A Line in the Sand – Oct. 25, 2020

A faithful old farmer sat on his front porch talking to his new neighbor, a college professor. They talked about their work, politics and finally the weather. The old farmer complained, “I sure wish it would rain.” The professor asked, “Have you been praying for rain?” The old farmer answered, “Without a doubt.”

“Well, that was your first mistake”, the professor said. “Putting your faith in God is just foolish, science gives us all the answers we need. Many years ago, farmers prayed for rain and what did they get? The Dust Bowl. If you want rain, science has found a way.”

He continued, “All it takes is a plane to go up and drop some chemicals in the cloud and Walla! it rains. It’s that simply. So, who needs God when you have science?”

“Just one question,” the old farmer said, “without God, who furnishes the cloud?” 

A Pew Poll conducted in 2018-2019 surveyed the number of people in the United States who claimed to have no faith. Approximately 23% said they had no faith. 4% claimed to be Atheist, 5 % Agnostic, and 16% said faith was simply unimportant to them. 68% of those who fell into this category were young men.

Just to be clear, Atheists say they do not believe in a god or any divine being. They believe death is final and that life is what you make it.

Agnostics, on the other hand, claim there is no proof one way or another that shows god exists. They believe that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond what we can see and study. They question everything and believe in nothing but that can change from day to day.

That means out of the 330 million Americans, there are 52.8 million people walking around that claim to have no faith understanding. In simple terms, every 6th person you meet has no faith. These statistics do not even include those who are Atheists or Agnostics. So, we all have a lot of work to do.

214.5 million Americans claim to be Christian, but you may not know it from their lifestyles. 23% of those say they attend worship weekly. 30% claim they never attend church at all. The other half are hit and miss. The thing is; many of us have a faith of convenience. We only think about and come to God when we are in need.

This was very much the same for the Israelites in the wilderness. Even though God had rescued them from Egypt and supplied their every need, they generally failed to think much about God. He was out of sight and out of mind.

They spent a lot of their time thinking about the issues at hand and very little about how God was involved in their lives. God was essentially, an after-thought. God was seeking a relationship with his people, but they were detached.

In spite of this, God was faithfully leading them onward to the Promised Land. Moses regularly prayed and talked to God, but no one else did. Imagine how God must have felt.

Finally, Moses and the Israelites camped in the desert of Paran. It was there, that Moses chose 12 men, one from each tribe, to journey into Canaan, the Promised Land. It was a 6-week journey, 3 weeks out and back. Upon returned, they were to report everything they saw.

When the group arrived, 10 of the 12 spies reported that it would be impossible to possess the land, since they were outnumbered, and the inhabitants of the land were giants. They said, “We felt like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we must have looked the same to them.”

When the rest of the Israelites get this news, they grumbled and wept aloud. They said to Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in the desert! Why did God bring us here, only to die in battle? It would be better for us if we just went back to Egypt.”

Then, they began discussing who should be their leader to take them back. Finally, their conversation broke down farther, and they began talking about stoning Moses and Aaron. Infuriated, God was ready to wipe them all off the face of the earth.

But Moses intervened on their behalf. He begged the Lord to allow them to live. Moses said, “Now, may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: and may it be said,

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time, they left Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19)

We must have some respect for Moses; he had a hard role to fill and yet he constantly went to God and defended the Israelites. Even after they threatened to stone him! You may also notice; he was looking out for God. This shows his compassion and strong faith.

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness then disobeyed me and tested me 10 times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.”

 “Every one of you, except for Caleb and Joshua (the 2 spies who stood up for God), 20 years or older, will die in the desert. And your children will inherit the Promised Land, not you.”

They would all wander aimlessly in the desert for 40 years, until all the elderly died off. Then God would lead the next generation into Canaan, the Promised Land. The Lord did this because of their rebellion and unbelief. They had seen God’s glory and miracles, but they failed to build a relationship with Him. In the end, they only cared about themselves. And God had had enough, he drew a line in the sand and said…no more!

It kind of begs the question, ‘When does a person cross the line of no return?’ When do we get to the point, when we push God away so long, we remain so stubborn, that he gives up on us?  The Jewish Talmud says the answer is 10 times. They read that Israel disobeyed and tested God 10 times – and that is God’s limit. 10, they say, is the number of completion. There are 10 Commandments and God sent 10 plagues before his work was done in Egypt. Yet I find that a little hard to believe. God told us to forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7. An unlimited number of times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

And the Bible tells us that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is a constant outright, continual attack on God. (Matthew 12:31-32) So, what is the Bible trying to tell us here?

I think it is God’s nature to try to help us and to reach us. But if we continue to test him, eventually he will let us go to do what we want. Very much the way we see the prodigal son leave home. (Luke 15) But God waits in anticipation, hoping we will return. He does that because we have free will.

Proverbs 29:1 reads, “One who remains stubborn after many rebukes, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” And don’t forget, Jesus repeated God’s word to the Israelites when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, “It is written: Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Matthew 4:7)  

Now God understands that we are human, and we all have doubts from time to time. Jude 1:22 reminds us to have mercy on those who doubt. But what was happening with the Israelites was not about doubt but instead lack of faith. They never gave themselves over to the Lord. They held out and refused to believe.

St Thomas Aquinas once said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Episcopal Pastor William Brown used to tell a story about a farmer who had a strong disdain for religious things. As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship. October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever—the best in the entire county.

When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God. Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.”

The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite. In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared. It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”  

The thing is, one day, God will settle all his accounts, the Bible is clear on this! 2 Corinthians 5:10 reads, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive that they are due for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” 

How stubborn were the Israelites to wonder in the desert for 40 years, until they died, instead of putting their faith in God? It seems insane, yet many have rejected God in our world today. Or they think they can do what they want and repent at the last minute…like the thief on the cross.

The problem is, the longer we put off God, the harder it is to turn back to him. It is like a bad habit that is hard or almost impossible to break. Let me ask, what did it take for you to finally believe, whole heartedly in God? Or, for some, what is stopping you from giving yourself to God?

My advice is stop fighting him, stop making excuses and let Jesus into your heart and life. Don’t wait for a miracle, don’t wait until you are so far down that you have nowhere else to go. Because you just might wait too long and then you will lose your chance.

In Mark Chapter 9, Jesus has just returned from the mountaintop. His disciples had tried to heal a boy with seizures (scripture says he had an evil spirit). But they had failed. The father ran to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

Finally, the man says, “He has been like this since childhood. Please, if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “If I can? Everything is possible for those who believe.” Immediately the man said, “I do believe, help me with my unbelief.”

Now, that may sound like a contradiction, but it is not. It is just not a very clear translation. The father is very clear, “I do believe.” When he says, “Help me with my unbelief” he is actually saying, help strengthen my faith.

Because he has faith, Jesus does heal the man’s son. You see, belief comes from inside us. We must first have faith. This requires an act on our part. We must see our weakness and understand we need the Lord. As we go to him, Then, he will strengthen us, and our trust will increase.

Just like the Israelites, it doesn’t matter how many miracles God sends your way, you will miss them or dismiss them, if you do not believe. It is like your eyes are wide open, yet you are blind.

We are not the center of the universe. That should be clear to all of us. And this life is not random; it is not all a mistake. There is purpose and meaning to this life. You can deny it or ignore; it but you cannot change the truth. God is real and God is in charge.

God wants you to give yourself to him. He wants to give you peace that passes all understanding. He wants you to have joy and love like you have never known. But you must have faith and trust him. What do you have to lose? Sooner or later it will become clear, you are not in control.

Don’t wait, cross that line in the sand. Give your life to Jesus and see what you have been missing. And do not be afraid, he accepts everyone, no matter your past. But there is one point I must make, don’t expect to remain the same after this. God intends on making you into a new person, one who is stronger, bolder and more compassionate.

Only through faith can we learn to love, serve, forgive and life like we have never lived before. Taste and see, the Lord is good! Don’t be like the Israelites, or you could wander your life away. Trust and believe. Don’t waste another minute. Let’s pray,…

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”