February 27, 2018


I have written before about how much I enjoy the Winter Olympics. And, for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed them once again this time around. There’s something deeply delightful about being cozied up with your family, on a winter’s eve, watching these great triumphs on snow and ice.

But one thing (among a few) that saddened me this time around was how often I heard God’s name, on broadcast television, being taken in vain. During both the broadcasts and the commercials, the holy, holy, holy God could be heard, over and again, being used as an exclamation, rather than in true reference to the Almighty. It was disturbing and disheartening … not only because people used God’s name that way, but because we have apparently reached a point, culturally, where it is no longer even considered shameful to do so (or to broadcast people doing so), even on the once somewhat-sanitized airwaves of broadcast TV.

On one hand, I’m not at all surprised. So much other sin, these days, is portrayed (and sometimes celebrated) on television … and tolerated (and sometimes enjoyed) by viewers. Why should I expect the broadcasters, the advertisers, or their viewership to care about the 3rd commandment? And yet, on the other hand, NBC did issue an apology, at one point, when microphones picked up an athlete using the ‘F’ word. Apologies were also issued for certain socio-cultural gaffes made by on-air personalities. And yet God’s name was blasphemed left and right … with the network and other responsible parties apparently recognizing, neither that such language is inappropriate and foul, nor that the reason it is so is because of the greatness of the One whose name is being misused!

Why am I pointing these things out? Not to be a culture warrior, lambasting NBC, or the television industry in general. And neither am I trying to gather stones for us to cast at our culture or our neighbors. Nor, even, am I writing in order to address the redemptive task of graciously engaging our neighbors on such matters, and pointing them away from sin and to Christ. In this space, rather, I’m simply concerned to urge that we Christians beware not to be taken (or to allow our families to be taken) along for the cultural ride.

Did you watch much of the Olympics? And did you pick up on what I am pointing out? And do you notice (and cringe at) the misuse of God’s name on so many other channels, shows, and other forms of media? Or have you become desensitized to this grievous offense against God (and/or others like it)?

I’m not saying that being insensitive to the misuse of God’s name by others is the same thing as engaging in blasphemously yourself. But surely our numbness to His being dishonored is a grief to the heavenly Father. And furthermore, unless we awaken from such spiritual sedation, we may soon find that we (and our children, who learn from us) will not only begin to be numb to offenses against God, but also to fall into them ourselves!

And so it’s worth asking – not for the sake of throwing stones; and not just for the sake of kindly helping take specks out of others’ eyes; but for our own sakes – it’s work asking if we even notice the way God’s name is bandied about, so carelessly, in our culture. It’s worth asking, too, if we’re bothered by such misuse of His name (and, indeed, if we’re bothered enough so as to shut the TV off when it’s bad enough; or to turn certain portions on mute; or to pause and discuss with our children the sadness of what we just heard or saw). And it’s worth asking these sorts of questions about any number of other offenses against God that are considered normal in our present cultural milieu.

Let us not be numb to the dishonor of our God!

February 20, 2018

A Breath of Fresh Air

How about the weather these last two days? Monday and Tuesday have felt like spring! And I am most thankful, not just for the warmth itself, but for how the warmth has beckoned me to breathe fresh air. Monday afternoon found our family on a lovely walk, breathing in more such air than we have for many days. And today (Tuesday), after many weeks breathing the stale, re-circulated, indoor air of a cooped up winter, windows are opened wide, allowing both home and office (and their occupants!) to breathe the fresh breaths of spring! And how good such breaths are, both for mind and body!

And it occurs to me that we can speak similarly about “a Sabbath well spent”.* It occurs to me that, after six days of breathing what often feels like stagnant air – after six days in the office; after six days in the rat race; after six days of toil; after six days of paperwork, or computer screens, or deadlines, or sweat, or stress, or pressure, or difficult co-workers – “a Sabbath well spent” (a  Sabbath used in the way God intended it, in other words) can be a breath of fresh air! It can be like the throwing open of windows, or the taking of a brisk spring walk, after a week trapped indoors.

Think of it that way! Think of your Sunday opportunities – for physical rest, for praise (at church and at home), for prayer, for sitting under the preached word, for fellowship, for edifying reading – think of them as a weekly fresh air walk, or as the flinging open of the windows, so that the draft of a different and healthier air can blow through the corridors of your life. Think of Sunday as a spiritual fresh air day!

Strive, yes, to breathe more and more of that air, seven days a week! But recognize that, if some days and weeks are more like a cooped up January, there is always a fresh-air day just around the corner! There is always this one day on which you don’t have to breathe the same old air, as it were – a day on which you are entitled (and commanded!) to get out of the rat race; to lay down the labors of the rest of the week, and to throw open the aforementioned spiritual windows of praise, fellowship, the word, and so on!

So commit to doing so!  

Commit, first of all, to setting aside your normal labors on the Lord’s Day – which is commanded, by the way, even if those labors are not stressful, or like stagnant air!  This commitment is right and healthy, whether you think you need to get away from your work or not!  And, if the Monday-Saturday routine is stressful or stagnant, such a commitment will get you, one day a week, out of the stale air!   

And commit your Sundays also, not just to getting out of the rat-race, but to positively breathing the fresh air!  Commit to open the windows, or to go on a fresh-air walk, so to speak.  Commit, in other words, to really do the things that make Sunday a breath of fresh air!  Breathe that air in – by means of rest, praise, prayer, fellowship, the word, and solid Christian books. Don’t sit, on a spring-like day, in the same stagnant air in which you’ve been languishing. Breathe the fresh air!

*I quote this phrase from Matthew Hale’s classic poem “a Sabbath well spent”. In this poem, Hale rightly points out how a well-spent Sabbath brings contentment and health for the week that follows, though I have used his words  in writing about the blessing of the Sabbath coming on the heels of the week that was.

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!