Archive for December 18th, 2009

December 18, 2009

Joyful Traditions is not an oxymoron

2. To take joy in God.

 Imagine the conundrum of telling someone to love someone else. We go through this all the time as parents with our children. It is typically revealed through specific acts that we connect with love such as hugs, kisses, saying “hello” and “goodbye.” There are times when the girls do this as a perfunctory service – and it is obvious. The heart is far from the act. It is sad and we want a better way because we know there is a better way. And they do too. Countless people tell me weekly how loving our girls are as they throw decorum to the wind in order to love someone through a hug or some other act of kindness.

 I have to carry Rebekah to nursery part-way through the church service because of this tendency. She sits besides us through part of the worship – but at the beginning of the sermon I carry her out. I use to let her walk out, but I learned my lesson. She would run to different people as we strolled through the aisle way of the sanctuary, giving them hugs, kisses and uncontainable glees of joy. What do you do? You want your children to love others with the abandoned recklessness of childhood innocence so you let them run and hug in the middle of worship. Indeed, it is the way of love, joy and glory. It would not be honoring to God to discipline her for acting as he would have her to be.

And so, taking joy in God is number two on our list because of its close relationship with love. Just as God commands us to love him in Scripture, so too are we commanded to take joy in him. As Psalm 37:4 instructs, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  

Perhaps the best way to understand joy and love together when it comes to our relationship with God is what their result will be. Because loving God is not like loving a spouse, parent, child or sibling. It is not like love for your country or love of food or song. It is much deeper than that because of the amount of value that each represents. While people are inestimably more valuable than any other aspect of creation – even our value pales in comparison to the infinite holiness and otherness of God. He is so unique – perfect in righteousness and mercy, wrath and forgiveness, jealousy and patience and the balance of these esteemed attributes exhibited by him so sublime that our love and joy for him must culminate in his praise. Psalm 5:11 might be the best summary when it proclaims  “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.”

This is where traditions play a part. One of the ways joy culminates in an overflowing of praise is when we change something about our routine as a way to express our joy being fulfilled in the experience. We can see this reality in sports. College football and the NFL give traditions safe passage. If it were not for these esteemable institutions than the idea of traditions would have jumped off the proverbial cliff in America a long time ago. For many of us a football tradition that reflects our joy is Superbowl Sunday. In its trappings we find an abundance of food, drink, fellowship, cheering until we’re hoarse and myriad of other things. Maybe you watch it with the same people every year for example. All of this points to how our joy not only should culminate in traditions, but actually does culminate in traditions.

Indeed, for the Christian, if more thought is given to Superbowl Sunday then Christmas or Easter then we have shown with our lives that God is not our joy. Is God not more precious than a football game? But how do our actions – and even more serious – our emotions reflect the valuing of God verses football. Do not miss that worship is what is occurring in our homes as we tie up our heart, minds, bodies and voices into a unified spirit of hope for our team. This aspect of affection can be big or small – it is up to you. Not that you can’t have Superbowl Sunday – you can, but it needs to be in its proper place. The point here is not to become a curmudgeon concerning Superbowl Sunday or any other non-Christian tradition, but it is to evaluate your temperature in your traditions. If Superbowl Sunday results in more excitement and heart pumping joy in your life than God does something is wrong.

I submit to you that everyone has traditions, whether we regard them as such or not. For some, Christmas tradition is watching movies and for others its not getting carried away by all the nostalgic nonsense. Each makes a value statement concerning Christmas through these annual rituals. And so we all should ask, “What is mine?” Use your emotions as a guide and you will discover that which brings you joy by time spent planning, daydreaming and engaging in such traditions. For the Christian, whatever your traditions may be, this means God should be at the center of these warmest of considerations.

3. To glorify God appropriately

If there were a tie to be dealt out to the different reasons to do traditions it would certainly be between love with joy and glorifying God. For me the overarching theme is Scripture is what God does for his glory. This theme is made clear in places such as Ephesians 1 and Isaiah 48. If God’s consideration for his glory is his ultimate goal then traditions must fit within this framework or they don’t work. Romans 11:36  eludes to such a conclusion. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

A consideration of God’s commandment to observe Passover has his glory at the heart. Consider the emphasis throughout the actual account in Exodus as God is juxtaposed to Pharoah in the releasing of the Israelites.Exodus 14:4 “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so.” Exodus 14:17-18  “And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.  18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” [Emphasis mine]

And the way we glorify God in our traditions is by putting him where he belongs – at the center, high and lifted up. Exodus 12:42 considers the Passover this way,  “It was a night of vigil in honor of the LORD, because He would bring them out of the land of Egypt. This same night is in honor of the LORD, a night vigil for all the Israelites throughout their generations.”

In this respect, all of our traditions should be customs and rituals that we can take to the foot of the cross and find appropriate footing. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This verse is not meant to be given lip service, just as our lives are not meant to be mere shadows of God’s glory. Either we believe Scripture or we don’t, but if we say we do then we must agree that it is possible to do everything worth doing to the glory of God. If traditions are worth doing – and I think they are – then they all can be done to the glory of God.