After twenty-five years, raising two children, two dogs, countless homegroups, birthday parties, sleep-overs, BBQs, and re-modeling projects it seems strange to look out our front window and see the For Sale sign firmly planted on the front lawn of a house that for us is a home we’ve loved. If our house sells, (and that is a big if), Donna and I are planning a move to the Good Land and townhouse living. It will be a new chapter of life; the next season for us. Some months ago as we contemplated this change we began to prepare emotionally, and physically. We laughed as a broken this or that, ignored for ten or more years, suddenly had to be fixed immediately for the potential new owners. Marred walls were painted, fresh flowers a must and my garage, normally a depository for everything, was made spotless and shipshape.
In preparation for the anticipated move we began to purge our house and lives of what in our culture we call stuff. Because it was painful, the process started slowly. Then, however, came the joy of ridding our lives of things untouched or unused for decades. I went to work on my library that I began collecting over forty years ago. Laughing, I put books in recycling that I had not picked up in ten, twenty, thirty or forty years, but had kept anyway, for reasons known only to God. The good ones, that deserved a second life, were packed up and brought to Betty Sullins who shipped them to believers in the Philippines. I am now down to less than half the books I owned six months ago and, if we do move, the numbers will be reduced even more. I brought the recycling bin into my office and started emptying my files of papers and articles that at one time seemed so very important, but now I could not remember why. It took more than one recycling bin. It feels like loosing an unwanted ten pounds of weight from my body. I am lighter, freer, leaner and feeling good about myself! Trips to the dump, thrift store, and numerous listings on Craigs List have cleaned up our house and lives. In a well-known sermon, Francis Schaffer once referred tothe stuff we accumulate as,Trash Heap Lives. We were taking out the trash. I even sold two of my prized surfboards (I am now down to a very modest five).
At the same time that our house was listed my parents, Bud and Char, sold their house. As I write this, they are in the midst of a downsizing move of their own to the retirement community of Valle Verde.
Moving is traumatic, in part because it involves a myriad of decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of, and because for most of us, we feel comfortable in our homes. For better or worse our homes are where we settle down and live. Our homes are usually where we feel safe. To move from that perceived familiarity and safety is unsettling to say the least.
The surprise of our contemplated move has been a fresh spiritual vision of home. If we do end up moving, it will not be our last move. Nor will my parent’s move to Valle Verde be their last move. What we are re-learning is that no matter where we live, we are not home yet. Our contemplated change of homes has caused us to reconsider how Christians are often described in the Bible. We are called strangers, sojourners, and aliens. Yes, we are privileged to rest our heads and aching feet in our condo, apartment, townhouse or suburban home. Sure, it is fun to fix them up, decorate, paint, purchase stylish furniture, put in the flower or vegetable garden, add a skylight or bite the bullet and upgrade to the granite kitchen. But as every believer who reads the Bible knows, we reside in our homes as people who are, to quote the title of a Christian book, resident aliens.
The apostle Peter wrote to Christians who had been scattered, fleeing from their homes, because of a severe persecution. They were homeless due to their faith. He calls them exiles (1 Pt. 1:1, 17). And when Peter encourages them he does so addressing them as sojourners and exiles (1 Pt. 2:11). I have often wondered if some of thesesojourners had just remodeled their kitchen or even had recently gotten married and moved out of their parents place (finally!) to a home of their own. Being a temporaryalien or sojourner was a graphic reminder that they were not home yet.
The author of Hebrews uses similar language to describe the Christians he is writing to.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:13-16
As this passage points out, we are all seeking a better homeland or country. The author goes on to point out that we desire to upgrade from this world. A heavenly home is better than the nicest residence on earth. But it is easy for the eternal to get exchanged with the temporal. As aliens longing for a better homeland, it is easy to become confused with an inordinate desire for another bedroom, a quieter neighborhood, a better school district, wood floors or a new bathroom. The point of these reflections are not to make anyone feel badly about loving their home or even wanting a different one, or even about decorating and re-modeling. When your next Pottery Barn catalog comes in the mail ponder it in Christian freedom! God created beauty and it is to be enjoyed. But never forget that the beauty of any home is fleeting. Know that our homes, wonderful as they may be, are never meant to be our true home.
As Donna and I ponder a major change in life, we are being reminded, that wherever we reside and call home, whatever our Zip code is, whether we move to a new townhouse in Goleta or stay at our current home of twenty-five years, this is not our true home. Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and because of that we will never fully be at home here. We long for the new heavens and new earth, a dwelling where there will be no, mourning, crying nor pain anymore. When we arrive at the New Jerusalem, then we will be truly home (Revelation 20:4,10).