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Climbing On Track (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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June 22, 2024 4:00 am

Climbing On Track (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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June 22, 2024 4:00 am

A lot more runners start a marathon than those seen crossing the finish line. It’s true of professing Christians as well: some start strong but fail to end well. Hear about a biblical example of steadfast faithfulness on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!

Truth for Life
Alistair Begg

If you've ever witnessed a marathon you know there are more people who begin the race than who finish. That's true of the Christian life as well.

There are some who start out strong but who do not end well. Today on Truth for Life weekend, Alistair Begg introduces us to Caleb, an Old Testament example of steadfast faithfulness. Father, we pray again tonight that as we have our hearts opened to your Word and your Word opened before our hearts, that you will do what you alone can do. That is, take the mere faltering words of human mortality and breathe into them your power and your might, so that as we sit here in this building this evening we might be encountered by the living God in the power of his Word. For we ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen. It is a sobering question to ask ourselves, what would they use for our epitaph if it were to be written today?

What would they put? Maybe you've already thought of it, and perhaps many of you don't want to think about it. But sooner or later, one day it will happen, and they will have occasion to announce in the newspaper that I'm no longer here and I've gone on, and somebody somewhere will have to come up with something to put on the tombstone. And I don't think it's particularly morbid, but I like reading tombstones. There are some very interesting things that you can discover there. It gets a little scary as you realize that the dates of the people underneath the tombstones are getting a little closer to the time when you were born.

But nevertheless, it is sobering and it is revealing to consider these things. For example, on a tombstone in Scotland, towards the west of Scotland, you find these words concerning a man by the name of Jimmy Wyatt, who obviously wasn't the most generous of individuals. It reads, in tared beneath this churchyard stain, lies stingy Jimmy Wyatt, who died one morning just at ten and saved a dinner by it. So when they thought of Jimmy, they said, my, it was remarkable how he managed to go just there in the forenoon, and it saved him, of course, the expense of another meal. Of course, Scotsmen are reputed to be extremely stingy, you know that.

It was we who invented the limbo dance. It was actually a gentleman trying to get into a pay toilet in Glasgow without putting in the money. On the 3rd of May, 1953, and some of you were well into your maturity by that time, the headlines, at least in the United Kingdom, carried these words, Air Crash Drama. A comet airliner bound for London from Singapore was missing. By the time the newspapers reached the breakfast tables, the BBC had announced by way of radio the discovery of the shattered and wingless fuselage 22 miles northwest of Calcutta.

The following day, having indicated that there were no survivors, the newspapers published the names of 43 people who had been traveling on this particular aircraft. One of those names was a man called Fred Mitchell, and the newspaper article added, Mr. Fred Mitchell gave up a chemist shop in Bradford ten years ago to become director of the China Inland Mission. D.E. Host had followed Hudson Taylor, and Fred Mitchell had followed D.E.

Host. He had boarded the aircraft in Singapore, heading for home after a time of missionary endeavor. The final words, which were heard from the cockpit of the airliner, were these words, We are climbing on track.

We are climbing on track. Those words were then to become the title of the biography of the late Fred Mitchell. The book is a small book.

It's out of print many years ago, but it is a powerful book, and as I read it as a teenager, it impacted my life in a quite remarkable way. Because the thing about Fred Mitchell was that he wasn't particularly special in any way at all. He was, as we were saying last night, the kind of individual that you could find in many a congregation all across the Western world, even tonight. There was nothing about him that would make him particularly prominent. He had no particular academic credentials. He was a skillful pharmacist. He was an entrepreneur. He had his own shop, but he was just one of the group, one of the church. And yet he was an individual upon whose life God set his hand in a quite unmistakable way. And when I think of Fred Mitchell, he epitomizes to me what God has done throughout the ages in many people's lives.

Not least of all, in the life of this individual, to whom we were introduced here in the book of Joshua, this man called Caleb. Certainly he was quite a man. Any man who at the age of 85 is still deeply concerned about real estate that is going to fall as heir to him is quite a man. Many people at the age of 85 are saying, you can have this and you can have that and get this stuff out of here.

But not Caleb. He said, hey, I've been waiting for 45 years to inherit this piece of property. Give me my mountain. I'm still alive. I'm still strong.

I'm still powerful. He must have been quite a character. But what was it about Caleb? Let us consider him for a moment or two this evening.

And in doing so, perhaps it will be an encouragement to some of us who are younger, as well as those who were born a little earlier. Let us consider, first of all, the commitment of Caleb as a young man. The statement here in verse seven of Joshua 14, where he says, I was 40 years old when Moses made this promise, actually takes us to the book of Numbers and chapter 13, and to the story which many of us have been familiar with since we were children in Sunday school. Caleb walks onto the stage of biblical history at this point in the experience of Israel. He is one of the representatives of the twelve tribes who were sent up to explore the land of Canaan. Those men immortalized in the children's song, twelve men went to spy in Canaan, ten were bad and two were good.

You know that song? Did you do that with the actions? What did they see to spy in Canaan? Ten were bad and two were good. Some saw the giants big and tall, some saw the grapes in clusters fall. Actually, when we were kids, we used to say, some saw the grapes in clusters fall. And as we boys, we thought that was really funny because that made the silhouette of a lovely lady, and we used to do that. Some saw the grapes in clusters fall.

The teacher would go, cut that out. But two saw that God was in it all. Ten were bad and two were good. And one of the two was this character called Caleb. No details are given to us of his earlier days. Who was it who nurtured Caleb so at the age of forty he could be so strategically used? Was it his grandpa? Was it his gran? Was it a godly mom, a godly dad? Was it a friend?

Was it a neighbor? Who was it we don't know? In eternity, we will discover the influences on the life of Caleb that was revealed in the crisis situation recorded for us when these individuals come back to report on their discovery in the land of Canaan. Crisis, as we've said already this week, tends not so much to create as to reveal character.

And these verses that are before us here remind us of the kind of man that God can use. Up until this point in Caleb's life, there is nothing to give us any indication at all that he was particularly significant at any point in his life. Nothing that would have marked him out from others.

Nothing that would have made him particularly distinguishable. And in this respect, I find another parallel with the life of Fred Mitchell to whom I've already referred. I mean, the very fact that I'm quoting to you, Fred Mitchell, tonight, and you're sitting there going, Fred who? is illustrative of what I'm telling you about, you see.

It's tremendous. Fred who? But this Fred who was uniquely used of God. And it was said of him in the biography, Fred Mitchell was an ordinary man from a village home with working-class parents who spent the greater part of his life as a chemist in the provinces, not in a metropolitan area of London, as a chemist in the provinces, and on that ordinary humdrum track, he walked with God, climbing steadily in spiritual experience. On that ordinary humdrum track, he walked with God. It is in those ordinary experiences, it is on those humdrum tracks that God forges and frames and develops the character of the men and women that he has already purposed to use.

In obscurity, God was fashioning this individual for use in his purposes. The strength of character displayed in Caleb was not discovered overnight. And when you look at these events, and you'll have to take my word for this and then go back and study it for yourself, you will discover that his commitment as a young man stands out insofar as, first of all, he was prepared to stand against the tide of popular opinion. He was prepared to swim upstream. We always tell our young people, any dead fish can swim downstream, but it takes a live fish to swim against the current. We take our children on our knees, we take our grandchildren beside them, and we tell them, listen, honey, if you want to make it, you're going to have to be able to swim upstream.

You will never amount to anything if you're always with the gang, always flowing with the group. And Caleb, somewhere in those first 40 years of his life, had learned how to withstand the tide of popular opinion. When it was clear that everybody was doing it, Caleb had the strength of character to say, everybody except me. And so it was that the majority report coming back from Canaan was, listen, there's a major problem up there. Sure, it's a pretty nice place, but you know, the cities are fortified, the people who live there are powerful.

Also, they're very large. We've even seen the descendants of Anak there, and then the Amalekites and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites, and goodness me, Moses must have had a sore head listening to the ten of these characters. And he must have been, maybe he was taking the report one at a time, and he'd gone through ten of them, and all the same, the same parrot talk from everyone.

Very nice place, but we don't suggest you do it. Kind of like your average elders meeting, you know? Ten guys in there who've got ten reasons why it can't be done, and just when you're getting to the last two, you're hoping, and this is no reflection on tonight, I don't know anything about this place at all, but if the cat fits, gentlemen, wear it. And then when you're getting just about down to the end, you're hoping that somewhere in the group there's a Joshua or there's a Caleb, a man who will stand up, as in verse 30, and silence the people before Moses and be prepared to say, we should go up, and we should take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it. And when he finished his little speech, the men who had gone up with him in unison began to say, we can't attack those people, they're stronger than we are. And they began to spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. A man who in his early years, and incidentally, his early years started at the age of 40, okay?

So those of us who are planning on early retirement, hold your fire here for a minute, okay? Because his commitment as a young man isn't revealed until he's 40. He was committed to stand against the tide if God's glory was at stake. Also, he was sure of what could be accomplished by God's power. He was confident, not in his ability, not in the ability of the Israelites, but he was confident in the power of God. He was confident that despite what men and women had to say, he didn't deny the truth.

He simply looked at it from a different perspective. He was prepared to stand against the tide of popular opinion. He was sure of what could be accomplished by God's power. Are you sure of what can be accomplished by God's power tonight? He was aware, thirdly, of the reality of God's presence. In Numbers 14, speaking once again, he says, Do not rebel against the Lord, and do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. A man of faith in the midst of fear. A man of courage in the midst of a group of people who had determined together that they ought to shut up shop and just stay where they were. In fact, things were so bad that as it says in verse 4 of Numbers 14, the people had begun to say to one another, Let's choose a leader and go back.

You ever been in a church like that? Dear ones, you don't ever choose leaders to go back. You don't need leaders to go back. Just go back. You don't need anybody to lead you back.

You can always get a group to go back. You need leaders to go forward. To go forward. There is a tomorrow. There are purposes yet in the unfolding of God's plan for our world, for our nation. There are generations, if Christ tarries, yet to come.

And Caleb reveals this spirit. A young man, forty years old. A young man of commitment.

Now the commitment of his early life is matched by his consistency in middle life. Some of us are the masters of yesterday, aren't we? Oh boy, you should have been around yesterday.

Now there was a day, you know, when we were all together and when we were all ready for action and when we were all younger, boy, did we have a time then. But not Caleb. Caleb is a classic illustration of the fact that the Christian life is a bit like a cross-country run. It's not a series of a hundred-yard sprints.

It's a cross-country. It goes on forever. You go over a hill and dale and stiles and hedges and bridges and streams, and you can always find a group of people who begin to lag further and further and further behind and start to grumble to one another and say, I wish we never started this thing.

Goodness sake. Well, let's just walk. After all, we've got our health and strength.

We could die out here. And so they all go on and they eventually encourage one another into a tremendous morass of mediocrity. And it takes an individual like Caleb to break out from the group and to keep on.

Think of how many people have got off to a flying start in life, but in their middle years, they lost it. They were well known as a young man or as a young woman, for whatever reason. At age 40, they had prominence. At age 40, they had clout, they had influence, they had status, whatever it might be. In Christian terms, they were useful to God. But they ended their days strangely.

Now let's just think about this for a moment, because the environment in which he spent his middle years was not exactly fantastic. Numbers 14 and verses 34 and following give us the illustration of where they were. For 40 years, one year for each of the 40 days you explored the land, God says, you will suffer for your sins and know what it's like to have me against you.

I the Lord have spoken and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert and here they will die. So the men Moses had sent to explore the land who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it, these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived. They survived, but they still had to live for 40 years wandering around in the wilderness.

Now that would give the average person a real challenge, would it not? He was stuck for 40 years from the age of 40 because of the people around him having failed to see what God is able to do. So in the midst of frustration, in the midst of wanderings, in the midst of disgruntlement, he obviously never became disgruntled.

That's fantastic. Do you know how many people when at their optimum point of usefulness in the church of Jesus Christ chill out? Do you know how many people who have the greatest resource, the greatest energy, the greatest wisdom, the greatest of just about everything decide somehow miraculously that they're on early retirement? We're out of this.

This is for the young people now. Let them carry their load. I've done my bit. I gave my stuff.

I pledged my tithe. It's not my responsibility anymore. This is for another generation. And along with that so often comes what happened to so many, and that is embitterment and disgruntlement.

And how remarkable that Caleb remained free of all such. Who's to say that one stage of life is more challenging than another or presents more difficulties than another? I certainly haven't lived long enough to be able to speak authoritatively on this subject, but I have observed. And I have observed so far, to this point in my life experientially and others, I just look on and watch. And I have seen how marriage and the establishment of a home and the concerns of business and the very necessary contingencies of life can so often be accompanied by a loss of spiritual ardor, a loss of spiritual effectiveness.

And the fervency and the vision with which this individual had begun their life has become insipid, has become paltry to the degree that they have lost sight of actually what is really important. What I call the great untapped resource of the church. The folks who under… They've been reading their Bibles now for a long time. They've lived long enough to get their noses put out a joint and put back into place to realize that the church is really a ragbag of people, the people with spotty-faced Jones and his wife and the whole group, a funny bunch of people. They've lived long enough to get kind of stabilized on that. They know there ain't no perfect church. There's no perfect pastor.

If they're only… You know, Spurgeon said he only knew one perfect man and he was a perfect nuisance. And these people who are 55 years old, they've already worked that out. But something's happening to these characters.

They're zoning out. Now, I don't know whether it's us doing it to them or they're doing it to themselves, but it can't and it mustn't happen. This is the very backbone of the church. We always hear this stuff about the key to the church is in the youth. They're the church, you know, they're the church of tomorrow.

Thank God for the youth, and we need them, and we're going to work with them. But that's not the key to the church. The key to the church are mature men and women who have gone through experiences of life, and they're in their middle years. We need those men and women to live lives of consistency. Otherwise, how are we going to produce a generation underneath them who will be marked by commitment? It takes consistency in the middle years to produce a generation of commitment in the early years. So it's a silly idea to think you build your church on a youth ministry or even on a children's ministry.

You build your church on the quality of leadership that exists in those middle years. So some of you who were just planning to announce your retirement, you got a major problem as a result of this message, and I haven't even finished it. You're listening to Truth for Life weekend. That is Alistair Begg encouraging all of us to press on in the faith, regardless of our age. We'll hear the conclusion of the message next weekend.

I want to talk to you for just a minute. If you have children or grandchildren who you would like to have a solid faith like Caleb's, we want to recommend to you a book called God You Are. It's a book that presents 20 readings from the Psalms, readings you can share with young boys and girls that will teach them about God's character. It will show them how the Psalms point toward Jesus. In this book, children will consider what it means that God is holy, that he is with us, that he's good, that he never changes. The readings point to God as our refuge and our comforter. So whether you read the book at bedtime or at breakfast, it'll provide your kids with the assurance that God loves them, that he will never leave them. To find out more about the book God You Are, visit our website at

It is that time of year when many of us are planning family vacations or weekend road trips. And if you enjoy studying the Bible while you travel, you can stream or download any of Alistair's messages or an entire series all for free. Browse through the archives on our website at slash resources. Thanks for studying the Bible with us this weekend. Next weekend, we'll learn from Caleb's example on how to finish the race strong. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-22 06:07:47 / 2024-06-22 06:16:36 / 9

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