Perpetua and Felicity | 3 Lessons Learned to Stop Idolizing Family

Perpetua and Felicity | 3 Lessons Learned to Stop Idolizing Family

Perpetua and Felicity aren’t names we are typically familiar with, especially in evangelical Christianity. But these two power-house women have a critical message for all mother’s today and the temptation to idolize the family. 

A young mother in prison, facing the death penalty under a bloodthirsty regime. Her father desperately trying to free his daughter; both of them heartbroken about the baby boy who might grow up motherless. It has all the trappings of an emotional court room drama.

Except that the young mother doesn’t want to be freed.

Introducing two remarkable women whose memory is celebrated today (March 7): Saints Perpetua and Felicitas. Looking at their story can help us regain some necessary clarity.

Let’s briefly visit North Africa in the year 203. After initially tolerating Christianity as a Jewish sect, the Roman Empire started to crack down on it. It now was considered a new religion – actually, Christians were considered atheists, because they didn’t believe in the gods (only in one God). What really upset the Roman Empire, though, was the staunch refusal of Christians to worship the emperor as a god. To many Romans, this was merely a symbolic gesture, a minor part of being a good citizen. 

But the Christians stood to the claim that only God is God, in a way the emperor could never be. Consequently, the wrath of Rome fell on them.

Which is why Perpetua and Felicitas found themselves in prison as they were preparing to get baptised. At that point, Perpetua was about 22 years old, married, and had an infant son. Felicitas, her slave, was pregnant.

In our day and age, the social media channels would be brimming with this story. We can imagine tear-jerking headlines and articles complete with photos of the young mother and her baby. Our heart would go out to them, and many of us would leverage what legal and political influence they have in order to free these women.

So the actual response of these women to their situation baffles us all the more.

Perpetua and Felicitas were not interested in being freed. Their sole interest was in being faithful to God in their situation. And if that meant death for their faith, then they were ready to face it.

[Reframing our thinking about family] provides a much needed corrective to the individualistic tendencies that come more easily to the nuclear family. It’s ultimately about following Jesus, not living out the ideal family.

“But what about their children?”, you may ask. Here’s their response:

THREE WAYS THESE WOMEN CHALLENGE OUR 21st CENTURY WESTERN PERSPECTIVE

1. Serving God comes before family

Perpetua and Felicitas were not cold hearted or without emotion. Perpetua’s thoughts and feelings are well documented in her personal journal.

Every now and then, I hear young Christian people contemplate whether they should have children. The implication, especially for the women, is that with children it will be impossible to radically serve God.

 

We know her heart was torn by her father’s pleas to consider the fate of her child. For a short time, she had her baby boy with her in prison, and it looks like she loved him like any mother loves her children.

But even for the love of her baby, there was one thing she would not do: deny Jesus Christ. Repeatedly, Perpetua declared herself a Christian before the Roman officials. Both she and Felicitas managed to be baptised before their martyrdom, and it is evident that Jesus was the real center in their lives.

How different is this from what you might see or experience today! Every now and then, I hear young Christian people contemplate whether they should have children. The implication, especially for the women, is that with children it will be impossible to radically serve God. On the other hand, we know families who keep Jesus as a part of their lives, like a beloved piece of furniture. But there is no element of risk, of going out of their way in discerning God’s call and obeying it, because “the children”, “school”, “too busy”, and so forth.

Perpetua and Felicitas demonstrate that one thing, and one thing only, is ultimate: clinging to Jesus and honoring Him in every circumstance – even if that flies in the face of conventional wisdom and means heart-breaking decisions.

2. Spiritual family is real

Felicitas’ big concern was that she might miss the martyrdom with her friends. According to Roman law, no pregnant woman could be executed (side note: obviously, this ancient pagan culture had a higher view of life in the womb than we have in our Western nations today!). In the end, she didn’t; her baby girl was born shortly before the day of execution and given to a sister to nurture and raise.

This highlights an important fact: we are tempted to think of family in narrow, suburban terms of parents and children.

The New Testament, particularly the Epistles, challenge us to re-frame our thinking. Because all followers of Jesus Christ are declared brothers and sisters; they form one big family and are expected to live as such.

Perpetua and Felicitas were evidently much more sisters in the Faith than mistress and slave. And it seems that this meaningful bond extended to the four young Christian men who were to be executed on the same day as Perpetua and Felicitas. It shows us that spiritual family is real. It doesn’t supersede or replace the natural family. But it provides a much needed corrective to the individualistic tendencies that come more easily to the nuclear family. It’s ultimately about following Jesus, not living out the ideal family. When we are so inward focused and only concerned about our blood relatives, or aspiring to be the happy family that smiles at us from billboards and ads, we come dangerously close to idolatry: raising up something other than Jesus and giving it our devotion.

3. Happiness is an eternal thing, not a temporary one

After months in prison, and separated from their babies, one might expect Perpetua and Felicitas to face their martyrdom subdued and distraught. The opposite was the case: the two women and three men (one had died in prison) were composed and at peace when thrown into the arena to be killed by wild animals.

 

 Are our first thoughts regarding happiness pictures of smiling family members, in good health, pursuing our favorite activities … Or is there room for bliss that we can but taste here on earth?

Injured by a crazed cow, yet not fatally wounded, Perpetua even asked to fix her hair before her throat would be cut by a gladiator – because she didn’t want to look sad or in disarray on the joyful occasion of entering eternal life.

In this, she holds a mirror up to us. Where do we see true happiness located? Are our first thoughts regarding happiness pictures of smiling family members, in good health, pursuing our favorite activities – and thus thoroughly this-sided? Or is there room for bliss that we can but taste here on earth, a joy that is so surpassing that we know it will make our earthly happiness pale in comparison?

We do well to remember these precious women. They are examples of exceptional courage, but much more: they point us to the uncomfortable truth that Jesus is worth both living and dying for.

And they shake our assumptions, challenging us to consider whether we serve God, even as parents and families, or whether we use our families to avoid taking risks for Jesus.

 

 

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

Today I'm handing over the proverbial reigns to a friend of mine, and a fellow sister in Christ, Christine. She is going to challenge us today to take social media to a new level as she explains her journey of developing the spiritual practice of using Instagram. Can...

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St Valentine’s Story: Chocolates, Flowers, or Your Head Cut Off?

St Valentine’s Story: Chocolates, Flowers, or Your Head Cut Off?

For February 14, do you prefer flowers, chocolates, or your head cut off? Below you’ll find out what St. Valentine’s story and those things have to do with each other.

 

Maybe Valentine’s Day doesn’t elicit more than an annoyed sigh from you. Or it puts you under pressure to have a Valentine this year, or do something especially romantic (and potentially especially expensive). Whatever your reaction to the impending February 14, stopping to wonder what a 3rd century Christian saint has to do with flowers and greeting cards may offer a fresh and unexpected perspective.

 

You might have guessed it: spending in the name of romance wasn’t on Valentine’s agenda. It seems that the connection between St. Valentine and romantic love wasn’t drawn until about 1000 years after his death – by famous English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales). Since then, sending each other love notes on February 14 took off, until it evolved into the huge act it is today.

 So what about the actual St. Valentine?

 Turns out we don’t even know for sure whether the saint we are referring to was one person – or rather two different persons who were both martyred on the same day. Supposedly Valentine was a bishop who either healed a blind girl and subsequently converted a prominent Roman household to Christianity, or he secretly married young couples even though that was against the law, or both. And he wouldn’t keep quiet about the Christian faith. Which is what got him killed.

 

In light of the lack of information we have about his life, what can we glean from this saint as we look forward to February 14, the day his martyrdom is remembered?

For one, if the accounts of him secretly marrying couples in Rome are true, then this speaks to us about the nature of love. In today’s dating culture, you can have a “Valentine”, a “love interest”, or any other option from among the many forms or stages of “significant other”. The tendency is to use the word “love” loosely, and handle commitments to each other also fairly flexibly.

 

However, when Valentine married couples against the emperor’s edict (yep, we’re remembering a lawbreaker here!), he implicitly stated that marriage is the way to go for men and women who profess that they love each other. It makes an important point on the nature of God’s love, actually: namely, how does God love us?

 True Love

Quite often, we immediately connect the word love with a sensation, a feeling, a rush of hormones. Since God-Father and God-Holy Spirit do not have bodies and therefore no hormones, it begs the question as to how their love for us functions (and we can include pre-incarnation Jesus into that as well). As Scot McKnight has wonderfully explained here, the Bible shows us a God who loves us through commitment. God’s love is a rugged commitment to be with his people and for his people, so that their lives would be infused and enriched and transformed by His.

 

So you may know people who wouldn’t hesitate to send a text or a note that say “I love you” to someone they might have met yesterday. What we need to realize is that this is a far cry from the Bible’s beautiful perspective. From the vantage point of the Older and Newer Testament, we can see how God’s commitment to His people – before and in Jesus – lays the only foundation that can bear a lifelong relationship with all its complexities and surprises and mistakes.

 St. Valentine, Breaking the Law for Love

So when St. Valentine, through his actions, declared that the covenant of marriage was more important than the emperor’s law, he was making this statement: that love is first of all a commitment, and only this commitment is the foundation strong enough for true intimacy and relationship – feelings ebb and flow, and romantic hopes can be dashed. Committing to each other in marriage is the way that shows forth God’s own character, and the actually best option to see our dreams of lifelong romance and faithfulness fulfilled.

Another thing we can observe in St. Valentine is his personal commitment. We don’t know whether he was married (probably not), but that’s not the commitment I am talking about.

Valentine was outspoken about Jesus and the need to commit (!) one’s life to Him. Depending on the source material, he even urged the emperor himself to become a Christian. Unfortunately, the emperor didn’t like that suggestion and had Valentine beheaded.

 

Being Committed

Here is something to think about: do I show the same commitment in my walk with Christ? To stick with my Lord even when threatened with dire consequences? How much easier is it to just keep quiet for a moment and avoid ruffling the feathers. After all, there are plenty of other people who would be more agreeable to the message of Jesus – right? Maybe I’ll just wait to share the Gospel with them…

 

Even in today’s supposedly tolerant world, there are plenty of voices that take offense with the Gospel message – and consequently with its messengers (read: you and me). As one of the many martyrs (the word simply means “witness”) is remembered this Valentine’s Day, maybe we can rethink where we stand. Are we more prone to bite our tongue at the slightest opposition to Jesus – or are we growing towards a wise and courageous sharing of Jesus’ message, regardless of whether we step on proverbial toes?

Feel Free to be Romantic!

By the way, if you are in a relationship, by all means go and get the flowers, the chocolates, the dinner and dancing, or whatever your time and budget allow. Romantic gestures are important – especially when you are committed to someone.

But in light of St. Valentine’s example, let’s reflect for a moment: if love is primarily a commitment, then how committed am I – to my partner, my neighbour, to God?

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

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Homeless for Christmas

Homeless for Christmas

As “I’ll be home for Christmas” is being played on the radio for the umpteenth time this December, most of us will not think twice about this – of course we’ll be home for Christmas! Meal planning, gift wrapping, church service – so much to take care of, so naturally there is little time for speculation.
Speculation as in: what if we weren’t home for Christmas? What if there was no home to be in? What if we were homeless for Christmas?

Homeless for Christmas

We recently moved out of our apartment, and we haven’t moved in anywhere. As a family, we are temporarily staying with relatives, as part of a larger transition.
So for the first time in 10 years of marriage, not only are we away from our own home – we don’t have our own home!
Before you say it: of course I don’t mean to imply that our situation is anything like actual homelessness, having to live on the street. We don’t have all of our belongings bundled up in a few bags, and we do have a cozy and warm place to sleep every night. We are outside of our country of residence, and yet our situation isn’t anything like the thousands of refugees are facing They are stuck somewhere in transition from the place they had to leave to the place they want to reach. Or perhaps if they made it across the border, they could be now celebrating Christmas in a shelter, in a foreign and strange land.
So why do I mention it? What does our “homelessness” have to do with Christmas?
First of all this: what makes Christmas Christmas?

Christmas Traditions Tied to the Home

“There is no place like home for the holidays”, another song declares during this season.
So many traditions and feelings of Christmas are tied to our home. For instance, the decorations, the smells, where the Christmas tree sits, and how the gifts are arranged around or underneath it. Or maybe you have a Christmas ritual of getting up early on Christmas Day. Perhaps you have a tradition of lazing around on the couch and enjoying a break as a family?

The Humanity of Jesus Affirms Our Humanness

In many ways, Jesus’ coming the earth – the Incarnation – affirms the value of our concrete earthly existence. Time and space matter. Places and food and rituals and traditions are important. Our interaction with the created world, through enterprise, art, construction, and enjoyment, is not merely passing time until Heaven, but living out what it means to be human.
So when we don’t have a place of our own, our rituals, our familiar food and song, how do we as finite human beings still experience Christmas? To be honest, I struggle with this.

If it’s true that feeling follows fact, then we can start with the facts: the eternal Son, uncreated, divine, so vast no mortal mind can comprehend, descended, emptied himself, became one of us. He entered the history of the world that we all share. In a place we can all go and see.

To be precise, the miracle of the Incarnation happened at the moment of conception, not at Jesus’ birth. But what we celebrate at Christmas is that He took that final step, out of the shelter of his earthly mother’s womb, into the confusing mix of brokenness and wonder and hardship and pain and glimpses of joy and majesty that is our world.
He entered our world in circumstances that are shocking in their commonality: born to working class parents, in unstable economic conditions (Jesus’ earthly family would relocate twice more before settling down in Nazareth), without even the support of close friends or relatives.

The Tension of Being Here, but Not From Here

And yet…
Yet this baby Jesus transcends. In that manger, he is immanent, completely Immanuel – God with us. And he is also the promised Messiah, the One that has been prophesied about for hundreds of years. Angels sing his praise as he comes into our world. A star marks the place of his birth and earliest days, and magi come to do him homage, bearing gifts fit for a king.
The tension that marks his whole life, and every believer’s as well, is present here already: he fills this space on earth as completely and naturally as only a true human being can; Jesus is indeed the second Adam – man as man should be. And at the same time, he is God with us, and his majesty tangible. His authority marks him as someone far beyond our comprehension, not as someone who is part of creation, but its author.

Even God was Homeless at Christmas

As we are “homeless” this Christmas, this is what I have been reflecting on: the space-and-time Jesus, more easily grasped and worshipped and related to in the forms of familiar traditions, in familiar places, with familiar people, may elude us when we are out of our common setting. And consequently, my eyes are directed towards the out-of-this-world Jesus, the one who does not fit in a manger, who is not at home here with us, but made everything that we call home. This Jesus, even though he walked this earth like a landowner might walk his property, never called it his home. He was, in a deep sense, homeless, and he instructed us, his followers, to yearn with him for our true home: when heaven and earth unite, and a new world is being born, only then will our homelessness come to an end.

G.K. Chesterton grasped this majestic truth in this poem:

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where he was homeless
Are you and I at home:
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

G.K. Chesterton, “The House of Christmas,” from Robert Knille, ed., As I Was Saying (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 304-5

More from Chesterton…

A special thank you to my husband Simon for authoring this fantastic post.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry and Joy-filled Christmas wherever you may be!

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

Today I'm handing over the proverbial reigns to a friend of mine, and a fellow sister in Christ, Christine. She is going to challenge us today to take social media to a new level as she explains her journey of developing the spiritual practice of using Instagram. Can...

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Why is Advent Important?

Why is Advent Important?

What is Advent and why is it important? Before we dive in, I want you to imagine yourself as the president (or prime minister or head of state) of your country. Ready?

What do Presidents and Advent have to do with one another?

Imagine you, Mrs. President, are visiting a foreign country, flying in with a host of dignitaries and attendants. The plane lands on the airstrip, the stairway is attached, and as the door opens, you step out, hand half raised to wave and greet the waiting crowd,

and you see – no one.

Did they really forgot this important visit? It’s inconceivable! But imagine how much more embarrassing it must be for the country you are visiting. No frantic scramble can make up for the fact that they utterly failed to receive you with due honor. Whatever they manage to quickly put together as a formal reception will be piecemeal, hastily assembled, and lacking the careful composition and foresight that would normally be expanded for guests of honor.

Now, I have never heard of a case where a country’s political leadership forgot about the visit of a foreign dignitary. Probably because they all have a very important tool – a calendar. In a way, Advent is like that.

 

A Brief History – The Origins of the word “Advent”

 

Maybe you found it challenging to imagine yourself as President or Chancellor, and you were wondering what that might have to do with Advent. It might surprise you – as it did me – that originally this time was named “epiphaneia”, and this word means the arrival, presence, or visit of a dignitary, particularly of a king or emperor. (January 6 is still celebrated as Epiphany for that reason.)

 

When Latin took over in the Western church, the name for the weeks leading up to Christmas was called tempus adventus Domini – the time of the arrival of the Lord. Hence we got the name Advent for this season.

Maybe you are interested in Advent trivia such as the fact that until 1917, Advent was a time of fasting in the Roman Catholic Church, comparable to Lent. And that this period once used to range from November 11 until January 6 (so no stuffing yourself with sugar cookies all through December).

 

What is Advent and Why is it Important?

Whether such facts intrigue you or not, one question remains: why have such a time at all? Couldn’t we just celebrate Christmas and be happy about it?

It seems to me that the Christians in the first centuries were at least as wise as we, if not wiser. Maybe they saw the danger of Christmas just sneaking up on us and catching us unprepared. Or maybe they thought along the lines of preparing for an important dignitary, making sure that everything – inwardly and outwardly – was ready for his arrival. How embarrassing it would be having to scramble on the last day, and how shameful for the honoured guest to be treated with such a lack of anticipation!

 

Different Historical Advent Traditions

To be sure, the emphasis varied initially. Some highlighted the miracle of the incarnation, underscoring the unfathomable mystery that God entered humanity. Others placed the focus more on the fact that, just as Jesus came once as a baby, he will come again as king of the universe and bring justice and peace forever

Both are important, and both are much too weighty to ponder on single day, sandwiched in between meal preparations and family gatherings.

A Time to Long and a Time to Celebrate

Which is why we have Advent – a season to let the astounding truths of Jesus’ first and second coming soak into our very souls, to incite in us longing and gratefulness and praise. And a time to prepare ourselves for the joyful celebration. The celebration where we remember Him entering our world and becoming like us. And where we celebrate His impending return in glory.

Thank you to my fantastic husband, Simon Goeppert for this guest post!

If you like his thoughts and writing, be sure to check out our new Advent Devotional!

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

Instagram | Social media as a Spiritual Discipline

Today I'm handing over the proverbial reigns to a friend of mine, and a fellow sister in Christ, Christine. She is going to challenge us today to take social media to a new level as she explains her journey of developing the spiritual practice of using Instagram. Can...

When Our Baby Almost Died Because We Listened to God

When Our Baby Almost Died Because We Listened to God

A few years ago our family lead an outreach to Liberia, Africa with Youth with a Mission. We then only had two kiddos, both under the age of two. Perhaps many people would think of it as irresponsible of us to pack up our little family and lead a team of young adults...

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Homeless for Christmas

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