Lord's Day Liturgy

How Long

There is a frequent cry among the prophets and psalmists asking the Lord, “How long?” God’s people see wickedness unchecked, enemies unhindered, troubles unending. “How long?” can be a complaint of faith. God Himself gives us such a question as a pattern for our prayers.

But men are not the only ones who wonder, and they are not the first. The Lord Himself asks this question to point out the unreasonable unbelief and disobedience of men.

When the LORD delivered His people from Egypt and had given them double manna on the sixth day, He told them not to collect it on the sabbath, they went out to gather anyway.

“And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?” (Exodus 16:28)

In Numbers 14 the Lord asks “How long” three times, all because of the criticisms and complaining among those who were afraid to enter the Promised Land based on the reports of the spies.

And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me?” (Numbers 14: 11, 27a)

Wondering why it seems God is quiet or inactive shouldn’t be a cover for why we are not attending to His Word already revealed and to His instructions already in front of us. It’s one thing to be impatient with God, it’s another to forget how patient He has to be with us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

What’s More Impossible

If your god can’t do something about death then he can only offer so much.

Abraham believed in the God who overcomes death.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

Faith that believes in resurrection power is at the top of the faith chart. What is more impossible than being raised from the dead? In Abraham’s case, he was prepared to act based on it. In our case, we are prepared to eat and drink based on it.

There is no “figuratively speaking” with the resurrection of Jesus because He died. He wasn’t almost sacrificed. He carried the wood of His altar, was bound by nails to it, and though God could have sent 10,000 angels to take Him off the cross, a “close to death” would only made us close to salvation. They buried His body.

But then He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The angels told visitors to His tomb: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” This is literally/physically speaking.

When we eat the bread and drink the wine we proclaim His death but not because He’s dead. He lives! Our faith is in the resurrection and the life! May your faith be nourished by such a meal in such a powerful Savior who has overcome death for us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

No More Pivotal Day

There is no more pivotal day in history than the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v.17). “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v.20); He is risen indeed. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”

50 days after the crucifixion, Peter preached about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14ff). Many who heard his message were “cut to the heart” (v.37), and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38).

The resurrection celebration is for “every one,” but only each one who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Christians are those who hear the gospel, confess their sin, turn away from their sin, and trust in Christ. That’s the only way to be saved, the only path to share in the sin-forgiving death and life-giving resurrection of Christ.

Even as Christians, we continue to confess our sins because we don’t forget that the empty tomb we celebrate on Sunday is glorious because our sin caused His death on Friday.

Bring Them Up

Plotting Imaginative Coordinates

On the Making of a Fully Ready Non-Fiction Rumpus

Here are the notes from my talk at the 2024 Raggant Fiction Festival. If you’d prefer to watch, here’s a link to the video.

Magic Words

There is a two-word combo that I have not been able to spin out of my mental orbit for at least nine years, a verbal pairing that has affected my reading, my teaching, my recommendations, and my vision. They’ve almost been magic words, making something that didn’t exist before.

I value those who demonstrate that good reading, including good fiction, shapes our loves and loyalties. We learn to react the right way, who to root for and who to run away from. Yes(!) to stories that deepen and direct our affections. And, also, stories expand our imaginative coordinates. They push our mental boundaries of what was possible, and in so doing expand our world-building ideas.

Coordinates are a way to find where you’re at, or locate a place you plan to travel to, or even describe the length and breadth of the area considered. Coordinates belong on maps, X and Y, and sometimes a Z. The word “ordinate” comes from the idea of arranging or setting in order, and the “co” means that it involves at least two components working together. To plot coordinates is to set a course, which works not only when navigating a trip but also when writing a story.

Plotting imaginative coordinates in this respect isn’t figuring out how Mr. Rogers’ trolly gets to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but imagining that there could be different, even better, places that would be good to go than we previously thought.

I first read the phrase “imaginative coordinates” in Michael Ward’s book, Planet Narnia. He also partners “imaginative” with:

  • imaginative vision
  • imaginative palate
  • imaginative outlook
  • imaginative pleasure
  • imaginative access
  • imaginative difficulties
  • imaginative resting-place
  • imaginative point-of-view
  • imaginative engagement
  • and imaginative form

Imaginative here doesn’t mean imaginary, as if fake, but rather using one’s creative efforts to see an image not seen before.

Beyond the Page

This is lifeblood for world-building. The Festival’s title/focus this year includes: “reading and writing as world-builders.” Reading requires imagination to picture the world the writer describes. This is one point for books over movies, as movies leave little to your imagination. You’re still dependent on someone else’s imaginative effort since they’ve built the world so you don’t have to. And writing obviously requires imagination to see a story to tell.

But imaginative sub-creating as God’s image-bearers — as Tolkien called it — is not only good for fiction. These imaginative capacities are crucial for non-fiction world-building.

If you need someone to give you a list of everything you need to do, fine, but you won’t be better than a robot. Robots can follow instructions, and with less pouting. As I’m talking about imagination, I’m talking about going from good stories to better cities, from plot twists to new products and better businesses. My talk is sort of a thank-you letter to fiction for helping me go from good fiction to better non-fiction.

Ready Raggants

I’ve affectionately called this year at ECS “The Year of the Raggant.” This event, after all, is the “Raggant Fiction Festival.” The biggest problem is that there is no such thing as a raggant. Or is there? Well, turns out, raggants not only exist in the fictional stories of the 100 Cupboards series, the raggants have become a select group of flesh-and-blood students (who pay non-fiction tuition dollars). That is so real that the author added a plural noun for a group of raggants: many raggants are a rumpus.

This year I’ve also been thinking about a word at the beginning of James 1, the Scripture about trials going to work on us, making us something. They test our faith toward our character arc of becoming “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Perfect is related to telos, meaning the end it was made for, and complete is holokleros, sometimes translated as sound or whole. But one dictionary defined it as: “ready to meet all expectations.”

Trials push us beyond what we thought our faith could survive, they expand our imaginative coordinates of perfection and joy.

So how can we make a fully ready, non-fiction rumpus? That’s a twist on our school’s mission, that the next generation carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. How do we prepare the rumpus when we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, what exact challenges are coming in the next chapter, for when there is no exact script to follow?

Off the Edge

Before I give some actual points, I saw an interaction on my Twitter timeline a couple weeks ago that resonates with me. One guy asked: “What work of fiction changed your worldview the most?” Another guy, a guy who loves the Lord and loves the truth, said: “None. No work of fiction should ever change our worldview. As a Christian, my worldview is shaped by Scripture alone.” And, you know, here’s two thoughts about that.

First, okay, yeah, if you had to choose, the Bible OR Narnia, you know what to do. But remember how Nathan told David a made-up story to show David his own sin? Remember the made-up story about the prodigal son that Jesus told to show the Jews their rebellion? Each of those is a “work of fiction” that God inspired for sake of producing In-Real-Life change.

Second, maybe we could get hung up on the word “changed.” Okay, yeah, but there are ways that non-fiction explanations change the facts to distort, shape to cover, shape to deceive, and ways that fiction reveals higher or deeper or broader truths.

And again, fiction plots our imaginative coordinates further out on the page, maybe even off the edge of the map. We don’t advance without imagination, and so till we have fiction we won’t complete the mission.

A Trifecta of Stuck

Three characters won’t advance, at least not well. This is not to say that only perfect characters make progress. I really enjoyed following both Cora (in The Winter King) and Lio (in The Sinking City), and Cora in particular who kept choosing wrong things, not by accident, not due to naivety. They both had flaws, and yet they both went forward. But there are three traits that cannot see beyond their plight (not plot), and all three traits are temptations for all of us.

Victims Aren’t Ready to Advance

By victim I don’t mean someone who has something bad happen to him. Why would you read something where nothing bad happens; no conflict equals no concern. By victim I mean the slave to how the other people, and the circumstances, keep him from happiness, success, glory. If it is always someone else’s fault, if you can’t imagine that there’s something you can do to make things better, you will not advance.

Frodo was not just short, he was weak, and he was greatly tempted and greatly tired and greatly whining about it. And yet, for as much Elijah Wood’s sulky face is sadly burned into my mind, Frodo was not stuck because he believed enough in his calling/responsibility to leave the Shire.

I would summarize Till We Have Faces as Orual’s turn from victimhood. She did quite a lot for much of the story while convinced that she was the victim. But this is Lewis’ imaginative power providing a fictional mirror for us, and we are the ugly ones. Telling us the story through Orual’s perspective shows us that victims often claim their virtue, but victims are not more happy but angry as they claim their virtue.

Again, bad things happen, brutal things happen, unfair things happen, and all of that happens to characters completely out of their control. But is that all they can see?

“the thinking processes that lead one to assume that one’s life situation is in extremis are partially determined by the breadth of one’s horizons at the time—which, of course, correlates with one’s imaginative capacity and sense of adventure.” (A Failure of Nerve, Location 2952)

Victims are stuck without their imaginative coordinates expanding past blaming everyone else.

Faint-Hearts Aren’t Ready to Advance

Faint-heart is an actual fictional character in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Faint-heart joined the progress/advance with Christian and Faithful for a while, but abandoned the path and went back to the City of Destruction.

Cowards hide from conflict, and lose passively. Little-faiths lay down to get out of the wind and are, of course, caught in the wind longer. Lose-hearts lose heart, they give up.

Two things. One, again, the world is full of scary things as well as bad things, and even if you could avoid the scary and bad, there’s still gravity. Things are heavy, hard. Plus, the more imaginative you are, the more you may be able to imagine how painful something will be, the losses you could experience. Staying the course is more like crossing the English Channel with a kick-board; it’s within reach but it’ll be rough.

Two, being afraid is not just possible, some of it is quite reasonable. When O’Brien threatens to strap the cage of rats to Winston’s face in 1984, that’s only a visceral fear, when in fact, all of 1984 is a red-pill of dystopian anxiety that was bad when it was fiction, let alone when it turned 2020. It makes sense that the hobbits wanted nothing to do with the Nazgul, the Balrog, or with Shelob; watch out for Tolkien monsters with six letter names. The point is not that the next page is sure to have cuddly puppies, or a pot of gold, but that we’re willing to advance.

It’s not fiction, but Paul does plot some imaginative coordinates in 2 Corinthians 4.

“So we do not lose heart… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16a, 17–18 ESV)

It takes faith, and isn’t one part of faith being stronger is faith seeing further? Your picture of glory is probably too small. In order to not lose heart you need your imaginative coordinates enlarged.

Faint-hearts are stuck without their imaginative coordinates expanding past the immediate difficulties and inevitable discouragements.

Cynics Aren’t Ready to Advance

A pessimist is just a baby cynic, someone who can’t see anything good. A full-grown cynic is more like a nihilist, who thinks there is no point. This is why there are less Crazy-villains and more Cynic-villains. When you’re reading, and then when you’re thinking about your own responses to things, complaints unchecked lead to souls undone, and that leads to destruction. Cynicism is a self-fulfilling chaos-maker.

The disillusioned have imagination that is twisted toward their own self-interest. In their mind there’s no reason to be honorable, in fact, the honorable should be exposed and brought down.

Scrooge was a cynic, the Grinch was a cynic. They not only had bad attitudes in private, their suspicious and scoffing attitudes wanted others to pay. It was the same with Denethor and Saruman, whose cynicism led to lust for power to cause pain. They couldn’t leave well-enough alone. Shift’s cynicism opened up Narnia to slavery, murder, and eventually to being devoured by the real Tash.

Cynics are stuck without their imaginative coordinates expanding past the vices and vanities surrounding them.

On We Go

Why be so negative if the emphasis should be on advancing by the expanse of imaginative coordinates? First, because these are challenges that I’ve run into while trying advance. Second, because there are prerequisites to advancing, like not tying your shoelaces to a table leg. Third, because maybe you are one of the stuck, and you can’t imagine not being stuck, but actually fiction shows characters like you can get unstuck! It might require repentance, it might require a change in mental diet, but it is possible.

Fiction is fun, it’s entertaining, sure. But it can change your mind, and that can change/build your world. Good stories are imaginative mirrors to appall the ugly out of you, imaginative protein for world-building muscle, and imaginative coordinates to explore beyond the visible map.

Good fiction helps you be ready to meet all expectations, plotting imaginative coordinates IS part of making a fully ready non-fiction rumpus.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stated,

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

Till you have fiction, you may be stuck on your rump.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Much More

While I wouldn’t argue that we find the central point of Romans in the center of the letter, it is the case that a central argument of the gospel is right in the middle (out of 432 total verses in the ESV, there are 216 verses from 1:1-8:30 and 216 from 8:31-16:27).

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

Believers, brothers, beloved, here is gospel logic, an argument from the greater to the lesser, but the greater is giving one Son and the lesser is giving all else.

While we were still weak, God did not spare His own Son. While we were ungodly, God did not spare His own Son. While we were still sinners, God dis not spare His own Son. While we were enemies, God did not spare His own Son.

And so “much more” shall we be saved (5:9), “much more” shall we be saved by His life (5:10). “Much more” has God’s grace abounded (5:15). “Much more” will righteousness reign in life (5:17). “Much more” will be natural branches grafted in and riches of blessings increased (11:12, 24).

What then shall we say? God is for us, God will give us all things by grace, God loves us in Christ Jesus our Lord. You can not ask for much more than that.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Partially Right

Of course there were different groups of people responding in different ways on the day we refer to as Palm Sunday. But one thing all Israel expected was a triumphant Messiah. Was that the right expectation? It was right, but only by half.

God promised an anointed Son (think Psalm 2), a King who would defeat Israel’s enemies and restore the people in a fruitful land. This was not God’s only promise. God also promised an anointed Son, a Redeemer who would bear Israel’s heart enmity and reconcile the people to God (think Isaiah 53).

The Jews were not wrong to desire political liberty and full stomachs from productive fields under the authority of the Messiah. But they were wrong to desire all of that apart from their own personal submission to the authority of the Messiah. They had sin, they needed repentance, their worship was compromised, their zeal without knowledge.

Yes, “Hosanna (praise Yahweh!) to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 27:9). And we must receive Him as Prophet-speaking truth about our sin, Priest-offering sacrifice for our sin, and King-ruling over every part of our lives. We submit to His authority not just to fix our problems without, but to restore our souls.

The End of Many Books

Living by the Book

by Howard Hendricks

This is THE book for learning how to do Bible study. It is book number ONE, and for many, the only.

I’ve been to Bible college and seminary, been assigned lots of books, taken hermeneutics classes and Greek/Hebrew classes. I’ve loved learning how to read and meditate and apply the Word. And Hendricks is the one I keep coming back to in order to get other people going.

I’m teaching a class at our school called Cornerstone. That’s Jesus, yes, who is the embodied Word. And it’s also a reference to the inspired Word, the Bible. This year I’ve got freshmen and sophomores, and I’ve taken a few other freshmen classes through it at a previous school.

Want to read the Bible but don’t know where to start? Want to study the Bible but need some basic steps to get going? Want some recommended resources to help you study, and would prefer not just Googling or Wikipedia-ing?

Living by the Book is your book. All the stars.

The End of Many Books

The Covenant Household

by Douglas Wilson

The Doug is in his wheelhouse talking about fathers and family. His material is like steak and potatoes, you always enjoy it as much as you still want more.

The men at our church are reading and discussing this one. I think I’ve read all his previous books on marriage and parenting and household related issues, and was still convicted, edified, reminded, and glad to have read it.

I happen to think his use of the word “covenant” is sloppy, and I won’t pick on that here because the application for our roles and responsibilities, including some of the particulars that we need to repent from, are SPOT ON.

Read it, listen to it, and then don’t walk away from his use of God’s Word as a mirror before fixing your face.

The End of Many Books

The Improvement of the Mind

by Isaac Watts

I’ve wanted to read this book since 2017 when I heard George Grant talk about it at the ACCS National Conference.

The backbone of the book is: we don’t know all the things, so we should learn some more things. Improve the mind. There are a variety of ways, but the surest way NOT to improve is acting as if it’s not unnecessary.

Most of the modern man’s way is to find his strengths/likes, and quadruple down on those. Weaknesses? Let others compensate; someone else must be strong where you are weak. And to some extent, this is obvious. But it also seems to be a regular excuse.

I’ve started tweeting through some quotes and thoughts, and I do plan to continue, for my own improvement. There’s good words about learning languages, about how to read, how to take notes, how to argue (and when to stop arguing), and how to listen and learn in conversations.

Make a plan to improve your mind.

Highly recommended, even if it’s getting close to 300 years old.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Resurrection Resurrection

I’m sure someone must have told this to me before because I have many Russian friends. I have so many, that I know it’s better to say I have many Slavic friends, not all of whom are actually Russian.

Anyway, I was informed, or reminded, that the Russian word for Sunday is Воскресенье (Voskresenye). The parts of that word are “up” and “again” and “to rise,” so: “resurrect.” What the Bible regularly calls the first day of the week, what I believe the apostle John did intend to name “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10), and what we call Sunday, the Russian calendar has as “Resurrection.”

We are just a couple Lord’s Days from Resurrection Sunday, but our weekly first day, Lord’s day assembling and communion remind us to start with resurrection.

  • “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4)
  • “if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:5)
  • “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Romans 6:13)

On Easter, a Russian who would say “Resurrection Sunday” would be saying “Resurrection Resurrection.”. And while that focuses on the gospel of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, it includes all of us who believe in Him.

Do you know why God is able to strength you according to the preaching of Jesus Christ? Because Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life.

May you know:

what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead

Ephesians 1:18b-20a