Message Mondays: Building Up Our Kingdoms (Casting Crowns’ “American Dream”)

casting crowns

Welcome to another Message Mondays post (which was originally going to be a Throwback Tuesdays post- funny how God works and what He puts in your heart when you’re typing away!); this week we are delving into the topic of consumerism, trying to build our own kingdoms up, and what the Bible says about that (as a continuation of the TV show review of Selfie, which was about a young woman obsessed with improving her image for self-gain). I’ll also be linking that topic to probably one of the most confronting CCM songs over the past decade- “American Dream” by CCM/pop/rock 7-piece band Casting Crowns.

Throughout the history of humankind, we have always found one reason or another to complain. And today people complain more than ever. Whether it’s the hot sun, the cold wind, the long walk or drive from home to the shops, the wait in line for a cup of coffee or the cinemas, or even the outrageous price increases at the shopping centres; one thing we do is complain that we don’t have enough, and need more to be happy. Generally speaking, we then strive for and long to be better than everyone else, especially as consumers of stuff.

But are people living in the west, people living with the top 5% of income, actually happy? Sure we all might have everything we ever wanted, but what is it at the expense of? When we consume things, it’s expected that something else that occupied our thoughts before would have to leave, and the question for us to think about is, is the opportunity cost worth it? Matthew 6:24 states that we cannot serve both God and money (building our kingdom up as well as God’s) because ultimately we will shift our focus to one over the other (more often than not it will be our earthly desires and wants). We then are met with encouragement in Matthew 6: 25-34, where Jesus tells us not to worry as He will provide our every need; isn’t that fantastic? Yet still we all strive and work harder, to earn the things that we should be laying down at Jesus’ feet.

Casting Crowns were founded by lead singer, and youth and worship pastor Mark Hall (who is now also a respected and renowned author of non-fiction inspirational books). In fact (and I learnt this when Casting Crowns toured Sydney, and played at a live show 2012), the band is entirely comprised of youth and worship pastors. Casting Crowns tour at arenas and venues, and travel out on the road from Thursday til Sunday, and they also minister to the youth and congregation  at their home church the other 3 days of the week (or is it the other way around, I’m not sure!). That’s pretty remarkable, to record part time, and be a full time member of the church; and have a great impact globally as well! It’s pretty cool I reckon. So now that we have that backstory out of the way, let’s briefly dive into one of the most confronting and in-your-face tracks on their self titled debut album (which released in 2003)- the song “American Dream”, and how it relates to consumerism and trying to make our kingdoms bigger than God’s.

The song is a story-song, in which it speaks about a man who tries to build his earthly kingdom up at the expense of his family life, and tries to make amends in the middle of the song before it is too late. It’s a story we can all relate to during a time where consumerism is rising more and more, and we as a society are becoming more individualistic. Reminding me of the parable of the House on the Rock and the House on the Sand; the song also borrows a few elements from the story of the Tower of Babel (in Genesis), and the video produced for the song, shown below, does look a bit cheesy, but manages to convey the message across quite nicely. With the song driven by mid tempo guitars, and the band singing on a baseball field, and in the rain, it’s a pretty musically safe video and song, yet it is the lyrics that speak volumes to me and is sure to minister to you as well.

“American Dream” encourages us to make the hard choices, and instead of building up our kingdom, to think more of the relationships around us that matter instead of ourselves. To ensure we are not egotistical and are instead loving and caring to those around us, I think this song is a catalyst and a wake up call to actively pursue connection with our family members, friends and loved ones. Because at the end of the day, our legacy will be defined by our character displayed to our family and friends, not the amount of money we earn. I think Casting Crowns says it best in the third verse, shown below.

He used to say, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins”
But if he loses his soul, what has he gained in the end
I’ll take a shack on the rock
Over a castle in the sand
Now he works all day and cries alone at night
It’s not getting any better
Looks like he’s running out of time

With that lyric in mind, remember that our soul and our spiritual life means much more than our worldly possessions, and we need to make active steps towards staying spiritually healthy in the Word and in Jesus. Though chasing the American Dream is good, it is not the be all and end all if we don’t have a mansion or a flashy car, or 6 or 7 figure salaries. What matters the most are the people around us and how we interact with them, plus our relationship with God.

What are you spending the most time on? If it’s not God, or spending time with our loved ones, our family, our friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ; then we should take stock at our day. So for a sec, let’s put down our phones, let’s stop working through the night on a deadline at work, and let’s stop checking our Facebook and Twitter. Sure these things are ‘in’ in terms of what is popular, however, they will all fade away in the end. What remains is God, and if His will is to be glorified then all other aspects of life, like consumerism and buying more stuff, needs to diminish in relation to how we lift God up.

Challenge: for one week, lower your internet or shopping consumption money/time by 2 or 3 hours. Let me know the results of this experiment next week  in the comments below!

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