ironically—and quite sadly—there is one formally trained pastor for every 450,000 people outside of America. So Howard decided to spend the rest of his life training pastors over seas. He currently serves as a VP at Training Leaders International, where he oversees various training centers in Africa. But like most missions’ “positions,” you have to raise support. Howard has not been able to raise full support, and yet his passion for missions still burns unquenchably in his bones. Lack of support isn’t going to stop him. So for the past few years, he’s been teaching online classes and trimming trees at a water park to help fund his ministry. I don’t know if you’ve ever done extensive grounds work, but trimming trees all day takes quite a toll on your body—especially when you’ve been mangled by a moving car. In any case, despite the pain, despite some sleepless nights, Howard grabs his sheers and heads off to the water park in order to trim trees, in order to make some money, in order to buy that picket fence train impoverished pastors in Africa, who would give anything to make 15 bucks an hour trimming trees.

Howard Foreman provides us all with a model of how to grow old to the glory of God. It’s one thing to read books like Crazy Love, Radical, or Don’t Waste Your Life and cheer from the sidelines. It’s quite another to suit up and get into the game—even if it means trimming trees.

I invite you to watch the short video about Howard’s ministry below. I also invite you to help fund Howard’s ministry through the link below. We don’t usually do this sort of thing on this blog, but I want to make an exception for this one. We’re not all called to “go,” but we are all called to “send” if we’re not called to “go.” Because an under-funded, 62 year-old man wanting to train pastors in Africa shouldn’t be trimming trees to do so. Please consider giving to this valuable ministry.

 

Howard Foreman: Training Leaders International from Skyline Videography on Vimeo.

 

If you want to help support Howard’s ministry, follow this link, then click on “Staff,” then on “Dr. Howard Foreman” in the dropdown menus.

If you have any further questions, you can email Howard Foreman or myself.

 

The American Church is becoming increasingly suspicious of the American Dream. It has always been an ill defined concept, but generally speaking, the American Dream is the promise of a good job, a nice home, a good looking family, etc.

In American History, were taught about the concept of “Manifest Destiny.” The early Americans (non-natives, of course) firmly believed that it was their destiny to spread West, to claim the land that separated them from the Pacific Ocean. Somehow this real estate was theirs by right.

This sense of entitlement dies hard in the American mind. Somehow we have a right to a high paying job, a nice car, a privileged education, etc. And so we do everything we can to climb the ladder. To be sure, we work hard. But hard work alone cannot guarantee material prosperity.

These days, it is increasingly difficult to achieve the American Dream without borrowing in advance. We can’t wait until we’ve made our money to own a nice house and fill it with solid furniture, so we borrow to ensure that we won’t have to wait for it.

More and more people are beginning to see that the pursuit of the American Dream is unsustainable. Our definition of happiness is purely material, and we keep borrowing money to gain that material happiness. And once we have the material goods that we thought would make us happy, we find out that we wanted the wrong things. They’re too small, too outdated, too common. So we borrow again to get the things that we really need. And the process continues.

Where has our pursuit of the American Dream taken us? Well, we have accumulated a ton of debt, but very little happiness. Individuals are in debt. Companies are in debt. Our government is in debt. It turns out the American Dream is bankrupt—both literally and metaphorically.

Christians know that happiness can’t be borrowed. We know that material goods will not satisfy us in the long term. But we still find the American Dream tempting. Too tempting. Too many Christians have wasted too many years and too many dollars in pursuit of a bankrupt dream.

We know better. The Christian community should be a beacon of hope in the midst of a burdened society. We should demonstrate that hope is not the same as wealth. We should personify joy rather than entitlement. We can’t avoid the material, nor should we attempt to do so. But at a time when the world around us is beginning to see the cracks in their lifelong idolatry, we have an incredible opportunity to show people that human beings were never meant to be enslaved to something as elusive and unsustainable as the American Dream. We know what humanity was designed to look like and how we were designed to function. If the church begins to live in light of this reality, then we can be a source of hope and renewal to our neighbors who are enslaved to that which deceptively promised them happiness.