Encouraging In Challenges
What does it look like for the church to truly be encouraging? Are we contributing to the church’s call to and for encouragement? In this message, Vince Miller addresses the appeal to encouragement when God’s people need it the most. Today he looks to one of the largest churches in the Bible, and a time of major transition, and the encouragement God offers in the trials they have and will face under new leadership and in a new land.
This is Resolute, and Man Talk. Guys, I am so excited that you’re with me today. This is a new series that I have entitled, “The 4 Habits of the Missional Church.” Today’s message is entitled, “Encouraging in challenges.” So join with me today, as we dive into a sermon that I believe will encourage you.
Over the next 4 weeks or so, I just wanted to engage a very meaningful kinda reset set of messages. And I hope these messages will empower you with an understanding of the church. Because I really want to look at the 4 habits of the missional church. I don’t know if you know this or not, but there’s a lot of opinions flying around about God’s church today.
In fact, what I find interesting – when you engage someone in a dialogue about the church, is that you can kinda anticipate certain things by people in the world and their perspective on the church. But it’s interesting when you dialogue with other Christians about the church. It’s actually quite a fascinating discussion.
I entitled today’s message, “Encouraging in challenges.” Because I believe God’s church is encouraging as it faces challenges. But as soon as I titled the message that way, I had to ask myself a really hard, introspective question. And it was this. Am I encouraging of God’s church as it faces challenges? Am I encouraging of God’s church as it faces challenges?
And I got to tell you, over the last couple of decades that I have worked in ministry – I think that I would have to confess that have been many times I have not. There have been many times that I’ve been in a conversation with other people. I’ve been in conversation with staff members. I’ve been in conversation with people that I love, that perhaps my conversation about God’s church hasn’t been so encouraging.
And I think that we all kind of know what I’m talking about. And that is that sometimes we can really verbalize some really hard feelings about God’s church. And sometimes our conversations will take a focus or a direction that are incredibly painful towards God’s people. And I have found myself doing this at times. And I would have to confess that in these conversations, I haven’t always brought edification to Jesus Christ. To his church, to his body, to his people.
And I have come to learn that sometimes these conversations take a toxic focus, and unfortunately I verbalize cynicism, judgementalism. I can become incredibly negative and hurtful towards people. And over the years, as I have done that, I have begun to self-evaluate why I do that. Because these conversations – sometimes they start off meaningful, right? Just as a part of a process, to try to figure out what I believe and what I think, and what I know about God’s church and what I want it to be.
But there’s this little moment where everything begins to tip, right? And my heart begins to turn toward bitterness and anger and spite. And I gotta tell you, I’ve had numerous, if not hundreds, if not thousands of conversations with God’s peoples. God’s people over the last couple of decades. That I would say has grown almost embittered, right? About His body.
There are 3 things that I remember in these moments now, that kinda help me to – to reset a little bit. And the first thing that I remember when I begin to tip toward that sense of bitterness and cynicism and judgementalism – is I have to remember that I can never elevate my personal preferences to the level of an idol in my own life.
What’s funny is – is we have these conversations about the Christian Kingdom. And most of these debates are about our preferences, aren’t they? We’re usually not debating the big things. We’re not debating whether or not Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, is going to be raised again from the dead and bring salvation to the world. We’re not debating the Holy Trinity, we’re debating things that are personal preferences to us.
Often I have found myself doing that. And then elevating some personal preference about the way that I want things done. The way I hope things would happen. The way things should happen in the Body of Christ, that is just a personal preference to me. They’re not something to die over. They’re just something that I really like and would want to happen.
And unfortunately, the world outside of us sees us do these things. They see us elevate these personal preferences over somebody else’s personal preferences. And they watch us throw rocks at each other, and they go, “Why would I ever want to be a part of that?” My mother and father did not believe in Jesus Christ because of that.
My bio dad was an agnostic. My mom refused to go to church. They got divorced when I was really young. But they hated Christians because they found them to be hypocritical, judgemental, angry, bitter towards each other. And they said, “Why do we want anything to do with that Body of Christ?”
And yet, so – even though I know that – and even though my mother and father are gone now, I really wish that they would’ve known the beautiful part of the Body of Christ. But because sometimes those personal preferences get elevated to the place of an idol, it prohibits people to see the beauty of Jesus Christ. But I’m a part of that too.
The funny thing is at times, that we can poke fun at other churches and kinda what they’re doing or what they’re not doing. And we can tend to throw rocks, but God still uses those people. No kidding – about 10 years ago, my mother died. I flew into San Francisco International Airport. Was picked up by an old friend. An old friend, a friend that I didn’t want to see.
And we were rough kids growing up. And this kid was the furthest thing from Christ that I knew, and he wanted to pick me up from the airport. It was the last person I wanted to see when I was in the Bay area. But he picks me up at the airport, because he has just made a decision for Jesus Christ, and he knew I was a Pastor. For 2 and a half hours on the freeway, all we did was talk about Christianity. Stuck in traffic for 2 and a half hours. All he did was ask me questions about Jesus Christ, and I was like, “Where did this newfound faith come from?” No joke, I’m about to get out of the car.
And he says, “I know you’re going to your mom’s funeral, so there is a reason why I picked you up. I picked you up because I met Jesus Christ at the Oakland Colosseum at a Joel Osteen conference. And I want to let you know that on that day, I stood up. My mom was with me, she stood up. And you don’t know it – but your mother was with us too, and she stood up.” Never knew that.
And it’s so easy to cast stones at people, isn’t it? For little beliefs that may be a tiny bit different. To elevate our personal preferences above other people’s personal preferences. But God can use anybody that he wants at any time. And so maybe what we need to do in the Christian Kingdom is lay down our personal preferences and not elevate them to the place of an Idol. That’s one thing that I remember, as soon as that cynicism hits in.
The second thing I remember is this. Is that Jesus Christ built the church, not me. Oh this is so critical. Because as soon as that cynicism kicks in, suddenly I believe that I am the builder of the builder of the church, when really God built the church. He was the architect, he was the builder, he built it on the back of his son, and he paid for it.
This church doesn’t belong to me. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Jesus Christ, and he built a church that will not – it will not cease to end. And the gates of hell will not stand against it. Therefore, we have hope in that. Even my cynicism will not tear it down. And there’s hope in that, isn’t there? Even when times look bleak, or we’re not encouraged – God is still building, because it’s his church.
And I think the final thing is the most important. And this is what I remember when my cynicism kicks in. The problem with the church is not a problem with the church. The problem with the church is a problem with me. It really is. It’s a problem with my own heart. Because as soon as I grow cynical and judgemental and bitter about the things that I want to happen in the Christian Kingdom, in my church and the way that I want it to happen – all I’ve done is elevate myself to a place of pride that prohibits the flow of everything about God that’s good. Everything.
I begin to withhold everything that makes the Christian Kingdom great. What makes Christianity a great grace. Love, forgiveness, mercy. And as soon as I become cynical and judgemental and bitter – you know what I do? I dam up the resources that God wants to flow through me. And I’m the problem, it’s me. So as soon as I’m engaged in one of those conversations, and I become cynical about God’s church – I become the antithesis of encouragement.
And so I just want you to know today as we dive into this message that my heart is soured on being encouraging in challenges as we look at the church. And I know that I’m not alone, right? I know I’m not alone. So as we embrace this series, and we look at this message today, I pray that we can find something that will lead us out of that toxic discouragement. If that is even a word? That toxic discouragement and bitterness and judgementalism that will lead us away from walking out of this room and evaluating everything. To really moving us into evaluating ourselves.
And so let’s dive in this morning. As you get to know me, you’re going to know that I love to read God’s word. So I’m going to pray this morning that you would open up God’s word to Joshua. If you’ve got your Bibles with you, that’s great. If you’ve got your Bible app, you may want to open that up. We’re going to be right in that first chapter of Joshua.
If you’re using our app this morning, you’ll love this. In the app, there are some notes right there. You can take some notes in there, and the scripture happens to be in there. And in the program this morning, there are some notes with some reflection questions that you can take out of our time today.
I’m going to be reading from Joshua chapter 1. I’m going to read down through – oh about 9 or so. And I just want to let these words wash over you, and then I want to look at 3 ways that God encourages us today as a church. Joshua chapter 1.
“After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord. The Lord said to Joshua, the son of none,” alright? Now I want to stop there just for a second. Let me set some things in context. This is one of the largest churches in the Bible. It’s a church of well over about a million people. They have left the land of Egypt in captivity. They’ve wandered for a few decades out in the desert. They are now lurching on the land of Israel. And they’re looking in. Moses dies. He hands a baton to Joshua. And then we pick up here.
“The Lord said to Joshua the son of none, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan – you and all these people into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the soul of your foot will tread upon, I have given to you just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, as far as the Great River – the River Euphrates. All the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea, toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.'”
“No man shall be able to stand before you. All the days of your life, just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause as people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous. Be careful to do according to all the law that, all the law that Moses, my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left. That you may have good success wherever you go.”
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you can be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened. And do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I think these are fantastic words. I mean, I just get excited about God’s word, but this is an exciting moment right here. I can’t explain to you this tension. Because I have no idea what it feels like. Joshua’s living in the precipice between 2 great valleys. Valley number 1 is this. He’s leaving everything that he has known, and he’s guiding a misfit group of millions of people into a land that they’re going to take.
And on the other side is the land that God has promised to all of them, and they’re supposed to walk in and take this land – not by force, by God’s will. And God is going to use unusual means to walk them into their land. I have no idea how Joshua might feel here. I have no idea. But I know this one thing. God is going to encourage him in this church in this moment in 3 significant ways.
Encouragement number 1 is this. God is always, always, always speaking. I don’t know if you caught it, but I can’t pass over it. Every time I read Joshua 1, I stop at this part. It’s this part here. Joshua 1, verse 1. “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘How easy it is for us to pass over that.'” This is God literally speaking to Joshua. His voice is speaking to him. And I think one of the ways that God encourages his church, is by always speaking to it. God is always giving us his word.
Now note this, the problem isn’t that God’s not speaking. The problem is that God is speaking and often, sometimes we miss his voice. Or we’re just simply not listening, right? And we’re aiming to kinda hear God’s voice as we face challenges in life. And sometimes we miss– We just completely miss it. In this situation, clearly – God is speaking directly to Joshua, and he wants him to hear some things.
This last week, I was talking with a friend. He’s a professional counselor. His name’s Marcus Bachmann, and he owns a couple of counseling businesses in the Twin Cities. And I talked with him about how people face challenges. And he told me back that there’s only 2 things that people need when they face challenges. Only 2 things. And you have to remember, this guy meets with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people every year that are facing challenges.
2 things. Number 1 – they need to have a correct perception of the situation. And number 2, they need social support structures around them to help them through those things. Only those 2 things. He said, “If you can help someone who’s facing a challenge, to have a correct perception of the situation and put social support around them – then they can make it through almost anything.”
Add to this that Marcus has a faith in God, and he said, “You add God to that, and God can help you through anything. He will speak to you through these circumstances.” And I thought his comments were actually quite intriguing. Because I think most of the time when we face challenges as a church, or as people – our perception is a little bit off, and a perception has moved from the facts of the situation or what’s really happening toward the feelings that we have.
And the second thing that we often do, is we remove ourselves or isolate ourselves from social support. Which is exactly why people go to see counselors, right? It’s because they don’t have either one of those things in place. They have a poor perception of the situation. And they have no social support around them to help them. And therefore, they’re trying to reset that by bringing those worlds together.
I have found that when people have those things together and have a faith that goes with it – it is very, very powerful. So I have this friend named Steve. Steve has had cancer for years. Steve has battled with cancer for over a decade. This guy is the most resilient person I know. He’s been through 7 and a half weeks of radiation. 6 rounds of chemotherapy. He had part of his spine frozen because they found cancer in his spine.
He had to have his gallbladder removed recently, because the meds that he was taking – he was taking, was giving him gallstones. And for the last 5 years on a regular basis – he drives down to Mao to get hormone injections because his hormone levels are so low. Which has deteriorated all of his muscle tones, and he has hot flashes on a regular basis. And this guy hears God speak all the time. He’s the most resilient, loving, Christian man, with tons of endurance and resilience.
Why? Because in the challenges, he listens to God’s voice. And I have, I have noticed that people who face deep and hard challenges in their life – learn how to hear God’s voice through the challenge. Because they learn to listen more intently. And I feel that that’s exactly what’s happening for Joshua here. That in the middle of this moment, what he could choose to do is – take the wrong perception of his reality. And he could isolate himself from community – but what he does is he draws into it, and draws people into it. And welcomes the challenge, by trusting God’s voice and listening to it.
And in those moments, incredible things happen when we really listen. I love to turn to my friends who have faced challenges ahead of me, and the challenges that I currently face. I love to call them up and ask them, “How would you handle this moment? Speak to me about what you would say, what you would do, what you would not do.” Because in those moments, God begins to speak. And God speaks to us in a variety of ways, right? Through his word, through other Christian people.
Sometimes through circumstance, sometimes through the spirit. Sometimes through church. Sometimes through music. I mean all these things are incredibly powerful, but we just have to aim to hear God’s voice. God is speaking, but are we listening? Is the deeper question. And I believe that as we face off with challenges in our life, we’ve got to seek the voice of God. We’ve got to seek it, we’ve got to search after it.
I’ve got to tell you the times that God has spoken to me the most. Is in the moments that I faced the greatest challenges. Because in those moments, if – if I run to Him – and not my feelings, and I run to Him and His community, God starts giving me voice again to where I feel a sense of emptiness.
Encouragement number 1 is this. God is always speaking. And God is speaking to this church. Encouragement number 2 is this. God gave us the Word. Let me read these words here to you. They, they’re startling. God says to Joshua verse 8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do – according to all that is written in it, for then you will make your way prosperous, and you will have good success.” I love that. This is God turning Joshua, saying, “Hold tight to my word, just hold tight to it.” To be in His word. Meditate on it day and night, and you will have good success. Good success.
It’s amazing, this book right here – is the greatest sold, most read book in the world. It was the first book ever printed on a printing press in 1440, this book right here. God has been giving us this book for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. He handed it to us to give us a way. Yet, the startling truth about the facts of this book are really sobering. 64% of Christians never pick this up and read it on a regular basis. 64, 64% of Bible believing Christians that believe that this is in the inspired word of God, never pick it up.
Why? So it’s just like this huge gap between Bible availability and Bible use. Isn’t that startling? I was shocked recently to meet with a really, really, really good friend who owns a really, really, really big businesses across our nation. And over the last 50 years, he’s led this business. It’s a local one, many of you know about it. It’s called Slumberland. Probably bought a bed there, couch there? I just found out about 6 months ago that the President of that organization is on his 40th year reading this through every year. He would never tell that to anybody. But I was shocked to hear that.
And I want to be careful about attributing financial success to the reading of this book. But God says here that you will have success. What that infers – for sure I believe it’s spiritual success. For sure. But who’s to say that God can’t do whatever he wants with the humble man and woman, who digs into His word, and is obedient to this law on a regular basis.
Man, that was motivation to say, “I better keep up with Ken.” ‘Cause he’s in God’s word. He’s loving it. He’s reading it. 40 years of reading God’s word. 50 years of being a business. Hmm. At least interesting, to say the least. At least interesting. But that man, he loves God, and God wants us to be in His word.
As we engage in a new year, we have these opportunities to make all these new year’s resolutions, right? To start well and fail again. That’s what we call it, right? Everybody who starts well fails again, usually by the 4th week – we all know that. But I gotta tell you, this would be a great new year’s resolution. But you’ve got to find a way that it gives you life right here. This book right here will change your life forever. I promise you it will change your life forever – if you pick it up, and you read it at least on a regular basis.
So I’m going to make a little confession to you all. I don’t read the Bible through in a year, every year. I want you to know that. I gave that up years ago. And here’s why. I start off with these Bible plans, checking these little boxes, reading in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms. And usually by the third week, I’ve missed a couple of days, I feel like a failure, and then I quit, right? ‘Cause there’s all these negative emotions attached to reading the Bible for me, when I do it like that. It’s checking boxes, it’s behavior modification, what not – so I gave that up years ago.
So here’s how I read the Bible today. And it’s the exact same way that I did it this morning. I pick up God’s word before I ever get out of bed – usually not like this, it’s usually on my phone app. I’m sat in my bed, and I read my Bible. Before I ever get out of bed – because I know if I get out of bed, I’m probably not going to pick it back up. So I lay there in the dark – probably sometimes annoying my wife. Bible app on, reading it, thumbing through it. And I read probably about 5 to 8 chapters a day, is what I do. And I focus on reading a book at a time. Not the entire Bible, a book at a time.
And so today I was in Acts, and I just flipped through Acts and I kinda read through it. And then I stumble, second upon a verse that I enjoy. And usually when I stop at a verse, I stop at a verse and I reflect on what that means to me. What needs to change in me? And then what I do is I meditate on that verse. And I pray around that verse, and then I continue reading. And then I walk throughout my day, and then I find some way that I can either change my life or use that verse with somebody else.
3 steps. Read as long as I want. Second, stop on a verse. And then 3, share it throughout the day. And you know what that has created for me over the last many years? It’s created a very positive feeling for me. Because almost every day over the last many years, I’ve had an opportunity to share the verses that God gave to me that day. It’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing. And rather than have all these negative emotions attached to Bible reading, I take all these positive emotions and positive feelings that keep me coming back for more.
And so what I have focused on is not getting through the Bible in a year, like Ken does. I focus on reading the Bible regularly, so that God can change me – so that I can bring that change to the world. And I would encourage you to do something this year, to be in God’s word more. Because I promise you that there’s incredible things found in this word. I know this for a fact, that friends – this is the only objective truth we have in all of life. This is the only objective truth we actually have in life. It’s the only thing in all of life that is absolutely, absolute. It absolutely works every single time.
You can try it on your own, try your feelings. Try listening to your friends, but this thing works every single time. You can pick it up, you can read anywhere, move past the complexities, dig into God’s word – but I promise you, this works. And the reason why it works is God provided it to us outside of time and space, into this world. To provide us an objective truth on who we are. Trust nothing else, but Jesus Christ and God in His word, and I promise you – life will be different for you.
Encouragement number 2 is – God gave us the word. Encouragement number 3 is this – God gave us a single mission. This is the most profound thing of all these words here in these verses. Let me read it to you. It says, “Have I not commanded you?” Verse 9. “This is God now, hear this. Hear God’s voice echo across the nation of Israel. Hear it echo across his church.”
Never forget these words. These are some of the greatest words in all the Bible. Young people in this room today, embrace these words. “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, and do not be dismayed for the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.” Those are awesome words. Can I tell you why they’re so awesome?
Moses handed them to Joshua. God reinforces them here. And they’re repeated throughout the Old Testament, like an echoing voice of one of the greatest mission statements of all time. David handed these words to his son, Solomon – before he built the temple. “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do it. Be strong and courageous. Be strong and courageous. Be strong and courageous.”
When I read these words this last week, I feel like God wants to say to encompass, be strong and courageous. “Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Forever and all times. And you know why I love these words that God is speaking? Because God is saying something here that we could easily miss. He’s saying, “The only thing you need is courage, that’s it.” He’s saying, “I’ve given you everything else. I’ve given you freedom, I’ve given you land. I’m going to conquer it for you. I’ve given you the word, I’ve given you everything. The only thing you need is courage, that’s it – is courage. All you need to do is believe that I will be faithful, and I’ll do the rest.”
And I think when we face challenges, ladies and gentlemen – sometimes we forget that God does all the work. What we need is the strength of courage, to remain in the situation, to be faithful, to trust in God, to lean on him, to pray hard, to listen to his voice, to put people around us, and to build the courage that we need to face these unseen obstacles that are ahead. And all he wants from us is a little bit of courage. That’s it, it’s crazy.
And so God repeats these words 3 times in these verses. Did you see it? “Be strong and courageous.” Then again, “Be strong and courageous.” And then finally again, “Be strong and courageous.” When God does things like that, I think he wants to get our attention. “You only have to do 1 thing, Joshua,” put your name right in there. “You only have to do one thing, be strong and courageous. Do not be dismayed. For I, the Lord – your God, am with you wherever you go.” And never forget those words. This is God’s call. I believe to the great missional church. And I believe he’s calling us there together as well.
Well guys, that’s the show. Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed that message. As always, if you’re looking for men’s content – I want to remind you as we close, that we have great content for your men’s groups. Excellent small group videos and participant handbooks that will empower the men of your church to lead. Check it all out at beresolute.org. And yes, if you reach out to me today, I will see that you get a free trial, and that you can give it a test drive.
Well guys, I hope you enjoyed this episode again of Man Talk. But please know that the time that we spent together today is worthless, unless you choose to act on it. So do something today, by getting off the bench and into the game. And I’ll see you right back here next time for another episode of Man Talk.