Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:17-21

17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. 

18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.

19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.

20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.

Sometimes we are able to begin our story while still in the context of someone else’s. Samuel was called by the Lord while still a youth in Eli’s household. David’s sunrise began before Saul had fully set. Elisha walked under the guidance of Elijah before he walked alone.

But other times we have to get out on our own before our great story can begin. This was Joseph being torn from his father’s side and sold into Egypt before becoming the prince God intended him to be. This was Daniel not being put to the test until he was captured by the Babylonians and brought into their foreign courts.

So, too, it was the case for Hagar and her son Ishmael. In Abraham’s home they were but side-characters to his all-encompassing story. His story was so big that all of his descendants for countless generations were going to live under the shadow of it. But that wasn’t to be Ishmael’s destiny. Ishmael was to sire a great nation of his own, and that meant he had to get out from Abraham’s umbrella, out into the wild where God could lay a foundation for a different story.

Spiritual Analysis- Genesis 19:17-22

17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord:

19 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:

20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.

21 And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken.

22 Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.

Even in the midst of being driven from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot requested a change of plans, asking that he be permitted to dwell in a nearby city rather than the mountains above. God acquiesced, allowing Lot the preferred refuge.

And here we see a great contrast between Lot’s fate and Abraham’s. When these two first parted ways Lot chose for himself the seemingly better land: the well-watered plain of Jordan, leaving Abraham to camp under the stars in Canaan. But now Lot is being driven from his home, about to watch the land he chose burned by fire and brimstone, and fleeing to a refuge that is nothing more than a footnote. Meanwhile Abraham has been given a new name, promised the entirety of Canaan, and will be the father of a righteous nation. Where Abraham has a legacy that lasts to this day, Lot has been all but forgotten.

Whether this was all because of Lot’s own folly, or simply because the Lord had a different destiny for him, I cannot say. The biblical record on him is far too brief to have a complete picture of the man.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:1

1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Many have pointed out that the Bible begins in media res. Even though it is “in the beginning” of our story, it is also in the middle of another larger story: God’s story. Humanity and animal life and the mountains and the sea do not yet exist at this point, but God still does. He is already an entity, already all-powerful, and already commanding legions of angels to do His will.

And the lesson that stands out to me from this is that we are fundamentally different from God and we need to appreciate that fact. He exists before, outside of, and after our own little sphere. He is therefore mysterious and He always will be. He is not mortal, and cannot be understood in mortal terms. And yet we often try to do just that, stripping away the parts that exceed our understanding and remaking Him in our own image. That is folly.

Yes, there are parts of Him that are connected to us. There are things that we learn about Him by examining ourselves. He is our Father and we are His children, we have the same basic desire for good, and the same natural repulsion for evil. But still we are not entirely the same as Him, and we never can be so long as we live in this smaller, mortal story. Thus we will get along much better if we do not try to project onto Him our opinions of what He “should” be like, and instead rely on what He has personally revealed to us about His nature.

The Epic Life- 2 Nephi 1:23, Ecclesiastes 3:20

Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

COMMENTARY

Come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust
All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again
Yesterday I mentioned the desire to rise above mediocrity and live the epic life, a life of great purpose. And today’s first verse captures this notion perfectly. But notice how it is at odds with the second verse I shared, which avows the temporary nature of our mortal life.
These two verses highlight the disparity between our body and our spirit. Though we are from the dust, and destined to return to the dust at the conclusion of our lives, we hope to be able to lift ourselves from it, to emanate a spirit that is more eternal than the stuff that surrounds us.
And clearly this hope for a life that transcends the ordinary is not an evil desire. At the heart of it is the recognition that we are children of an immortal God. This desire for greatness is our own immortal soul testifying of itself, rejecting the more transient things, and calling for the eternities that are its birthright.

The Epic Life- Personal Example

I’m a romantic. I constantly daydream. I am always caught up in fantasies. I see old allegories and fairy tales being played out in everyday reality. I believe in old adages like “true love conquers all” and “good always triumphs over evil.” I write stories as my way of journaling.

And given the prevalence of story in my life, I’ve always wanted to live a great one. I know that I’m not unique in this. We romantics balk at the label of “puppy love,” and insist our teenage romance is the greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet. We view our petty squabble with our coworker as the heart-wrenching betrayal of Fernand Mondego. We view our purpose in life as world-shaking as Frodo leaving the Shire to destroy the one ring.

We magnify the emotions of each small moment to fill the entire heart. In a word, we exaggerate.

And, if you are like me, you also have another part of you that tries to shake the dreamer back to wakefulness. The part that says “you’re vain and unrealistic! Start living life as it actually is. A lot of it is just going to be plain and mundane and that’s okay.”

I’ve had some time to reflect on these two parts, and in the end I believe the truth lays at the intersection of these two voices.

On the one hand, it is self-deceitful to try and make every humdrum moment into something epic. It’s alright to admit that some days, even many days, are just “ordinary days.” Otherwise we can become obsessed in things that really don’t matter, get an emotional tunnel vision, and pursue mediocrity to the expense of actual greatness.

On the other hand, having accepted that the life the world has given us is not epic, we should pursue another life that truly is. There is no need to surrender our desire for a role in a story that is rich and full and really matters. Only by calling out the elements of our life that are lackluster can we start to replace them with elements that have genuine spark. And as I will explore in the rest of this study, that genuinely epic life is the one that God offers to us. All other narratives are a forgery.

Give Thanks- Creativity

I am grateful for creativity.

In the first case I am grateful for the ability to take what I imagine and represent it in a way that can be shared with others. I have found great satisfaction in writing stories and blogs, and developing programs and games. I find that pieces of me are expressed in stunning clarity through my creations, and I have discovered entirely new things out about myself through them.

And secondly I am grateful for the creations of others. A story, or a piece of music, or a work of art are better able to convince me of what is right and good than perhaps any other sermon. And it is often the imagination of others that inspires my own creativity as a response to it.

And this creative nature of ours is divine. We inherited it from our Heavenly Father, the most creative being in the cosmos. Those that He creates, themselves desire to create.

#givethanks