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What does it mean to be blessed? Or to ask God to bless us? Until about 20 years ago, I thought that it simply meant that God was providing all kinds of good things. But when I got to seminary, my Old Testament professor explained what it really meant. He said that to be blessed meant that you were living according to God’s will. I’m sure that this definition had a lot to do with my decision to establish Ray of Hope Ministries, which includes this blog, Today’s Enlightenment. The basic theme of this blog is hope. Many times I have said that when our hopes are in accordance with God’s will for us, and we agree to let God use us for his purposes, which are always good, then our hopes will be fulfilled, in God’s time and God’s way. To say it another way, our hopes will be fulfilled when we are living in accordance with God’s will. When that happens we are being blessed.
That definition applies to individuals. However, as we approach our American Independence Day (4th of July), I am reminded that this applies to nations as well. When I was a pastor, at this time of year, I always included the singing of the Irving Berlin song, God Bless America, in our worship services. Then I would remind the congregation that this song was not simply a prayer asking God for good things for our nation, or to make us better than other nations, but that our nation would become better at living in accordance with God’s will.
This is a good time to examine how we have been doing since July 4, 1776, when we declared ourselves to be an independent nation, 237 years ago. If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that in some ways we have failed miserably. Too many times we have failed to seek and accept God’s will for us. I don’t have to list all of these. You can read all about it in the history books. That’s the bad news. On the other hand, there is always good news in the midst of bad news. Even during our worst moments, there have always been people within our midst, from the ordinary to the famous, who sought to know God’s will for this nation and proclaimed what they were hearing from God. They asked God to bless America in the full sense of the meaning of that statement. And impossible as it might have seemed at the time, God did bless America, and his will prevailed. By the grace of God, our nation overcame its faults and failures. And I believe will continue to do so.
Unfortunately, it seems that we often find ourselves going back to some of our old ways. I believe we are now living through one of those times when there is a lot of bad news and hopelessness. There is a lot of division among the people of our nation. Too many people are doing all they can to care for ourselves, but seem to have no interest in providing for the common good of all who live in this nation. Too many are singing God Bless America, but are really only concerned with God blessing them. Too many are pledging allegiance to “one nation, under God”, but acting as though God has nothing to do with this nation. Too many ignore the motto which appears on all of our money, “In God We Trust”, as they put their trust in the money itself and not in God.
There’s no question in my mind, that all of this adds up to a lot of bad news, hopelessness, and failure to live as a nation blessed by God. But despite all of this, I see examples of good news in the midst of the bad news. I see hope where there seems to be none. I see examples of what I believe God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven will look like when it is fulfilled, in God’s way and in God’s time. Here’s one personal example. Last week, my wife Joan and I attended the annual U.S. Navy Musicians Association reunion. During 1957-60 I served in the U.S. Navy as a musician. The bad news was that on the trips to and from this event I didn’t feel all that blessed. Nothing terrible happened, but it would have been nice if somehow I could have been transported miraculously to and from the event. However, the event itself was totally good news. All my hopes were fulfilled. God was blessing all of us, and as far as I could see, all of us were aware that we were being blessed.
Most of the time at the reunion, we are doing two things. We were playing or listening to our own live music or talking with old acquaintances and friends from decades ago when we served together, or with people who we were meeting for the first time. At this event there were people who had served in the Navy for 20 to 40 years. Then there were those like me, who had served just one enlistment. There were people there who were still playing music professionally, and those like me who hardly picked up my horn since the last reunion two years ago. There were people there like former Chief Petty Officer Cecil Strange, who was my superior during part of my first assignment to sea duty, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. And there were people like me who were of a lower rate, who always addressed their superiors as Chief. There were all kinds of people there who were there for the common good of the whole group as well as their own personal enjoyment.
At one point one of my friends, Pete Codispoti, and I were talking about how all of us were somehow different from each other, yet we were all coming together as one unit. He commented that “there’s a lot of love here”. He said we were brothers and sisters (there are now female Navy musicians) to each other. We cared about each other. We were there to listen to and tell each other our stories. It didn’t matter how well we played our instruments. All were invited to play. And some chose to just listen, and that was okay too. It didn’t matter about how we were different from each other in various ways, because we were all one. And we were open to receiving new members. While we respected those who were once our superiors, we now treated each other as friends, on a first name basis. Rank no longer mattered. Yes, I had to agree with Pete, there was a lot of love going on at that event. Surely God was blessing us. And that love and blessing continues as we now go our separate ways, but from time to time keep in touch with each other. I do believe that this was something like what heaven is like and what God’s kingdom on earth will be like some day. That is my hope, and I believe it is in accordance with God’s will for us, and therefore I believe this hope will be fulfilled.
At the end of the event, we were privileged to hear a brief talk from an honored guest, Captain Brian Walden, the highest ranking Navy musician in the Navy, Leader of the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, DC. His talk supported the observation that my friend and I had made earlier that day. He emphasized that while we were all different people, with different talents, who served at different times and different places during our service, together we all were the legacy of those who served before us. Those who were just beginning their service or who were still to serve in the future, would be our legacy. In this way we were all essential parts of the whole Navy music program. Later I went over to Captain Walden and thanked him for affirming what Pete and I had observed and talked about earlier in the day.
There is no question in my mind that God has been blessing our organization, and especially this reunion we just attended. I believe that, despite the problems we are facing in the USA today, which tend to separate us from each other, there are many organizations and individuals in the USA right now, like the Navy Musicians Association. Which God is also blessing. I believe these are examples of what God desires for our entire nation, and ultimately the entire world. A nation of people who truly love each other. A world where people love each other, regardless of their nation. I believe that the time will come when there will be no difference between heaven and earth, because there will be nothing but peace, love, and joy everywhere and always. That time is not here yet. So for now, keep on hoping. Keep on looking for good news in the midst of bad news. Keep on or begin to seek God’s will for your life. Say yes to whatever that turns out to be. Then let God transform your life, so that you contribute to the fulfillment of hope, by becoming one through whom God fulfills hope. Do this and you will be blessed by God, and God will be using you to be his blessing to others.
Grace and peace, Ray Gough
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.
May God be with you,
Patty Perez and Ray Gough