February 12, 2018

Some Helpful Books

Some books are best read straight through, in fairly decent-sized chunks, and without a great deal of starting and stopping … so that you can keep the train of thought, or the flow of the story, straight in your mind. Other books, however, while they can be read fairly quickly, can also serve you quite well by taking up regular residence on your nightstand, or beside your recliner, or wherever it is that you tend to go in the quiet moments … and by being dipped into and mulled over, here and there, in smaller or larger chunks, over the course of many months or years. And, with the reminder that the Bible must always be the first and foremost book in our lives, I encourage you to read the spiritually edifying variety of both sorts of books!

In the space below, allow me to recommend a handful of books that fall into the latter category – the kind you might keep nearby your bed, or beside your favorite chair, or wherever you do your reading … so as to dip into them at various times. Each of them would be of certain benefit to you.

The Valley of Vision. A collection of Puritan prayers (gathered under various topical headings) which, although not divinely inspired, will read something like a collection of psalms. Use them for meditation, and to prompt your own prayer life. Available in paperback or leather bound.

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Written in beautiful, poetic prose, Rutherford’s letters are devotionally warm, pastorally helpful, and will encourage you to want to know more of Rutherford’s Savior. Charles Spurgeon called these letters “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.” You might begin with the abridged version.

Spurgeon’s sermons. Charles Spurgeon was called “the prince of preachers” for a reason! And generations have benefitted from the hundreds of his sermons that have been preserved. Warm, straightforward, and consistently making “a bee-line to the cross,” his sermons make for some of the best reading that any Christian could do. One readily available volume (of 28 sermons) is CH Spurgeon’s Forgotten Early Sermons.

Operation World. If you want to pray for the spread of the gospel among the nations, this book is a wonderful resource. Containing important information, statistics, and prayer requests for each nation of the earth, this book has the potential to draw out your mind and heart in pray for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

May God grant you fruitful reading!

February 6, 2018

Rescue Psalms

I have lately been making my way through the Psalms, and have sometimes found myself reading cries and petitions that don’t seem to have a great deal of immediate application to me. I’m thinking of those psalms in which the psalmist groans for deliverance from his enemies. These 'rescue psalms' (as we might call them) are wonderful psalms! And yet, what to do with them when I don’t really have a great many earthly enemies? What does an American, living a pretty easy life, do, for instance, with verses like the following?

Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue my soul from their ravages,
My only life from the lions.
I will give You thanks in the great congregation;
I will praise You among a mighty throng.
Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me;
Nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously.
For they do not speak peace,
But they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.
They opened their mouth wide against me;
They said, “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!”
You have seen it, O LORD, do not keep silent;
O Lord, do not be far from me.
Stir up Yourself, and awake to my right
And to my cause, my God and my Lord.
Judge me, O LORD my God, according to Your righteousness,
And do not let them rejoice over me.
Do not let them say in their heart, “Aha, our desire!”
Do not let them say, “We have swallowed him up!”
Psalm 35:17-25

What do I do when there is no one (seemingly) “open[ing] their mouth wide against me”? A few thoughts on how to make good use of these psalms:

1. Remember our brothers and sisters who do have such enemies. Persecuted Christians in places like North Korea, or the Middle East. Christian business owners in this country, under fire for trying to work according to their consciences. Abused women and children. And so on. There are those for whom the words of such psalms are very immediately relevant. So use the psalms to pray for them!

2. Remember these psalms for when you do need them. Life is not always easy! And a time may come when someone does set him or herself up as your enemy … either because of your faith, or perhaps for some other reason. Gossip, slander, persecution, abuse, unfair lawsuits. These sorts of things can happen. And we’ll need the likes of Psalm 35 then! So remember that they are there! Keep them in your back pocket, as it were, and pull them out when the tough times come.

3. Remember that you do have enemies. Maybe not in the form of other people who desire to “swallow [you] up” … but your own sin is a mortal enemy! And so are the devil and his minions. And so, when sins, or doubts, or temptations, or the devil’s accusations are laid before you like snares, the rescue psalms can be taken up then, too. “Rescue my soul from their ravages, My only life from the lions.”

4. Remember the Messiah. Two of the seven statements Jesus uttered from the cross are direct quotations from the sorts of psalms I have in mind in this article (see Psalms 22:1 and 31:5), and a third is closely connected with Psalm 69:21. So Jesus was thinking of these sorts of psalms when under the thumb of His enemies! And that means, I would say, that we should be thinking of Him when we read them!* No one ever suffered like Jesus! And He repaired to the psalms in the midst of His suffering! And so when we read the suffering and the cries of the Psalms, let us think of this ultimate Sufferer, and praise God that His cries were heard … and that, in Him, so also will be the cries of His people!

*Not to say that everything in the rescue psalms has a correlation in Christ’s suffering and cries. But there are correlations – some more general, others more direct  that you will notice if you are looking for them.  So look for them!  Think about how what you are reading in the Psalms compares to the sufferings and/or cries of Christ.  And, if your Bible contains cross-references, use those to help you!  Not every correlation may be listed in the cross-references (so do some comparative thinking on your own, aside from the cross-references).  But some such correlations (especially the more direct ones) may be noted in the cross-references. And so it would be a good exercise, when reading the rescue psalms, to scan down through those cross-references, looking to see if they call attention to any correlations between the psalm and the life of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Doing this with Psalm 35, while working on this article, the NASB cross-references informed me, for instance, that Psalm 35:19 is quoted in John 15:25 in reference to the sufferings of Jesus: “They hated me without a cause.”

February 3, 2018

The Olympics, the Nations, and the Gospel

The games of the 23rd Winter Olympiad are just a few days away. And the Strassner family loves the winter Olympics! Every four years, we huddle together in front of the television for those 2-plus weeks, delighting in the artistry of phenomenal athletic skill brushed across the brilliant white canvas of winter scenery. I can’t wait!

One of our family traditions is that each of us chooses a different country (in addition to the USA) for which to cheer. And, since we want to actually see the teams and athletes for which we have chosen to cheer, we choose countries that tend to do well in the Winter Games. This year we’ve got Norway, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands – eight of the top ten medal-winning countries from 2014 (the others were Russia and the USA). 

But how fares the gospel in these eight countries? That’s the question that occured to me recently. For answers, I turned to the 2010 edition of Operation World (a must-have Christian resource, by the way). And the statistics I turned up were striking. Of the eight countries for whom we are cheering, none of them (as of the 2010 statistics) is more than 8.4% evangelical. In France, evangelicals make up only 1% of the nation’s populace. In Austria, the percentage is half that! And even in nearby Canada, there are less than 8 evangelicals per 100 people! This is striking. In fact, of the 26 nations that won medals at the 2014 Sochi Games, only four (the USA, South Korea, Australia, and Finland) have evangelical populations that number above 10% (percentages, again, according to Operation World). 

What this means is that, if and when you watch the Winter Games, chances are (first of all) that you’re going to be watching a great many men and women whose athleticism marvelously demonstrates the image of God in man … but who do not know that God, and who do not know “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Pray for them. Pray, too, for their countrymen who have travelled to see them (and who are part of the same statistical milieu). Pray for Christian athletes, coaches, and officials to be witnesses for Christ. And pray for the witness of local South Korean believers, of missionaries in the area, and of others who may come in on short-term mission trips specifically to share the gospel with those in town for the Games. The statistics indicate there will likely be plenty of folks who need evangelizing.

The statistics also mean that, if and when you watch the goings on in PyeongChang, you are also going to be seeing the regalia and hearing the names of a whole host of nations whose countrymen, back home, desperately need evangelizing as well! America is the most evangelized of any nation that won a medal at the last games … and you know how much we need the gospel here. So what must be the need in a place like Austria, or China, or Slovenia (0.1% evangelical!), or Japan? Think of this when you watch the games. Root for these nations, as it were, in prayer! And maybe someone who reads these lines will even be moved to go to one or other of them, carrying the gospel, and pursuing a prize even greater than Olympic Gold!