Treasuring God Or Our Traditions?

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I made spritz cookies the other day. You know – those beautiful cookies designed to look like wreaths, Christmas trees, etc, that taste like almonds and butter, sprinkled with colored sugar on top. For those of us of Scandanavian or Germanic background, these cookies have been a holiday tradition for generations (and where I live, that’s a lot of people!) However, those reading who have suffered through the creation of spritz cookies before are either laughing or groaning at the memory, depending on personality, and they already have a pretty good idea of where this post is headed. The joke behind spritz cookies, for those who are uninformed, is that they are notoriously difficult to make. The butter in the dough (and there is a lot of it!) can be neither too warm, nor too cold. The dough cannot be refrigerated for any length of time (unless, of course, the butter gets too warm, but then only for the bare minimum to cool the butter down), the old-fashioned metal press is challenging to work, and the new (plastic) version of the press, can (apparently) break if used with dough that is too cold, or if the press dial isn’t turned the correct direction while pressing the cookies through the patterned disc at the other end.

So, if they’re so complicated, why bother, I thought to myself, after spending the cash for a new press last weekend. As I thought about it, I realized the answer was deceptively simple; because my mother did. Year after year, my mother made these cookies; they were a routine part of my family’s Christmas holiday. Every. Single. Year. As I reflected further, I recalled more to the tradition; my (usually patient and gentle) mother, muttering something about that darn press and whacking her (sturdy, metal) press against the sheet in an effort to get the (too soft) dough to stick to the pan. I recalled the sweat on her brow as she attempted to jimmy the cookies off the press with a knife. I recalled how my brothers and I cleared out of the kitchen and spread the word to each other that “mom’s making the spritz cookies” as we quickly occupied ourselves with toys or homework in our respective bedrooms, doors shut. My brothers couldn’t be convinced to leave their rooms after a certain age to “decorate” the ridiculous cookies, but I usually felt sorry for mom, alone in the kitchen with only that darn press to keep her company.

As I concluded my memories of days of yore, I decided that perhaps some traditions just deserve to be trashed.

Jesus and Traditions

Jesus himself has opinions on how the hearts of men In Mark 7, the Pharisees approached Jesus and confronted him about his disciples, who did not wash their hands before eating. In the eyes of the Pharisees, the men were defiled, because they were not in keeping with “the tradition of the elders.” Handwashing, Mark explains to his (probably Gentile) audience, was only one of a variety of traditions that the elders expected the people to keep in order to remain ritually pure: “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders,   and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.” (Let us be careful to note that the traditions Mark mentions here are not commandments of God, nor are they mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament as a part of God’s law.) Jesus had a very clear and specific response in this matter, and, as he often does, Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” With this quotation, Jesus clearly demonstrates that the Pharisees’ religious expression through the traditions of men did not, in fact, honor God at all because “their heart is far from [God].” What does God want from us this Christmas? Our hearts. Because, as Jesus goes on to explain, it is not dirt entering our bodies that makes us spiritual unclean, but it is “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” Traditions can never cover a heart that is dirty, or far from God.

Now, I doubt many of us would treat our yearly Christmas traditions as if they were on par with Scripture; however, our approach to our own man-made traditions can help us gauge whether or not our hearts are near or far from God this Christmas. When our traditions help our hearts to draw near to the living God, they are a tool that is functioning in the way it should. If the number, complexity, or nature of our traditions serve to pull our hearts from Jesus himself, then the tool is serving as a distraction from the worship of the Savior born in Bethlehem, and it is time to reevaluate and perhaps to repent.

Evaluating Our Traditions

So, if our primary goal at Christmas time is to worship Christ from a pure heart, which traditions deserve to be kept or started? And which deserve to be trashed? Each family will need to determine what works best; some complicated or time-consuming traditions may be worth keeping, if they increase our joy in Christ and help us spread that joy to others. Perhaps other traditions that we take for granted serve more as distractions. Taking the time to ask ourselves the following types of questions can help us to evaluate our hearts this Christmas.

Does this tradition’s meaning point, in some way, to the Giver of the Great Gift? Does this tradition focus our minds on Christ and his gospel work?

Does this tradition cause us to spend an inordinate amount of time, energy or money on ourselves, depleting our joy in Christ?

Does this tradition increase stress and decrease holiness in our family, or does it increase our joy in God and the relationships we have with those around us?

Does this tradition distract me from the people around me, or take so much time that I don’t feel I have any left to give to the obvious needs or people around me?

Does this tradition help us to value Jesus as the Greatest Gift ever given, or does it turn our hearts toward seeking lesser gifts at the expense of celebrating the Giver?

Does this tradition turn our hearts in thanksgiving to the God who made us and gave us all things through Christ Jesus?

Does this tradition help us to spread the love and joy of Christ and the gospel to fellow believers and to neighbors who don’t yet know Christ? If not, could it?

Do my family’s cumulative traditions allow me time for serving and bringing joy to those in the church (or neighborhood) who are hurting, suffering loss, or lonely during this season?

These types of questions have helped my family to have meaningful Christmases the past two years especially, when we were in the midst of moving our home and setting up house somewhere new. During the first, we didn’t have a tree or give gifts to one another, and in fact were in transit at my parents’ house for Christmas day, en route across the Atlantic.  The next Christmas, we didn’t do Christmas cookies or decorate the house, since we moved ten days before Christmas. During these years, the traditions that mattered really stood out: our weekly attendance at our local church, our celebration of Jesus through reading Scripture and setting up a small Jesse tree; singing Christmas hymns and songs (our favorite being Joy to the World), and being together. This year, we are adding two new traditions: a Christmas cookie open house for our neighbors on the cul-de-sac, and handmade gifts to pass out in person to friends.

So, where is your heart this Christmas? How full is the measure of your joy in the midst of this season that celebrates his birth? It may be time to trash a tradition, or to add a new one that will help spread your love for and joy in the Greatest Gift.

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8 Years of Marriage

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8 year of marriage today!

2 kids

1 house

many ministries

3 degrees

3 Bible Studies written

10,000? cups of coffee

12 renters

2 foreign exchange students

6 countries outside the U.S.

trips to OK, AR, VA, PA, IA, CA

1 dissertation

6 months in England

1 basement renovation

7 State Fairs

2 deck projects

many friends and family

salvation by grace through faith

one very rich journey, indeed!

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10 We’re Grateful For

ImagePhoto by John Ramira

For those who followed our rather traumatic re-rentry into America — JJ’s collarbone is now on the mend, we (and our 10 suitcases – how did we gain two?) made it back into America safe and sound. We felt God’s hand with us, as both kids did beautifully during the 14-hour journey to the States, broken bones and all. So, quickly, because it’s late here — 10 we’re grateful for:

1. The Cambridge neighbor who drove JJ and Brian to the hospital and then stayed until 3 am to help me clean my kitchen (before hosting her daughter’s 12 year old birthday party the next day). Miss you, Shane!

2. A relatively easy flight home.

3. A week of peace and relaxation at my parents’ house.

4. Our luggage all made it home, too.

5. Two friends who arrived at the airport to escort us home, baggage and all. Thanks, Bryan and Jonathan.

6. Sheets on the beds and food in the fridge — thank you, Kate and Sarah.

7. Fresh baked bread from a long-time friend and neighbor — we’re grateful, Haley.

8. A group of friends and students to help us move back into our house — thank you, Ryan.

9. Gorgeous, sunny weather daily — you’ve outdone yourself, Minnesota.

10. BRIAN’S COMPLETED THESIS!, emailed earlier this week. Thank you, LORD!

 

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Cliche’s: JJ’s New Fave

Dad: Sorry I’m late. A few people grabbed me on my way out the door.
JJ: Why did the grab you?!
Dad: They didn’t really grab me. I just meant that they wanted to talk to me.
JJ: Did they stay in touch?

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Quote Du Jour

JJ: Look Mom, Julia and I have our suitcases! We are going to America. We are going to Boston. Have you ever been to Boston?
Mom: Yes, I’ve been there before.
JJ: When did you go there?
Mom: When I was in high school.
JJ: Was I with you?
Mom: No, not yet.
JJ: But I was in your tummy. I was around, I was just looking into things, that’s all. I was checking it out.

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June 18, 2013 · 10:21 am

I’m Sure We Looked (Were?) Crazy.

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We almost didn’t go.

Our car had recently broken down and we had sold it, since repairs were estimated at more than the car’s value. We would have to rent a car. And the forecast predicted rain.

But I had been talking up the beach for awhile, reliving all my vivid childhood memories of days spent in San Diego sun, sand, and surf. More than that, I had begun using the ocean as a metaphor for how much I loved my son. In an effort to re-establish that I was, ever have been, and always will be, for him, I had told him that my love for him was bigger than the biggest thing I knew of — the ocean. And that the love of Christ for him was even bigger than that. So you see now why we had to go, why this mom was On A Mission. I needed him to see it, to get it. And, I knew that out of all the people in my little family, he would understand and adopt my love for this place the most.

So we ended up at Frinton-On-Sea, a tiny town with a family friendly sand beach with a high water quality and — it was clearly posted — no dogs allowed May through September (apparently, the only other person on the beach — a woman with 6 rottweilers — had missed that memo). A friend had generously lent us all her children’s beach toys, as well as a pop-up tent for shade. The kids were giddy.

When we arrived, it was about 55 degrees, cloudy and oppressively overcast, with a good wind whipping the sand into our eyes, and stinging our legs if we walked in the flattest parts of the wind path. We found a wooden wall — meant to be a windbreaker, no doubt — and set up the pop-up tent. While our backs were turned, one child “lost” a swimsuit. After rectifying that situation, we added sweatshirts…and then windbreakers…

…and we had so much fun. We ran into the surf, and then out again, because it was frigid. The kids dug and dug and dug. We made sand castles and Julia knocked them all down single-handedly. We kicked the ball around and played tag. We buried each other in the sand until we were shaking with cold. We laughed a lot and finally huddled in the tent to eat lunch together. After three hours, we left. But not before the ocean was rooted in my son’s heart as one of his favorite places. He grinned smugly at me and pointed to the vast expanse. “Mom, you love me more than that.” Yup, I do.

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Me-Oh-My-Ah, Pumpkin Pie-Ah, Jeremiah!

Our little guy turned 4 yesterday. Birthdays with Jeremiah are never dull — not his, and not other people’s. Last year’s “cars” party was such a hit that he asked for a repeat this year.

So we had a simple family party on Wednesday, and a couple of friends are coming over tomorrow to have the official “party.” Because we are about to move, everything was simple. I ordered some decorations on the internet that I knew he would like and enjoyed the lack of pressure that usually results when I feel like I should have made a homemade bunting or something. Nope! Not this year! I made a simple cake, one with a race track made of chocolate chips on top, complete with homemade flags from toothpicks and paper, and then decked it out with a couple of Hot Wheels. Image

He loved it. And he didn’t let the chocolate frosting stop him from “racing” the cars along the track. Until he realized that chocolate frosting was getting stuck in the wheels. “Um, mom, do you think you can wash my hot wheels now please? I do not want them to get stuck in the mud.”Image

It’s official: any birthday is an awesome, amazing, oh-my-goodness kind of birthday (in JJ language) if you’ve got cars. Throw in the Big Ben, a party with some friends tomorrow, and a family trip to ride the hop-on-hop-off bus in London on Saturday, and you’ve got one brilliant birthday, people! (Ok, the trip to London was kind of for everyone, but the hop-on-hop-off has been a long-coveted ride for this guy!)Image

We are so thankful for our thoughtful, smart, enthusiastic, energetic, and responsible little guy (who is so proud of himself that he now gets to set the table for dinner every night! “It’s because I’m four, Julia.” A little birthday brainwashing never hurt anyone.) 🙂

 

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