Encouragement From The Word

Consider the context

I’ll admit that when I see someone quoting the Bible on social media, I get a little excited.  It’s always great to see God’s Word sent forth through whatever channels we can, whether to encourage or challenge.

So I saw the following post earlier this week; I’ve blotted out the information about the posters for their own security.  Can you see the problem?

The person who posted this decided that she would appropriate this passage of Scripture for herself.  I pointed out that the “her” in Psalm 46.5 doesn’t refer to any woman who decides to read it, but to “that city”, i.e., Jerusalem.  (Not all translations use the feminine pronoun for Jerusalem in this passage, which is helpful in situations like this one!)

In response to my pointing out that the text was about Jerusalem, the poster’s response was to say, “I am Jerusalem.”


As someone smarter than me once said, all Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applied.  When we yank a passage out of context and apply it to ourselves, or a given situation – without regard for the context of the passage – that’s called “proof-texting”.  It might also be called abuse of the text (and, when applied to others in this manner, spiritual abuse of another sort).

Psalm 46 is not about the person who posted this on social media in that sense.  There are principles we can draw from the Psalm, not least the “be still, and know that I am God” part (verse 10).  Even that, though, can be abused; I remember a famous Hollywood person many years ago using this verse to suggest, in some sort of ersatz Eastern meditation seminar, that the participants be still and know that they are God.

Nope.  All kinds of nope.

The Bible is not given for us to snip bits we like.  When you pick up a saw, you’re not just using one of the teeth, right? To use it effectively, as intended, you’re making full strokes with the saw, using all the teeth.  Trying to cut a piece of wood with one saw tooth would take you a very long time (you would die before you were finished).  It is no less foolish to lift parts of Scripture and misapply them.  While it might make us feel good and be a boost to our energy, we’re actually deceiving ourselves in so doing.

By all means, please do read the Bible.  But don’t yank out parts of it that inspire you without yanking the context out with it.

Let me give you one more example.  I saw this verse posted on a daily tear-off inspirational desk calendar one time:  “I will give it all to you if you will kneel down and worship me.”

Sounds inspiring, even empowering, right?  But consider the context:

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”  “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him.  “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4.8-10, NLT)

Ouch.  Not so inspiring in context, is it?

Scripture is intended to be inspiring and challenging.  But until we pay attention to the context, we’re playing with fire.  It is, after all, a sword.

Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17, NLT).

(By the way, you could accuse me of pulling Scripture out of context when I close each Encouragement with a verse or two, but rest assured I have considered the context around what I choose and seek to apply it helpfully.  Feel free to battle back if you think I misuse a Bible verse!)

Encouragement From The Word

Looking at all four legs?

Leadership expert John Maxwell tells the story of why animal trainers go into a cage of lions carrying whips, pistols and stools.  Why stools?

Apparently, the trainer holds the stool by the back, and thrusts the legs toward the face of the wild animal.  It tries to focus on all four legs at once, and in that attempt, a sort of paralysis overwhelms the animal.

It becomes tame, weak and disabled, because its attention has been fragmented.

Does that sound just a wee bit familiar?  It does to me, that’s for sure.

I keep myself busy, without a doubt, as I’m sure you do.  And at times, I consider whether I should stop doing something, but when I do, I realize that if I did stop something, I would likely just pick up something else in its place.

We have accustomed ourselves to doing something all the time.  There can be value in that, but only up to a certain point. Each of us needs margin in our lives.

If you’ve been looking at all four legs on that stool, and you feel paralyzed, it’s time to stop and re-evaluate.  What could you give up to build more margin into your life?  Sometimes, we need to give up something good, something very good, in order to have time for that which will make usbetter, not least of which is time with the Lord.

Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46.10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

We will not fear

The suicide bomb attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, has stunned many people.  When we think of “suicide bomber”, we don’t generally think of a civilized country.  When such an attack comes in a developed, western nation, it might be understandable to think that nowhere is safe anymore.

Investigators will get to the bottom of this.  I have my ideas about the root of this attack, which may be unpopular, but my purpose here is not to deal with the why.  I want us to think for a moment about what we do about it.

Many people live in fear.  For some, it’s irrational; they watch a newscast, and think there’s a terrorist hiding around every street corner.  For most, though, it’s a slow-burning fear, a fear that the world in which we live is very different from the world in which some of us who are older grew up.

That is true, of course, and has always been true.  Each generation comes with changes to society – we just know more about them in this wired world we live in.  This time, though, it just seems overwhelming to some.

What’s a Christian to do?

Someone with too much time on her or his hands apparently counted the number of times in the Bible the phrase “fear not” appears, and that number is 365:  one for each day of the year.  I think God wants us to get the message.

Psalm 46.1-2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (NLT).

So we’re not to fear.  As followers of Jesus, we understand that God is sovereign, that he is in charge.  It won’t always look like it, and we can’t comprehend the mind of God.  But he’s got all matters in hand.

That’s easier said than done, of course.  It involves deep faith.  It also involves an understanding that as Christians, we are not of this world.  Our home is with the Lord; all this around us is temporal.  While we should want to enjoy as much of this life as we can, we should not be afraid of what lies ahead if we name Jesus Lord and Saviour.

You may wish for your children or grandchildren that they didn’t have to face such evils as what we heard about on Monday evening in England.  But that is all the more reason for you to impart your trust in the Lord Jesus to them.  Some call it ‘shoving religion down their throats’.  We call it fulfilling our baptismal vows.  When we present our children for baptism, we are promising before God that our kids are going to be so immersed in the love of Jesus that their own profession of faith will be as natural as breathing.  When that happens, they will not fear, either, just as we do not fear.

There’s probably a sermon in here somewhere, but these are a few thoughts about dealing with fear in light of the world in which we live.  Trust Jesus, and you have no need to fear.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Be Still

I’ll bet you’ve had a busy week.  So have I.  So here’s what I’ve prescribed for myself, and I hope it’s of encouragement to you, too.

Just take five minutes – five whole minutes – to sit in God’s presence.  Pay attention to your breathing, and read these two small verses several times:

Be still, and know that I am God!

I will be honoured by every nation.

I will be honoured throughout the world.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

The God is Israel is our fortress.

   – Psalm 46.10-11, NLT

Just let that sink in.  It’s worth your time.

Encouragement From The Word

Do not fear

For a long time, we assumed these sorts of things only happened in other places: Tel Aviv. Belfast. New York.

Now we know: Canada is not immune. The terrorist attacks in Ottawa on Wednesday morning have shaken our nation in ways not previously experienced. We are vulnerable. Those who would make Canadians “pay” for our desire to see freedom and democracy for all the world’s peoples are among us.

In other words, we now live as much of the world lives.

We cannot, however, live in fear, for that is what the terrorists want. They undertake their activities in an attempt to terrorize people into succumbing to the wishes of those doing the terrorizing.

Many people in the world live in fear because of terrorism, and it is in those places where the terrorists have the upper hand.

But not all those living under terrorism live in fear. Consider the Christians in Mosul, Iraq. It is they who live with the most visibleNun_arabic_Nazarene sign of terrorism these days. It is they who have the Arabic letter nun painted on their homes by ISIS insurgents who are intent on eradicating the Christian “infidels” from the land they believe is rightfully Islamic territory.

If some armed group were threatening to remove you from your home, what would you do? If your answer is “give in”, you’re not like the Iraqi Christians. Not only are they not giving in, there are reports that more people are coming forward to be baptized into the name of the Triune God of grace – even in the midst of overt persecution.

“Fear” is not in the vocabulary of these believers. Neither should it be in ours.

The days of Christendom, even in good old safe Canada, are gone. To live as an authentic follower of Jesus today is not mainstream. It is, as it always was in New Testament times, counter-cultural. But we serve the God who enabled the prophet Elijah single-handedly to put the prophets of a false god in their place. We serve the God who enabled little David to slay Goliath the giant. We serve the God who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ.

If that sounds a little bit triumphalistic, so be it. The apostle Paul told the Roman Christians, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31, NIV). It is this belief that we serve the one true God that has encouraged Christians for over two thousand years.

The threat of terrorism – religious, political, or otherwise – is real for us. But we should not fear.

Take a few moments and slowly read – more than once, if you can – Psalm 46 (NLT). Allow it to soak through you and fill you with faith in the God who will protect you, who will protect all of his faithful, in the face of whatever may come before us. (When you see the word “interlude”, that’s right in the text; pause at those points and let the words sink in.) Believe what you read, and let that be an encouragement to you…and through you, to others.

God is our refuge and strength,

    always ready to help in times of trouble.

So we will not fear when earthquakes come

    and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Let the oceans roar and foam.

    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Interlude

A river brings joy to the city of our God,

    the sacred home of the Most High.

God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.

    From the very break of day, God will protect it.

The nations are in chaos,

    and their kingdoms crumble!

God’s voice thunders,

    and the earth melts!

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

    the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:

    See how he brings destruction upon the world.

He causes wars to end throughout the earth.

    He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;

    he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!

    I will be honored by every nation.

    I will be honored throughout the world.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

    the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude


Encouragement From The Word

Of Mice and Aircraft

Yesterday morning, I took my wife to the airport so she could fly to Florida for a women’s conference for the weekend.  It was foggy as we drove, but by the time the flight would take off, the fog was likely to have lifted.

Unfortunately, the flight was delayed at takeoff, but not because of fog.  The plane was ready to head for the skies, but the brakes were put on and everybody was deplaned.  Why?  It was one very small reason:  there was an unauthorized passenger aboard the aircraft that needed to be removed.  It was a mouse.

I’m not sure what the authorities used to deal with the mouse, whether it was a trap, a vacuum cleaner or a herd of cats, but after about three hours, the plane was declared ready for takeoff once again, and the flight resumed as normal, albeit delayed.

Do you ever find unexpected little things cause big headaches in your life?   I think we all have these sorts of experiences, though not necessarily involving mice and large aircraft.  How can we respond to them?

The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1, NIV).  That’s not just a trite verse; it’s the truth of God’s Word, that in any kind of trouble – mouse-sized or elephant-sized – God will be with you.

When you’re in the midst of one of these niggling little difficulties, try using that verse as a “breath prayer” – something you say to God with the rhythm of your breathing – as a means of expressing your faith that God will take care of you.  Watch how it affects your demeanor!  Perhaps your friends will wonder what’s gotten into you, that you’ve become more calm in the midst of strife.  Then you can tell them:  God is your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Whatever may be your trial right now…God is with you.  God is for you.  Let him be your refuge and strength.