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A Millennial Take on the “American Dream"

How should we view opportunity, ambition and the pursuit of our goals?

The American Dream was constructed on the principle that future generations would continue to live in a free society with prosperity and opportunity.

We grew up in a period of unprecedented wealth and possibility. The millennial generation was the first generation to grow up with the Internet, reality TV, wireless technology, smartphones and unlimited access to the known world.

Many of us followed our dreams, went to college and worked hard, sincerely believing we were working toward a bright future. As one of the earliest members of the millennial generation, I graduated with substantial student loan debt in order to obtain my legal education. I was blessed to obtain a decent paying job; however, many of my peers still struggle, despite their educational achievement.

Instead of building our lives around the idea of finding a “good” career or doing the next big thing, we can choose to build our lives centered on eternity.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and subsequent war on terror followed by the economic collapse of 2008 has impacted many of our family, friends and loved ones. 

This moment provides us an opportunity to reflect on our definition of the American Dream in light of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

As a generation, we have replaced purpose with insatiable empty ambition. But Jesus did not die on the cross for us to simply vote our political persuasion or secure notoriety and fortune. Instead of building our lives around the idea of finding a “good” career or doing the next big thing, we can choose to build our lives centered on eternity.

I am reminded of the life of John the Baptist. He dedicated himself to preparing the way for the coming savior. In the prime of his life, he was a charismatic orator with a powerful ministry. I would imagine if he were alive today he would have quite a following on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

Then one day Jesus showed up and the crowds began to follow Him.

If we are honest with ourselves, I think most of us would be hurt if we lost our sphere of influence like that.

Those who remained with John pointed out that Jesus was gathering a large following. John gave a humbling responses: “A man can receive only what God gives him.”

This response speaks volumes to our generation.

John made it big in life. He was well known, crowds were coming to hear his messages and his ministry was growing. Then suddenly the crowds were gone, the ministry was gone and he ended up in prison.

It makes you wonder how many people in our day and age would consider him a has-been or failure.

As he sat in a dark prison cell, John must have wondered why this was happening to him. Scripture humanizes John when he asks his disciples if Jesus is the one. Jesus reassures him that the blind see, the lepers walk and the dead are raised. Barely in his mid-thirties, John’s mission was fulfilled.

God does give us big dreams, careers, hopes and ambition for the future. However, we should remember that the culmination of our life story points to the bigger story of God’s eternal purpose. 

John was able to relinquish control because he understood that his purpose and everything that was given to him was from God. Only God can bring fulfillment, and only God can give us contentment no matter how obscure or well known in our preferred profession or field we become.

When we get the inkling that perhaps our life has not turned out the way we wanted; or maybe that we failed to make it, we can remain content knowing Christ has an eternal purpose for our life.

Perhaps God is stirring the ground for a new spiritual awakening among this generation.

The American Dream is good, but God’s dream is better.

The first great awakening that began in middle of the 18th century was fertilized by instability in the social and economic order of early America. 

We may be at a similar point in history. This is an opportunity for us to reevaluate our priorities corporately and individually. Perhaps God is shaking us from our sleep and confidence in external attributes to a realization that He has a timeless kingdom that surpasses all generations and nations.

The American Dream is good, but God’s dream is better. An identity rooted in Him will give us the confidence to move forward knowing that we don’t have to live for an external expectation that may or may not pan out the way we like. At some point others will fail us, or we may fail them, but God is the same yesterday, today and forever.

A Christ-centered identity rooted in humility will change our generation and our nation because we will no longer exclusively rely on our limited perspective.

A dream lived for our glory leads to empty hearts and, ultimately, discontentment. When we begin to see our life through the lens of eternity, we can learn to become content and passionately pursue our dreams knowing God is in full control of the outcome.

This moment is a call to our generation; At the door of each and every one of our hearts, Jesus is knocking.

He has a better dream. Will you answer?




Matt commented…

Good article! Jim Elliot wrote, "Dreams are tawdry when compared with the leading of God, and not worthy of the aura of wonder we usually surround them with. ... When he directs a path, no way can seem bleak, no instance dull."



TerriL commented…

This is a great article. I'm a generation older than Mr. Kungkagam. And he is completely right! I become concerned about any generation (this is NOT new with this generation, believe me) who has the attitude that God promises success and prosperity in this world. Not so. God promises a future with Him where the curse of this broken world will be gone. But until then, we should live our lives for Him and His Kingdom. His kingdom has "upside-down" values (as Tim Keller like to label them.) We don't prize strength and power and success and riches... we prize "the poor in spirit... those who mourn...the meek... those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...the merciful... those who are pure in heart...the peacemakers." (Matthew 5) If we have these priorities which are focused on loving others mercifully and sacrificially, then we may not be successful according to American values.
It is really VERY interesting that this article only has a few comments, while the article on "amazing marital sex" has pages and pages. Even among Jesus' disciples we would rather think about things that feel good (like sex) and not think as much about personal sacrifice. Don't think I'm immune. I've done this and still do this. Success and comfort are appealing! But Mr. Kungkagam is speaking truth and it is radical and unattractive compared to the shiny promises of success, honor and comfort.

Luke Walker


Luke Walker replied to TerriL's comment

Both the Lord, and the devil, make promises for our betterment, wealth, and enjoyment. The sole difference is that the devil is lying. Go figure.

To believe that the promise of goodness itself is a lie, merely because someone lies about it is much like believing that a certain service (car repair, housecleaning, etc.) is a big hoax because "Company X" didn't stand up to their word.

Luke Walker


Luke Walker commented…

I'll echo a good job message on a well written article-- and yes, I will agree that there are a lot of "prosperity doctrine" people out there... and that's not completely biblical. Although... be careful. Missionaries reguarly do things to be "successful" in a culture, specifically so that they have a platform to reach the native people. Discouraging this in America is probably going to be harmful to folks in general. When's the last time some homeless guy successfully evangelized a middle-class American?

Here's my word of caution however: don't get out of one ditch by steering so hard you cross over three lanes of oncoming traffic and end up in the ditch on the other side of the road. Some thinkers and preachers on this matter have delved up what I've coined as "poverty doctrine". They have somehow convinced themselves and others that the bible speaks out against successful people, and encourage others to be as poor as possible-- using biblical passages like 1 Timothy 6:10 and Matthew 19:21 to lead people astray on the subject of money (a subject that Christ spoke about more than ANYTHING else, except the kingdom of God [you may also remember that quite often, the kingdom was COMPARED to treasure or a "status symbol" in parables]).

These folks are either good-hearted but ignorant of the ill effect or sometimes looking to convince people to give all their worldly possessions to THEM! Either way though, the end result of this teaching has more negative impact on the kingdom than the Arian heresey and the Trinitarian heresey combined. What ends up happening is that people get "content in the blessings of the Lord" or, as you put it "learn to become content and passionately pursue our dreams". I don't think I have to give you a complete exegesis of the English language for you to understand how ridiculous that sounds. A "Passionate Contentment"? That's like being a "voracious lay-about" or a "competitive sleeper".

Here's what the bible actually says about work, our aspirations, and wealth:

Gen. 1:27 can kick us off, stating that God made us in His image. This doesn't mean that God has a human body (outside of the person of Christ-- see how the Trinitarians got confused???), as I'm sure you're aware, but that he gave us the inner components that he possessed (let's not have a rabbit trail here about animals and whether or not they have souls...). We are, for all intents, little god-folk. His kids, by both genotype AND adoption. Even angels and other biblical beasties aren't MADE IN HIS IMAGE.

Next point: that's a good thing, because the next verse says "you have dominion over all the earth". Wow, that's a lot of work to do! But, as "thinkers" tend to, Adam asked "why should I?". Let's extrapolate: Remember the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Not Catholic? Ok, well most of the Orthodoxies agree as well... not Orthodox? Ok.... AW Tozer ALSO said: The chief end of man (the reason we were even made in the first place) is to GLORIFY GOD.

Don't believe that? 1 Corinthians 10:31. Moving on.

So, if God made not just us, but, by extension, and entire universe for us to subdue and rule over, almost purely for His entertainment... What does that tell us about God? That he DESIRES to be known. You know... fame, fortune, glory, wealth.... all that stuff that gets bashed today--that's what God is actually after (sound egotistical of Him? Well, his universe, his rules). And, by extension, our impulses to be great, to do something amazing, to acquire a fortune, or defeat a great opponent, are HARDWIRED in to us, because of whose image in which we are made!

Quick Sidenote: God enjoys the theatrical. If almost every traditional "bible story" doesn't prove this, let me just use one example: Noah. If everything had gone to pot, why didn't God just "extinguish" everyone but Noah and his family? Why not just "reverse rapture" them? Noooo, it's just MORE ENTERTAINING to make a guy build an enourmous boat miles and miles inland, and then make him herd all these animals together... Noah must have looked like a complete basket case.

While that’s cool (it certainly is nice to know that the desire to provide for my family, and maybe have a couple decent running vehicles in the driveway isn’t SATANIC), I’m going to go a little further just to be obnoxious. Check out Psalm 50 (although there are many more to the same effect). Here, God effectively says “Dudes, quit burning your stuff. Stop giving all your stuff to “me” by throwing it away or giving it to lazies. I OWN THE WHOLE WORLD, ergo, I don‘t need your stuff. Rather, use it effectively and say “Thanks, Dad“. Oh, hey, you unrighteous people who are convincing people to burn stuff, you’re on a short list of people I have to smite today.” (About that last part… yeah, the actual words are “I will tear you apart, with no one to rescue you” NIV).

Here’s the long and short of it. Most folks are sitting in the middle of the road (mind what God says about lukewarm folks). This isn’t a good place to be. Also, being “cold” is probably of debatable wisdom, as if you’re directly AGAINST God on any point, well that’s just dumb. Now, most folks that teach on this sound like you do: Build your life with a real long-term view, Eternity! From experience, this has some nasty after-effects! I have a man who works for me, and as a staunch Christian (his username for virtually everything is “eternity remains”), he has this belief that it will all work out for God’s glory. So, of course, he procrastinates like nobodies business. Literally-- dude leads a bible study EVERY WEEK NIGHT... and can't make more than two dollars.

What if the teaching were more biblical? What if the parable of the virgins was taught. "Prepare, and don't share your lamp-oil with fools". Doesn't that bring a sense of urgency now? Go, everyone be Billy Graham or better, because Jesus is trucking down the road to-day, and we've got a quota to meet!

I believe the problem with evangelism today is neither the quality of the product (immortality, happiness, reunion with deceased loved ones, no sickness, no death, golf, etc...), nor the price (forget free estimates, how about free entirely?), but the marketing strategy. After all, Jesus even said "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are sitting around blogging about why they shouldn't work"... Wait...

Here’s a question to prove the point: What if Moses had listened to God initially, versus killing the Egyptian? Then, what if he actually (again) listened to God versus herding sheep for forty years? Then, what if he (once more) listened to God versus his whiny spies about the promised land? And then (getting the picture?) listened to God versus striking the rock in the wilderness? That section of the bible would be a whole lot shorter, wouldn’t it? Maybe, he would have even got to get some of that prime Promised- Land real estate, huh? Notice who took over, by the way-- Joshua, who demonstrated repetitively that he was a Doer, not a Thinker (march around the city as they shoot us with arrows... blow trumpets and shout... well, that sure doesn't make sense, but OK). The Christian directive is “get ‘er done” not “let's sit and consider this...”.

In short (a man convinced against his will, is a man unconvinced, after all), here’s the potential fallout: Convince Christians that their aspirations are insufficient, that money corrupts, and that their desire for status is just an evil impulse lusting after some delusion of grandeur, and this is what you’ll get. The whole Church body will avoid making money, being productive, and desiring things. They’ll become more or less zombies. Their only rises will come from what those “evil rich people” are doing with all that “evil money”. Oh, and they will probably have more body hair and smoke more weed… because after all, it’s money, not weed, that the bible says is evil. This is probably not a good time to pass the offering plate around a second time-- unless you feel like collecting the ends of their blunts.

Inversely, let’s go 100%, Joel Olsteen, prosperity doctrine for a moment. Tell Christians that not only is salvation assured, but earthly prosperity is as well, because since we are the children of God and Jesus died on the Cross, and Jesus is God, we have full-bore inheritance rights TO-DAY, and all we must do is speak it and it is ours… what happens? Well, albeit the fact that people are walking around making confessions of faith that they’re going to run the company, own the Porsche, and bank millions, there is still reality. People become more motivated to pursue their desires, become known, and make a difference. More people will ACT on faith. Furthermore, some of these hyper-motivated folks might actually have a little up in lifestlye… and then the neighbors say “what’s up with the Joneses?” Which opens the window to tell them about Jesus Harrold Christ. The only contention that I could see there is if people started succeeding and saying “I did this myself!” At which time, I’m sure, most everyone would laugh just as hard as when I heard Obama say “You didn’t build that”.

FCA Ministers


FCA Ministers commented…

These are great thoughts. One of our Pastors wrote what I think resonates with this: "Imagine a 'pursuit of happiness' that runs completely counter to the culture: finding happiness in giving, in sacrificing, in serving. Apparently, when we learn to look beyond ourselves (and a few short years of earthly bliss), we are more likely to see a grand, eternal scheme."
Let's pursue that kind of dream. A Kingdom Dream! In pursuing God's Kingdom Dream I believe is where we will find true happiness!

Adam D. Pope


Adam D. Pope commented…

The American Dream is rooted in liberty, but has been hijacked to now be defined by many as getting the job, the house, the car...aka, the stuff. What the American Dream has always meant is you can be anything you want to be, you are free to walk your own path! So, if God calls you to preach and you follow His leading and reach your dream, then you are living out the American Dream. Singers, doctors, missionaries, small businesses and big businesses...they are all pursuing their happiness and living the American Dream. So, I think we do a disservice by pitting the American Dream against God's dream for us. The American Dream is a vehicle God gave us to follow Him and because of freedom we have changed the world for the better. Let us defend the American Dream and be good stewards of the opportunity we have to be what He created us to be.

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