I’ve been reading (listening to, actually) John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Life” and it has served to further solidify the following thought in my mind: to be a “good” Christian means to be a “bad” American, and vice versa. This is not a resignation (America is lost…give up), nor is it a novel idea, but I think much of the modern American church still conflates the two, that to be a good American means to be a good Christian and, much more dangerously, to be a good Christian means to be a good American. But, really, aside from our nation’s settlers being a group that arrived here seeking religious freedom, and our founding fathers largely being a group that identified with Christianity, our nation was built upon freedom and liberty, not faith in Christ. That faith may have been the undertone or the taken-for-granted understanding upon which the Constitution was built, but the resulting document allowed for a nation that would, one day, choose to exercise its freedoms and not identify itself with any one faith, let alone Christianity. And this is exactly what we have collectively done.
So, which are you? Which am I? Am I an American Christian or am I a Christian that happens to live in America? Which holds more sway upon my life…my American citizenship or my citizenship in the Kingdom of God? These two states of citizenship have come to the point where they are fundamentally at odds. I’m not talking about all of the things that Christians are known for being “anti” (homosexuality, pornography, abortion, etc.)…I’m talking about the fundamentals of individualism, commercialism, materialism…comfort, safety, significance. If I am a good American Christian, I seek comfort and success in the name of Christ. I take care of my family, save for retirement, I don’t fool around on my wife, I tithe…I can have a comfortable life in a comfortable house and Christ can be a tagline that allows me to feel good about it all.
But what in the Bible leads me to think that this should be the way of it? Where does the concept of retirement come from? (By the way, I have a retirement account, so this a real question I’m posing to myself.)* Is my life marked by radical love for others, joy and contentment in Christ and His glory, and a desire to see others find their joy in Christ…or am I a good American, that takes care of his responsibilities, goes to Church and lives in a moral manner.
These are hard questions and ones that I don’t have good answers for, on my own account. I know, however, that there is a true opportunity to forsake this life and to not lose anything in the process…to actually gain real life in the process. To so desire God and His glory, alone, that where He takes me and how He uses me is pure joy, regardless of the challenges, pain and sadness experienced along the way. This all sounds like craziness, but think about it…how many people do you know that are truly, truly happy? Do those people have and hoard a lot or do they love and give, give, give. Those that I know that are filled with joy are folks that have joyfully sacrificed their lives…not just because it’s what they should do or because it might buy them a ticket into heaven, but because God’s glory is truly what they desire at their core.
That’s who I want to be…
* UPDATE: Piper goes into this in much greater depth, obviously…I’m not saying that retirement accounts are ill-advised or evil. I’m saying that hope, trust and security in retirement accounts is something to be questioned. Piper points out that looking to our retirement years as the time when we can retreat from others, from responsibility, from Christian labor is missing the point completely.