I had just spent a little over a week in Africa training pastors and visiting orphanages. It was time to come back home and I was angry. After spending several days seeing countless orphans and a lot of pastors with half of their Bible missing, I was disgusted with American excess and materialism. I couldn’t wait to see my family again but I didn’t feel the same way about the American way of life I grew up in.
As I sat on the airplane that would carry me out of Africa, stewing in my righteous indignation, my anger was quickly redirected. The movie screen in front of me wasn’t working properly.
How was I supposed to survive a long flight without watching the new Will Smith movie?
Now I’m going to have to use up the battery on my iPod.
I think these are called first world problems.
This is when I realized that the American materialism and excess that I was dreading coming back home to was already with me on the plane. It was in my heart.
I was the American Idiot.
I was trying to have it both ways. I was angry at American greed but only as long as it was the type of greed that acquired the kinds of things that I couldn’t afford. Certainly my iPod and in flight movie were completely harmless.
It’s easy, even fashionable in some circles, to take shots at the American way of life as if the real problem lies with the culture or the establishment instead of in our own hearts. Sure, most of those shots are well deserved but even if I get rid of everything I own and move to another country but fail to address the nature of my heart, I’ve done nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the tendency to worship the American lifestyle. We sing God Bless the USA without ever asking ourselves what it is that we want God to bless. Do we want him to show his favor on our government sanctioned mass murder of unborn babies? Maybe we’d like his hand of blessing on the corruption or sexual idolatry that has become a way of life in our country. Would we ask God to bless a nation with this track record if it was not our own?
Christians would do well to remember that this world is not our home. We are just passing through. That does not mean that we should not work to make things better or that we should not appreciate the many ways that God has blessed us. It just means that we long for a kingdom that is not of this world while remembering that even the best this world can offer will not measure up to the city where there is, “no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22).