“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there…” These words from Francis Scott Key were inspired by what he saw following the attack on Fort McHenry, in the war of 1812. He finishes all four stanzas of his poem with some question or statement of the flag flying, “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”
This vision is not just a line sung but a part of the fabric of American society. It is celebrated throughout the year, by teaming up Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Christmas and debt, April 15 and taxes, and July 4th and fireworks. All of these traditions are a creation of, or were impacted by, “The American Dream.”
The American Dream has taken on a different meaning among different generations. Some define it as a house with a white picket fence and perfect family, freedom from oppressive governments or a chance to rise above their current situation. The whole concept is based around personal wants and desires. How big a person can dream, and how hard one is willing to work set the course for how to achieve it. The American Dream, or the hope of achieving it, affects every life decision one makes – which college to attend, job to apply for, person to marry, number of kids to have, where to live and so on.
But what happens when a nation allows a dream, American or not, to be worshipped instead of God?
In 1 Samuel, Israel rejected God as King and demanded an earthly king to rule over them (1 Samuel 8:6-9). God gave them what they asked for along with a strong warning and ultimately a high price.
The Israelites placed an earthly dream over God’s lordship and presence and got what they asked for. God, through Abram, sought to make them a great nation in which all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Yes, the greatest part of that covenant, the Messiah, did come – but through God’s will, not Israel’s wants and desires.
The American church must heed the same warning and not seek an earthly dream, but instead follow the command of the One who allows leaders and nations to rise and fall (Romans 13:1). The Great Commission is the command the Lord Jesus has given the Church. Christianity is not an American religion, and the American Dream is not her discipleship strategy. Believers have been called, commanded and given the tools to make disciples of all nations — no exceptions.
Whether it is the American Dream or another idol that precludes a believer from living out the responsibility that God has given, it needs to be removed. Neither a believer, nor the church, should be defined by a nation. Rather we should be defined by our Savior. God has given American Christians “the land of the free and the home of the brave” not for the American Dream, but for making disciples of all nations. The freedom that allows one to pursue the American Dream is the same freedom God has given the church to make disciples without fear. Obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples should take a higher priority for believers than achieving the elusive, ever-changing American Dream.
by Larry Kirby, Associate pastor of music and senior adults, First Baptist Church of Summerfield