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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Following the Lord Wholeheartedly
Text:Joshua 14:6-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the Psalter Hymnal, 1976, unless otherwise noted:
340 (Red) - Like A River Glorious
459 - Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult
449 (Red) - Who Is on the Lord’s Side?
480 - O Jesus, I Have Promised
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
“Following the Lord Wholeheartedly”
Joshua 14:6-15
When people get older, often they reflect on their life by remembering accomplishments.  “I was the president of a bank,” one might say, “Or I ran a successful business,” another might add, “Or I worked forty-five years for the same company,” a third might say.
Here in Joshua chapter 14, Caleb, at age eighty-five, looks back on his life and gives an assessment of it. In verse 8, as he recognizes God’s grace, he says, “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.” There can be no better description of our life than that description – whether a bank president, a business owner, a truck driver or schoolteacher – no matter what calling we have had, how important to be able to say as we look back at our life that by God’s grace, “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.”
Caleb’s story is familiar to most of us.  He is well known as one of the twelve spies who were sent to scope out the land of Canaan. All the spies agreed that the land was good, but ten of the spies said they could never overpower the Canaanites and take possession of the land. Speaking of the Anakites, who were very large people – they were giants – ten of the spies said, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we looked the same to them.” (Num. 13:33). But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said, Do not be afraid of the people of the land… Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Num. 14:9)
However, the people believed the ten spies and did not have faith like Joshua and Caleb. Because of their unbelief, the Lord declared, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” (Num. 14:30) That whole generation was kept wandering in the desert for forty years. “But because My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly,” the Lord said in Number 14:24, “I will bring him into the land he went into, and his descendants will inherit it.”  Now, forty-five years later, we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Caleb. And we see that by God’s grace Caleb can say, in verse 8, “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.”  
As Caleb followed the Lord wholeheartedly, he set an excellent example for us in many ways. He set an example, first, when he said, “I followed the Lord...” In other words, he put the Lord’s will first. In that way he is a shadow of Christ, who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed, “Father, if You are willing take this cup from Me, but not My will, but Your will be done.”
The way Caleb followed the Lord fits in with how we are taught to pray in the Lord’s prayer, by praying: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There are many people who want God as their co-pilot. But Caleb understood that God must be the Pilot, and wherever the Lord piloted him, even if it was into the land of the giants, there in the hill country of Hebron, he would follow.
A second way Caleb sets an excellent example is in verse 8 where he emphasized his personal relationship with the Lord. He said, “I followed the Lord my God.”  With that statement, he also pointed out that he followed the Lord revealed in Scripture, not the false gods of Canaan. 
The great downfall of Israel was that instead of following the one true God, they followed the false gods of Canaan. Already in the desert they had built the golden calves and worshipped them, as Aaron said to them, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exo. 32:4)
They were syncretic. In other words, they thought they could serve the Lord who had brought them out of bondage and also serve the false gods that were worshipped by the Canaanites. They disregarded, and took lightly, the first commandment God had given them, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exo. 20:3)
It is no different today. Even those who say they don’t believe in God have false gods of their own choosing. Money, status, social standing, the pleasures of the world – all these blessings for Christians become idols and false gods to those who cannot say from the heart, as Caleb said, “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.”         
And the way Caleb followed the Lord is through faith in the promised Messiah. All the Old Testament believers were saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, just as we are. They all looked forward in faith to the Redeemer who would crush the serpent and bring redemption. There is no other way to follow the Lord, for the only way to the Father is through faith in His Son. He alone is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), and there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Also, although Caleb was a Kenizzite, Caleb, by God’s grace, took the Lord of Israel as his God. He professed his faith in God as he declared, “I followed the Lord, my God.” Caleb is described as both a member of Judah, but also a Kenizzite (Num. 32:12). Many believe that his father married an Israelite, and that like Rahab the Amorite, or Ruth the Moabite, Caleb is one of those Old Testament believers who came from outside of Israel. But regardless of his ancestry, Caleb took the God of Scripture, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to be his God through faith in the Messiah.
The name “Caleb” is interesting. Some commentators believe it means “all heart” which Caleb certainly was. But other commentators believe it means “dog.”  In the Hebrew, the vowel points on the bottom of the name “Caleb” are the only thing that differentiate “all heart” and “dog.” Commentators who say it wasn’t a complementary name seem to have a good point.  Dogs weren’t admired household pets in Biblical times by any means.
Yet Caleb, a Kennizzite – Caleb whose name may have reference to a dog – reminds us that anyone, from any tribe, regardless of what others may think of them, can come to the Father through faith in the Son, for Caleb came to the Lord by faith in the promised Messiah. And when we come to the Father through the Son, we are received, cleansed, and presented spotless before the throne of grace. As Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
Caleb also set an excellent example by living according to his convictions. In verse 7 he states, “I brought back a report according to my convictions” (“as it was in my heart” - ESV). His convictions – what was in his heart – centered on what the Lord would do. In Numbers 14 the Lord had assured the Israelites that they could take over the Promised Land, not on their strength, but by the strength of the Lord. He had said, “The Lord is with us.”  His conviction that the Lord would be with him enabled Caleb, even at age eighty-five, to take Hebron. In Joshua 14:12 he said, “The Lord helping me, I will drive them out, just as He said.”               
With the knowledge and faith that the Lord was with them, Caleb stood firm in the face of ridicule and fear. When Joshua and Caleb brought back the report, they were ridiculed by the other ten spies; and in Numbers 14 we read how the people wanted to stone them to death. One commentator notes: “The majority measured the giants against their own strength; Caleb and Joshua measured the giants against God. The majority trembled; the two triumphed. The majority had great giants but a little god. Caleb had a great God and little giants.”  (Alan Redpath, Studies in the Book of Joshua, 197-198)
Not much has changed over the years. In the visible church there are many professing Christians who, like the Israelites of old, seem to have big giants, gigantic problems in their lives, but a little god. When we face the troubles and heartaches of life – even in the great catastrophes of life – how crucial it is to be able to say from the heart, as Caleb had said in Numbers 14, “The Lord is with us.”  And to be able to say, as he says here in Joshua 14:12, “The Lord helping me, I will drive them out, just as He said.” It is only with such trust and faith in God that we will realize that our God is far greater and stronger than the “giants” we face in this life. 
Another way that Caleb followed the Lord wholeheartedly is seen in the way he persevered, following the Lord year after year. In verse 7 he is forty, following the Lord. In verse 10 he is eighty-five, still following the Lord. He was no “fair weather” Christian; he was wholeheartedly following his Lord, always. Year after year Caleb persevered. Whether he was forty or eighty-five, he was faithfully following the Lord his God.
It has often been pointed out that living the Christian life is not a sprint. It is a marathon race, and only the one who finishes the race receives the prize (1 Cor. 9:24). The words of Jesus, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13) are echoed many times by New Testament writers. For instance, the author of Hebrews points out, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first” (Heb. 3:14). And again, in Hebrews 12:1-4, “…Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Those are but two of many passages stressing the necessity to persevere to the end.
And as Caleb persevered, he did so joyfully. We don’t find Caleb complaining along the way, as some do in their older years. In that way, Caleb sets a good example – but a hard example – for us all.
I was reminded of that when I reflected on a recent Thanksgiving Day. I remember preaching on the text from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” That afternoon we gathered with our family in Valparaiso and had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.
The next morning, we went with our daughters and their families to a Christmas tree farm as they each selected a Christmas tree and cut it down. We took a ride in a horse drawn wagon and had hot chocolate and a great time with family. Then we all went our separate ways. Karen and I stopped for a bite to eat, and even though it was two in the afternoon the restaurant was packed. It was noisy; the food was okay but not great.
Driving from Valparaiso to Crown Point there was a cloud of despondency over my head. I felt like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress when he fell into the Slough of Despondency. I could relate to how he felt in Doubting Castle where he was imprisoned with despair.
We had planned to spend the night in Crown Point and do a little bit of work on our house, finishing the trim in the bathroom. But I totally messed up cutting the trim. The walls are crooked; I couldn’t get the trim to line up. I was wasting trim and thought about the cost of buying more. The more I thought, and the more I cut, the more frustrated I became.
We decided to pack up and come back to the parsonage in Oak Lawn. I watched a little TV, had a cup of tea with honey, and went to bed, asking the Lord for forgiveness. I sure hadn’t practiced what I preached on Thanksgiving Day. And I apologized to my wife. I felt sorry for her, being married to a glum and grumpy old man. That experience reminded me that life can really be depressing sometimes, even when things are going well. But Caleb’s life reminds us to persevere and to keep a positive attitude always, regardless of circumstances.
By way of further application, we can’t help but see that the only way to serve and follow the Lord is wholeheartedly. Millions of people think that somehow they can serve God and also run their own agenda. So many millions of people are like Solomon, about whom it is written: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1 Kings 11:4)
But Jesus said, in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” And James warns us, in James 1:6-8 not to be double minded, because the double minded person is unstable in all they do. He notes: “That person should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
In other words, it is not enough to say, “Caleb was quite an example, he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”  We also must look at ourselves and make that commitment, God enabling us, to do as Caleb did and follow the Lord wholeheartedly, surrendering all to Him.
Following the Lord wholeheartedly means following Him in the good times and the hard times alike. It has frequently been noted that Caleb followed the Lord despite many dangers, while many others follow the Lord only when it is convenient and safe. Still others follow the Lord when it is popular, just like the crowds who followed Jesus.
Seeing the variety of responses leads us to examine why we profess to follow the Lord. Do we follow Him only when convenient and safe? Do we follow Him despite ridicule, persecution, dangers? Do we follow Jesus like Caleb followed the Lord, despite the hazards? Or is it just a tradition, just a routine as we "go through the motions” of following the Lord, without wholehearted commitment? 
The only answer for the true believer is, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you wholeheartedly all the days of my life!”
By God’s Gracious Work
Wholehearted devotion to the Lord, although not perfect in this life, is crucial; but it is only accomplished by God’s gracious work within us. Caleb recognized that. In verse 12 he said, “The Lord helping me, I will drive them out, just as He said.”               
Caleb never took the credit for his accomplishments, but rather saw that his strength and victory in battle was because the Lord was with him. In that sense he is an Old Testament example of the New Testament promise in Philippians 1:6, …Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
And he serves as an Old Testament example of Philippians 2:12-13, “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
Caleb served the Lord wholeheartedly, but he recognized that it was by God’s grace that he did so. It was by God’s grace that he persevered and conquered. Yet, even though it is the Lord who provides His Spirit and strength, He also provides His blessing to His people, rewarding them for what He has graciously done through them.
We see that in verse 9 where Caleb describes the promises God gave him through Moses, promises to bless him for his wholehearted service. And in verses 13 and 14 we see the fulfillment of those promises as Caleb receives the hill country of Hebron as his inheritance. God always blesses faithfulness, even though it is by His grace that any of us are faithful to Him, and even then we are often unfaithful and far from perfect in following Him. Yet, for the sake of Christ and His redeeming work on our behalf, we are forgiven, cleansed, blessed and rewarded by God.
Caleb’s life also reminds us that there is no retirement in the service of our Lord. Even when we are retired, we are to follow him wholeheartedly all the days of our lives, looking for ways to be a blessing within His kingdom. And it is the Lord who gives us the strength to do so. In Isaiah 46:4 the Lord gave this promise, a promise of great encouragement to every Christian who desires to serve the Lord wholeheartedly into their old age, as Caleb did. The Lord has promised:
       “Even to your old age and gray
        I am He, I am He who will
                  sustain you.
        I have made you and I will carry
        I will sustain you and I will
                 rescue you.”
Many Psalms also carry the same assurance of God’s faithfulness to the very end, even throughout our older, frail years. The prayer of Psalm 71:18 should be the prayer of every believer, regardless of age. But it is an especially appropriate prayer as we enter our elderly years. The Psalmist wrote:
"So even to old age and gray hairs,
     O God, do not forsake me,
 until I proclaim Your might to another generation,
     Your power to all those to come."
When people get older, they often reflect back on their life by remembering accomplishments. “I was the president of a bank,” one might say, “Or I ran a successful business,” another might add, “Or I worked forty-five years for the same company,” a third might chime in.
By God’s grace and indwelling Spirit, no matter what calling in life we have – or once had – may we be able to say, above all else, these words of Caleb, “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.”   Amen!
Bulletin Outline:
            “... I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.”  - Joshua 14:8b
                        “Following the Lord Wholeheartedly”
                                          Joshua 14:1-15
I.  Caleb set an excellent example for us:
     1) “I followed” - he put the Lord’s will first
     2) “The Lord my God” 
            a) He followed the Lord revealed in Scripture, not the false gods
                of Canaan
            b) Although a Kenizzite, he took the Lord of Israel as his God
      3) “I followed... wholeheartedly”      
             a)  He lived according to his biblical convictions (7b)
             b) He stood firm in the face of ridicule and fear (8a)
              c) He persevered year after year (7, 10)
II. Wholehearted devotion to the Lord, although not perfect in this life,  
      is crucial and is only accomplished by God’s gracious work within
      us (12; Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13). Yet God, who provides His Spirit and
      strength, also provides His blessing (9; 13-15)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Ted Gray

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