Standing Shoulder To Shoulder Together As We Fight the Good Fight of Faith A personal letter of encouragement to you, written solely to "lift up hands that hang down". TO SUBSCRIBE send a blank message to shoulders-subscribe@... . TO UNSUBSCRIBE send a blank message to shoulders-unsubscribe@... . IN EACH CASE you will receive an automated request for confirmation which you must answer. FOR BACK COPIES go to www.associate.com/digests/shoulders . Click on "Read Messages" SHOULDER TO SHOULDER #199 ---- 10/22/01 TITLE: "God Bless Us? Why Should He?" Dear Valued Friend and Partner in Ministry: Thank you again for taking time to read my heart-thoughts from me to you. I still can't believe God has given me such a special privilege to try to brighten your day and lighten your load. Even though the events of recent weeks have weighed heavy on the both of us, my deep desire is that you are indeed being encouraged in the Lord. I'm reminded of Paul's great commentary in Romans 1:11-12. Years ago it became my heartbeat when it comes to walking shoulder to shoulder alongside others who are marching in the same battle. That's why I continue using it as part of my signature on virtually every letter I write. Encouragement is not only a personal privilege, but it is a mutual blessing. Every week I get numerous responses, and there will always be at least one that just lifts my heart at exactly the right time. So, this weekly writing discipline probably blesses me more than it does you. I especially appreciate your graciously receiving the extra letters I've been writing throughout the weeks since September 11th. I won't always do that, but there have been so many helpful items that have come my way that I can't think of not passing them on to you. It's probable I'll send one or two more this week. ODDS AND ENDS: 1. Congressional Bill: I try very hard to not let this letter be politically motivated in any way. I share the following information in that same spirit. Sunday I received information regarding a proposed House Bill coming up, H.Con.Res. 184, on which the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on. Introduced by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, it is a concurrent resolution that provides for a congressional National Day of Reconciliation. If passed, according to the resolution, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate will jointly meet in the Hall of the House of Representatives and, "seek the blessings of Providence for forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, and charity for all people of the United States, thereby assisting the Nation to realize its potential as the champion of hope, the vindicator of the defenseless, and the guardian of freedom." It seems to me to be more than appropriate, especially in light of the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the subsequent threats to our nation. It makes great sense to me to recognize that the designation of a day for Members of Congress to gather to fast and pray for God's blessings on our nation is needed now more than ever. So, I'd urge American citizens to contact their appropriate congressmen and urge the passage of H.Con.Res. 184 that provides for a National Day of Reconciliation". There are many places where you can get phone numbers and e-mail addresses for your congressmen. Here is just one: http://www.cc.org/legis/contactcongress.html. I'd also urge you to pass this message on to every U.S. citizen you know. 2. Presidential Prayer Team: I also continue urging you to become a part of the Presidential Prayer Team. Somewhere around a half million people have done so. Whether you are for or against President Bush, I'm sure you'd agree that he desperately needs our prayers in these days. Again, go to http://www.PresidentialPrayerTeam.org - It will only take a minute of your time. 3. Another Article on Islam: I don't intend to keep sending Chuck Colson's "BreakPoint" commentaries. You can sign up for them yourself at WWW.BREAKPOINT.ORG if you like. Click on "subscribe" to join. I sent the first three last week. A fourth one can be found via the website. In the meantime, I have been tremendously encouraged by two things that have happened recently. Friday and Saturday Jo Ann and I attended a Great Commission Prayer Conference in the Midwest. Among other things we heard people who had been missionaries in Muslim countries, evangelism professors, and evangelists speak about the open door God has made available for us in ministering to Muslims. Our first reaction is to back away, assuming they are either set in their ways or they are highly antagonistic toward Christians. Just the opposite is frequently true. Right now, all around the world, they are watching to see how Christians, and especially American Christians, react to the horrors of this terrorism. For example, John Avant, a pastor from Georgia said, "On September 11th Post Modernism died. But, there is nothing to take its place. Unless the Church experiences right now the great spiritual revival it needs, there may never be another opportunity. The void is before us, and we must act." A former missionary, Randy Sprinkle said, "On September 11th the whole world changed. For the first time the world has realized it has no hope. But, Christians do! Don't miss this hour!" Another missionary said that Muslims are looking for four things that their religion does not offer ---- acceptance and approval from God, genuine love, inner peace, and real hope. Well, as I thought about that I realized we Christians have exactly what they're looking for and not finding in Islam. Can you imagine in your wildest dreams what must be going through the minds of Muslim people so horrified by what they have seen! With that in mind, and because that is the subject of his article, I'm sending this particular "BreakPoint" which Colson recently wrote. I hope it blesses you. "BreakPoint with Charles Colson Commentary #011019 - 10/19/2001 Loving Our (Muslim) Neighbors: Islam Series 5 -- The Christian Response "The conversation in the online chat room was both vicious and violent. "For every American killed in the terrorist attacks," one man raged, "we ought to kill a hundred Muslims." "Emotions have been running high since September 11 ---- but even so, there's no excuse for such vitriol. Yes, we want those responsible to be pursued and punished ---- but we should not confuse the innocent with the guilty. And among the innocent are over 6 million Muslims who live in American neighborhoods -- and now live there in fear. "As Christians, we know that God often brings good out of evil. And one great good he may bring out of this unwanted war is a greater openness by Muslims to Christianity ---- but only if we attack hatred with love. "One man who believes this is Ashton 'Tat. Stewart, director of the Colorado-based Persian Ministries for World Witness. Stewart has spent a lifetime ministering to Muslims. As we battle bin Laden, Stewart says, the entire Muslim world is watching to see how we treat the Muslims among us. Instead of joining the Internet animosity and radio ranting, he says Christians ought to seize the moment: We have a tremendous opportunity to model Christian love to Muslim neighbors. ?How do we go about this? "First, Stewart says, we need to reach out in friendship. In the current climate, this might mean crossing the street to ask how a Muslim family is doing or visiting a mosque to express friendship. We might invite Muslim friends into our home for a meal. 'What many Christians don't realize, Stewart says, 'Is that just being a normal Christian is a radical witness to many Muslims.' Their law is oppressive; they aren't used to love. "After building a bridge of friendship, the next step is to expose Muslims to what Stewart calls 'kingdom realities.' This might include praying in their presence, inviting them to a Bible study, or giving them a New Testament in their own language. "We should also be prepared to explain basic Christian beliefs, and familiarize ourselves with Islamic teachings. Moderate peace-loving Muslims are horrified by bin Laden's horrific attacks. They can easily be turned against him and perhaps they will then question how Islamic teaching could condone such violence. They need to see in us the love of Christ. "According to Stewart, many Muslims lack inner peace, and do not experience genuine, unconditional love; they don't understand true spiritual freedom. This means we might present Christ as the peace-giver who truly loves them and brings them freedom. "Finally, before we invite a Muslim to follow Christ, we must understand the cost we are asking him to pay. Conversion may mean a complete loss of family, friends, career, and culture. "Stewart is right. As America embarks on what may be a lengthy war, we must seize the opportunity of the moment. The faith of many Muslims is crumbling as they see the horrors some radical elements in Islam are capable of. If Christians offer unconditional love to their supposed enemies, Stewart predicts, 'In the next few years we may see mass turnings to Christ.' "But it won't happen if we respond to hatred with even more hatred. Instead, we overcome evil with good ---- as Paul commanded. We must out-shout angry American threats with quiet Christian compassion. And we must meet terrorist lies with the transforming love of Christ. ============ "To support the series this week, the BreakPoint Store at Parable.com has gathered many additional resources on Islam to help get you up to speed on Islam and other world religions. Come see the selection at http://www.parable.com/breakpoint/default.asp?group=686&rid=159." Copyright (c) 2001 Prison Fellowship Ministries GOD BLESS AMERICA! There's nothing like a great patriotic song to give rise to unbelievable emotions. I still get goose bumps, chills, and tears at times when I hear a great rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner". That "rockets red glare" and "that our flag was still there" just undo me sometimes. I respond the same way to "America The Beautiful" ---- especially when it comes to "God shed His grace on thee". I have to confess that I'm a true patriot at heart. So, when I sing Irving Berlin's great song, "God, Bless America!", I can hardly contain myself at times. Just look at these words: "God, bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her Through the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairie, To the Ocean white with foam, God ---- bless America! My home, sweet home. God ---- bless America, my home, sweet home!" And, there's no doubt we've been going "through the night", and the "light from above" seems to be shining more brightly lately. So, it has really come as a shock to my patriotic system when, every time I see that sign on an automobile bumper, a billboard, or a marquee somewhere, a strange question stares me in the face . . . . . "Why???" Why should God bless America? And, another thought . . . . is such a statement that of a beggar's plea, a friend's request, or a proud nation's demand? Picture that in your mind. Listen with the ears of your heart . . . . "God, bless America." How do you hear it? I'm fearful that far too many who use it are saying it in the wrong way. Why should God bless us? I mean, really, friend . . . . why do you think He should? + Is it because we are, in spite of our great flaws, still the best example (and I might add ongoing laboratory experiment) around for democracy? If that's the reason, then it gives rise to another big question in my mind ---- why does God bless disobedience and sin in the camp? I find nowhere in scripture any indication that God blesses nations on the basis of their political system, but rather on their moral fiber and their relationship to Him. + Is it because the United States was the first country to recognize Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948? Is it because we have been her ally from that day to today in spite of periodic strains and frequent disapproval of things Israel did and said? Many people think so. In fact, probably like you, I've had more than my share of articles and websites lately on that very subject. All of my childhood I was taught that the United States was one of God's favored nations because we chose to be a friend and ally to Israel. Here's a quote from one of those unsolicited articles that illustrates that idea. " . . . this tragedy is not God's judgment on the United States. Since we know that God did not perpetrate this attack, then obviously it's not His judgment. Even though we have problems in the United States, and even though there are things we need to correct, this is still a godly nation. God says in His Word that He will bless the nation that blesses Israel. "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel! Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you" (Num. 24:5, 9)Never before in history has there been a nation that has sought to protect the interests of Israel as much as the United States. Make no mistake about it. The terrorist attack against the United States was not the judgment of God, but an attack against God's nation and against those who support Israel." That also raises an interesting question for me ---- does God always bless governments that support a nation who rejected His Son, and who still does? Especially if we were a nation founded on the belief that He existed and is the Savior of the world? Perhaps the most troubling question that comes to mind in regard to that regards the use of the word for "nation" . It is used nowhere in that text, and yet that scripture is used to imply that God has a "favored nation" status for nations that support and respect Israel. On top of that, seldom in scripture is any word, Hebrew or Greek, used to identify a nation politically; rather it is usually ethnically or territorially. While it's true that in verse 8 he says, "He will devour the nations who are his adversaries", it makes no guarantee of blessing to those who aren't Israel's adversaries. Now I don't mean that God doesn't bless people who bless and encourage Israel; He certainly does that. But to imply that God is going to let any nation, including America, get away with the grossest of sins simply because they politically and militarily are aligned with Israel is, in my opinion, an error in supposition. Oh, well . . . . so much for my spouting off! Let's move on. + Is it because we were founded as a nation built on Christian principles? It doesn't take a very smart person to do some basic research and find that from our very beginnings belief in God and embracing clearly Christian principles were at the very core of our founding. Rather than list all of these, let me refer you to two great books by Peter Marshal, Jr. ---- "From Sea To Shining Sea" and "The Light and the Glory". Both are literally packed with researched documents that attest to that reality. + Is it because, according to documented records, the discoverer and founders of this land were compelled to do so as a means of establishing a new nation from which the Gospel would be proclaimed to all the world? Young Christopher Columbus used to sit for hours on his grandfather's knee listening to the seafaring tales, including the time when the old man was shipwrecked and, while in and out of consciousness on the wet sand, had a recurring dream of a land far away across the sea where there would be a nation rise up for the expressed purpose of proclaiming the Gospel to the world. It's no wonder Columbus, in his own captain's journal said, ""it was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies. . . . There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous inspiration from the Holy Scriptures. . . For the execution of the journey . . . I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. It is simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had promised (Isa 49:1,6). . . No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service." + Is it because we are champions of freedom and democracy? Hardly. There is only one form of government that God has promised to bless and prosper, and that is a Theocracy. All else in His eyes are mere man-made efforts to try to live together in some form of sanity and order. + Is it because our official documents are clearly based on Judeo-Christian beliefs and truths? Again, it's not likely. Tell me, friend . . . . just why then does God bless America? More importantly . . . . why Should He? Is He duty bound or otherwise obligated? It is clear He has blessed us, and will probably continue to do so. But . . . . in my view, it has nothing to do with any of the above possible reasons. Sadly, because so many have bought into those reasons, we have become, along with all those blessings, arrogant, self-reliant, slothful, soft, careless, and wasteful ---- much like Israel did over and over again in the Old Testament. WHY SHOULD GOD BLESS US ---- OR ANYBODY? I'm confident that my observations are far from exhaustive in this matter, but let me show you what I feel God let me see over the past six weeks . . . . for I've been trying to write this letter for more than a month. And, friend, . . . . these truths have nothing to do with nations or political entities. It has to do with one simple thing ---- a divine relationship that exists between God and mankind, His most prized creation designed to have intimate fellowship with Him. Therefore, God does not bless us because of who we are, what nation we represent, or what we necessarily do. And we are repulsively arrogant if we think that way. We actually have to look at two issues ---- What God blesses, and Why God blesses. As to What God blesses, He blesses many things. For example: 1. Generosity: This is one I just stumbled upon. Prov 22:9 says, "He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor." Paul quoted Jesus in Acts 20:35 when he reminded the Ephesian believers that, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." If America has failed in any area over the past years, I believe it is here. That is why I feel God is not obligated to bless us just because we are America. Scripture clearly says, "unto whomsoever much is given, much is required". I believe the same can be said about the western church, both in America and other countries. It is hard for me to comprehend how we can complain because we have only two vehicles and three televisions when millions in Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other places are dying. One of the former missionaries who spoke Saturday at the conference Jo Ann and I attended recounted a recent experience in Sudan where the common background noise at graveside funerals was the sound of digging another nearby grave. When he inquired as to the practice, the grave digger said, "Sir, if we do not keep digging all day and night, we will never catch up with those dying from starvation and Aids." Where has the Church been in this? Oh, . . . . I know ---- we've been building our new buildings and assembling our new sound systems. 2. Worship: There are many scriptures, but Psalm 29 stands in my mind. After calling Israel to worship the Lord "in holy array", David begins to rehearse God's response. He first identifies all the ways God reveals Himself in His love, provision, and mercy. Then He concludes that great song in verse eleven by saying, "The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace. When we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, God is pleased. Out of His pleasure, God blesses us. 3. Humble obedience: In John 13:17 Jesus said, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." "To him who knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." After trying to teach a final lesson . . . . one on being a servant . . . . to His disciples before His crucifixion, He assures them that the only kind of obedience that guarantees blessing is that which comes from the heart of a humble servant and not a dictator. One of the speakers at the conference said, "we are called to be shepherds, not cowboys." Ouch! Too many of us want to be cowboys . . . . even rhinestone ones . . . . driving cattle instead of shepherds caring for sheep. There are so many other scriptures such as Psalm 127:5 (children), Prov 3:13 (wisdom and understanding), prayer, good stewardship, etc. That, then, brings us to the real question: Why does God bless us? Why Should He bless us? I believe God blesses us for eight simple reasons that I think of at the moment ---- Relationship, holiness, compassion, victory, and purpose. 1. Relationship: Just as any parent who loves his children, God loves to bless us. And the amazing thing is that He does that simply because we are His . . . . not because we are good. While it is true that certain blessings fall on all people (it rains on the just and unjust alike), only blessings of eternal value are given to His children. This is made possible, of course, through Jesus Christ. Paul said "He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ." (Eph 1:3) Then for the next three chapters he enumerates some of those incredible blessings . . . . all poured out on us simply because we belong to Him. No other reason. It's all about relationship. Because He is our Father, Jesus is our Savior, and the Holy Spirit is our seal and enabler, . . . . God blesses us. It is "not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by His great mercy that He has saved us." God blesses us simply because we're His children, He loves us, and He delights in making us happy and successful by blessing us. 2. Holiness: Take a look at Psalm 1, perhaps one of the most memorized scriptures in the Old Testament. "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers." What an awesome concept! God blesses us because of holiness and righteousness. Conversely He does not bless beyond the ordinary things of life for those who are called "the wicked" in that passage. Rather, "They are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. " There is no doubt that God generously responds to holiness in the lives of His children by blessing them. 3. Compassion: It is out of His pure compassion that God chooses to bless us. Have you ever noticed that often during your most trying times, you'll see the evidence of God's blessing? Because God loves us, even in our most evil moments, His compassions and mercies are constantly poured upon us. One thing you should always remember ---- God doesn't have to bless you; He's not obligated in any way. But, out of His compassionate love, He has chosen to do so. It has nothing to do with our performance, our alliances, or anything else. 4. For Victory: Deuteronomy 33:29 connects blessing and victory for us. "Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, Who is the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, and you will tread upon their high places." The book of Joshua demonstrates over and again how God blessed Israel in order that they would be victorious against all that stood against Him. 5. Purpose: Noah illustrates this perfectly in Genesis 9:1. "And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. . . . " Because it was God's purpose to repopulate the earth following the flood and thereby give man another opportunity to return to Him, He blessed the labors of their hands. The nation of Israel is another example of this truth. God had a purpose He intended to accomplish ---- to raise up a nation that would preserve scripture and be a people through whom the Redeemer of mankind would come to earth. In the process of all that, He sometimes rebukes, He sometimes allows hardship and sorrow, and He sometimes blesses. Genesis 22:17 shows us that He chose to "greatly bless you (Israel), and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies." But, we need to simply understand that God does not bless us because of our ethnic, national, political, denominational, or personal achievements and prowess. The bottom line is that He blesses us because He chooses to. Therefore, we have neither reason nor right to parade around like we're somebody special. Finally, take a look at Psalm 67. "God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us ---- that Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us. God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him." Talk about real purpose! It is clear; in response to the psalmists request that God be gracious and bless us in order that His way may be known and embraced and His salvation available to all the nations, the declaration is made ---- "God blesses us that all the ends of the earth may fear Him." So, there you have it, my friend. Does God bless America? Certainly. Is it because we are America? Absolutely not. God blesses us because we are people, His most precious creation. He blesses us simply because of that relationship between Him and us established by the finished work of Christ, proportionate to our walk of holiness, and out of His heart of measureless love and compassion. He blesses us in order that we can experience His victory in every battle we face. And, finally, He blesses us because He has a purpose for us which will glorify Himself when it is fulfilled ---- that all the ends of the earth may fear Him. IN CONCLUSION: So, while the song "God Bless America" continues to stir my soul, and seeing that same phrase on everything from T-shirts to billboards makes something well up inside me, I still find myself cringing over the thought of such presumption on our part. God is not obligated to bless us just because we live in America, love America, or believe in American principles. Therefore, if we're going to pray that three-word prayer, "God, Bless America!", it might be a good exercise in humility for us to examine what right we feel we have to make such a request. I hope God does indeed bless America . . . . but not at the expense of our continuing in sin and independence from Him. And, I feel the same way about the Church, our respective ministries, our families, and our personal lives. Let's continue asking God to bless us. However, let's pay the price necessary to receive those blessings, and let's be certain we are asking for the right reasons. I do, with all my heart friend, pray that God blesses and prospers you today in a very special way. He delights in you, He wants to see holiness and character well up in you like a great fountain, He compassionately and passionately loves you, He wants you to know victory, and He wants to use you as part of His plan to ensure that all the ends of the earth will hear about Him, know about Him, and come to personal relationship with Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. It's my prayer that this is what makes you tick, and what motivates you in your ministry. Thanks for letting me share my pilgrimage. In His Bond and For His Purpose, Bob Tolliver -- Rom 1:11-12 Copyright October, 2001 Life Unlimited Ministries lifeunlimited@... Do You Get "Shoulder To Shoulder"?