Traditions, Liturgy, and Advent


Do you have any Christmas traditions? Did your family have them when you were growing up? What were they? Take a moment to think about them. Are your memories of them fond? I bet you have more traditions then you think. Sometimes that which is normal to us becomes invisible.

I will give you one example from my own life. If you are a part of the Van Dyke family, then Christmas day had a very important tradition. It actually started the night before. My brothers and I would all sleep in the same room. We weren’t allowed to exit that room until the next day when we heard Christmas music – It always seemed to be Bing Crosby. When the music started playing, we would run down the hall towards the kitchen – it became a full contact sport as we got older and older- and there in the kitchen we would find glasses of orange juice. We would race to drink the glasses of orange juice and sit down. The first one finished and seated was the victor and the first to get to open a gift. No one quite knows how this tradition got started. It proceeded my brothers and me. And yet we all continue it with our own children to this day. You can say that in a weird and funny way, it marks us as a family.

The Christmas season is full of opportunities to make traditions, renew old ones, or borrow from others.


These traditions can be really important markers in our life. They can mark us as a family, a culture, or even as Christians. Within the church, these traditions have a special name – liturgy. A liturgy refers to the structure and ritual of a church service with a purpose to point us and others to God. Liturgies are the structures we use to formalize our worship. They are structures that are meant to teach us something, express something to others, and lead us into deeper worship. Some churches are more “liturgical” than others. Some denominations and churches have highly structured ways of worship. If you grew up in a highly structured church or “high” church, as it is sometimes called, then you will know what I am talking about. You may even balk at my mentioning them because all that form and structure stifled your worship.

But here is the problem. As James K.A. Smith talks frequently about, the problem is not in the form, structure, or liturgies themselves. The problem is how we use them.

Think about the Christmas traditions that we just talked about. I don’t think many of us would say that those rituals or traditions have stifled Christmas. Just the opposite. Those traditions marked us. They give us an identity as a family, part of an ongoing story. They form and inform our worship. As Paul David Tripp says, “worship is an identity before it is an activity.” We are made to worship, and we will worship something, and we will create structures for our worship, whether we know it or not.


Which brings me to my ultimate point: Advent. We are in the middle of this Advent season. You may or may not have noticed the candles upfront of the church, the special prayer, and the lighting of those candles these past two Sundays, but those are a part of the way we, as a church, recognize that we are in the Advent season. Advent means coming. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. It starts 4 weeks before Christmas, so we already in the 2nd week of Advent.

Each week is marked by a different word – Hope, Love, Joy, Peace – or Bible reading. There have been more traditional ways of celebrating Advent with specific Bible readings, an Advent wreath, etc. Advent is a liturgy/tradition of the church and hopefully will be a liturgy in your family and your life.


Advent is a season of looking back- of remembering what God has done. Advent is about placing ourselves, as a community and family, in that part of history that looked towards the coming of Jesus, not back at it. It’s about connecting to what is being sung when we hear Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Ponder these words from that great hymn

Come thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us,

Let us find our rest in Thee.

Have you ever been to a jewelry store? If you have you know that they always display the diamonds on black velvet. They do that so that the brilliance and beauty of that diamond can be seen in its entirety. Advent is like that. It is about remembering the black velvet of Ephesians 2:1-3 (you were dead in your sins and trespasses…) so the diamond of Ephesians 2:4-10 (But God, being rich in mercy…) can shine bright.

That is Advent. A season of remembering the bad news so we can fully appreciate the glad tidings of great joy. We need Christmas. We need to celebrate better and with more joy than the world does. But we shouldn’t rush to the 25th without taking some time to remember what we are celebrating and why we are celebrating it. Advent is one of those liturgies, traditions, rituals, whatever word you like, that helps us see the weight.

An Article about an Article about an Article

Often times I will read an article or a blog that makes me realize I don’t have to write on that subject because someone has already done a better job than I could have done.  The below articles are from Chap Bettis, a pastor, speaker, and author on biblical parenting, and Tim Challies, pastor and Christian blogger.

They both write about a phenomenon they notice in today’s churches. The phenomenon of  parents that are resistant or reluctant to receive and be given parenting advice in the church. I am thankful and honored every time a parent asks me for wisdom, for many reasons, but many times because I know that it is a rare gift to speak into someone’s life.  It is a rare gift that shouldn’t be that rare in the church. Bettis and Challies give explanations for why they think this is and I think both are right. 

I highly recommend that we all read these articles.  They aren’t just for parents.  They are for those whose kids are now out of the home.  Our young parents need those that have gone before them.  If we want our next generation to be equipped and supported so that they know and love Jesus Christ, then we need to know how to disciple them in both a formative and corrective way.  Which means we need parents that know how to form and correct their children as they disciple them, which means our parents need someone to form and correct their parenting. We aren’t meant to do this Christian life thing alone.  This is actually one area that our some of our parents can learn from our single parents.  Our single parents are usually much better at asking for wisdom and advice from older people in the church. 

I will end by saying this. I don’t know how much Sarah and I have done right in our life, but I do know that one of the things that we did right was to ask older people to speak into our lives about our marriage and parenting. And when they did, we promised to receive what they had to say knowing they were people that loved us.  We decided to be unoffendable in our pursuit of discipleship. Sarah and I are eternally grateful for people that came into our lives that were able to guide us in our parenting.  People who I can still name and call on.  I will continue to be grateful for those people that the Lord puts in our life that will help us through the next season. We need each other.  We need the covenant-community-of-the-unoffendable-because-they-are secure-in-Christ.  Parenting is hard enough that we shouldn’t try to do it without our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the Lord.

Read this article. And then read this article about that article. And then you will better understand my article about an article about an article.

Don’t Save Your Children from Things that Jesus Wouldn’t Save them From

My favorite part of being a Family Pastor at Community Bible Church is when parents trust me enough on their journey to becoming the primary-discipleship maker in the life of their children, to ask for my advice.  It is something I always take seriously and never want to be flippant about the wisdom that I give them – I pray it is wisdom a majority of the time.  I want to point them to Jesus, the good news of the gospel, how to apply that good news, and the Bible. 

There are times that I get questions that my answer actually surprises parents.  Sometimes Biblical wisdom goes against the natural reaction to protect our children that all parents have.  Which is why I say that we have to be careful not to save our children from things that Jesus doesn’t save them from. 

Here are 3 areas that I see parents try to save their children:

1. Rejection

It is back to school time and we all know what that means. School drama. Rejection of some sort. We have all felt the sting of rejection, some more than others.  We remember what it was like to get picked last on the team, or wear the wrong brand of shoes, or simply not fit it.  We have all probably been laughed at by someone we thought was our friend.  Truth is that we all know the sting of rejection.  And when our kids come home from school with that sting of rejection causing a spiritual anaphylactic shock, we too often reach for our emotional epi-pens to try to calm and protect the hearts of our children.  Maybe we try to build our kids up in telling them how great we think they are and how lame we think the other kids are for making fun of them.  But protecting our children from rejection won’t help them.  As Christians we know we will face rejection.  It is promised to us; even more so as the days get darker.  So instead of trying to put a self-esteem bubble around our children, we need to help them learn how to walk through rejection with confidence in the Lord and confidence of his presence. The good news of the gospel assures us of God’s presence in the midst of rejection and that he sees us.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3

2. Sin

Another area that I see parents trying to protect their children from is by minimizing their children’s sin.  This is how I typically hear or see a parent describe it to me:

Parent of a 5-year-old: “My son/daughter has a real hard time when we call them out for something that they have done.  They usually get really sad and sullen and start crying out that they are “So bad. I am so bad, mommy.”

Me: “How do you respond?”

Parent: “I try to comfort my child that what they did was wrong, but it wasn’t that bad and they don’t need to be crushed by it.”

This is where I usually try to tip-toe into a massive truth that we all need to grasp, and it is this:

We are all worse/more bad/more sinful than we realize. 

Now, a child could be communicating this for a couple of reasons.  One is that they actually feel bad about what they’ve done, and they are expressing it.  Or they are trying to manipulate the situation.  They are trying to get you, the parent, to focus more on consoling them and less about their offense.

The truth is this: your children are worse than you think.  They are worse than they think.  So when they are expressing their “badness”, don’t try to make them feel better by minimizing their offense or by protecting them from feeling guilt or shame.  Instead, agree with them about their sin, without any tone of rebuke, and then introduce them once again to the good news of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, of course, saves our children from their own sin.  That is the beauty of the gospel, but he doesn’t save them from understanding their need for the gospel.  He doesn’t shy away from showing us our need for Him comes out of our own rebellion to the Father. We are all bad.  They are actually expressing a biblical truth, one that is fundamental to the gospel.

 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – everyone- to his own way” Isaiah 53:6

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquity, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Psalm 130:3-4

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans5:8

3. Death

Every so often, maybe at the death of a loved one or even the death of a family pet, children may begin to ask about death.  “What does it mean that we die?” “What happened to grandpa?” “Will I die?”

For so much of their life, children live with an invincible view of themselves and the world.  They don’t think about death because it doesn’t enter their mind.  Their life is often too busy or, frankly, self-absorbed to think about death.

At some point, though, children might begin to ask about death and too often parents don’t want their children to worry or be anxious. So, parents will tell them “Don’t worry about that.  You have a long time until you have to worry about death. Grandpa was old and lived a good life.  It was his time.”

But in reality, it is not until our children begin to think deeply about the consequence of being mortal that they can begin to understand the deeper scope of the good news.  Death makes the gospel more real, even to a child.  And besides, none of us can promise our children a long life.  That’s not in our power to promise.

Instead, we can give our children a taste of an ever-expanding view of the beauty of the gospel. 

“Daddy, will I die?”

“Yes, son.  You will.  I don’t know when. But it will happen. Does that make you afraid?”


“It makes me afraid sometimes too.  But that is why I have to remind myself of what Jesus Christ did on the cross.  And that he tells me that I will have an everlasting life with him.  That if I have faith in Him that nothing can separate me from him.  Not even death.”

“Even though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

To summarize all of these examples in one statement: Try not to protect your children from things the Bible asks you to help them walk through, not around.  And the way we walk through it with our children is by showing them how the good news applies in all areas of our life, even rejection, sin, and death.

Pig-Pen, Oxen, and a Glorious Mess

Do you remember the Charlie Brown character Pig-Pen from the famous Peanuts cartoon strip? He was Charlie Brown’s friend, who always seemed to have a cloud of dust following him where ever he went.  He could never get clean.  There was one time he was able to get clean, but as soon as he went outside, he instantly became dirty, declaring himself “A dust magnet.”

Most days as a father to 4 children, I think that we might have given birth to 4 Pig-Pens.  Often it is not dust that seems to be radiating and originating from my children, although that will change as Summer gets closer. No, my children seem to be swirled in a dust cloud of their own things.  Crayons and Legos, empty juice boxes and used sucker sticks, goldfish crackers and socks. 

You might suspect that my wife and I have never taught our children what and where trash bins are in our house. Or you might think that we prefer dirty clothes to sit for days in the first spot they land, not in the dirty hamper.  Or you might suspect that we prefer our children to take off their shoes and to make getting anywhere on time more fun by playing that stress-free game of “Where did my other shoe end up?” You would be wrong.  We really try to teach our kids about trash bins, clothes hampers, and how to put their shoes away.  Alas, somedays it feels like our kids our Pig-Pen.  They are just “dust, Lego, crayon, empty juice box, goldfish crackers in the couch cushion” magnets.

 A few weeks I came home to some creation sitting on our side table.  It was a penny and peppermint glued inside a small coin box that I got my children on my last trip to Costa Rica.  The box was held up by a Lego man.  When I asked my kids what in the world this thing was, my youngest told me, as if I was crazy for not recognizing it at first sight, that it was clearly, a “Leprechaun Trap”. Of course, a Leprechaun trap! How could I not have known?

Or this last week, as the weather was getting warmer, I came home to my kids outside with craft supplies making something.  All I could think about at the time was how much of that stuff will I have to pick up.  Who is going to leave the glue out? How many-colored pencils will be left out and how many will be put back in the box? Why do they have tape, and will they not ever make a mess?

It was later that night however that I went into our master bathroom and there on the mirror was taped a piece of paper from one of my kids.  It read:

 Mom and Dad, I love you guys.

(I+ drawn heart+ drawn stick figures to represent my wife and I)

Here (Heres) some flowers for good luck.

And taped to the paper where two flowers (probably weeds)

That paper is still up in our bathroom today.  And it reminded me of an interesting verse in Proverbs.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”

Proverbs 14:4

This may seem like an interesting verse to think about, but I think it has a lot to do with family life and ministry to the family.

Oxen are dirty, they are expensive, and they are time consuming.  But if you want a harvest you must have them.  There was no getting around this for the ancient Israelites.  You can have a clean feeding trough (manger) or you can have abundant crops.  But you really can’t have both.

We live in a world that continually tries to tell families that they can have it all.  That you can have the perfect house, the perfect kids, the perfect vacation, the perfect on and on and on.  And we are constantly bombarded by these images through entertainment, commercials, and social media.  It even has a name online, it’s called the “curated life”. Curated means selected, organized, and presented using professional or expert knowledge.  People have even started posting about their curated messy-life, which is just a form of emotional showmanship that masquerades itself as vulnerability. God’s wisdom tells us this.  Life is messy.  You can’t avoid it.  But there is a harvest that can come with the mess.

The glorious thing is that God cares so much for us.  He cares about the small things in life and he cares about the big things.  He knew ancient farmers would worry about barns and troughs that never could get cleaned.  He cares about moms and dads, at work and at home, caring for their families in 1,000 different ways. 

Life is messy and Life is beautiful, and life is somehow beautiful because it is messy.  And that sentence wouldn’t make any sense if it weren’t for the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who makes something beautiful out our of mess.

Because every so often, out of the mess, you might get something like this:

Are you Asking for Wisdom where Wisdom is Found?

One of the things that I tell my children is that they are of the age right now where their mom and I give them a lot of wisdom. Or maybe more accurately, we give them a lot of knowledge that we pray will lead them to wisdom as they grow up.  We also try to teach them, however, that there is a day coming as they grow into adults where we won’t give them wisdom. They will have to ask for it.

The reason for this isn’t because we want to withhold anything good from them.  The reason for this is that we know that as they mature into adults, there are things, we can’t force them to understand or appreciate.  They will need to want wisdom for it to matter to them.

The Book of Proverbs is packed full of this same idea. The father is pleading to his son to “treasure up my commandments with you.”  He is pleading with his son to incline his ear and heart towards wisdom and understanding.  The father wants to both give his son wisdom while at the same time encourages his son to be the type of person that hungers for more wisdom.

I know that there are many in the church that still hunger for wisdom. I hear it all the time from people.

The reason for this blog today, though, is to ask the question: Do we seek wisdom out?  More plainly put do we ask for wisdom from mature brothers and sisters in the faith?  I think one of the problems is that we have forgotten or have never been taught is that wisdom is something we need to ask for.  We need to ask for wisdom and then go seek it out. I love how the Proverbs puts this bluntly and plainly in 4:7, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get Wisdom.”

Some of you might say, “I do ask for wisdom. I pray daily for God to give me wisdom all the time.”

Great!  That is a great first step but is by far not the only step.  Ask, yes.  James 1:5 makes this clear, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Here is the example I see most often.  A group of people will be standing around talking.  One person will begin to talk about a situation in their life, maybe with their extended family, their friends, a situation at work, or maybe with a spouse.  They discuss the situation at length.  They come to the end of their story and they are done. Finished.  Usually the other person in the conversation will talk about a similar situation in their life.  They might tell that person they are sorry that they are going through that and may even offer to pray for that person.  What is unclear is whether that person wanted wisdom or just wanted to tell someone else that story.  What happens often is the other person in the conversation may have some wisdom to give but feels like there was never an open door given to begin to speak into that situation. Often the person sharing the story may want someone to speak into the situation, but they have never asked directly for them to do so. They may end by asking the person to pray for them, which of course is needed.  But we neglect an important means of grace that God has given us – the church… each other!

Any of us that are a bit socially aware will know that it is very hard and vulnerable to try to dive in and give advice where someone doesn’t want it or ask for it. It can close the friendship. If we are truthful with ourselves, we sometimes don’t ask even though we want wisdom because we don’t want to be held accountable whether we follow through or not.

Being heard is very popular sentiment in our day.  Having someone know you and share in your story is important and valuable.  But I am afraid that our social media, entertainment driven society has placed a great emphasis on being heard at the loss of us, as a body of believers, remembering how to ask each other for wisdom.  Our social media society has also made it easier for us to ask for advice from too many of the wrong people, often without context, without responsibility for the words they speak or the advice they give.

Ask any biblical counselor and they will tell you that even when they know what the Bible says to apply to a certain situation, they come at it with great care and caution to make sure that it is heard and understood correctly. Flippant advice on the internet from some “friend” you haven’t seen since high school carries none of that burden.

There is great maturity and humility in going to mature people in the faith and asking them for wisdom about a situation.  The reason isn’t because the word of God isn’t sufficient for us. It is.  But this very Word tells us to ask for counsel and advice from godly believers in the faith.

The Proverbs are filled with pleas and promises to seek out counsel. Here are just a few of the many examples.

“Where there is no guidance, a people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” 12:15

“Without counsel plans fail but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” Proverbs 19:20

(See also 24:6, 20:18, 13:10)

That is why it is so important that we learn to ask.

Where do we go for wisdom?

We pray for it. Yes. (James 1:5)

We go to the Word of God. Always! (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

We go to the people of God-the church. Yes.  And we ask directly from mature believers and give them the opportunity to speak into our lives. Because even as we read the word and are being transformed by the Spirit, we remember that there is a temptation:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 16:25

Another reason we go to mature believers in Christ, is because that is exactly what the body of Christ is for.  We are called into community together.  We are called to bear each other’s burdens together.  We are called to alleviate each other’s burdens where we can.

The beauty of this all is amazing.  Once you begin to ask for wisdom more and more you will find people who become more invested in your life.  As you ask and they speak, you will begin to find the church a more beautiful and safer place.  You will begin to see that you are surrounded by people who will fight the fight of faith with you.  Who will care enough about you to speak to you when they see you drifting towards sin. And you will begin to flourish in a church where you know that you and you alone are not the only one running the same race.

And it can all start as simply as

“Would you please be willing to give me some wisdom with…”