In America, our Declaration of Independence proclaims the right for “the pursuit of happiness.” We work and we work to achieve that right. We exhaust ourselves and our resources chasing that elusive goal. We are taught from an early age to pursue the American Dream. We are to pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps and WIN – no matter the cost. To acquire our happiness, we have borrowed and spent. We have sought out things and substances to fill a void, a standard called “happiness” that is always one notch higher than our means. Material processions, money, and pleasure have become god in America.
Is that what has happened in America? Have we forsaken the God our nation was founded upon? Our National Debt is now over $14 trillion. This is equal to $45,000 per citizen. Has our hunger for money and things, become a monster that will ultimately destroy this great nation of ours? Our U.S. economy is so driven by purchasing more and more stuff, that when we all stop spending, the whole system collapses, which resulted in the “Great Recession” I am hoping will end very soon.
Even religious organizations seek to build “kingdoms” on earth. According to the US Census Bureau, churches in the US spent $7 billion on building construction, in 2009. This is more than the GDP of Haiti. Other sources estimate that amount to be closer to $11.5 billion per year. Large sums of church money go into building ownership – utilities, maintenance, construction and mortgage. According to Dave Ramsey, the American church is in debt to the tune of $33 billon. But all that is tiny, compared to the $60 billion a year Americans spend on soft drinks.
Is it possible that even the church has lost its way?
This is a picture of the culture, the fast moving stream where Americans find themselves. It’s easy to get pulled down stream. It’s easy to feel comfortable, because everyone else is there with you.
2000 years ago, there was a single little fish who turned around in the stream and started swimming the other way. His name was Jesus. He calls on us to follow him.
Instead of pursuit of happiness, he said “pursue the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) He said it will not be an easy road, for his followers will be persecuted for being righteous and people will hate you and say all kinds of evil against you for following him. (Matthew 5:10-11) He told his followers to be like salt in a wound, to be a bright light in the face, to be ready to be repulsed in a culture that is upside down, doing the opposite of his teachings.
Rather than pursuing greatness, Jesus said " he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) Rather than seeking wealth and possessions, Jesus said to the rich man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." On the subject of money, Jesus said "Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33 NKJV) The reaction to his words proves Jesus was countercultural: “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided (had bad things to say about) Him.” (Luke 16:14 NKJV)
Jesus never built a church building, yet he has millions of followers. His most famous sermon was given on a hillside. He taught in people’s homes, in the streets and in existing buildings, yet he had no home of his own. "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Matthew 8:20 NKJV)
While Americans are fighting for “rights,” Jesus died to take our “wrongs,” with nothing in his hands but nails. That’s countercultural. Amen?
Pastor Jay Merritt