June 30, 2008
Livin' the Dream
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12: 2
Picture this typical July 4th scene: Children play and adults laugh on a few acres of land behind a modest, two-story home. Meat smokes on the grill and everyone holds a cold drink. As the sun sets, kids wave sparklers and the adults set fireworks off in the yard. Everyone ends the evening tired but happy. In neighborhoods across the country we see this image of the good life, the American dream, play out every Independence Day.
Contrast this life with the lives of Peter and Paul. Last Sunday, we celebrated their joint feast days, and it seems appropriate that these two get paired together even though, as our pastor pointed out, the two men had very different temperaments. Peter was a fisherman, passionate and impulsive, a devoted follower throughout Christ’s public ministry -- until his faith proved weak on the terrible night he betrayed our Lord. Paul was respected, intelligent and self-righteous, a persecutor of Christians during the early days of the Church. While both came from very different molds, both were transformed by God’s grace into the most noteworthy leaders of the early Church.
Having grown up on good stories, it would seem appropriate to me that these two men of God would enjoy lives that ended happily ever after. But Scripture reveals that the surrounding culture wouldn’t allow things to unfold with the kind of happy ending we’re used to. Peter and Paul weren’t loved by all. They weren’t fully understood by all. They both experienced persecution and ultimately were brutally martyred for their faith.
Such stories of the early Christian leaders have me thinking about my own expectations of life, as an American and as a Christian. I often find myself defaulting to the American dream of endless hope and possibilities. I expect life to be good. I believe that if I pay my dues, work hard and strive to be nice to others then life will treat me well and success will be within my grasp. Yet even in my younger years, life hasn’t gone as planned – at least not as I had planned. And I’ve been shocked at times to see life handing some pretty tough situations to the good people in my life as well. Dig underneath the surface of all the jovial July 4th parties I’ve attended and you’ll find some serious trials lurking in the lives of those present.
Yet, when we look at these early Christian leaders, they
didn’t seem to react to hardships the same way I have in the past. They don’t
even seem to have the same expectations of life that I often do. They rejoiced
in the midst of hardship. They considered it a privilege to suffer for the Lord
and for His Church. They seemed in touch with the fact that there was more to life than what's on the surface and that we have a true home awaiting us elsewhere.
I don’t reflect on this truth in an attempt to throw cold water on your fireworks. But so often, I catch myself and other fellow Americans feeling shame for not achieving the perfect life. We carry around the weight of “what if." We compare our fractured existence to others’ lives, which appear near-perfect from where we sit. And it seems that quite often it’s not the imperfections and trials we experience that hold us back from giving our lives fully to Christ and to each other, but the guilt, regrets, and shame associated with these imperfections.
It may help to remind ourselves from time to time that we aren't here to live perfect lives. God didn’t even create us for the purpose of living the American Dream, as nice as that is. He created us to know Him and bring Him to a fallen world. And that means that not only will we not know perfection in this life, but we can expect some pain and suffering mingled with happier moments.
With that perspective in mind, we can be like St. Paul and rejoice when life doesn't look perfect to us - because we know a perfect God really is in control and has great plans for us. This doesn’t mean the Christian life is bleak or horrible or that we shouldn't enjoy the wonderful blessings we have as American citizens. Quite
the opposite. We have the freedom to let go of the impossible pursuit of
perfection knowing God ultimately has better plans than anything the American Dream could offer us.
Intersecting Faith & Life: When I start to feel disappointed in the direction my life has gone so far, I regain perspective by studying the Saints that lived before me. Their lives were never perfect, but God did amazing things for them and through them. Pick one Christian hero from a different era and “get to know them” a little better this week.