Mrs. Lubbers is a wife and mother in the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.

“The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish.” 

Proverbs 14:11

The Arabs live in tents; the Eskimos, in igloos; the island people, in crudely-constructed huts; the Englishman, in his compact cottage. Probably no culture spends so much on the spacious design of a house, along with its compatible furnishings, as the American. A goodly part of his annual income and life investment is spent on a house. Time (1/29/96) reports the average American as spending 393% of his annual income on a house, up from 205% in 1970. Owning one’s own house is referred to as “the American dream.” Reformed believers buy into this dream too.

Some of our houses come closer to being measured in acreage than in square feet. Carpeting, window coverings (currently billed as window “treatments” — I think because one needs a treatment after discovering the cost), elegant furniture, appliances of every design and whimsy, islands, skylights, vaulted ceilings, fireplaces on every level, have become the norm for required living. A bathroom — a luxury in itself — is no longer merely functional, nor is a bathtub serviceable, but it must be a Jacuzzi. One can almost see the stout, idle Roman lolling in his spa, a bunch of succulent grapes suspended overhead. Consumptive living has a stranglehold on us all — although I still feel twinges of guilt living in a house which has two bathrooms for two people, when I grew up in a home which had one bathroom for twelve people. And the time and interest (no pun intended) spent on the acquisition of these possessions cannot be tallied.

The purchase and maintenance of these houses often put kingdom causes at jeopardy. And our luxuries speak loudly to our children. When we sacrifice too much on the altar of materialism, the sense of urgency about Christian school tuition, missions, needy churches, and care of the widow and orphan wanes. Frequently, husband and wife must both work to keep their financial heads above water. Curiously, I have never heard anyone say, “My house payment is too high,” but I have heard the usual mumbling about Christian school cost.

It is important to remember that our lives and values are open letters to others, especially to our children. The principle of pursuing the finest of everything is not disguised from our children, no matter how vigorously we condemn covetousness. Children are masters at divining inconsistencies. Our children are learning as by an inviolable rule what makes us as parents content and happy. We may say: this is just a temporary house; it means very little to me; I can live without it. But when our children see the time, effort, concern, money, and interest devoted to these things, our words give away the real impulse of our heart. Paul says in II Corinthians 3:2, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.”

How much of our house qualifies as shelter (refuge from the elements)? … and what percentage must be classified as luxurious living? Or is luxurious living one of our Christian prerogatives? Will it be said of us?

Here were decent godless people:

Their only monument an asphalt road

And a thousand lost golf balls.

(T.S. Eliot, Choruses from

‘The Rock’)

The apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous … unthankful … lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

It is true, a Christian must not be careless or slothful with his investments or belongings, nor is he required to live in a wattle and daub; nevertheless, if we truly believe that we are pilgrims and strangers in this earth, if we are really convinced that this life is a pilgrimage complete with winding, tortuous paths and deep, muddy sloughs, hazards steep and precipitous, then, it seems we should be traveling a bit lighter. Building up equity should be of inferior importance to living equitably.

Perhaps, our existence being a little more Spartan, we will be able to concentrate more keenly on the pitfalls in our path. With our heads up, and our backs less hunched over, we can be more observant of road signs. And there are road signs. “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” “Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” The days are evil; our way, booby-trapped. All our powers of observation and detection are necessary.

Abraham was given the whole land of Canaan by God for his inheritance, yet he owned not one parcel of ground personally. When his wife Sarah died, he was forced to buy the cave of Machpelah from the sons of Heth to bury her. Nor would he receive this land as a gift from their unbelieving hands. Why? Hebrews 11 states: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Ostentatious living has brought down civilization after civilization. By the very nature of a self-indulgent life-style, man becomes at ease with himself, his soul, his destiny. He is vulnerable to the excesses which topple men and empires. What did Jesus mean when He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven”? We must take seriously Christ’s admonition that “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth…. Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be…? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Each of us knows the individual trappings of his life. Gross materialism comes in all shapes and sizes. Vulgar living is not limited to an over-sized, over-furnished house. But a house is, undoubtedly, one of the priciest indicators of the ostentatious life-style. And it is often the benchmark of other, attendant forms of high-living. Now, to go with the house, we must buy into its life-style. Weeks of vacation away from its confines (?), and television to fill the hours we do spend there. Not satisfied any longer with “a chicken in every pot” a recreational vehicle in every slot becomes the standard. It almost seems axiomatic: the bigger the house and the more commodious its facilities, the less time spent in it with family and faith-friend.

Does anyone, anywhere, live in the same house in which he lived when he married? The house in which he raised his family? The house which whispers with nostalgia? The house whose creaks and sighs are rich with the secrets and activities of years gone by? Are we a people who can’t cope with the little quirks and big inconveniences which one frequently has to work around in such a house, but which very things make the house more than an edifice — a house with character?

As a teenager, I shared a bedroom with three sisters, and, because we had the biggest bedroom, it also held the baby’s crib. We studied all together at the kitchen table; a desk in one’s own room was unheard of — besides, it was too cold in the bedrooms. Sure, we argued; and the person who talked too much was warned to “button it,” but we also helped each other through the sticky math problems and that elusive vocabulary word. There was a sense of family. We inadvertently enjoyed the “sense of community” which is currently such a popular zip phrase. You could have fooled us! Today, parents seem to think that children need their own bathroom, their own bedroom, their own desk, their own bike, their own baseball mitt. An over-sized house, rooms too big, possessions which encourage individualism and selfishness, and we wonder why raw cupidity and envy control our society?

What would it be like to disencumber oneself from the weight which holds one down in the running of our spiritual marathon? Sit loose from this world. How does the apostle Paul put it? “Giving no offense in anything … but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God … as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true: a house is not a home.