Archive for February, 2010

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2010-2011

Old Testament
We’ll read from three Old Testament books this month: Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. In Exodus, we’ll read one of my favorite passages:

15Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:15-16

If the Lord doesn’t go with me, I don’t want to go, but when He does, His presence ought to change me and the way I live such that the rest of the world notices a difference.

Leviticus is a manual for Old Testament priestly responsibilities. The New Tesatments teaches that we are a “a chosen people, a royal priesthood.” According to the Zondervan NASB Study Bible, “the key thought of Leviticus is holiness – the holiness of God and man (man must revere God in holiness). In Leviticus, spiritual holiness is symbolized by physical perfection.”

Finally, the book of Numbers – Israel is being counted, a census is being taken. I find this book easiest to read in the New Living Translation. It’s not all counting, though. The Hebrew title of the book is “In the Wilderness” and chronicles 38 of the years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. It tells of Isarel’s journey from Mt. Sinai to the border of Canaan.

New Testament
After finishing the book of Matthew, we’ll read the first sixteen chapters of Acts. Acts continues the storyline of the gospels. While it’s called the “Acts of the Apostles,” many feel it would more accurately be called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it records the coming of the Holy Spirit and His working in the lives of the first century church.

Acts begins with Peter as the most prominent of the apostles but transitions to a focus on the Apostle Paul as he carries the message of the gospel to the Gentile world.

Enjoy your March reading!

The recommended reading schedule is below.

To download a PDF of March’s recommended reading plan, click here.

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While reading about the making of the Tabernacle this week, I began to wonder what it would have been like to actually be making the curtains, the frames, the bronze clasps, gold lampstand or any other element. How much care would I have taken? How many do-overs would be required – stitches pulled out, clasps thrown back into the fire to begin again – before I finished something to God’s exact specifications and worthy of His dwelling place? I thought about the holiness – the hushed awe, the uniqueness – that would embody the acts of creating the elements of the Tabernacle.

I imagined women sitting together sewing “curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them” (Exodus 26:1). The room is filled with holy reverence because this curtain – THIS curtain – would surround the Most Holy God – the great and wonderful I AM. I imagined hammering pure gold to create the atonement cover and the cherubim that were to hover over it. What image was God giving them as they hammered out the faces on the cheribum?

Whether performing the delicate work of embroidery, the movements of controlled strength required to hammer the gold, or the hard physical work necessary for framing the Tabernacle, I imagined the expressions of the workers to be intent – intent on getting it just right, intent on the purpose for which their elements would be used. Often, when I am intently concentrating on something, others tell me that my expression looks stern, almost angry. I don’t imagine that the expressions of these workers would be so stern or angry. Rather, they would be so full of awe that it would shine through and even the most detailed or demanding task would not mar the holiness of their countenance.

Even before I had thought through all of this, God reminded me that I am His dwelling place.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I was challenged afresh by these thoughts in two ways:

To view my life as the dwelling place of God – to live always aware that the Spirit of God lives in me. God’s temple is sacred and I am that temple.

To view all the various circumstances in my life from the perspective of the Lord’s temple being built in me. In other words, some element of the Lord’s Tabernacle, His dwelling place is being created in me – I am being shaped, sewn, fired, hammered, etc., into the perfect element of the Tabernacle that God determined and designed me to be. As I imagined the act of creating the various elements of the Old Testament Tabernacle to be embodied with holiness – can my life be any different? God is creating me as one of the elements in His New Testament Tabernacle – the Church, and the whole process has an indwelling holiness. This is described in 1 Peter 2:

As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5

When I don’t see this in my circumstances, I am simply being blind to it. As such, I am challenged to treat the circumstances in my life (especially the difficult circumstances) as holy moments – moments when I can work with the Almighty Builder/Transformer, to create the Tabernacle where He will dwell. How awesome is that?

Lord, fill my spirit with awe and wonder as I meet each circumstance this week, this month and this year. Help me to always remember that we are building Your dwelling place.

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I don’t usually offer such lengthy portions of Scripture in my blogs, but it is worth it. I am truly being blown away by these two passages as I read them slowly this morning. I pray that you will be as well.

The New Testament passage is informed by the Old Testament, and yet goes so much beyond it. Hebrews can be a difficult book to grasp sometimes. As I read our Resting at the River’s Edge passage for yesterday, Moses’ introduction and sealing of the Old Testament Covenant brought to mind the passage in Hebrews in which the writer explains the introduction and sealing of our New Testament Covenant. I will let the passages provide their own lesson. I have added some clarifications in [brackets].

Exodus 24:
3bHe [Moses] got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. 6Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. 7Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

8Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Hebrews 9:
19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things [that is, the man-made tabernacle] to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then [if that were the case] Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Hebrews 10:
1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year [as was required in the Old Testament Covenant], make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;

6
with burnt offerings and sin offerings

you were not pleased.

7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.’

8First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). 9Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”

17Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

18And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled [with the blood of Jesus] to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hallelujah!

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I’m enjoying a wonderful Day of Rest (or DOR as it’s known in our house). It started with an awesome, God-present time at church this morning. (I guess that’s redundant. Any time God is present is, by definition, awesome.) Church was followed by good fellowship over lunch, a nap, then some conversation and prayer with my husband, and now time with God. God is very good!

In my surfing today, I read and enjoyed this blog. The writing style and audience is quite different from mine, but I fully enjoyed his discussion around his title question “When I say ‘God,’ You Think…” To whet your appetite, here’s some of my favorite quotes from the blog:

“God just doesn’t simply exist, He is existence itself.”

“Without God, I have no purpose whatsoever.”

“Having a perfect relationship with God who already is in a Perfect relationship within His own God-head of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is something to behold. Something that should make us fall on our faces in worship.”

Well, you’ll have to visit the blog yourself to fill in the gaps. Otherwise I’d be in danger of plagiarism. Enjoy your reading. I did!

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3Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
Exodus 19: 3-6

9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10

Nuff said.

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15Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
Exodus 17:15-16

Many years ago I read a statement that shocked me. Henry Blackaby and Claude King, in their book Experiencing God wrote:

Throughout the Bible God took the initiative to reveal Himself to people by experience. Frequently when God revealed Himself to a person, that person gave God a new name or described Him in a new way…Bible names, titles and descriptions of God indentify how the men and women of the Bible personally came to know God. The Scripture is a record of God’s revelation of Himself to man. Each of the many names for God is a part of that revelation.
Experiencing God, by Henry T. Blackaby and Clalude V. King, Boardman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN; 1994; page 5

Prior to that I had always thought of the Hebrews as learning the names like we learned them, but that is totally incorrect. They identified or created the name by experiencing His nature or character. I went on to write in the margin of the book:

Perhaps having God’s Word makes us overly dependent on learning about God and less dependent on knowing God.

I’m not advocating that we quit reading Scripture and certainly not advocating that we base our doctrine on our experience instead of God’s Word, but I am recognizing the importance of experiencing God and allowing that experience to make His Word come alive.

Exodus 17 provides an example of Moses experiencing God and creating a meaningful name to describe Him. Moses spent the day standing on a hill, holding his staff high over his head while Joshua led the Israelites in battle against the Amalekites.

As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
Exodus 17:11

When Moses’ arms grew tired, Aaron and Hur held them up. At the end of the day, Joshua had won the victory over those who had attacked the Israelites.

Jehovah-Nissi – The Lord, My Banner
It was at that point, when Moses was undoubtedly exhausted from standing and holding his staff high over the battle that was occurring in the valley below that Moses said “The Lord is my Banner.” It must have felt to Moses like he was holding the victory banner – that is, something that symbolized victory – over the battle as it ensued below him. But when the battle was won, I can easily imagine an exhausted Moses realizing that it was God who had won the victory – it was God who had held the victory banner over the Israelites so that they might win against their aggressors, the Amalekites. He knelt down and built an altar and said “Jehovah-Nissi” – The Lord, My Banner.

Moses experienced God’s protection for himself and all the Israelites and created the name Jehovah-Nissi. Have you experienced God’s protection? Perhaps Jehovah-Nissi or The Lord-My Banner doesn’t have personal significance to you. I do hope you have a greater understanding of the experience Moses would have had that caused him to create that name for God. Let me encourage you, however, to consider developing your own names for God. No, I am not suggesting you add to Scripture, but I am suggesting you recognize experiences with God by creating names that honor and glorify Him and His characteristics.

The Lord, My Cast
Many years ago, my husband Phil tore the ligaments in his ankle. Can you say “ouch?” He was in a cast for six weeks. When the cast was removed, he felt a bit nervous as he took his first wobbly steps – unprotected and vulnerable. It was at that time that he created a name for God that has meaning for him – The Lord, My Cast. He recognized that God puts a protection around us that enables us to walk without fear of breaking and without the pain that would otherwise be experienced. When God’s protection is removed, we are vulnerable to any and all outside forces that would seek to harm us.

Whether you know Him as Jehovah-Nissi, The Lord-My Cast, or some name that you have created that declares God’s protection over you, I pray that you will (1) experience God today and (2) know that He is your Protector – your Banner and your Cast.

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Praying for Your Spouse
Yesterday’s blog looked at the “love” passage from 1 Corinthians 13, and I challenged each of us to put the characteristics of love into practice every day in our marriages.

1 Corinthians isn’t the only place I go for advice about love, though. I also look to all of Paul’s prayers for the saints, and I pray them regularly for my husband. I do not pray for changes in his behavior. I do not pray for changes in his attitudes. I pray that he might know Christ. Here are two sample prayers from the book of Ephesians:

17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:17-21

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19

When I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, I pray these types of prayers for my husband. I place my hand on his back and I ask the Lord to give Phil the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that he may know Christ better. I pray that the eyes of his heart would be opened so that he would see the hope to which he has been called. I pray that he might know the glorious inheritance he has and the incomparably great power that is his in Christ.

Yes, I’ve invested some effort to try to memorize the passages, or at least phrases from them. I made the effort and I pray these types of prayers because I love my husband and more than anything else want God’s best for him. I’m confident that as He comes to know Christ better his life will be enriched in ways that I can’t begin to imagine. Why limit my prayers for him with things I can imagine when God has so much more for him? Why would I want to pray that he would change some behavior that annoys me when God is probably using that behavior to make me more like Christ?

Of course, I’ll receive benefit from God’s answers to my prayers – my life will be enriched as his life is enriched. My life will hold greater adventure as he grabs hold of all God has for him. My life will be more stable when he further embraces Godly wisdom. My motivation to pray for him, however, is my love for him, not what I’ll get out of the deal. Because I made a vow to love, honor and cherish him almost thirty-two years ago. Praying that he would know Christ more intimately is just one of the ways I keep making that same decision every day.

True Love is More about Love than Romance
Well, what started as a single blog about Valentine’s day became so long I had to break it into three parts – and I haven’t said a thing about romance. That’s because true love is more about choosing to love our spouse than sharing romantic dinners while watching the sunset on a beautiful beach (or majestic mountains, if you prefer). The romance is wonderful, but the day to day reality is where we all live.

As I wrote in part 1 of this series, most of it was written on Valentine’s Day while watching schmaltzy romance movies on TV. (My husband was working until midnight.) What strikes me is that the world’s concept of Valentine’s Day is all about hearts and romance and I’ve gone through the whole day without either! But I have something more enduring than hearts and romance. I have a mutual love commitment that my husband and I renew every day. And I have a promise from the Word of God that love never fails. Hearts and romance fail, but love never fails.

(Now I’m off to plan a little hearts and romance! Love will provide the steel spine and unbreakable will of my marriage, but I’m happy to have hearts and romance can add some sparkle to that structure.)

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Love, Love, Love
The decision to get married wasn’t one I made lightly over thirty years ago. In fact, I almost bailed about a month before the ceremony! (I’m so glad I didn’t.) In yesterday’s blog I looked at the vows I took on July 1, 1978, and I asked the question “Do I continue to make the same decision today that I made then?” The vows ended with the phrase “to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” Today I’d like to look at what it means to love.

Our society has a very warped idea about what love is. In fact, Valentine’s Day itself helps to warp our ideas about love. While I have nothing against romance – In fact, I like it! – I recognize that it has little to do with real love.

1 Corinthians 13 teaches and reminds us what love is:

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

What a challenge to live out that definition! Hearts and romance is much easier. Unfortunately, hearts and romance by itself doesn’t lead to marriages with steel spines and unbreakable wills. Love does.

This passage is often quoted at weddings. I think it’s more appropriate to quote it at each anniversary celebration. Let’s look at the passage in light of the question “Am I making the same decision today that I made when I married?”

Love is patient. Have I been patient with my spouse today? Have I shown at least as much patience with him or her as I have with everyone else I’ve met today?

Love is kind. Have I been kind to my spouse today? Have I shown kindness in the tone of my voice and the words I choose? Have I chosen kindness instead of crankiness or frustration or annoyance? Have I chosen kindness instead of nagging or pushing or taking control?

Love does not envy. Have I been content with the life God has given me? Have I been content with the way my spouse contributes to that life?

Love does not boast and is not proud. Does the phrase (or attitude) “I told you so” creep into my conversations with my spouse? Do I have a need to “win” – whether it’s an argument or a conversation about what’s for dinner, do I celebrate a victory (internally or outwardly) when I get my way?

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Do I eschew sin and rejoice in God’s truth with my spouse? In other words, do I pursue the best things with my spouse – the things that God has for us – or do I drag him or her away from God and toward sin? Do I rejoice with my spouse when truth wins out?

Love always protects. Do I protect my spouse, or do I speak ill of him or her when they are not around? Do I absolutely refuse to engage in gossip about my spouse? Do I absolutely refuse to enter conversations that degrade not only my spouse, but men or women in general? When men tell demeaning jokes about women, they are disrespecting their wives. Likewise, when women tell demeaning jokes about men, they are disrespecting their husbands.

Love always trusts. Do I resist the temptation to be jealous? Do I choose to trust my spouse and his or her decisions or do I insist on being in control of everything?

Love always hopes. Do I look at my spouse with hope in my eyes? Do I anticipate the future with my spouse and expect good things in that future?

Love always perseveres. Do I do all of the above again and again and again? Do I make the same decision every day?

There are some hard questions in there, and I am not saying that there aren’t times when serious conversations are needed. There are times when I say, “Sweetheart, something’s not working for me. It feels like…I need…..” But those are discussions, not arguments. And they are discussions I have with my spouse, not with my girlfriends. Sometimes they are hard discussions and sometimes they end up with me realizing that I’m being unreasonable. Sometimes they end in a bit of a stalemate, and sometimes my sweetie comes to understand my position and tries to make changes in his behavior.

I’m also not saying that there is never a time to go to a trusted friend or advisor and ask for advice in a difficult situation. The key words are “a trusted friend or advisor.” Just one, not lots and lots until you find someone who agrees with you or until you have a consensus that 51% of the people you shared with agree with you. And make that one someone you trust to offer biblical advice and maintain confidentiality. The counselor who offers worldly advice is likely more influenced by hearts and romance than love that holds on with everything in it to protect and defend its territory. That kind of love builds lasting marriages.

I go to other places in Scripture for marriage advice – places where Paul prays for all believers to know Christ better. Tomorrow we’ll look at some of those prayers.

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So I had most of Valentine’s Day to myself. I turned schmaltzy romance movies on TV and begin to think about Valentine’s Day and love. What resulted was a three-part blog about love, vows and romance. Yes, it’s after Valentine’s Day, but I hope you’ll stick with me for the next three days because I’m confident that there are questions in these blogs that will help us keep the romance alive in our marriages – although you might find your definition of romance being slightly altered before you get to the end.

Vows are Made for Keeping
I watched a television program last week in which one of the characters learned that a friend she had known for years had been in love with her all along, but had been too shy to say anything. So fifteen years ago she married someone else. To him, it appeared that her marriage had long ago gone stale. Upon learning that this dear friend had loved her all along, she said to another friend, “I made a decision fifteen years ago. And I continue to make that decision every day.” What a great quote! If everyone who was married had the perspective that they were making the same decision every day, there would be fewer divorces and, I think, many happier marriages. Perhaps to the reader it sounds like the quote was said out of martyrdom or self-pity. No, they were said softly, but with conviction and purpose and a determination to remember that decision of fifteen years earlier and all that went into it, and to make that same decision every day of her life.

So all this got me to thinking about the wedding vows my husband and I took more than thirty years ago.

I, Sandra Jane Parks, take you Philip Glen Hovatter, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

The truth is that I was not a Christian at the time I made those vows, and I made them madly in love, but with the reservation in my heart that if the marriage did not work out, I would not live in an unhappy marriage for the rest of my life. Twice since then we have renewed our vows, in both cases after I came to know Christ as Savior and Friend. The vows have more meaning to me now than they did the first time I said them.

Phil and I have been blessed with an incredibly happy marriage – a feat we credit primarily to God and in a minor part to one another (I to him and he to me) because neither of us grew up in households where our parents had loving marriages and we each figure the other one has more to put up with than we do (a great attitude to have for a good marriage).

At the risk of making our marriage a target, I’d like to offer some questions and comments to spur us on to better marriages – marriages with steel spines and unbreakable wills. Questions and comments that may help us focus on continuing to make that decision to be married every day.

“To have and to hold” – Do we take time to hold one another often? It’s so easy to fall into “business as usual” in a marriage. String too many of those days together and soon we begin to treat our co-workers and employees better than our spouse. When my husband leaves I nearly always make a point of meeting him at the door and giving him a kiss goodbye. Worst case, I yell from the basement or the second floor “I love you! See you soon!” I don’t ever want him to leave without me telling him how important he is to me.

“From this day forward” – As far as I can tell, it is still “forward.” I’m to do all the things I’ve promised, beginning on our wedding day and all the days after. This is so important, that it is reinforced by the last line – “from this day forward until death do us part.” Am I still doing all those things every day?

“For better or for worse” – If you’ve been married more than a week, you already realize that there are “worse” days. Not only do you realize it, you’ve experienced it. If you’ve been married several years, perhaps you’ve experienced many “worse” days strung together. But the vow we made was to have and to hold during those worse days – to say “I love you” during the worse days, not just the better days; to do our part to make worse days better, and better days even better. Worse days are not days for bailing. They’re days for loving.

“For richer, for poorer” – Phil and I have been both. Actually, we’re in a “poorer” stage right now. I’m incredibly thankful for the richer days and I’m also thankful for the poorer ones. In the poorer days, I appreciate my husband as much as in the richer days. He is still the man I love, respect and married. His character and nature haven’t changed because there is less money in the bank or because we eat rice and beans instead of our favorite restaurant foods.

“In sickness and in health” – Again, we’ve had “sickness” days and “health” days. I’m not a good caregiver, so the sickness days challenge me. I have to regularly remind myself how much I love my husband, how thankful I am when he serves me in sickness, and how horrible I feel when I’m sick. But I signed up for both. I don’t intend to break a vow just because of the inconvenience of sickness. I’m choosing, each day, to make the same decision I made more than thirty years ago.

“To love and to cherish” – I love that both words “love” and “cherish” are used in the phrase. To me, they connotatively mean something very different. “Love” is the holding very tightly to one’s chest kind of emotion; “cherish” is the gently stroking one’s face kind of emotion. Both are needed in a healthy marriage.

It can be easy to forget what the word “love” means, especially in our society that has the meaning of the word quite jumbled. Tomorrow’s blog will look at what Scripture says about love and we’ll ask ourselves some pointed questions to see if we’re on track.

These are the vows I took on July 1, 1978. As the character in the television show said, “I make them again every day.” It is my pleasure to do so, and it is my honor to do so – because vows are made for keeping.

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Perpetua and Felicitas

She was 22 years old with a newborn baby, a son. A noblewoman by birth, educated and fluent in Latin and Greek, she was a young bride, a woman who had married honorably. She was her father’s favorite, his only daughter in a family of sons. She was also a criminal, by her own confession — a follower of Jesus Christ. The year was 203 and the emperor had declared it illegal to convert to Christianity. Her name was Perpetua.

Much of what we know about her comes from her own prison diary, which perhaps represents the oldest Christian writings from the hand of a woman.

Perpetua had a maidservant and friend named Felicitas. Felicitas was also a Christian. Like Perpetua, she was young, and she was 8 months pregnant. She was arrested with Perpetua along with three men. Felicitas gave birth in prison shortly before their execution.

Perpetua describes her initiation into prison life:

“After a few days we were taken into prison, and I was much afraid because I had never known such darkness. O bitter day! There was a great heat because of the press, there was cruel handling of the soldiers. Lastly I was tormented there by care for the child.”

Undoubtedly, Perpetua had never been in such a position.

In prison, her father came to her repeatedly, sometimes commanding, sometimes begging, sometimes angry — doing all in his power to convince her to simply renounce her faith and to save herself and her child. He pleaded for himself and Perpetua’s mother, that they might not lose their daughter. He pleaded on behalf of her son, that he might not lose his mother. He tore at her heartstrings to save her life. In one interchange, Perpetua tried to explain, in a way that He might understand, why she could not deny Christ:

“Father,” she answered, “do you see this vessel — waterpot or whatever it may be?…Can it be called by any other name than what it is?”

“No,” he replied.

“So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am — a Christian.”

Perpetua knew that to save her life, she must lose it. She wrote of her father after one visit:

“This he said fatherly in his love, kissing my hands and grovelling at my feet; and with tears he named me, not daughter, but lady. And I was grieved for my father’s case because he would not rejoice at my passion out of all my kin; and I comforted him, saying: That shall be done at this tribunal, whatsoever God shall please; for know that we are not established in our own power, but in God’s. And he went from me very sorrowful.”

Notice the phrase “he would not rejoice at my passion.” Perpetua had had a dream which convinced her and those around her that she and her friends would not be delivered out of the prison by the Lord, but would become martyrs. And their hope shifted from this world to the world to come. They rejoiced at the promise of suffering for her Lord.

At her trial, Perpetua watched her father be beaten because of her faith and her child taken from her, but she remained resolute. One biographer described Perpetua’s entrance to the amphitheater like this:

Now dawned the day of their victory, and they went forth from the prison into the amphitheatre as it were into heaven, cheerful and bright of countenance; if they trembled at all, it was for joy, not for fear. Perpetua followed behind, glorious of presence, as a true spouse of Christ and darling of God; at whose piercing look all cast down their eyes…Perpetua began to sing…

A wild, savage bull was let into the ring. Perpetua and Felicitas were wearing loose robes. Perpetua was thrown by the beast first. Upon landing hard, she sat up and arranged her robe “mindful rather of modesty than of pain.” She then asked for a hairpin to pin up her disheveled hair. In the culture, women wore their hair down when they were in mourning, and Perpetua wanted to be as one prepared to meet her groom with joy, not one mourning a loss. At one point, she encouraged believers around her saying “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion.”

When the ladies were not killed by the bull, the crowd called for them to brought into the arena and killed with a sword, so that the people could witness their death. Perpetua and Felicitas, hearing the cries, rose without prompting, kissed one another as a sign of peace and came forward to be slain. The executioner was a novice, perhaps nervous in front of the large crowd. Perpetua took his hand and put the sword to her throat, demonstrating that she was giving her life of her own free will.

It is said that the adjutant of the jail where Perpetua and Felicitas were held became a believer, as did many in the crowd that day. Augustine noted two centuries later that joined together, “perpetua felicitas” means “everlasting happiness.” Most would not give that title to a martyr, but Augustine points out that it is exactly what the two women gained.

The next time you see a woman’s hair clip, let it remind you of the faithfulness of a young woman, her maidservant and their God.

Quotes taken from:

  • Paul Halsall, editor, Internet Medieval Sourcebook: St.Perpetua: The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity 203, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/perpetua.html
  • Dave Kopel, http://www.pitt.edu/~eflst4/PerpetuaFelicity.html

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