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When I was a student at Ambassador in the early 1990’s, I will never forget listening to veteran missionary Darrell Champlin preach in chapel. His message “Love With Shoes On” will always stand out in my memory. During one of his messages, I remember a statement that he made that, at the time, I honestly thought was harsh. He said, “The American Dream must die.” As a young student, I interpreted his statement as being unpatriotic and calloused. However, the longer I live, the more I understand why he said it.
The popular sentiment in our country emphasizes the need for every person to live the American Dream. What exactly is the American Dream? While it could be defined in numerous ways, I believe one can sum it up as the pursuit of entertainment, enrichment, and education. What did King Solomon say about a life that is given to these pursuits? He addresses each of these in Ecclesiastes 2 and comes to this strong conclusion, “…for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Before I go any further, let it be known that I am thankful to be an American. Not only am I an American citizen, I have also had the privilege of serving in an elected office. I am thankful for the freedoms that have been secured for me by many men and women since the founding of our nation. However, Christians in America need to realize that a life given to the American Dream of prosperity is a wasted and empty life.
In Ecclesiastes 2:1–3, the wisest man in all the earth told how he gave his heart to entertainment. After seeking pleasure and laughter, he concluded that his pursuit was vanity. While it is safe to say that the world is more given to entertainment than ever, many Christians seem to have adopted this pursuit as well. With more technological devices and the ability to stream entertainment directly into our homes, we as Christians are given more to entertainment than ever. Our first-world problems of poor internet service and no wi-fi reveal just how much we are given to entertainment. When these luxuries are not readily accessible, we go into a mad frenzy. While the ways we seek pleasure have changed through the years, one thing is for sure. Man loves pleasure any way he can get it.
If we are going to see a revival take place in our churches, we must quickly come to the conclusion that life is not about satisfying self, but pleasing God. The entertainment god has perhaps damaged us more than the Baals and Molechs of the Old Testament. In the end, one will discover that a heart given to pleasure will learn that it is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:1).
Man has always had a problem with materialism. In Ecclesiastes 2:4–11, Solomon revealed his pursuit of enrichment. He sought out all of the modern conveniences of his day. Gardens, orchards, servants, silver, and gold were at his disposal. He even hired his own singers so he could listen to music whenever he wanted. Since there were no record players, cassette decks, CD players, and iPods, he just employed his own music group. Now that is impressive!
I am fearful that in our Christian homes, we have trained our children to live for things instead of God. People rejoice when they get a valuable possession yet sigh when they walk into the house of God. We have a stronger desire to be comfortable in our materialism than to be uncomfortable in the will of God. I believe with all of my heart that God is still calling many into His service, yet the desire for enrichment and materialism dulls the calling of God in many hearts. If the work of God is to intensify in our generation, then the desire for enrichment must die.
While it should be easy for Christians to realize that entertainment and enrichment will leave you empty, many do not understand that education can do the same. Solomon acknowledged that his pursuit for wisdom was vanity in Ecclesiastes 2:12–17. Being a college president, I believe that education is helpful and needed or I would not give myself to the task. However, education in and of itself is not the answer. Politicians are campaigning for a free college education for every student. Christian colleges are lauding the importance of accredited degrees.
Regardless of your position on the aforementioned political and Christian education issues, remember that the accumulation of facts and the academic recognition of the world will never bring true satisfaction to the soul. While the disciples were not ignorant men, they were perceived to be ignorant by the world. The world often times thinks the same of God’s servants today. Education cannot replace the power of God that is needed in the Lord’s work.
So, what is the answer? How can the American Dream die in the hearts of Christians? It must begin with preachers, parents, and teens being brutally honest before God and confessing the mistake of pursuing the American Dream. Until we are willing to confess our inordinate pursuits of entertainment, enrichment, and education, we will get nowhere.
The next step is for us to return to our first love (Revelation 2:4–5) and to realize that we are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). There is nothing that this world can offer us to give us more peace or joy. Christ is truly all in all!
When the American Dream dies in the hearts of God’s children, revival will come. I am convinced that when this subtle delusion fades in our hearts and minds, more people will hear God’s call for the ministry. My prayer is that Ambassador and other Christian colleges in America will seek to stamp out the American Dream and replace it with a heavenly one. A great love for entertainment, enrichment, and education is wood, hay and stubble. A fervent love for God will result in gold, silver, and precious stones.