Dwellinginthedesert's Blog
Just another WordPress.com weblog

Jan
17

Donald Miller wrote this piece earlier today, and I liked it so much that, well, I broke one of the ten commandments. [I may have broken others along the course of the day, as well, but I'm stealing this one.]

http://donmilleris.com/2012/01/17/embracing-the-sweet-brutal-realty-of-life/

Jan
05

Today’s readings:  Genesis 8:1 – 10:32, Matthew 4:12-25, Psalms 4:1-8, and Proverbs 1:20-23

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ [Syriac/ancient Jewish term meaning "worthless"] is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  [Matthew 5:21-22]

A few months ago, while working on an unrelated project from this blog, I stumbled across this video.  It was pretty convicting, really, thinking about some of the people in my life whom I’ve either wronged or been hurt by.  I’m not very good at forgiveness, really; in truth, I have the capacity in me to hold grudges as well as anyone I know, in some cases against people whom I’ve never even directly met, but rather heard stories of how they’ve wounded loved ones or, in a couple cases, how they have, for whatever reason, abused me.

It’s quite silly to begrudge someone you’ve never even met, really.

I should probably work on that.

Gary Ridgway has confessed to killing 48 women in the state of Washington between 1982 and 1998.  In the video above, you’re watching the sentencing of a cold-blooded murderer facing the families of women whom he murdered, usually prostitutes and runaways and usually by strangulation behind after the completion of intercourse.  Only a plea bargain kept him from receiving the eye-for-an-eye treatment discussed in the Old Testament; as part of working with the prosecution and local law enforcement, he gave great detail of how he’d killed all his victims in the King County [Seattle] area of Washington, giving whereabouts and detailed accounts of where he’d transported several bodies outside of the region to throw law enforcement officers off the scent.

It’s isn’t unnatural to despise men like Gary Ridgway.  I do not possess the strength of character or faith to stand before the world in the fashion Robert Rule, the large man in the video above, did.

The thing about grudges is that they’re often as useless and petty as the acts [or perceived acts] committed against the individual holding the grudge in the first place.  Further, we often forget that, while we begrudge others, we have no hesitation in desiring for those whom we’ve hurt to drop their resentment, to forgive and move forward.

Here’s the thing about forgiveness – when one releases a resentment against another individual, it frees not only them, but yourself, as well.  I believe firmly that, if Jesus’s words come from God above, He does so not only because it is what God desires for us, that we move beyond the judgments and transgressions we hold for others in our heart, but also that we experience what Mr. Rule felt, a sense of a burden relieved.

Forgiveness isn’t easy for a lot of reasons.  Sometimes the wounds inflicted are too deep.  Sometimes there are mutual circumstances involved where both parties are in a place they cannot cede compassion toward the other party.

Sometimes it just feels easier to hate.

An honest question for my Christian friends:

Do you struggle with this?  With whom do you need to seek reconciliation?  What’s keeping you from doing so, and how can you break down those barriers?

Jan
03

Today’s readings:  Genesis 5:1 – 7:24, Psalms 3:1-8, Proverbs 1:10-19, and Matthew 3:7-4:11

I read the story of Noah today.  You can find it beginning in Genesis 6; I can’t tell you where it ends, precisely, my Bible reading plan for today cuts off with them sailing the floodwaters at the end of chapter 7, but I think you probably know how it goes, whether you’re in church every Sunday or you laugh at the rest of us for believing what we believe.

Here’s the crux of my situation, or at least the part that I want to visit today:  I don’t know if I believe everything that is written in the Bible in terms of how it is literally presented and how it happened.

I don’t think the Creation period was literally a six day setup, with God kicking back on some daisies on the seventh.  I don’t see how Noah could round up all those animals – lions and tigers and bears – and put them on a boat while God closed all the windows and doors and turned on the faucet for 40 days.  I don’t see how Methusaleh lived 969 years.  I don’t think Jonah was swallowed whole by a whale and carried around in the world’s worst taxi for three days before being deposited on a beach to contritely tell his story.

When I read the Old Testament, and I’ve come across three stories already in the first seven chapters of Genesis that are at least referenced above, I feel like I need some 3D glasses and popcorn.  I feel the same about a large part of the New Testament, as well.  I don’t know how people read such passages and think to themselves, without fail, that such things happened to the dotted line of the words that appear.  I have my theories – the primary one being that a large part of the Bible was written as an allegory more geared toward telling stories in a way that most of us can better understand the book than reporting things in 21st century English from 6,000 B.C.  – and there is a broad camp of people who would tell you that I’m not a person of faith for believing the way I do, but those are my general beliefs at this time.

The question I have for self-professing Christians, and I understand if this is a deeply personal one and something you may rather not discuss in public forum, is this:  Do you believe in an absolutely literal version of the Bible, or do you believe that it’s an inspired book of God?  (…and the follow-up, and perhaps more difficult question in this piece, is this.  If it’s “both,” where does one draw the line between That was a God-inspired story and That really happened?  In my weaker moments of faith, there are times when I’m not sure we can.)

Tomorrow’s readings:  Genesis 8:1 – 10:32, Matthew 4:12-25, Psalms 4:1-8, and Proverbs 1:20-23

Today’s link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyq48bTLQ5s&feature=related

Jan
02

Today’s passages:  Genesis 3 and 4, Matthew 2:13 – 3:6, Psalms 2, Proverbs 1:7-9

Those of you who are expecting to have children in the next two-three years, I present you a name to cross off the potential “baby boy” list:  Lamech.

Genesis 4:19-23:  “Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.  Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.  His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute.  Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.  Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.  Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words.  I have killed a man for wounding me.  If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.

Two modern-day observations here:

  1. Lamech is the absolute worst pillow-talker of all time, yet he managed to bed two women.  Well-played, Lamech…
  2. Jubal and Jabal may have been similarly-named brothers, but they would’ve made for an interesting reality show in the 21st century.  “This is the story of two brothers. One is an outdoorsy type who likes cows and camping.  The other is an adept flutist and harpist.  Their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather is the most famous murderer in the history of humanity.  Stay tuned for the season premiere of “Jabal and Jubal!'”   (Don’t tell me VH1 wouldn’t air “Jabal and Jubal” after Celebrity Rehab.)

On a serious note, I’ve done some basic research on Lamech tonight and his bolded/italicized conversation with Adah and Zillah above is apparently referred to as “The Song of the Sword,” for obvious reasons.  I’ve read the first few chapters of Genesis a hundred times in my lifetime, and I’m sure my eyes have passed over the brief story of Lamech on numerous occasions in the past, but the one thing I’ve always appreciated in my readings of the Bible are the little stories that come about once you really get into the word.  My unanswered question concerning Lamech:  Who did he kill? (In doing some background study on Lamech, I went to the all-knowing Wikipedia – I know, I know – and read an interesting ancient legend that he killed his son, Tubal-Cain.  But Anthony’s Nelson Study Bible says the following:

These verses express the culmination of centuries of ungodly living among the descendants of Cain.  Cain had desired to establish a name for himself (cf. 6:4; 10:9; 11:4); he built a city and named it after his son.  His descendants were involved in polygamy, as well as purely humanitarian pursuits.  Now Lamech had taken the law into his own hands and had killed someone in revenge.  The judicial office had degenerated into a vengeful tyranny in this heir of the dynasty’s murderous founder.  The song expresses Lamech’s overweening pride and his refusal to suffer any hurt without wreaking severalfold, dire revenge.  This expression of arrogance, conceit and disdain for customary retribution is skillfully reinforced by the poet through a clever manipulation of poetic convention by which a smaller is placed before a larger one in parallel structure for distinct emphasis.  This sets the background for why God sends the Flood in chapters 6-9, where He says “violence” fills the earth (6:13). (Thank you, Anthony.)

Makes enough sense, I suppose. I’m fascinated by the fact that I’ve probably passed over Lamech 100 times and never once even noticed his name.  (His “song” was what caught my attention today.)  One thing I’ll say about this book:  it’s amazing how we can read the same passages at different points in our life and just get taken in by stories of rather bit players on random occasions.  That’s all, really; it is a simple blog for a simple read this evening.

TOMORROW:  In playing by the rules, I haven’t read the passages yet, but I know what I’m writing on.   It is the blog I mentioned yesterday as upcoming today, and one with a little more depth than what I’ve brought so far.  Spoiler alert: It involves Noah AND Adam/Eve (…and Jonah,  etc., etc., etc..)

Tomorrow’s readings:  Genesis 5:1-7:24, Matthew 3:7-4:11, Psalms 3:1-8, and Proverbs 1:10-19

Jan
01

Today’s passages:  Genesis 1 and 2, Matthew 1 – 2:12, Psalms 1, Proverbs 1:1-6

I would say that even a lot of non-Christians know about the stories found in my readings from today – early Genesis and Matthew speak of the story of creation and lead-in to the birth of Jesus, respectively –  but the passage that stood out to me today was actually Psalms 1.  I’m pretty familiar with the Psalms in general, but for some reason this morning, when reading the opening chapter of the book, I found myself underlining all the verses… even went back to re-read twice.  I’m not certain I’ve ever actually let the verses stick.

Psalms 1 is basically David’s opening observations on what separates the righteous and wicked, which we all know is a common theme in the walk of faith.  David’s words, in my opinion, are particularly eloquent in Psalms 1.  But in his [the wise] delight is the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers(Psalms 1:2-3) Despite all the questions I have of God and faith and my place in this whole thing (and there are many, my first big one of which is coming in the next couple days), I can think of no one who would disapprove of having such words spoken of them.

The story of David in general is an interesting one.  From his humble beginnings to his chosen king status to Bathsheba to running in the wilderness to Solomon, I’m not sure if there was a man in the Bible who lived more “human” existence, if that’s the appropriate phrase, than that guy.  He stood on the mountaintop and trudged through the valleys, which I’m sure we’ll discuss further into this whole thing.

If anyone is reading this and would like to contribute some links on David’s biography and history, please feel free to do so directly in the comments section below or email them to me at ben.sheffield@gmail.com and I’ll give you credit for them if I decide to use them at a later time.  For the record, that goes with anything Bible-related, including things that may challenge the Scripture, as I’m going to put anything that I think to be useful for discussion in this endeavor…

Have a good evening, all.

Tomorrow’s passages:  Genesis 3 and 4, Matthew 2:13 – 3:6, Psalms 2, Proverbs 1:7-9

Dec
31

I’m using this PDF to read through the Bible, and it will be my plan for the year.

Tomorrow morning, my plan is to get up and read Genesis and Matthew over breakfast, and then to read Psalms and Proverbs in the evening before writing a quick-hitter blog and turning out the lights.  I’m going into this thing as “dumb” as I possibly can — some of you would probably say there’s nothing different about that from my normal day-to-day, to which I’d begrudgingly agree — and I’m going to read, think, and write as it comes to me.  I do plan on going 365 for 365 with this thing in terms of the reading, though I’d be very surprised to see 365 consecutive days of blogging, for obvious reasons.  I will be posting 3-5 times a week, at least, and will be looking to post links, videos, and other assorted perspectives, as well.   If you have something you would like to contribute, or if you have any questions in general,  please send me an email at ben.sheffield@gmail.com.

Feel free to join me and to even tell your friends about this stuff in case you know anyone who may be interested in either this project or simply reading it all for themselves.

Dec
30

When I was a small child, I talked to God. He was as real to me as mashed potatoes and the alphabet.

I had conversations with Him everywhere.  Of course, this was before the distractions of the internet, cell phones, utility bills, and general adult responsibilities, but as a young boy I would lay in the grass on cool autumn evenings and stare into Creation, telling God stories about my day as if He were right there beside me, a knowing observer nodding along as I talked about Wesley Roach’s artwork or the conversations I’d heard while riding home on the bus that day.

I never felt alone in those days.  I never felt as if I didn’t measure up.  These times came before a lot of things happened, before the box was opened and I learned a little about what life was like when living in a broken world.  It was before I began to feel that certain pieces didn’t fit, and that perhaps I didn’t fit, either.

But there will be more for that emo junk later in the year, maybe in June or something.  I don’t want to turn away readers after a couple paragraphs.

My grandmother used to pile into bed with three grandchildren – myself, my cousin Amy, and my sister Allison – and tell us Bible stories deep into the night.  She’d doze off midway through the story of David and Goliath, and we’d giggle a few moments before nudging her awake and begging her to continue, only she’d think she was telling the story of Samson and start talking about him shaking the temple columns, thus rendering more laughter from the easily humored audience.  (Unlike adults, most children are easily entertained, even after the invention of video games and the internet.)

I believed without condition that the stories I was being told were true, mainly because of the convictions in which she spoke.  While Santa died a pretty painful death early in my life, the adults around me believed in Jesus as if he were always in the room, and they were fairly convincing in their persuasions that I should be the same way.  As a result, I was “saved” when I was six years old and, despite “rededicating my life to Christ” after every semi-emotional Sunday morning service through my late teens (more on that later, as well), I didn’t turn to salt from looking back for at least 13 years.

I have something of an announcement to make. And this is going to be a little difficult for those who know me to take.

I’ve recently determined that there is a very real possibility of there being a Pharisee in your midst.  I’m not sure if the faith I’ve claimed to some degree all my life is my own, and I’ve only recently began to realize the weight of that statement.  Being the curious rebel that I can be, I’ve learned through time to question everything about the faith ranging from “How did he fit all those animals onto that boat?” to “What happened to Enoch?” to “What kept people in the bush of Africa or in 13th century Mexico with no knowledge whatsoever of Jesus from landing directly in Hell fire?” to “How do I know for sure that Jesus’s broken body wasn’t moved by the guards themselves because they wanted to play an elaborate  practical joke on the world they had no knowledge would last over 2,000 years?.”   To be fair, I’m not sure I CAN find the answers to some of my questions through this venture.  I just want to uncover the understanding in my heart that the God I worshipped when I was six is still out there somewhere, that He knows my name, and that He cares about my deepest need.

And that’s where this blog comes in.

For the next year, I’m going to do something I’ve never done in full, though I’m pretty certain I’ve read all the book at some point or another through my collective studies over the years.  I’m going to deliberately read the entire Bible and take every question I have, big or small, to God.  And, in typical me fashion, some of them I will bring to you.  I’m going to study everything I can get my hands on in relation to the Word that I’ve held as my claim of faith for the bulk of my lifetime, and I’m going to invite you, the reader, along for the process.

I’m doing this for many reasons, but the primary one that I’ve bumped into ever since conceiving the idea several days ago is that I believe, personally, in the exponential power of living a transparent life.  There is something inside of me that tells me from time to time that, in our shared human experiences, we have the ability to learn through community and we grow bolder in seeking our answers when we see others doing the same.

So I want you guys to be my community through this experience.  Perhaps we’ll even learn something together along the way.  At the very least, you’ll get an insight into my craziness, and you’ll have something to warn the others about when I come around.

I’m really scared of this experience, to be honest.  I’m afraid of challenging God for a lot of reasons, but there are three primary ones that scare me the most:

  1. If He’s up there, what does God think about the whole thing? Who am I to challenge Him?
  2. What if I come out of the other end of this experience as a non-believer? Granted, I don’t think I will, as I’ve believed in God from the Christian perspective for my entire life.  I’m pretty certain it’s not exactly an easy thing for Christians to wake up one day in their thirties and think to themselves, “You know, I don’t believe Jesus was the divine son of God.  What’s for breakfast?”
  3. How will my closest friends and family members in the faith react to this entire project? Will they understand, or pass me off as a heathen?  While this may read as silly to some, it’s a very real concern to me.  I don’t want to lose those relationships, or even see them change, because my views of faith are different from those of others, regardless of where you stand on the spiritual side of things.

At the same time, I feel like this is something I should’ve done in my twenties, not my thirties, and that I’m behind in the game.  Every man needs to look in the mirror sometimes and determine where he fully stands on things.

So, here I am.  On Sunday, I’m going to open my Bible for the first time in some time – my favorite description of this moment is found in Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, where he describes periods of his life where he’d come across his Holy Book in odd locations, staring up at him “like a dead pet” – and I’m going to read the first couple chapters of Matthew and the first couple of Pslams.  And then, at some point in the day, I’m going to attempt to display God’s love by not cursing motorists on 285 for failing to realize that Atlanta’s perimeter isn’t a training ground for NASCAR.

If I have any instant Paul-to-Damascus conversions, you have my word that I will report back immediately, especially if I’m blinded by the experience.  [Seriously, if I'm blinded by this, you'll be the first to know.  Maybe the second, depending on how quickly I can get to an individual who can honestly check both optometrist and minister off his resume.]  Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this stuff over the next few weeks and months, and if you feel like reading along with me, you may find the guide that Katie and I are using to go through the Bible at OneYearBible.com.

I want you to feel free to take part in this experience if it doesn’t offend you too much from either end of the ledger, and don’t be afraid to hold me accountable regardless of where you stand.  I want you to challenge me, even if I get cranky with the questions.

Lastly, I know some of you know my writing style by now.  [Scroll up and start reading this post again if you don't.]  I tend to be “verbose.”  My hope is to break a lot of this stuff up with videos and quick-hit posts, and that my introductory piece truly is the longest that you’ll see over the course of the year…

That said, welcome to my world, or at least a small slice of it.  I wish you all well, and look forward to hearing from you over the course of the year ahead.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.