The things I learn about my wife continue to amaze me, even after a decade of marriage. In recent weeks I have discovered that the love of my life is an alien. True, from time to time I have entertained the notion that my kids might be aliens. And now I know why… they get it from their mother.
Perhaps I should explain. After ten years of moving from apartment to apartment Lisa and I suddenly bought a house in the big city. We now live in Center City Philadelphia, just five blocks from church and a mile from City Hall. We have become “homeowners,” as people say.
The strange thing is that we do not think of ourselves as owning anything. Quite the contrary. We have a strong sense that our house belongs to the Lord, and that we are merely looking after it for him.
This seems to be the attitude every Christian should have about every home. The Bible teaches that this world is not our permanent residence. Our life on earth is only temporary. In the words of the old hymn, “This world is not my home, I’m just a’passing through.” The apostle Peter went so far as to describe Christians as “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Pet. 2:11), which is why I say I am married to an alien. (And so, I must admit, is my wife.)
Every Christian is a resident alien. For the time being we live on earth, so we are residents. But our real and eternal home is in heaven, so we are aliens. As the apostle Paul explained to his friends in Philippi, our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20). The Philippians knew what Paul was talking about because some of them enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship. Although they lived in Philippi they looked to Rome for their safety and their identity. In the same way, Christians think of themselves as citizens of heaven, even while they live on earth.
If Christians are resident aliens then the house Lisa and I just bought is an alien residence. It is inhabited by aliens. Although we live, eat, work, play and sleep at 2033 Naudain Street, our eternal home is somewhere else.
Thinking of your home as an alien residence is a great help when things go wrong. When somebody spills a brownie on the carpet, or when the furnace starts making strange clunking noises, or when the basement gets flooded it is wonderful to remember that you aren’t going to live here forever, anyway. The time is short. From now on… those who buy something [should live] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29-31).
Everything in this world will soon disappear. Even what we own will not belong to us forever, including the house I just bought. Our present accommodations are temporary. There are no homeowners in this world, only tenants; no buyers, only renters.
In order to help us remember that we live in short-term housing Lisa and I invited ninety of our closest friends to help dedicate our house to the Lord. I began the brief service by reminiscing about my Dutch ancestors. They came to America in the 19th century seeking religious freedom. When they arrived in Pella, Iowa, they adopted a Latin motto which can still be read on the front of the town’s first church. In Deo Spes et Refugium, they testified: “In God is our Hope and Refuge.”
Our family has turned that civic motto into a domestic one. We hope our home will become a safe haven for friends, relatives, neighbors, parishioners, missionaries, internationals and needy people in the city. But our house is not our refuge. God is. As citizens of heaven we have made our eternal dwelling place with him. So wherever we live and wherever we go, God remains our only refuge.
The house dedication also included the reading of Scripture, prayer for the safety and ministry of the house, a doxology, and a household benediction (2 Sam. 7:29). One of the Bible passages we read was appropriate for the city, where Lisa and I have chosen to raise our family. It was part of a letter the prophet Jeremiah once sent to Jews living in the wicked city of Babylon.
The Jews would have given anything to leave Babylon behind, with all of its paganism and corruption. But God told them to do just the opposite. He said, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce… Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:5, 7). In other words, invest everything you have into the common life of the city. Live there, work there, pray there. Then both you and your city will prosper.
Lisa finds it humorous that Jeremiah’s letter was written to exiles. There are times when she feels like I have carried her into exile. She longs for the wide open spaces and the purple mountain majesties of Colorado. But we have made a commitment to one another and to the Lord to seek the welfare of the city, even to buy a house there. For the sake of the kingdom of God we are called to be civic-minded Christians.
But we will not be exiles forever. Someday Lisa will get back to her beloved mountains, if not in this life then in the life to come. After all, our new house is only an alien residence. Some day we will go home.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org