Our two small children were securely strapped into the back seat of our
little car as Santa Maria, California, receded in our rear-view mirror. Orlando, Florida,
my new assignment, would be the sixth city wed lived in during eight years of
marriage: three in California, three more in Florida. (One result: Yvette was conceived in
Florida and born in California; Bill conceived in California and born in Florida).
Now, for the first time, wed own our own home.
Christmas was less than three weeks past, and the holidays were fresh
in our minds. So, to pass the time, Bill and Yvette sang Christmas songs. They sang them
all across the seemingly unending deserts of southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and
Texas; through the lush swamps of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama; and into the
freshness of Floridas pines and cypresses.
Bill, then 4, had his own version of one carol. Over and over, day
after day, from one coast to the other, he sang it:
"Joytothe---worrrrrld, the house is come!"
God wants our "neighbors" to have homes. We glimpse it
"And after that, the Lord Almighty declares,
you will all live in peace and prosperity, and each of you will own a home of your
own where you can invite your neighbors" (Zech. 3:10; also read Ps. 69:35-36;
Friends of ours felt led to move from Seattle to south-central
Washington. They had no leads on property, but left anyway, by faith. It was dark by the
time they reached a small town the Columbia River Gorge. But one real estate agency was
still lighted and looked busy, so they went in.
They talked with a young realtor. He told them, "I know the
perfect property for you!" He drew them a detailed, turn-by-turn map of the 49
remaining miles. He told them to park their RV on the property overnight, and see the
owner in the morning.
Soon after parking, they saw headlights bouncing across the field
toward them. It was the owner. "What are you doing on my property?" he
challenged. Doug told him about the agency and showed him the map. "Hes
wrong," the owner said. "This property hasnt been for sale for
years." But finally he said "Come over for breakfast, and well discuss
it." They did. And the owner sold them the property!
On Dougs next trip through the town, the agency was boarded up.
Puzzled, he asked a resident why. The answer? "Oh, that agency closed years ago.
Its never been open a day since!"
Who owns our land?
When Israel entered the Promised Land, every family received acreage,
free and clear. No mortgage payments! They could build homes, grow food, and raise cattle.
But who really owned it?
During most of the 20th century, the Free World and the Communist Bloc
argued whether private individuals or the State owned land. Gods response is like
the brain-teaser that asks "Is the capital of Florida pronounced MYami or
MEEami?" The answer? "Neither. Its pronounced Tallahassee." The Lord
told Israel that neither individuals nor the government owned the land.
Then who did? God explained: "The land is mine ... You are merely my tenants and
sharecroppers!" (Lev. 25:23.)
For details, read: Num. 32:1-42; 33:53-54; 34:1-29; Deut.
3:12-20; Josh. 13:7-19:51; Ezek. 47:13-48:29.
So those beautiful passages like Psalms 24:1 that say
"The earth belongs to God! Everything in all the world is his!" mean it.
Literally. He does own the world. We, the bank, and the government are just
caretakers of "our" pieces of it. We must give account to him for how we
use it. Thats total accountability. God holds us responsible for how attractive his
land looks, how well it produces, and the condition we leave it in.
Also read: Ex. 19:5; Deut. 10:14; 1 Chron. 29:11; Ps. 50:
How was land "ownership" protected in Bible times?
"I dont want my people losing their property and having
to move away" (Ezekiel 46:18). Even as "tenants and sharecroppers,"
Mosaic law prevented most "landowners" from losing their land permanently. Sales
had time limits and escape clauses. Today wed consider them long-term leases. Most
(though not all) property eventually reverted to the original owners or their heirs.
"Every fiftieth year ... all the family estates sold to others
shall be returned to the original owners or their heirs.
"Yes, during the Year of Jubilee everyone shall return home to his
original family possession!
"Land can be redeemed at any time by the seller. If anyone becomes
poor and sells some of his land, then his nearest relatives may redeem it ... he may
always buy it back ... But if the original owner is not able to redeem it, then it shall
belong to the new owner until the Year of Jubilee.
"If a man sells a house in the city, he has up to one year to
redeem it ... But if it is not redeemed within the year, then it will belong permanently
to the new owner--it does not return to the original owner in the Year of Jubilee. But
village houses--a village is a settlement without fortifying walls around it--are like
farmland, redeemable at any time, and are always returned to the original owner in the
Year of Jubilee.
"The homes of the Levites, even though in walled cities, may be
redeemed at any time, and must be returned to the original owners in the Year of Jubilee;
for the Levites will not be given farmland like the other tribes, but will receive only
houses in their cities, and the surrounding fields. The Levites are not permitted to sell
the fields of common land surrounding their cities, for these are their permanent
possession, and they must belong to no one else" (Lev. 25:8-10; 25:13; 25:24-34; also
read Ezek. 44:28; 45:1-9; 46:16-18; 47:13-23; 48:1-35).
A land sale illustrated a prophecy of hope and restoration in Jeremiah 32:6-15.
Jerusalem was being besieged by the Babylonian army, and Judahs King Zedekiah had
imprisoned Jeremiah for prophesying that the city would fall and for advising Zedekiah to
"Then this message from the Lord came to Jeremiah: Your cousin Hanamel
... will soon arrive to ask you to buy the farm he owns in Anathoth, for by law you have a
chance to buy before it is offered to anyone else.
"So Hanamel came, as the Lord had said he would, and visited me in the prison.
Buy my field in Anathoth, ... he said, for the law gives you the first
right to purchase it. Then I knew for sure that the message I had heard was really
from the Lord.
"So I bought the field, paying Hanamel seventeen pieces of silver. I signed and
sealed the deed of purchase before witnesses, weighed out the silver, and paid him. Then I
took the sealed deed ... and also the unsealed copy, and publicly, in the presence of my
cousin Hanamel and the witnesses who had signed the deed ... I handed the papers to
Baruch. And I said to him as they all listened:
"The Lord, God of Israel, says: Take both this sealed deed and the copy and
put them into a pottery jar to preserve them for a long time. For the Lord, God of
Israel, says, In the future these papers will be valuable. Someday people will again
own property here in this country and will be buying and selling houses and vineyards and
When my family pursues our hobby of hunting minerals, were
careful to respect land ownership. In the East, where most land is private, our samples
usually come from public right-of-way where roads cross streams. When we want to enter
private land, we ask permission first (and have made a heartwarming number of new friends
Conversely, much Western land is publicly owned. But even there we buy
land ownership maps and, when appropriate, visit courthouses to check records.
We care for land in other ways too. We close gates. We rarely build
fires, tend them carefully, and never leave litter.
And, as a "bonus," we get to create names. Thats fun.
Why make up names? Actually, we use official names whenever they exist.
But in much of the West only the largest creeks, hills, and canyons have names. And we
soon learned it didnt work well to keep saying "lets go to that meadow
two miles up the side track five miles off the main highway." So we called it
"Trees-By-The-Water." Another, nearby, became "Angels Song."
A hill where a wind-twisted juniper looked just like a dinosaur?
"T-Rex." A mineral bed perfectly capped by yellow flowers? "Crown of
Gold." A site that deeply moved Yvettes spirit? "Tears of Joy." A
clay-covered ridge that reminded us of a huge lizard? "Sleeping Dinosaur." A
site where I persisted in losing everything from my pockets? "Las Vegas."
Two names especially tickled my sense of humor. As Yvette and I made
our way down one remote canyon, a brown bunny hopped out from behind a sagebush. Yvette
greeted it: "Hello, Geoffrey!" So "Geoffreys Canyon" got its
name, from a rabbit!
My favorite? On a parching dry, 95-degree-hot August day, Yvette
followed a series of colorful sedimentary beds deeper and deeper into a steep-sided gorge.
Finally, 300 vertical feet down, she collected a bag of rocks and started back up.
Descending had been easy. Climbing out wasnt! Finally she staggered over the
7000-foot-high rim, collapsed exhausted on the barren rocks, and exclaimed "What
was I thinking?" And, on our maps, thats now "What Was I
Did God control land prices?
"If the land is sold or bought ... a fair price shall be
arrived at by counting the number of years until the Jubilee. If the Jubilee is many years
away, the price will be high; if few years, the price will be low; for what you are really
doing is selling the number of crops the new owner will get from the land before it is
returned to you.
"[The seller] may always buy it back ... at a price proportionate
to the number of harvests until the Jubilee, and the owner must accept the money and
return the land to him" (Lev. 25:14-16; 25:27).
The value of land dedicated to God was set in an unusual, interesting way - not by the
plots size, but by the amount of seed required to plant it, combined with the number
of years until the next Jubilee (Lev. 27: 16-18).
Jeremiah 32:6-15 shows us that at least some of these laws were still being
followed hundreds of years later. Gods intent was clear: He did not plan that land
would ever be an investment. The price of land would never go up. Short-term, it went
down. Long-term, it stayed level. It remained affordable. And no one was ever caught
owning a home on which he owed more than its current value. Poverty and homelessness were
When I worked at Kennedy Space Center in the early 1980s, home
prices along Floridas Space Coast were moderate. Less than ten years earlier,
theyd been extremely low. Congress had cancelled the last part of the Apollo moon
program, and most workers had to leave the area. Home prices plunged. Many homeowners had
to give their property back to the bank. (Around 1980 that let my cousins family buy
a lovely two-story residence directly on a golf course for $5,000 yes, $5,000)!
(The same things happened again at the end of the Shuttle program in 2010.)
When we moved from KSC to California, we felt the impact of that
states higher home prices strongly.
Our budget was strained.
I had a good job, and got a 25% raise for going to California, but
Id have had to earn 2 ½ times as much to buy even the smallest home in Santa Maria.
One vacant lot boasted a large sign saying "Will build to suit" and was
filled with Army tents! We rented the least expensive home we could find, but even that
was barely affordable and left very little of my paycheck.
Family life was affected.
High home prices left most wives with no choice but to work. Children
were left with babysitters or became "latchkey kids," often with saddening
results. Many one-income families were forced into poor neighborhoods with run-down homes
and high crime rates. To find affordable homes, many other parents had to commute one to
two hours to work every day, leaving their children with sitters that much longer.
Businesses were hurt.
Owners needed higher sales to cover their own higher rents. But
customers like us had less money left after paying our rent, which reduced
We couldnt save.
Covering our rent and essential expenses took everything I
earned. In two years of very determined saving, we put aside exactly $75!
We did get our own home when we were transferred back to
Florida, but not thanks to saving money in California. My company paid us generous
"per diems" for meals and lodging while driving cross-country and while our
Orlando home was being finished. We traveled economically (often eating from grocery
stores), and saved most of the money. That gave us our down payment. Our homemade
furniture provided the collateral.
Most of us believe its good for home prices to keep rising.
Indeed, until recently, many people did benefit. We knew one humble pastor whose
small home near Los Angeles sold for enough money to let him buy a lovely, comfortable
home near Santa Maria. And we all appreciate that money.
But have we asked ourselves how hard were making it for our children to buy
homes? And whether our grandchildren will be able to own homes at all? And whether the
results of forcing both parents to be absentees is worth it? Those arent hypothetical
questions. Theyre very real. Theyre affecting us today. We need to face them.
The questions not whether we need real estate agents. Their services will always
be necessary. The question is, how much can we and our children afford to pay?
Canadian writer Phil Callaway asks it well: "what culture of any worth loves its
economy more than its children?" (Family Squeeze, Multnomah Books, 2008, p.
The laws God gave Israel solved those problems.
Former Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, author of The Conscience of
a Conservative, said that being conservative means learning from the past and keeping
whats worked well.. By his definition, whose laws were more conservative? Ours? Or
In Bible times, why were people supposed to give their "neighbors" lodging?
My first family and I once camped our way from Seattle to northern
Michigan. In one Minnesota town our map didnt show a campground, so we asked at a
gas station. The attendant didnt know of one either, but asked another customer
the citys public works director!
That gentleman welcomed us warmly, and insisted that the town wanted
us to camp in its public park (a bit like the village squares of Bible days). He
personally led us there and showed us where to erect our tent.
But not everyone shared his friendliness. During the night teenagers
hanging out in the park made fun of the tent and loudly debated throwing rocks at us. My
wife got little rest that night. (I slept through everything.)
In Bible days, if towns didnt have inns, or they were full (as
when Jesus was born), travelers had to sleep outdoors unless townspeople invited them in.
The risks travelers faced stand out in two stories. The first describes
the men (actually angels) who visited Lot in Sodom the night before its destruction:
"When [Lot] saw them he ... welcomed them.
"Sirs, he said, come to my home as my guests for
the night; you can get up as early as you like and be on your way again.
"Oh, no thanks, they said, well just
stretch out here along the street.
"But he was very urgent, until at last they went home with him,
and he set a great feast before them, complete with freshly baked unleavened bread"
Later that night the citys homosexuals tried to gang-rape the
"men." Had they been ordinary travelers, and had Lot not insisted they stay with
him, the Sodomites would undoubtedly have succeeded.
The second account tells of a couple traveling across Israel in the
time of the Judges.
"The sun was setting just as they came to Gibeah ... so they
went there for the night. But as no one invited them in, they camped in the village
square. Just then an old man came by on his way home from his work in the fields ... When
he saw the travelers camped in the square, he asked them where they were from and where
they were going.
"Were on the way home from Bethlehem, in Judah,
the man replied. I live on the far edge of the Ephraim hill country, near Shiloh.
But no one has taken us in for the night.
"Dont worry, the old man said, be my
guests; for you mustnt stay here in the square. Its too dangerous.
"So he took them home with him. He fed their donkeys while they
rested, and afterward they had supper together" (Judg. 19: 14-21).
But that story didnt end well. Despite the old mans attempt
to help, the woman was gang-raped and died. In revenge, Israel almost exterminated the
tribe of Benjamin. (Judg. 19:22-30; 20:1-48).
Who were some Bible characters who gave others lodging?
"One day Elisha went to Shunem. A prominent woman of the city
invited him in to eat, and afterwards, whenever he passed that way, he stopped for dinner.
"She said to her husband, Im sure this man who stops
in from time to time is a holy prophet. Lets make a little room for him on the roof;
we can put in a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, and he will have a place to stay
whenever he comes by" (2 Kings 4:8-10).
"[Lydia] was baptized along with all her household and asked us to
be her guests. If you agree that I am faithful to the Lord, she said,
come and stay at my home. And she urged us until we did" (Acts 16:15).
More Scriptures: Gen. 24:23-32; Luke 10:37-38; 24:13-16; 24:28-29; John
19:27; Acts 21:8; 21:15-17; Philem. v. 22.
How should we help people who have no place to live?
While my wife Yvonne was pregnant with Yvette, we moved from Florida to
San Diego. Both boys from my first marriage joined us. But when we looked for an
apartment, no one would rent to us. Why? Because we had children! It jolted us. We
remembered "let the little children come to me, and dont prevent them"
(Matt. 19:14; also Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16).
We came within a hairsbreadth of homelessness because of that
no-children policy. We wondered how many families had in fact been forced onto the street.
At the proverbial last minute we found a small cottage half a block from the beach.
Trouble struck the next summer. The couple in a neighboring cottage
moved out, and the landlady decided to rent it to tourists at a more-than-doubled rate.
But, at that price, there were no takers. She grew impatient. Finally a vacationing couple
moved in, only to find that, while empty, the cottage had become overrun with fleas! To
justify breaking their lease, they complained that we kept them awake (though we were
easily the quietest people on the block).
The couple was very nice to us. They explained, apologized, and said
they hoped it didnt cause us any trouble. But our landlady was furious, and gave us
three days to get out! We couldnt find another place that quickly. We appealed for
an extension, and asked our pastor to intercede, all to no avail.
Then a young couple from our church invited us into their home. They
didnt have much room, but they made us welcome for two weeks until we could find
another apartment. Without their love, wed have been living on the street with a
13-year-old boy and 5-month-old girl.
Today, problems like widespread drug use mean we must be very careful
when we help people find lodging. Sometimes its dangerous, or financially risky.
Friends of ours who once rented their house out of sympathy had it virtually destroyed.
Unless we know people well, its wisest to contact an organization that can provide
assistance. Yet helping in a meaningful way is a firm Biblical teaching!
"When God's children are in need, you be the one to help them
out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner, or, if they need lodging,
for the night" (Rom. 12:13).
Also read: Lev. 25:35-35; Job 31:32; Isa. 58:6-8; Matt. 25:31-46; 1
Pet. 4:9; 3 John v. 5-11. 2 John v. 10 contains an exception for false teachers.
Does God approve of depriving people of homes?
"Woe to you ...You want a certain piece of land or someone
elses house (though it is all he has); you take it by fraud and threats and
"But the Lord God says, I will reward your evil with evil;
nothing can stop me; never again will you be proud and haughty after I am through with
you" (Mic. 2:1-3).
In the early 1990s large-scale US government budget cuts, done
"to cut taxes and protect family values," took a devastating toll on defense
workers jobs and homes. Reports said that over a million families lost their jobs,
and three-quarters (plus many renters) lost their homes. Many laid-off workers and their
families slept in cars or huddled under bridges. My family and I lived in a tent trailer
in a long series of campgrounds.
Those budget cuts were popular. But did all those who voted for them
picture real families huddled around fires at night in the cold rain, in front of
makeshift shelters? That happened. Did they hear young children ask why theyd lost
their homes? Could you convince those children wed helped their family
Society has choices. Depriving people of homes doesnt have
to be ours!
More Scriptures: Deut. 19:14; Neh. 5:16; Job 20:6-7; 20:19;
31:38-40; Prov. 22:28; 23:10-11; Isa. 5:8-9; Ezek. 45:9; Matt. 23:13-14; Mark 12:38-40;
No one knows the whole answer. Itll take determination and
persistence. Yet God will judge us by how well we succeed. Are these some starting points?
I remember politicians arguing for "empowering" the mentally
ill to lead independent lives, not institutionalizing them. It was an appealing
catch-phrase. So officials sharply reduced money for those institutions (California closed
most state mental facilities in 1970). But no one funded a support system that
might have made the decision work.
Hundreds of thousands of those mentally ill ended up on the street. A
1999 study by the Urban Institute found that the mentally ill made up almost 40 per cent
of the nations homeless. Another 750,000 were in jail or on probation. Except for
the "empowerment" budget cuts, very few of those mentally ill would have
been homeless or in prison.
In a detailed survey of Los Angeles Countys homeless in 2005, 34%
of the 90,000 homeless people counted were "severely mentally ill" (Los Angeles
Times, June 16, 2005).
After reading Barry Goldwater, It disturbs me deeply that Ive
never heard a single conservative (and few liberals, for that matter) speak up about what
we did to the mentally ill and say "We tried this. It was a disaster. We need to
change it." Certainly we do need to! I believe God will judge us severely if
Re-think the cost of housing.
Should we ask whether its more important for us to profit from a
home, or for our children and grandchildren to have one? Should we, like ancient
Israel, discipline ourselves to earn money from other sources than real estate?
Important questions. No easy answers!
Founded by former US President Jimmy Carter, Habitat is a wonderful
example of "loving our neighbors." Its like the old rural tradition of
barn-raising, where neighbors built barns for each other. Its helped break the cycle
of high cost that stops families from owning homes. Pray for its expansion!
Provide better protection against personal disasters.
Most of the hundreds of "newly poor" we met living in
campgrounds were there for one of three reasons: layoffs, illness, or divorce.
A graphic series of articles by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez (October
16-20, 2005) described the lives of those who lost homes because of accidents or illness
not drinking or drugs. He wrote "it looked as though a hospital had shut down
and dumped its patients on skid row." "Wheelchairs are everywhere on skid row
streets. Sometimes when darkness falls and downtown empties out, wheelchairs own the
Many of these people had suffered illnesses like strokes or kidney
failure. They couldnt earn their own way; had no one to help, and welfare
didnt provide enough to keep a roof over their heads.
Lopez asks, "What kind of country treats its disabled and mentally
ill this way? How can we look the other way when the sick and the lame, the disabled vets
and mangled castoffs are sleeping in wheelchairs on trashed and stinking skid row
Must this be? Cant we create a better safety net? The real
question is: do we want to? And how harshly will God judge us if we dont?
Improve homeless shelters.
A community leader in a California city of 100,000+ population told
me his city had one shelter, with just over 40 beds. But 30 were earmarked for a
single program. Only 10 beds were available for the bulk of the citys homeless. Many
times that number slept in the open country outside town every night, summer and winter.
Some communities only have shelters during the winter. Others close
before the last spring snowstorms; or are only for men; or dont accept families with
In one town with a severe housing shortage, I called a minister to see
if he knew where we could refer a young man whod just lost his home. He said,
"Youve asked me the $64,000 question! We must get two dozen calls a day asking
that: for the homeless, for wives, single mothers, children, single men. But there is no
place here at all. We know we need a shelter. But every time we suggest a place downtown,
businessmen come to the city council and say "Not there. Itll drive customers
away." And every time we look at a residential location, the neighbors say "Not
there. We have children." He went on, "I hate to be cynical, but Im afraid
someone will have to die before well act."
For an excellent summary of the reasons for homelessness, see the
National Coalition for the Homeless Fact Sheet #1, "Why Are People
Shouldnt we take these problems seriously? Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Ezekiel, Amos, Micah, and Zechariah all warned Israel that it would be taken captive
unless it took care of its needy, including the homeless. The nation didnt listen.
Gods judgment fell!
"The beginning is the most important part of any work."