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Why my church rebelled against the American Dream

Just finished the book Radical this week. I loved it – please get it for Christmas and apply it. The path Jesus set before us may be radical, but it is as relevant to us in the modern day as ever. This article in CNN shows where that path may lead and leaves you with the question, “What would hap…
By Seth Barnes
Just finished the book Radical this week. I loved it – please get it for Christmas and apply it. The path Jesus set before us may be radical, but it is as relevant to us in the modern day as ever. This article in CNN shows where that path may lead and leaves you with the question, “What would happen if your church took Jesus at his word?” 

By David Platt, Special to CNNtzleft.platt .courtesy.

We American Christians have a way of taking the Jesus of the Bible
and twisting him into a version of Jesus that we are more comfortable
with.

A nice middle-class American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind
materialism and would never call us to give away everything we have. A
Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our
comforts.

A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous
extremes, and who for that matter wants us to avoid danger altogether. A
Jesus who brings comfort and prosperity to us as we live out our
Christian spin on the American Dream.

But lately I’ve begun to have hope that the situation is changing.

The 20th-century historian who coined
the term “American Dream,” James Truslow Adams, defined it as “a dream…
in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest
stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others
for what they are.”

But many of us are realizing that Jesus has different priorities.
Instead of congratulating us on our self-fulfillment, he confronts us
with our inability to accomplish anything of value apart from God.
Instead of wanting us to be recognized by others, he beckons us to die
to ourselves and seek above all the glory of God.

In my own faith family, the Church at Brook Hills, we have tried to
get out from under the American Dream mindset and start living and
serving differently.

Like many other large American churches, we had a multimillion-dollar
campus and plans to make it even larger to house programs that would
cater to our own desires. But then we started looking at the world we
live in.

It’s a world where 26,000 children die every day of starvation or a
preventable disease. A world where billions live in situations of such
grinding poverty that an American middle-class neighborhood looks like
Beverly Hills by comparison. A world where more than a billion people
have never even heard the name Jesus. So we asked ourselves, “What are
we spending our time and money on that is less important than meeting
these needs?” And that’s when things started to change.

First we gave away our entire surplus fund – $500,000 – through
partnerships with churches in India, where 41 percent of the world’s
poor live. Then we trimmed another $1.5 million from our budget and used
the savings to build wells, improve education, provide medical care and
share the gospel in impoverished places around the world. Literally
hundreds of church members have gone overseas temporarily or permanently
to serve in such places.

And it’s not just distant needs we’re trying to meet. It’s also needs near at hand.

One day I called up the Department of Human Resources in Shelby
County, Alabama, where our church is located, and asked, “How many
families would you need in order to take care of all the foster and
adoption needs that we have in our county?”

The woman I was talking to laughed.

I said, “No, really, if a miracle were to take place, how many
families would be sufficient to cover all the different needs you have?”

She replied, “It would be a miracle if we had 150 more families.”

When I shared this conversation with our church, over 160 families
signed up to help with foster care and adoption. We don’t want even one
child in our county to be without a loving home. It’s not the way of the
American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But
we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for
others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible
wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my country and I couldn’t be more
grateful for its hard-won freedoms. The challenge before we American
Christians, as I see it, is to use the freedoms, resources, and
opportunities at our disposal while making sure not to embrace values
and assumptions that contradict what God has said in the Bible.

I believe God has a dream for people today. It’s just not the same as the American Dream.

I believe God is saying to us that real success is found in radical
sacrifice. That ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of
ourselves but in making much of him. That the purpose of our lives
transcends the country and culture in which we live. That meaning is
found in community, not individualism. That joy is found in generosity,
not materialism. And that Jesus is a reward worth risking everything
for.

Indeed, the gospel compels us to live for the glory of God in a world
of urgent spiritual and physical need, and this is a dream worth giving
our lives to pursue.

Editor’s Note: David Platt, Ph.D., is the author of the New York Times bestseller Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream and is senior pastor of the 4,000-member Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.

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