The Lord’s Day vs. Christmas

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them.

-Acts 20:7

Several years ago, I distinctly remember walking up to the church doors on a particular Sunday morning to find them locked. I was a little surprised, and I turned to examine the parking lot. Yes, I was a touch early, but not that much. I was the only one there, and no one else would be joining me. There would be no corporate worship on that day, at least not in that building. Somehow I had overlooked the announcement.  That is not terribly unusual – I am often overlooking important information.

It so happened to be Christmas Day, one of the few times it lands on a Sunday, and several churches decided to close their doors so that their worship team, pastors, choir, etc., could spend the time with their families.  Other churches cited different reasons, but the result was that members were encouraged to stay home with families rather than to come to worship.

I confess I was a little shocked. I already knew that certain large churches had shut down. While I didn’t agree with the decision, I at least understood the reasoning. It takes a lot of people to put on a show with lights and music and video as many of those churches have. Those people were likely going to want Christmas Day off. Now is not the time for an argument against this sort of church model, but one jumps to mind.  But the church I was at wasn’t like that. It was smaller, with less production. It was a conservative church too, one that is unlikely to cancel for anything.church-closed

I am reminded of that day because this year, as it was then, Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday. I don’t know what percentage of churches will cancel worship, but I know that some of them will. Some of them will have the excuse that it takes a lot of people to run the service, and those people want the day off. Some of them will use the family excuse. But ultimately, we will find, these are excuses, and there is a fundamental theological flaw that brings this about.

But this issue is not merely about Christmas. Even those conservative churches who would never close on any Sunday are still apt to be controlled a little by the calendar. I’m not speaking of a liturgical calendar – I don’t have a problem with those at all; I’m speaking of a secular one.

In certain churches, Mother’s Day would not be complete without a special sermon on the wonderful sacrifice of mothers. Or perhaps a patriotic holiday has you singing “God Bless America” and the pastor preaching on politics.

Here’s another question, more to the laity than the pastors – how much does attendance drop on Super Bowl Sunday?

Don’t misunderstand me – I’ve heard plenty of God-honoring sermons about mothers, and there is much overlap between theology and politics that should be addressed from the pulpit. But what is our focus in these cases? If we have a special prayer for mothers on Mother’s Day or a sermon that takes up the theme, but continue to focus on Christ, then we have done well. If our purpose is to praise mothers instead of proclaim the Word, then we have a problem.

In the same way, I am very much in favor of our churches praying for our soldiers and politicians. I would even advocate for us preaching as to what politicians and soldiers should be doing.  But I am very much opposed to our worship turning from our Lord and Savior in order to pay tribute to someone else.  We’ve missed the point of what we are doing.

And as a layman, I must recognize that when worship takes a backseat to football, then I have an idol.

The very fact that a church would consider passing a Lord’s Day without corporate worship (except in extreme circumstances) says something of our understanding of the day. Do we worship on Sunday simply because it is convenient? Is it a tradition that can be trumped by something more interesting or by another tradition? Or is it something greater still?

***

The Jews of Jesus’ day, as people have done ever since Creation, have set aside Saturdays for worship and devotion. The early church, under the guidance of the Apostles, moved that day of worship to Sunday to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Revelation 1:10, Acts 20:7).* From these days forward, it has been the habit of the Christian church to gather for worship on Sundays.

But over the years, I think the church has thought this move one of convenience and not one of obligation.  It was certainly not convenient.  Sunday was a work day in ancient Rome and in ancient Jerusalem, so this was not a thing simply done.  The church was worshipping in a way that was in opposition to the culture around them.

And the commands to corporate worship stressed the importance of it.  The writer of Hebrews tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis mine).

Truly, as a priesthood of believers, when we are called to worship, we have a priestly duty to be there, barring some circumstance that is preventing it.  And that circumstance isn’t football.

And this point may be the most helpful for us. When we look at the Old Testament commands for the priests and the Levites, we see clearly that there is no room for the duties to go undone for a week, or for a ceremony to be skipped. Oh, certainly an individual may have taken the day off or the duties be rotated (as indicated in Luke 1:8), but the work was always performed. Someone qualified to do the work was there. As believers after Christ’s incarnation, we sometimes pass over these passages as being part of the types and shadows that have been fulfilled. After all, Christian churches typically do not have priests in a formal sense, excepting that Jesus is our High Priest. But it is not that the office has been abolished, but rather expanded, for the Bible now describes all believers as priests (1 Peter 2:9).  As priests, we are to come when worship is called, and it is called for on Sunday by teaching of Scripture.

We have a duty to be amongst the brethren on Lord’s Day if we are able. That is commanded of us, and the elders have a duty to lead that worship.

***

In the Reformed tradition, there is actually only one “holy day” – and that is Sunday.  I once quipped that the Reformed have a church calendar, but it is only seven days long.  It was said in jest at the time, but there is some truth there.

Brothers in Christ disagree on this point, and many have a liturgical calendar that separate out particular feast days.  As I mentioned, I really have no problem with this, but the temptation then is to, as Rome has done, regard Easter and Christmas as the high holy days and Sunday as part of the weekend.

And there is the trap we must avoid.  Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, but he did not abolish it.  He abolished the ridiculous man-made laws of the Pharisees associated with the Sabbath, but we are called to keep Sabbath as prescribed in the Law.  God even lists that command with others that we would find good and profitable:

Keep justice, and do righteousness,

for soon my salvation will come,

and my righteousness be revealed.

Blessed is the man who does this,

and the son of man who holds it fast,

who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,

and keeps his hand from doing any evil.

-Isaiah 56:1-2

Ah, you will say.  This is Old Testament.  This is an Old Covenant command.  But if you look more closely at the chapter, you will find this to be a New Covenant command.  In this chapter, the eunuch who keeps the Sabbath is promised a memorial name in the house of the Lord, but the Old Covenant forbids eunuchs from entering the house of the Lord (Deut 23:1, also see Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day).

While the exploration of these things can and do take up books, this introduction will suffice for our purposes.  The conclusion we must draw from Scripture is that the Lord’s Day should be celebrated with corporate worship, and we should attend unless somehow prohibited.

***

But then let us speak of Christmas a while. And I would not have you think I am against the holiday here. I have defended Christmas as a worthwhile celebration before, and I would do it again. For many years I dedicated the Winter edition of Primum Mobile Magazine to focus the on Christmas, and I wrote the bulk of that material personally.  The original version of this very essay was one of those works. Christmastime is my favorite season of the year and a wonderful opportunity to honor God in so many ways.

But Christmas is not commanded by God’s Word. You do no sin if you fail to celebrate Christmas. It is within the realm of Christian freedom. Corporate worship, on the other hand, is commanded, and it is a sin to fail to attend without cause.

We must see that a freedom should and must yield to a command. While Christmas may be part of your Lord’s Day worship, it must not in any sense trump it, lest we fall into sin.

***

This is exactly why it is so terribly sad to see churches remaining closed on Lord’s Day simply because the date is December 25. It is so sad to see pews empty on Super Bowl Sunday. It is so sad to see the worship of our Lord altered to include any other worthy cause, such as veterans or mothers or anything of the sort, even though these be worthy groups to celebrate. Our holidays are fun and enjoyable, but they are not as Sundays are, for on Sunday we have a command from God to gather together to sing to him, to read the Scriptures, to partake of the sacraments, to pray, and to hear the proclamation of the Word.

That includes Christmas Day when it falls on Sunday.

Please enjoy the day. If you can, spend time with family. In God Rest Ye Merry, Douglas Wilson advocates Sunday to be a weekly gathering of family and friends to dinner, and Sunday, December 25 should not be an exception there.  Make merry, feast and give thanks.  But far more importantly, go worship your King. If your church decides to shut down that day, find a good Bible-believing church nearby where the Elders understand their Lord’s Day duties to lead the congregation in worship.

And ask your own Elders about it, because there truly is something that should be concerning to us when the decision is made to not worship our Lord on the day he prescribed us to worship him.  I for one think it is, besides a sinful decision that requires repentant, a symptom of deeper troubles that need to be examined.

But thankfully, our God is a forgiving God.  He has forgiven the countless times I have not worshipped properly on the Lord’s Day.  Do not presume his grace, but also remember that it is there when we have erred.

 

Recommended reading:

Joseph A. Pipa Jr.’s book The Lord’s Day is exceptionally good in drawing out the Christian doctrine of the Lord’s day and what God intends for us on that day each week.  I definitely recommend it as further study on this topic.  There has been much written on what Christians should do with Christmas in general, but I believe the foundation to moving forward on the topic is the very topic of what a holy day is and what it is not, which is what Dr. Pipa is exploring.

Notes:

*The move of the Christian Sabbath to Sunday is one that I had to gloss over briefly, and I did not that simply because the intended audience of this essay is not likely one who believes the Sabbath should be on Saturday.  Dr. Pipa’s book The Lord’s Day tackles this topic in more depth.

Kain: Upon His Return to Baron Castle

Note:  I based this on the events from Final Fantasy IV, which for years intrigued me by by its plots and characters.  However, many years after I wrote this, a sequel to this game was released.  While I haven’t played it yet, I do understand that the events that I depict in this poem contradict the ones in the game.

The dawn, in sudden burst of red, as though
The thin layer of clouds, now bleeding o’er
The morning, swallows up the single moon.
The sun, in his great brightness does expel
The Queen of Night, and she, without dispute,
Is gone.  The morning dance is at its end;
The lonely moon makes way for day.
’Twas once a time, a time that I recall,
When Queen did have a King to stand
Beside her in the night.  They watched, a pair
Of eyes, but one has now been pluckèd out.

’Twas thirty years now passed, yet every night
I look upon our single moon, remember
Better that, those days long passed, than what
Occurred just yesterday.  Oh, will I not
Now shake this ghost and shed it off my skin?
But no, I’ll not forget the saddened eyes
Of Cecil when I turned my spear at him,
My greatest friend.  And better still the look
He gave while setting my rebellion down.

The cold remaining moon does watch me as
A cursèd eye to e’er remind me, night
To night, of all I did so long ago –
A summer month a score and half again
In years now passed.  But though the moon won’t
Forgive, perhaps, in Baron, Cecil will.

The cloud upon the cave of mist remains,
And yet the beasts within have long been slain.
’Tis now an active road from Baron, north,
And many men in every hour will come
And travel to or from the town of Mist,
Just past the other mouth.  But none will think
Of what had once resided ’tween these walls,
And none can know, while passing through this mist,
About the man who lives upon their path.
I sometimes watch them, ever out of sight,
And wonder if they’ve heard the tales before,
Of how that path did two men walk, that path
That changed the world in time, and for the good.
And if they have, I wonder still of what
They say of he, the second of the pair,
The hero unheroic, uncontrolled.
But yes, the days have trapped me in the mist,
The cloud has hidden me within its wall
Of white – a cloak that rides upon my skin.
And in that cloak I cower, hiding from
The men who travel through this soggy cave.
The days I sleep within this house and in
The evenings climb atop the mountains, look
Across the open plains to Baron.  Her lights
do shine to even here.  And at that spot
I’ll stand ’til dawn, and then retreat again.
When I was thirty years more young, I thought
That such a life would help me gain control.

No, let me lie no longer to myself:
Not even then did I believe that I
Am here to learn control myself again,
For what had once controlled me now is gone.

I live within this cave to flee from him:
It’s Cecil’s gaze I feat to bear again.
’Twas in this mist my mind was last my own,
And here my soul was last untouched by soot
Of sin against the innocent and good.
For after this was I the vessel in which
Was sent destruction.  With that message brought,
My will was battered, pained by screams of scores
Of people, burnèd by the bomb which I
Had so unknowingly brought.  That one remained –
The green-haired girl with power thrice her size –
The ghost of Justice sent upon its foes.
She called upon her beasts, all magically brought,
To slay the cold assassins.  To have died
At that, for I had so much farther to fall.

The battle ended sooner than begun,
And I was thrown against the rocks and left,
Assumed for dead, perhaps not unwisely.
My body broken, shattered, my armor bent,
My mind was weakened, my spirit low.

So weak – so easily was I controlled.
So easily, in shame do I admit it.
But beaten once in body, I was then
Too quickly overcome in mind as well.
There once again did magic pummel me.
There once again was I proven weak.

My years of training had been long and hard,
And I excelled myself above my peers,
The shining example of what Dragoons should be.
I thought, by skill and strength unmatched, that I
Could not be bested in the field of battle.
How foolish was I proved, for just a word
Of magic turned my thoughts against my friends.
How weak had all my training made me then.
The power of Golbez curdled my spirit sour,
And in so doing tacked these puppet strings
Upon my limbs and made me dance, dance.
When first I fought ’gainst Cecil, there I thought,
It is not I who strives against him now,
But Golbez through me speaks.  But no.  It was
His hand upon my head, but still ’twas I
Who did the evil deed.  I twice betrayed.

’Fore long I shook the spell, and Golbez too
(For in it all, he also had been overcome).
At last I joined with the line, my friends,
To stand beside them, not betray them ’gain.
Yes, I was there, an ally of the light,
Upon the second moon in battle ’gainst
The evil that did dwell beneath the ground.
Good Cecil once forgave me there, but I
Would not accept, and once returned I fled.
I pray his love for me does linger still.

I wandered long, through fields and over seas,
And came upon the place where Cecil shed
His dark shadow and put upon himself
The cloak of Holy Knight, and so the same
I sought unto myself on Mount Ordeals.
Alas! I never even saw the shrine
That stands atop the peak.  Those forces there
Who stand undead, o’erwhelmed me, sent me running.
They rose from out the dirt, the acrid stench
Burning in my nose, the rhythmic clanks
Of rattling bones so fell upon my ears,
And so I quaked.  I fought the creatures off,
But not for long.  They formed in lines, the ghouls
Stood there and zombies there, then all the men
Of bones in front, and all advanced with groans
And screeches torn upon my ears from death.
I wept in fear and pressed no more.  I fled.

I fled, and came again into the mist.
’Twas in this cave I last was proved of worth.
The last of all my life that vict’ry found.
I have become a soldier ’out a land,
And it was here that all my world did fall.

Can I this day reclaim what here was lost?
Perhaps these thirty years be far too long
A time to turn at last upon my path
And know I went too far.  I long returned
To here, the place that last I lived, but here
Is not enough!  And even though I step
Upon the very dirt I carelessly crossed
Three decades back, I do not feel the same.
So thus I walk now back, and thus emerge
In morning from my home, as a ghost appear
From out the mist, but is not crumbled by
The light of sudden dawn, but is welcomed by it.
The sun does fuel my steps, and as I go
I look and almost see my footprints in
The dirt, now agèd counted moons and turned
The other way.  I step against those prints
And onto Baron, rising ’fore the dawn.

The TechnoFunkBoy: The Final Fantasy Mixes

The Final Fantasy Mixes: A Tribute to Nobuo Uematsuthetechnofunkboy2

Our tribute to one of our favorite composers of all time: Nobuo Uematsu. We’ve taken 12 of his themes and turned them into 10 dance songs that are sure to get your groove going.  Click the links above to get this album!

  1. The Prelude
  2. Gulugu Volcano (From “Final Fantasy I”)
  3. Fight 2 (From “Final Fantasy IV”)
  4. Theme from Final Fantasy II
  5. Chocobo! Chocobo! (From “Final Fantasy IV”)
  6. Tina (From “Final Fantasy VI”)
  7. The Airship Medley: The Airship (From “Final Fantasy I”) / The Dragon Spreads Its Wings (From “Final Fantasy V”) / The Big Whale (From “Final Fantasy IV”)
  8. Forested Temple (From “Final Fantasy VII”)
  9. Crossing Those Hills / The Melodies of Life (From “Final Fantasy IX”)
  10. Epilogue (From “Final Fantasy IV”)

The TechnoFunkBoy: Driver’s Seat EP

TFB cover

The TechnoFunkBoy

Driver’s Seat

Tracks:

  • Prelude
  • Almighty
  • Cross
  • Valley
  • Robot
  • Postlude

Sort of a hip hop, dance, rock, pop, and old school MIDI game music thingy. It’s an exploration of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty that you can dance to. And it may make you want to play Zelda or Mario Bros. The members of TFB are well-acquainted with game music, seeing as how they were born and raised in various Nintendo games. Advancements in technology have at last allowed them to perform in the real world.

This album is available for free over at Noisetrade.  Enjoy!

YouTube Channel

Just a quick note that I have started a YouTube channel.  I’ll be using it to discuss starting a business, music, writing, or whatever else comes to mind.  I’ll post videos on this site that I feel are related to my writing and music, but most of them will not find their way over here so that we don’t overload the site with unrelated material, but you can subscribe to my channel on YouTube.

Once Upon a Time

Originally published in Primum Mobile, vol 1, issue 1, September 2004.

Once Upon a Time . . .

In Which it is Decided that there is Truth,
and How it Benefits a Man to Seek that Truth

Once upon a time, men believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. They believed that several spheres circled the Earth, each containing a heavenly body, whether it be the Sun, Moon, or planets. Beyond that were the stars, and then there was a tenth circle, called the Primum Mobile, which caused the other nine spheres to spin. And then in some versions, the Primum Mobile itself was moved by its own love of God.

This vision of the universe, called the Ptolemaic System, is radically different from the modern one, and not simply because the Earth is at its center. After all, if we simply switch the positions of the Earth and the Sun, most of the other spheres fall into place quite nicely. The Moon is the first sphere, so we would need to attach that to the earth as we are moving that one out, but the planets are all in the right order (the planets past Saturn were not known then, so they do not even appear on the chart), so very little there needs adjusting. Except for the one detail about the Earth being at the center, the order looks pretty familiar.

So what else differs? Primarily, the Primum Mobile. Continue reading

Strawberries

I never miss her when I hear her name,
or when I see her walking ’round our work,
or when I hear her laugh — ’tis all the same,

I hardly even notice anymore —
I only feel it slightly when she smiles.
The dreams have even stopped, they’ve grown so bored

of her — it really only took a while.
So now have I discovered I am free.
Yes, seeing her no longer is a trial.

But then the scent of strawberries touches me,
as though it rose from off her hair to sip
the air around, and brings the memories

all back. So all security then slips.
It tastes like powdered sugar on my lips.

 

© Copyright 2002 by Paul Lytle. All rights reserved.

From Perfect Worlds

Generally, my poems seem to fit into two categories — long poems, usually dramatic monologues, and sonnets. I usually have a lot to say, and I love the challenge of saying everything in fourteen lines.

Sonnets are best as love poems, and mine are no exception. This particular sonnet style is a newer form that is a combination of terza rima (which Dante used) and the traditional sonnet. It creates a wonderful sound that swirls around itself. This particular one has a sadder ending than most of my sonnets, but it is no less a love sonnet, even if love is unrequited.


 

I waited days to see you sitting there —
The strands of black as fallen lightly o’er
Your cheek, inviting neck (but blocked by hair).

It’s just like dreams I’ve dreamèd just before
The morning light does drag me then away
From perfect worlds I never wish be torn.

Impression seen and play’d in those long days
I spend without a sight of you in view,
And all my thoughts and then my heart betray.

But what to do but sit and stare at you?
For I cannot my hopes and dreams now heed,
But though my heart will push my mind says no —

For as I watch a perfect world repeat,
You watch another man instead of me.

© Copyright 2002 by Paul Lytle. All rights reserved.

Streetlight

One of my favorite poems, inspired by the strange but luring style of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

At the corner under the warm streetlight,
Under the dark sky made so bright
By the lamp on that corner,
Between the streets that border that scene —
Trapping me inside
With the sidewalk and yard’s grass —
I wait:
Wait until the last
For you to come and meet me
By that lamp on that street.

The expected time arrives, now gone.
All that time expecting you’d come.

Why was it such a surprise
After all the lies transpired between,
After all the days we’ve seen?
Those days repeat and reappear —
They drone on into weeks and years,
And days bring shades of black and white,
And right and wrong.
(Was I the wrong one all along?)

All the regrets I now feel
For a perfect Love you choose repeal.
We’ll wait a wait for a better day —
A way to finally escape from us,
A way to finally flee from Love.

The street lamp burns and steals the night
By lighting the dark and drowning the stars,
With great might pushing them away
To create an eternal day on that street corner,
Even through days and weeks and nights between.

I see I’ve waited far too long now,
On this night you won’t arrive
To join me under this streetlight.
(I never really thought you would.)
But still I wait and do not stray
From my place by the bright street lamp,
O’er hours and hours and passing days.

© Copyright 2002 by Paul Lytle. All rights reserved.