Scripture: Joshua 14:6-15
A couple of weeks ago on Wednesday night, we showed the movie Toy Story in Cheek Hall. Most of you have seen it, of course. If not, what you need to know about it for this sermon is that toys, which seem like inanimate objects to us humans, actually come to life when we humans aren’t around. Andy is the boy who owns all the toys you’re about to see, and his mom is throwing him a birthday party today. So let’s watch clip number one…
“Have you been replaced?” the dinosaur toy anxiously asks the beloved cowboy toy, Woody, who for years has been Andy’s favorite toy—by far. And “being replaced” or being rejected or becoming obsolete is by far the biggest fear that these toys face: What if their owner, Andy, receives some brighter, shinier toy for his birthday, a toy with more bells and whistles, and as a result he no longer has room in his heart for all his older toys… the ones that, by comparison, are a bit worn out and worse for wear. As the piggy bank says, when surveying the new birthday presents: “Yes sir, we’re next month’s garage sale fodder, for sure!”
The Bible includes more than a few stories of men and women who, having reached a more advanced age, might have been tempted to feel “worse for wear,” worn out—not as “bright and shiny” as they used to be. Yet these more seasoned Bible heroes still managed to accomplish powerful things for God and his kingdom. One of these heroes is Caleb. The scripture we read before the sermon was about Caleb as an old man.
But we’re probably more familiar with the younger version of Caleb that we first meet in Numbers chapter 13. Caleb is only 40 years old when he was one of the twelve spies sent by Moses to scout out the Promised Land… and to gather intelligence on the people living there, who—if everything goes according to plan—will soon be conquered, destroyed, driven out of the land.
But ten of these twelve spies—not counting Caleb and Joshua—are scared to death: “There are giants in the land. In comparison to them,” they say, “we’re like tiny grasshoppers. We don’t stand a chance! They’ll crush us like bugs!” 1
Caleb, however, is unintimidated. He says, in Numbers 13:30, “Let us go up at once and occupy [the land], for we are well able to overcome it.”
Unfortunately, he and Joshua can’t persuade the naysayers… And it’s because of these naysayers that Israel’s entry into the Promised Land is postponed by 40 years.
And it’s all because the Israelites had this one terrible thought: “Who are we in comparison to these people?”
“Who am I compared to him… Who am I compared to her…” Those are some of the most spiritually deadly and dangerous words we can ever speak or think!
After all, Woody’s sudden insecurity isn’t based on the love that Andy has shown him all these years. Woody should know from experience how much Andy loves him. Why should Woody question Andy’s love for him now?
Only because he compares himself to someone else: in this case, to Buzz Lightyear. “If only I had what Buzz has! If only I were like Buzz!”
And the same is often true for us! This “comparing ourselves to others” is a sin; it gets to the heart of the Tenth Commandment, the heart of what it means to covet.
But please consider this: If you are a child of God through faith in Christ, God has given you precisely what you need in order to accomplish two important things in your life: One, to glorify God, and, two, to find lasting happiness and joy in him.
Sometimes, only God knows that that thing you wish you had, or that person you wish you were, will not accomplish these two God-given goals nearly as well as what God has actually given you, or made you into.
Indeed, oftentimes, the perfectly good things that God has given to someone else, or made someone else into, might actually harm you greatly—if you possessed that thing, or if you became like that person…
John Newton, the 18th century Anglican minister, and the composer of “Amazing Grace,” once said the following: “Everything is necessary that God sends our way; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.” If God withholds something from us, in other words, he does so for our good.
The question is, will we trust that God knows best?
In this next scene, we see that Buzz Lightyear has a problem. He thinks he really is a Space Ranger, and not just a toy!
I’m not exaggerating when I say that one of my greatest challenges in life is learning to appreciate the way things really are in the world—in spite of how they often seem. By which I mean, learning to believe and perceive that, actually, God is intimately involved in the tiniest details of my life.
The writer of the following old hymn obviously struggled to believe this, too, when she wrote these words:
Christ has no hands but our hands
To do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men in His way;
He has no tongues but our tongues
To tell them how He died;
He has no help but our help
To bring them to His side. 2
The song seems to be saying that if God isn’t working miracles—by which I mean, intervening in our world to suspend or transcend the laws of physics… if God isn’t doing that, God is mostly hands-off. He wants us to do things for him, by all means… but if we don’t do them, they’re not going to get done.
If that were true, that would put a lot of pressure on us Christians and on our churches, wouldn’t it? We would have a very hard time resting and enjoying the peace and the Sabbath that God wants us to enjoy.
No, thank God that’s not true: Even right now, in Muslim societies that are closed off to churches, to missionaries, and to Christian influence, many new Christian converts are reporting that Jesus came to them in their dreams and shared the gospel with them. God used their dreams to convert them. He doesn’t need us!
God can and will accomplish whatever he wants to, with us or without us! Remember when Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Triumphal Entry. His followers are delirious in shouting out their praises to him. And the Pharisees are like, “Tell your disciples to knock it off.” And Jesus says, “If they weren’t shouting praise, these rocks would cry out!”
No… God doesn’t need us to do anything for him. He happily chooses to use us for his purposes—which, as I’ve said, include his glory and our lasting happiness. But he doesn’t need us!
Besides, whatever good we do accomplish for God, we only accomplish because of God!
Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” By all means, we can do and do and do, and we can carefully plan and prepare, and we can work really hard… and we should! But when our labors bear fruit and we’re successful, we don’t say, “I did this.” We say, “God did this.” We say that God worked through us and empowered us and enabled us to be successful. That’s reality. That’s a reality that we can’t detect with our five senses, but it is nevertheless the reality that God’s Word reveals over and over!
We may not always be able to see God’s fingerprints in our lives and in our world, but he’s always working his plan for our lives! As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
See, even in the clip I just showed you, Buzz Lightyear was wrong, in a sense. Buzz couldn’t fly… at least not in the way he thought. At best, as Woody says, Buzz could only “fall with style.”
But Woody isn’t entirely correct either: what Buzz was able to do—using only gravity, the laws of physics, and a very interesting series of coincidences—was actually quite impressive. In a way, even being able “fall with style,” like Buzz, should be considered a gift from God.
And if you and I need to be able to “fall with style” in order for God to glorify his name and make us happy in a lasting way, then by all means God will cause us to do so!
And when God enables us to “fall with style,” we will praise God for his provision! “Falling with style” may not be a miracle, but God still made it happen!
In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about football players and other athletes who did things like kneel in pray in the end zone or point heavenward after scoring the big touchdown. I worried that such public piety could be the kind of hypocritical display that Jesus condemns in the Sermon on the Mount. But I don’t know… At the very least, assuming an athlete is sincere, he’s not wrong to give full credit to God: “I don’t deserve any of this glory. But let me point you to the One who does.”
If only we could live our lives like that!
In this next clip, Buzz finally realizes that he is just a toy… and it breaks his heart.
Buzz’s realization that he’s “just a toy” is presented as the saddest moment in the movie… And it is sad, of course… But it’s not tragic… In fact, it’s good… because it’s the truth. Jesus says, “The truth will set you free.” Buzz needs to know the truth about himself! It will be the beginning of Buzz’s spiritual healing. We saw earlier that Buzz’s pride about himself—about what he could do and accomplish—was a problem. Buzz needed to be humbled.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes a time in his own life in which he needed to be humbled. It happened after God had given him some kind of heavenly vision. He writes:
I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. 3
He goes on to say, “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.” 4 He prayed three times that the Lord would take this “thorn” away. And the Lord said, “No.”
But Paul did learn to boast, he said… only not in himself, but in in the Lord. He learned, in other words, that everything he needed in life came from one place. He learned to depend on the Lord for everything, and not on himself. As he says in verse 10, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
You saw in the clip that Buzz’s arm fell off. He’s broken. He will literally have to pick up the pieces of his life. But he will be redeemed. To think of it in biblical terms, God will enable him to pick up the pieces, God will heal him, God will give him a second chance. God will use this painful trial to make Buzz than he was before!
But he had to be broken first in order to reach this point.
Being “broken” will sometimes be part of God’s plan for our lives!
But don’t worry: God is always, always, always willing, able, and ready to heal us, to pick up our pieces, to make us better than we were before. But that healing may require us to first be broken!
Let’s watch the next clip…
In Luke 15, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep to go find that one lost sheep.
But why does the shepherd do it? Who’s going to miss one stupid, little, insignificant sheep?
Apparently, Jesus our Good Shepherd will!
Listen to verses 5 and 6: “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”
In this clip, Buzz says: “I’m just a toy, a stupid, little, insignificant toy.” And Woody says, “Being a toy is a lot better than being a space ranger… Look, over in that house is a kid who thinks you’re the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a Space Ranger, pal. It’s because you’re a toy. You are his toy!” And then Buzz looks at the bottom of his boot, and sees that his owner, Andy, has written the name “Andy” on it… as if to say, “This toy belongs to Andy.”
Buzz realizes that his value, his worth, his identity doesn’t come from who he is; it comes from whose he is. His value comes from the one to whom he belongs.
In Romans 1:1, Paul refers to himself as a “a slave of Christ Jesus.” The word is often translated as “servant,” but it’s a stronger word than what we usually think of when we say, “servant.” In Galatians 1:10, Paul uses the same word again. He writes, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant”—or slave.
The fact is, if we live our lives as God intends for us to live them, we belong to God; there’s a sense in which God now owns us. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20: “You were bought with a price.”
And like Andy in the movie, God thinks we’re the greatest, and God wants us to come home and live with him, as part of his family, for all eternity!
And when we give our lives to Jesus Christ, it’s not exactly like God writes his name on our foot, but he does something similar: Paul says that he puts his seal on us when he gives us the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13. One purpose of this seal is to say, “This person belongs to God.”
Many of us remember the “Island of Misfit Toys” from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In the clip that follows, a neighborhood bully named Sid has created a bunch of badly damaged, deformed, misfit toys… And Sid is about to destroy Buzz Lightyear, after Buzz gets trapped in Sid’s house. In this final clip, Woody, in cooperation with all of Sid’s damaged, misfit toys, hatches a rescue plan to escape from Sid’s house.
Let’s watch the final clip now…
Sid’s damaged, deformed, misfit toys seem good for nothing. They seem worthless. Their lives seem beyond repair. Beyond redemption. And they even look kind of creepy, as you just saw.
And yet… Woody’s plan to rescue Buzz took full advantage of all of these facts. These misfit toys—no matter how “worthless” they may have seemed by the world’s standards—were exactly what Sid needed to make him repent and change his life.
Now let’s return to Caleb’s story in Joshua 14… Caleb is still alive, 45 years after he was sent to spy out the Promised Land… as God promised him he would be. And Caleb reminds Joshua that God also promised Caleb some specific land—the hill country known as Hebron… even though Hebron remains unconquered by Israel… even though the land is still filled with a very large, intimidating race of people known as Anakim. These are the “giants” that those ten spies referred to 40 years earlier. Like Woody looking at Buzz Lightyear in Clip Number One, Caleb might have been tempted to think, “I wish I had this other person’s capabilities, I wish I had his strengths, I wish I had his gifts… I wish I was like that other guy…”
But Caleb isn’t like that.
Even in his slightly worn out and “worse for wear” condition, Caleb, once again, is undaunted by what he sees. He’s ready to go and take the land.
And his confidence isn’t based on who he is; it’s based on who God is!
We see this in Joshua chapter 14, verse 12: “It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”
Notice Caleb’s slight uncertainty: It may be that the Lord will be with me… It may be.
But what Caleb knows for sure is this: If God is with him, then that means certain victory for him… Of that he has no doubt. “Maybe God won’t be with me,” Caleb thinks, “but if he is with me, then I can be sure that God will give me the victory! And if God is with me, it makes no difference who I am—whether I’m 40 years old or 85 years old! Even my advanced age won’t matter… if in fact God is with me.”
The fact that God is with him will ensure the victory… and Caleb knows it!
So what’s the difference between us—who have become part of God’s family through faith in his Son Jesus—and Caleb?
Only this: Unlike Caleb, we who are in Christ can always be confident that God is with us! The Bible says Christ is our Emmanuel, “God with us,” and Jesus promises to “be with us always to the end of the age.” 5 He says he will be with us always because we have the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, living within us! He also says he will never leave us or forsake us! To say the least, we never have to fear that God will reject us!
What do the Anakim look like in your life? What intimidating giants are threatening you right now?
Maybe something related to your job or career… Maybe something related to school, to grades, getting into college, succeeding in college… Maybe something related to your health… maybe you recently received a scary diagnosis… Maybe something related to your family… your children… your parents… your finances… Maybe your marriage is falling apart… Maybe someone has broken your heart, and you don’t know how to move on… Maybe something related to the current crisis in our United Methodist Church? Who knows?
But here’s the thing: Do you have the confidence of Caleb to say—not “if God is with me, he’ll give me the victory”… But—even better—to say, “Because God is always with me, I can be assured of the victory!”
“Because God is always with me, I can be assured of the victory!”
Say that with me!
“Because God is always with me, I can be assured of the victory!”
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 6