Stranger in a strange land

And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom:
for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

Exodus 2:22

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(Mrs. Bluebird peeking outward / Julie Cook / 2015)

Have you ever traveled to another country where you did not speak the language?
Immediately upon arriving, jet lagged, tired, disoriented, all previous thoughts
of being ok and of easily getting by suddenly evaporate. Overwhelmed, you stare bleary eyed and lost.
You immediately sense your differentness. A rising sense of panic works to consume you as you feel conspicuous and vulnerable. Uneasiness, dread, foreboding race to devour your remaining sense of wellbeing—-all this transpires in the span of the first 30 seconds upon arrival, all before you can slowly breathe, getting your bearings and allowing common sense to quell the rising panic.

As a Christian, I am beginning to feel that same sense of rising of panic, disorientation, and sense of alienation. I feel as though I am no longer welcome in my own country. . .for I am a stranger now in a very strange land. I am ridiculed and scorned for my beliefs, my faith. I choose to believe in the Bible and what I consider to be the true Word of God and yet I am told to get with the program, come to the 21st century. . .I am told not to be so archaic, stop believing in mythology and fairy tales. I am told that I do not have a right to believe what I believe because it is preposterous, unbelievable, not all inclusive–as my beliefs seem to have limits, it appears my beliefs are saying “no” to certain lifestyles and choices.

. .I am reminded that this is not a time for an either or sort belief system for we are now a people who are all about “it’s all good” and “it’s all ok” sort of life. Tolerance, where is my tolerance I am asked.
Where is my love and acceptance of all. . .

Yet my faith, my beliefs, state that I am to believe in the Word God, the One true God—there is no waffling, no balancing act, no grey areas. . .either I believe or I don’t. Not in little demigods, not in things, not in man, not in little parts or snippets of His word while disregarding others. . .but rather I believe in an Omnipotent God. There is to be no rewriting of His word in order to set things as the world would like things to be written.
His word was stated and set eons ago. . .
there is to be no changing, no rewriting,
no updating to modern times. . .no redo. . .

Yet I am told that my thoughts, my beliefs, my faith are all no longer acceptable.
It’s all outdated, passé, cliche, no longer relevant. . .
Change or be changed I am told.
I must no longer adhere to the mumbo jumbo.
The courts will have their say.
They’ll show me.
They will tell me that I can’t believe.
Television tells me I can’t believe.
Their shows will prove I’m wrong.
Movies and music will all show me.
Step aside I am told.
We don’t want you here.
You can’t pray here.
You can’t say “Amen” here.
You can’t talk about Jesus here. . .
You’ll be fired, removed, shut down, sued, or even beheaded if ISIS has any say.

Bad things happen.
Earthquakes, calamities, tidal waves, tornadoes, floods, volcanos, blizzards,
natural as well as man made disasters. . .
I am asked where is my God.
How dare he allow such suffering. . .
Why doesn’t He stop the madness, the chaos?

But wait, I thought I was told He doesn’t exist, we don’t have room for Him, I was wrong for my belief in Him. . .
We rewrote Him, I reply, remember. . .
We made Him smaller.
We made Him our own.
We didn’t want to be transformed into His likeness, we wanted, rather, to transform Him to our likeness, our image, our idea, our ideal. . .

Hear the words of the ancient psalmist. . .

“You have rebuked the insolent;
cursed are they who stray from your commandments!”

Psalm 119:21

And hear now the words written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while he was a prisoner in a Nazi death camp awaiting execution. . .the writing was to be a manuscript written of his reflection of Psalm 119. . .

God hates the insolent, those who despise the Word of God and the faithful. Pride before God is the root of all disobedience, all violence, all irresponsibility. Pride is the root of all rebellion and destruction. Confronting all pride and insolence, however, is a fearful warning, of which the proud themselves comprehend nothing but the faithful do: it is the gospel. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The cross of Jesus Christ, which shows that God is with the weak and the humble, is God’s rebuke to the insolent. They may achieve victory over all human beings, but against God they will come to nought.
Whoever believes in the gospel sees the Word of God hanging over the insolent of this earth. The preaching of the Word of God is the only serious rebuke to a humanity grown proud. But along with his Word, God has also given sign of his might. In the midst of history, here and there, God’s rebuke can be seen, and the community of the faithful look with shuddering and amazement at the proud, who even now in their time fall and are destroyed. They are kept from any hypocritical certainty, however, because they see that innocent people are always destroyed along with the proud; and so the visible judgements of God remain hidden and obscure even for the faithful. Only the Word remains incontrovertibly clear when it pronounces its curse on the godless: “Cursed are they who stray from your commandments!” In the laws it says ” Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut.27:26). Can we speak this word without being convicted by it ourselves? Is it a word only for others and for ourselves? The curse upon the transgressors of the law of God is God’s right and. . .

Bonhoeffer’s words of his manuscript break off at this point. . . he never finished the manuscript. . . on April 9, 1944 he was executed on the direct orders of Adolph Hitler, exactly two weeks before Hitler committed suicide.

The psalm ends. . .Turn from me shame and rebuke,
for I have kept your decrees.
Even though rulers sit and plot against me,
I will meditate on your statutes.
Fro your decrees are my delight,
and they are my counselors.

A stranger in a strange land indeed. . .

What’s in a commandment?

“God gave us free agency, and then gave us the commandments to keep us free.”
― Cecil B. DeMille

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(lone sparrow / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just hearing the word “commandment” can make me feel somewhat oppressed, burdened, guilty, poorly behaved and much like a naughty little child. As in there is this heavy, as in literally heavy two tablets, full of laws hovering over my head which I’m suppose to be living my life by. Wanting but not always feeling as if I’m following them to the letter of the Law. Oh I don’t mean those biggie rules. . .the whole murder and stealing business. . .I try to stay away from those, but its to some of the lesser ones I think most of us falter over—as in who isn’t a bit envious of a neighbor’s windfalls and who among us hasn’t fallen at the foot of a golden calf such as our fixation with our gadgets, cars, clothes, food, yada, yada, yada. . .

As I continue reading Meditating On The Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer with translation by David McI. Gracie, I have reached the final section of the small devotional. The book closes out with Bonhoeffer’s commentary of Psalm 119.

Psalm 119 or as it is known in Hebrew “Ashrei temimei derech” (happy are those whose way is perfect) is the longest Psalm, as well as chapter, in the Bible. The psalm is divided into 22 stanzas with each stanza containing 8 verses. Psalm 119 was supposedly Bonhoeffer’s favorite psalm and he began his reflection, intending it as a devotional for the young seminarians he was instructing, but this was all just shortly before his involvement in the German resistance and Bonhoeffer never finished his commentary. Bonhoeffer has chosen to reflect on a section at a time making this particular commentary the longest in this little devotional.

With life proving to be a great challenge this week as each daily crisis builds upon the next crisis, my own sense of well-being, nerves, fortitude, heart and spirit have come under siege.
With aching spirit, dejected soul, tear streaked face I have crawled into bed each night fretful and filled with dread, despair and grave concern.

It is indeed during such hard times of life–those times that are most painful, challenging, and traumatic. . .those times when we are filled to the top and overflowing with weariness, fatigue, sorrow and sadness, that just as a lost child may cry out to a parent, I, you, me cry out.
“Hear me Oh Lord. . .”

It is at such ebbing times that we find our thoughts, soul, mind and heart in unison crying out to the One and only One who we know and think and hope can offer us help.

The Great I AM
Jehovah
Yahweh
G-D (as those most devout of the Hebrew faith do not find it possible to even write His name as it is the most holy of names)
God Almighty
Heavenly Father
Abba
Adonai
Elohim

His presence often comes in the form of an unexplained peace, a needed inner strength, the aid of a stranger or friend who comes calling out of the blue, a profound wisdom, or the opening of a window when every door is slammed and locked shut.
His Being comes to us in song, words of wisdom, a warm embrace, a gentle breeze, or a fierce wind.
And even frustratingly, He may simply come to us as Silence. . .
But rest assured, whenever we call, come He does.

As I was reading over the devotional’s commentary regarding God’s commandments two nights ago, I was suddenly struck by God’s power as mirrored by Bonhoeffer’s own reflections on the subject. . .

4 You laid down your commandments, that we should fully keep them.

That in this entire psalm God is addressed, and not human beings, is shown by the “you” with which the one who is praying now turns to God. Nor do the commandments stand in the center of this psalm, it is rather the One who commands. Not an “it”, an idea, but a “you” meets us in the commandments. A further sign of this is found in the Hebrew word for “commandments” in this verse. It is a word that cannot be translated by a single word of ours. It derives from the verb for seeking, visiting, paying attention to. Hence, the commandments are what God looks at, pays attention to, and the means by which he seeks and visits the human being. The commandments then reflect God’s way toward the human being. They have a definite purpose and goal for me. They are not given for their own sake, but for our sake, that we “should fully keep them.” We ought to keep them in the sense of holding fast to them; indeed, we should do so fully, with all our might, so that we do not lose them or let them be torn away from us. God’s commandment is not only here for the moment, but for the duration. It is intended to penetrate deep within us and to be held fast in all situations of life.

Did it ever occur to any of us that God’s decreed commandments were not merely sets of laws, the proverbial dos and don’ts for human beings, but rather that these commandments were actually extensions of God’s “visiting” and “seeking us,” His actually paying attention to us??!!

That God, the most Holy and Omnipotent God would, though His words, wish to visit us, seek us, pay us attention. . .

So as I closed the book for the night, turning off the light and laying back onto my pillow while staring blankly out into the dark, contemplating my own perception of the idea of a commandment, I felt a tremendous sense of Power that was far greater than the trials of my latest tribulations. The knowledge that there is One who is greater than any suffering or pain who simply wishes to seek me out with His Laws which sweetly translates into Love, left me rather amazed. I also found a Peace along with a new and deeper appreciation for what most of my life had seemed to be a mere list of rules and heavenly dos and don’ts.

And as I closed my eyes, I whispered into the darkness. . .may Your will be my own. . . .

Obligatory obligations

Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.
Elie Wiese

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(tufted titmouse / Julie Cook / 2014)

To rise with each new dawn,
with prayer upon my lips. . .

To greet you in my waking hours,
with praise for a brand new morn. . .

To give to you this time,
which you first freely gave to me. . .

Despite the sleepiness and fatigue
Despite the press for time
Despite not being in the mood
Despite the freedom not to pray. . .

There remains my obligation, an obligation to you. . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A definition of Obligatory—–
Binding in law or conscience; imposing duty or obligation; requiring performance or forbearance of some act.

Having an obligation means there is a responsibility.
There is a requirement.
A duty is to be done, performed, or to be said— carried out as a specific task.
A responsibility to act on behalf of self or others.

In the book Meditating on the Word, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer with translation by David Mel. Gracie, the word obligatory is applied in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he instructs seminarians, instructions which may be equally directed to us today, regarding the responsibility for prayer, in particular, the importance of the responsibility to morning prayer.. .

Before the heart unlocks itself for the world, God wants to open it for Himself; before the ear takes in the countless voices of the day, it should hear in the early hours, the voice of the Creator and Redeemer. God prepared the stillness of the first morning for himself.
It should remain his.`

The morning must yield an hour of quiet time for prayer and common devotion. How else could we prepare ourselves to face the tasks,cares and temptations of the day? And although we are often “not in the mood” for it, such devotion is an obligatory service to the One who desires our praises and prayers, and who will not other wise bless our day through His word and through our prayers.

Should we, those of the Christian faith, not find it odd that the muslims, who both Jews and Christians look upon with distrust, make time daily as they are called to prayer 5 times during the course of each day? Are we not reminded by the psalmist that we too are called to pray. . .to pray 7 times a day. . .
Can we not carve out time for the communion, conversation, fellowship and relationship with the loving Creator as He has stated we are required to do—to worship, to praise, to petition, to seek, to learn, to grow, to find peace, solace, and ultimately love. . .

I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous ordinances.

Psalm 119:163-164