The most important matter for a Christian is to finish your race. Yea, even more than that — to finish your race with joy. This is Paul’s life’s vision as he states it in Acts 20:24:
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul is saying that none of the trials and tribulations he faced would move him. He was determined to endure whatever was thrown against him and not allow anything in the world to cause him to give up and quit. He was given a ministry to complete and he would see it through to the end.
It is wonderful when someone is born again and begins a new life as a Christian. This is something to celebrate with great joy, but it is only the beginning. I’ve often said, “It’s not so much how you start, but how you finish.”
Over the years I have known many people and had a number of friends who surprised me when I found out, years later, that they were not serving God. It is a shock to hear that someone you once shared fellowship with has become a casualty along the road of life. It is such a grief. Questions arise in my mind — “What happened? Why did they not have the endurance to continue on?”
I will be writing more about this in the coming weeks and months, as I am writing a book about this very subject. But for now, let me look at the same question regarding a nation, a special nation to God — Israel.
Coincidentally, two things came together today that are very very interesting. On the one hand, I have been reading in my daily reading plan from Deuteronomy. I love Deuteronomy. It is full of wonderful material about what God says to his people Israel. It is like a father speaking to his son about life — full of emotion and love; full of wisdom and warning. I find myself hoping for God’s son, Israel, to listen carefully and choose life. I have the same feelings about my sons and daughters and their children. I have the same feelings toward many of you, my readers, and your sons and daughters.
With the background of Deuteronomy in my heart and mind, I read today the results of a comprehensive survey of the people living in Israel — what they believe and how they live. It is like we are given God’s perspective spanning 3500 years. Usually God is the only one to get a perspective of what happens over 3500 years.
Generally, in the bible a generation is considered the age of man when his first child is born. For Abraham it was 100 years. Generally it is considered to be 40 years. At 40 years, 3500 years means 87 generations have passed since Moses instructed and warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy. What happens to a nation in 87 generations? OK, let’s see.
Here is just a sampling of the data coming out of this large survey. (Note: Israel is anything but a homogeneous country. It is composed of Jews (secular and religious of many stripes), Muslims, Christians (mostly Arab in the survey), and Druze, so averages don’t mean very much.)
The most interesting statistic for my purposes today is this: 50% of Jewish Israelis say they believe in God with certainty; 27% say they believe in God but are less certain. I am upset on behalf of my God that only one half believe in God with certainty. But on the other hand, that is after 87 generations. Compared to how many Christians seem to fall away within 2-3 generations maybe this is not such a bad number for my Jewish friends.
Israeli Jews are proud of their heritage, with 93% proud of their identity. However, what does it mean to be Jewish? If I were to answer for them, I would hope they would say being the chosen people of God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This answer was not even on the list! When asked what was essential for them personally to being Jewish the results were:
Living in Israel 33%
Remembering the Holocaust 65%
Leading an ethical and moral life 47%
Observing Jewish law 35%
Having a good sense of humor 9%
Working for justice and equality 27%
Being intellectually curious 16%
Eating traditional Jewish foods 18%
The most essential thing for being Jewish is remembering the Holocaust! Wow! What a surprise.
I could go and and on about the statistics. If you want to read some of them for yourself, you can read them here:
My theme today is this. How does God put up with humanity? He loves us so much and has given us everything. He chose the Jews and he chose you and me. He has given us all good things. Even so, many turn away and walk in another direction, rejecting his love and provision. Why is this? Look at Israel. If only they would have listened to Moses and obeyed what God told them, they would have been the most blessed people on earth. Through their disobedience they have suffered more an any people on the planet. How crazy is that? Why is it so hard to love and follow God?
What about you, your children, and your grandchildren? How will you do in just two or three generations? May God help us all to finish our race with joy.