Episode 6: Why We Do What We Do-Understanding Traditions

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Welcome to Everyday Discipleship. Every Day, where we discuss discipleship in the 21st century, guided by biblical discipleship, a Christian worldview, and individual needs while focusing on discipling our children as well. I’m Terrie Hellard Brown, and I’m releasing one of my discipleship books that I’ve been working on for years now on my blog. And you can download the chapters there for free. So you can check that out at TerrieHellardBrown.com.

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And now, today what I wanted to do is just spend some time talking about Easter and traditions. We’ve got Easter coming up the end of this month. And what that means when you come to discipling someone and helping them understand the traditions that we have when someone is coming into our faith. I think it’s really important, especially nowadays, to explain why we do what we do. There are some things that are biblically mandated, such as, you know, being baptized, the Lord’s Supper. And those things have a reason behind them. They have a purpose for them in our denomination, in our way of believing. What I believe is that baptism is a picture of what has happened inside our lives. We have died to ourselves and risen again to walk with Christ and to follow him. And so it is a picture. Some believe that you have to be baptized in order to be saved. I don’t believe that’s what the Bible teaches, but I still believe it is something we’re commanded to do. And so if we’re going to be obedient, we should do that. And then the Lord’s Supper, of course, is to remember what Christ has done in our lives and what he has done for us in dying and being raised again. And then as we come into the Easter season, we have so many traditions, usually around that holiday and around other holidays.

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Disciples, if our children, if those in our church don’t understand why we do the things we do and the purpose behind them, they may just feel like it’s unnecessary, that it’s meaningless. Well, it is meaningless for them if we don’t explain why. So that’s one of the things I think we need to take into consideration when we have someone who’s new to our church or to our group. We often refer to some of the things that have become traditions in our churches as sacred cows. That’s when they’ve lost their purpose, that’s when they’ve lost their meaning, and we no longer know why we do them. We just know this is what we do. That’s why we have to take the time to explain what’s going on and why. So when we come to the Passion Week, as we call it, the Easter Week, we start with Palm Sunday.

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And so in most churches or in many churches, we will have the children bringing palm branches in and celebrating. This is remembering when Christ came into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion, and it just commemorates that time of joy and everyone celebrating that Christ was there. They recognized him as the Messiah. I think it’s significant to recognize that first, before he came into Jerusalem, several things happened that fulfilled prophecy. But also Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He knew that he was about to be crucified. He knew that the people needed a savior, and yet they did not quite understand God’s plan. And so he wept. He knew they were going to be going through a horrible time, not long after that as well. And I think he wept for that as well because he knew there was going to be a lot of sorrow. But he went into Jerusalem and the people were throwing palm branches as, you know, putting that in the path, their coats and different things in the pathway. And they were saying, “Hosanna, hosanna,” which means save us, save us. Now, we know from history that many of the Jewish people felt that the Messiah was going to be a political savior, someone who saved them from the oppression of the Roman Empire, and that he was going to take leadership and be their king, like David was their king. And that is what many still understand the Messiah to be. And that is why many of the Jewish people that you may know have not understood that Jesus is the Messiah, that he comes to save and build a kingdom of followers and that the kingdom is in heaven. I have also Jewish friends who do understand that and who fully understand that Jesus is the Messiah and have received him with great joy. But there are those who do not yet understand. And so I pray for my Jewish friends who don’t yet understand, and just that God would show them that Jesus is the Messiah and he is their Savior.

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You will never meet a happier, more joy-filled person than a Jewish person who comes to Christ because in coming to Christ, all of their history and all that they’ve been taught is fulfilled. And they are so abundantly thankful and filled with joy for what God has done in their lives and in their history. And it’s just wonderful.

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So when we come to our celebrations in the Protestant church and even in the Catholic church, they will often have the palm branches saying, “Hosanna blessed is he come who comes in the name of the Lord.” And it’s a celebration that Jesus is the Messiah. And so we start the Easter week with that celebration, and then we come into remembering all the events of that week. And we have in our churches, typically we will do a Friday night, good Friday or Friday afternoon worship service. That’s not uncommon.

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We’ve also observed Passover. And you can also find a Passover pamphlet from a Christian perspective. I’ve had Passover from the Jewish perspective and the Christian perspective. And it’s very different in what is read and what scripture is shared. Of course, in the Jewish Passover, they thank God and remember his deliverance from Egypt and they celebrate all of that and remember all of that. And it is great, great fun, and I love it. But the scriptures that are shared and the discussions that take place are waiting for the Messiah. In the Christian one, of course, we understand that the Messiah is our Passover Lamb, that he died instead of us. He died for us. He paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. And so we have a different perspective of what all those scriptures mean in all the symbols of the Passover.

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We too remember that he delivered his people from Egypt and what all he did in that through Moses and that whole story as well. But our focus is a little different. And so I think it would be wonderful if you’re discipling someone, and especially if you’re discipling your children, and you could take them through a Passover observance that would be so wonderful. Everyone I’ve ever been through has been such a blessing and just so much fun and great food and fellowship. It’s just so worth it if you can do it. And there are Messianic Jews from Jews for Jesus and from other groups that will come to your church and explain the Passover from a Christian perspective. And so you can schedule them, but you can’t usually schedule them on the actual dates of Passover because they are celebrating Passover with their family. But it is a really worthwhile event to have them come and speak at your church before Passover or even after Passover, that they can share all the meaning of that.

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And then, of course, we come to Good Friday. And Good Friday, we always say, why is it good when he died on the cross on Friday? And it’s good because it’s our hope, it’s our salvation. So we talk about the crown of thorns, the cross, the trial and all that took place. And whatever we observe and however we observe it in our church, we can share those with our children. And with those we’re discipling–the significance of all the things that happened in the story and why we observe the way we do and what we do.

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Some churches will have a foot washing because Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. It’s a very powerful experience. There are some churches who believe foot washing is one of the ordinances, just like the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Our church doesn’t feel that way. But having a foot washing ceremony as part of your Easter celebration is a very powerful thing. So that’s something you can explain: take them to the story in the Bible where Jesus washed the disciples feet and how he explained what that meant and the significance of it.

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And then we come to the weekend where there’s silence, and Jesus is in the tomb. And the people, the followers, are scattered and afraid and everything is just hopeless, and nobody knows quite what to expect and what’s happening.

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And then we come to Sunday morning. Now what, I don’t know what your church does on Sunday morning, but ours has a sunrise service. And when we have that sunrise service, what a celebration that is. And to explain to our children and to those we disciple that this is one time that it’s very much worth getting up when the sun comes up and being there for such a wonderful celebration, the ultimate celebration: that Jesus has risen and to remember that and that he is coming again.

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And then we usually have this wonderful time of fellowship with a breakfast or hot crossed buns or whatever your tradition is, and have regular services at our regular time. And so you have a whole lot of fellowship in that morning on Easter morning.

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And then if you have an evening service like our church, we don’t have the evening service after all that we do on Easter Sunday morning. But this is just one of those celebrations, one of those times of year that we have certain things that we do that are traditional, that are repeated every year and are very similar every year. And so making sure that our children and those we disciple understand why we do these things and what they mean can be very important.

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Now, even when we’re not going through a special celebration like Christmas or Easter, or if we have Purim or whatever you celebrate in your church, we may have other things we do that are significant.

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One church we were in, in Taiwan, every end of the service, we would pass the blessing. I think that’s what they called it. But the pastor and the deacon would come and they would take two people’s hands on the front row, you know each person and say, “God bless you.” And then you turn and say, “God bless you” to the person next to you, and it went through the whole church. This was something that church had started when it first began, and it was really important to them. And when we had SARS come through, that’s pre-COVID, when they had SARS come through, we couldn’t do that because of the germs and everything. And you really did miss it. It was very interesting to me. There was something about just sharing with one another and passing the blessing on, or passing the peace or whatever they called it that was really important. It had become significant in our group and it meant something. And when we couldn’t do it during SARS, you missed it. And we didn’t have the Lord’s Supper during that time. And it was just a really sad, sad time. And I imagine through Covid it was even worse because it was much longer than the SARS scare. So we miss those things when they’re not there.

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But when we have traditions that have just become the sacred cows, they no longer have purpose or meaning. We’ve lost why we do it. And we’re not really even sure why we do that. We need to revisit that. We need to bring that to our elders and really talk about why are we still doing this. What is the meaning? I don’t remember why we do this and what it means. Can we go over that? And if it has a meaning; if it has significance, then let’s revive that and let’s give it some purpose. And so people can really enjoy doing it and not just feel like we’re just going through the motions.

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So, if your church has a lot of traditions, a lot of liturgy, or whatever it is, or even in your family, if you have traditions, if you want them to continue to be meaningful and purposeful, we’ve got to share why we do them. We’ve got to share the stories behind them.

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In the Bible we see that when Jesus says to do the Lord’s supper and to remember what he did and to teach it to those around us, to the disciples and do that whenever you meet together, you’re supposed to do that. In the Old Testament, when Joshua and everyone went across the Jordan River, remember they went and got stones from the middle of the Jordan River and piled them up on the side of the river. And they said, when your children ask you why are these stones piled here, you will tell them the story of God rescuing them from Egypt and helping them get into the promised land after wandering in the desert for 40 years.

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These memorials, these traditions, these memories are so important to giving our families and our churches life and understanding and a common culture. But we have to guard that. We have to not protect it as in it’s the gospel. And if we lose it, we lose our salvation or something like that. That’s not it. It simply serves a purpose to help us remember the things that God has done. And if it loses its purpose, then maybe we don’t need to do it anymore. Maybe we need a new memorial or new memory.

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Now, the things that God has told us to do, of course we need to continue to do. But if we have something like every Thursday night is the pastor’s Bible study and that has become old and cumbersome, or the schedule changes and the pastor can’t be there on Thursdays, and it’s a tragedy because this is going to have to change, we’ve got a problem there. We need to not hold onto traditions to the point that they just have a life of their own and don’t carry the same significance they once did. That’s a silly example. I’m sure changing a pastor’s Bible study to another time would not be a horrific thing, but it is something to think about. Why do we do what we do when we do it, and how we do it? What is the purpose? What is the meaning? And for ourselves to help us remember and to stay true to our first love of knowing God and remembering all that he’s done in our lives, these memorial events, these traditions need to have that kind of significance to bring us back to Jesus and to why we do it and what it means.

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So I want to encourage you, especially with your children, whatever your family traditions and things are that you do, that you let them know why we do it. That they too can embrace it as something meaningful that they can pass on to the next generation, and that we can continue to help the next generation of disciples understand the stories of the Bible, the stories of our church, and our families, and how God has worked in the past. And then to see what God is doing now and figure out what memorials do we want to make for the future. I hope this blesses you, and I hope it helps you to think about why we do what we do and to remember what God has done in our lives and in our churches.

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Well, I’m so glad you joined me today for this short little video. I hope that it blessed you. I hope that you are encouraged and that it helped you to remember why we do what we do. And I hope that we can, as followers of Christ, that we can obey Jesus’ command to make disciples as we reach and equip this generation of believers to help them to reach and equip the next generation of believers with everyday discipleship, every day.

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