Skip to content →

Tag: seeking God

From Sacred Space to Public Grace

I was at a Christmas party with my kids this past holiday season and I was conflicted. The music was hot, the kids were eating well, and everyone was merry. Problem was, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was trying to figure out why. I mean, I like rap, I like R&B, I like Bruno mars and Beyonce, but today I was unable to enjoy their music. Why? Because this party was in church.

I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t enjoy myself:
-Was I taking a holier than thou attitude?
-Was I being hypocritcal?
-Don’t I hear this music in other places, like the gym?
-Would Jesus even care? Would he be that offended?

Then it hit me: this is supposed to be a sacred space. Then I had to think to myself, what is the role of the sacred in our lives? Why do we distinguish the sacred from the everyday, quotidan, profane?

The sacred is a display of public grace.

What do we mean when we say something is a public grace? Grace is displayed:
-because the sacred indicates our sense of God’s existence
-because the sacred indicates our need for God’s presence
-the sacred displays our desire to know and experience God
-the sacred expresses our submission to His perfections
-the sacred indicates our awareness of sin and need for purity
-the sacred reinforces our hope in the transcendent

When we say that something is profane, on the other hand, we mean to prioritize the lowly over the heavenly, the immediate over the right, the tangible over transcendent. Profanity obscures God, while the sacred is meant to reveal Him.

Leave a Comment

Count Not Just the Cost, But Also The Worth

We have been writing Lenten devotionals in our church’s Foreign Missions Ministry. This post was originally written to be published on our minstry’s blog, but it was not required. I think that I’d like to share it with you all on my personal blog, so here goes…

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 14:28-33

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?    For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,    saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?    If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.    In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

During my discipleship class this week, we were discussing this passage. If you turn to Luke 14 in your Bible, and start reading from verse 25, you will see that Jesus had been followed by very large crowds. Seeing the condition of their (and our) hearts, He says to them “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.    And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” These are probably among the most famous words in the Bible. Jesus is clearly telling us that it will cost us everything to follow Him.

But this time, reading this passage, I couldn’t help feeling that we were missing something.

I think that Jesus knew we’d miss the point, so He uses a parable to explain why it is that it is worth giving up everything.  This pair of parables is our Scripture focus today.  First, Jesus compares to a builder who “estimates the cost” of his building and evaluates the plans that have been established. Second, Jesus compares to a king who is about to go to war and considers “whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand.” This is strikingly different than what Jesus says above in that we must “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…” How does the “hate” meet up with “estimate the cost.”

I believe Jesus uses these parables to show us that our focus should not be on what we are losing, but what we are gaining! The point is not to fail to build the house, but to make sure your secure the mortgage before you start! The point is not to stay home from war, but to make sure you have 20,000 troops or alliances that will protect you!

So, what am I saying. Why does God tell us count the cost? Because we are to clearly see that God’s life, and life with God is much more valuable than anything that we currently have.  This is the goal. And anything less than life with God is like building on a foundation without securing the mortgage. Living this life without rebirth in Jesus is like us in our will and wisdom (10,000 men) going up against God and His holiness in eternity (20,000 men).  The foolishness of this task is just as clear as the folly shown by the foolish builder or the foolish king. This foolishness is compounded by the fact that the solution is simple in both cases.  Consider buying a home: very few of us have the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars required to build a home. However, the value of home ownership for building wealth is worth so much to many people in our culture that we see clearly the advantage of committing to a debt greater than a substantial part of our financial worth in order to pursue the vision of homeownership. While many of us will spend the majority of our working adult lives paying down our mortgages, it is not seen as a sacrifice at all.  Consider the king going to war. If one can’t defeat his adversary, he goes to him and makes terms of peace. One will have to give up his autonomy and live under the King’s authority, but it is infinitely worth it. If we make peace with God, we will be part of His Kingdom!

Of course, to make peace with God, we must give up everything that we have (v. 33). But, in view of the alternatives, this is not a sacrifice at all! We are the opposing king who has just been made an ally in the most powerful kingdom in all eternity!

Leave a Comment

#66: God brought you through the struggle… Now what?

Last night, I was asked to share my testimony with the Navigators fellowship at Bowie State University. I shared, but departed greatly from my prepared comments, so I’m writing an abridged version of my thoughts here. A few points of background to start:

1.) The Navigators is a Christian organization emphasizing one to one discipleship. On campus, new members and new believers start out in introductory small groups, then progress to smaller, life-sharing relationships facilitated by more senior students and Nav interns. The campus ministry is led and directed by a Nav missionary.

2.) Bowie State is an HBCU in Bowie, MD. I love HBCUs, having attended one, and I was so excited to have been a part of that fellowship last night. The students are dedicated and colorful. I missed the expressiveness and rhythm that was the background of my Howard life, and I had a taste of that back last night.

Let’s go now to the thoughts:

So, it should be apparent now that Rev. Osaze and I are good friends and he is one of my role models. Let me say something here that I say to myself on the way to the classes I teach that I’d first heard on one of his albums: “Dear Lord, if anything’s said of me, help them to forget it; if anything is said of you, help them to remember it. Bring glory to yourself in Jesus’ name.”

There is a hip hop artist who sings a song that resonates very much with my life. Da T.R.U.T.H. has a song, “My Story,” with a lyric that goes something like this: “I ain’t got no horror story, God kept me in my youth I give Him all the glory!”

When I first heard this song, I realized that we often enthusiastically seek God when we are deep in trials, especially trials that attend poverty, poor choices, and poor discipline. We ask God to remove from us the vicissitudes of abuse and structural violence, and hold those who survive such madness in special esteem. Overcoming trials gives us special purpose, but when the trials are removed, what purpose motivates us?

I realized that I had this problem, because I’d be ashamed that I didn’t come through anything major or have any drama in my life. And I see around me in the fellowships I’m in almost an apology for God’s material blessings and protection over their lives. How ironic that we always ask for God’s protection, then treat His provisions with contempt! This contempt is the reason poorer communities are full of faith, while wealthier ones forsake God and trust in their riches.

But when God keeps you, what will you do? You must solve this dilemma now. It is urgent, don’t wait! God gives wealth and provision so you can focus on Him and fix your gaze on Him. What is the purpose of life when you’ve all you want and need? Where can you go to get a large enough vision for a blessed life? You must resolve to see God.

[a brief aside, that last sentence is so much more important when your life revolves around ideas… being convinced is not the same as being convicted. more on this some other time]

If you do not resolve this motivation in your heart, you risk glorifying the struggle without a vision for your time of blessing. The Biblical account of Israel’s history testifies to this truth repeatedly.  If you trust in God, he’s there. But without a vision for our blessed times, we perish despite our resources. Trust in wealth, he withdraws. One of the clearest examples of this in the Scripture is Israel’s national state of affairs when the priest Samuel was called.  At that time, Israel had enjoyed 400 years of freedom from Egypt, and had failed to trust God.  On the contrary everyone “did what was right in his own eyes.”  Consequently, God had not been speaking for some time… [Samuel 3:1 (ESV) “Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”]

As I said earlier, we see this withdrawal in our lives. We do not hear God speak, or tangibly feel his presence.  As a result, if you feel that you have the resources to make it through your circumstances, you see no need for God.  In short, Poor=religious:Rich=self reliance.

But why is it that we don’t hear from God, when we know that He is always there? The short answer: We don’t invest in God. Consider some common choices we make that reflect our priorities: “Have you ever taken a vacation day away from work to pray or read the Bible?” “Have you ever been late to a business meeting because you were in prayer or reflection?” “Have you ever sacrificed time with work or hobbies to get just a little more time with God?” [When evaluating priorities, apply this to other things we also claim are important to us… like our wives, kids, etc…]

Investing in God does not mean just “spending quite time” with Him.  Rather, investing in God is planned, intentionally structured Bible reading, querying, reflection, meditation, and prayer.  It requires a lifetime of dedication, the results of which many may not see in this lifetime.  We often marvel at the spiritual fortitude of those who have mastered spiritual investment, but rarely desire the transformational benefit of God’s full presence enough to make the requisite sacrifices.

I believe that we are not necessarily creatures of habit more than we are creatures of investment. If you follow this blog, you know that I am a new engineering professor who is training for a 10-mile race.  This is approximately 1.7x my distance PR at the time I chose to run.  If I am to be successful, making a habit of running everyday will not suffice.  Making planned investments in consistent training, rest, and diet will.  Another example is my friend Tylon training as an amateur bodybuilder.  When I first met Ty, he was slim and totally unimposing.  Now, folks ask him what his secret is for “getting big.”  He has made planned investments in his training, rest schedule for each muscle group, and careful approach to his diet over the past 8 years. The difference between investment and habit is planning and intention over long periods of time.  Investments are non-linear in their returns, and operate according to systems dynamics that make them highly sensitive to small changes in inputs and sometimes path dependent.  According to this definition, ask yourself what you are currently investing in?

Last semester when I was starting as a professor, I asked myself “What am I consistent in?” “What am I investing for?” I noticed for me, it was nothing! Not physical endurance, not academic excellence, not my family, and certainly not God. It is hard to invest in God because we cant see Him, and He controls the reward. He reveals Himself, or dwells with us at His initiative. Investing in God requires planned and structured approaches to study of the Scriptures, study of history and philosophy, and, most importantly, structured time in solitude and prayerful meditation.  Not only that, but building on the non-linear reality of good investments, God never entrusts His presence in individuals who do not invest in Him over long periods of time.  I realized that I was losing a lot of time and spiritual power not seeking God just for God.  It is hard to invest in God, yes.  But if we don’t, what are we really saying we want from Him?

Leave a Comment

i’m seeking, but it’s so hard to see you

as you probably may know by now, i am a Christian. naturally, that means i go to church as well. often. so, you are probably not surprised to hear that i often hear the expression “seek the face of God.” more often than not, it comes in the form of a command, say, “you must seek the face of God” or “you have to get in the face of God.” this phrase can also be followed by something that you can expect to receive or learn after having “sought the face of God.”

for me, all of this seeking can be quite frustrating, primarily because it can frequently be unclear what i am seeking. certainly, as a man i cannot physically “see” the face of God… that would be an unsurvivably terrible experience in the flesh. so, what does this mean? what am i looking for? what must i do when seeking God’s face?

i was thinking about all of this on my way home from my girlfriend, Lucine’s place. of course, you know i didn’t find an answer so i’m taking any insights.

for me, seeking God’s face often involves reading Scripture, praying, asking God for guidance, meditating… but as i thought more about it on my drive, i realized that this is a whole lot of “doing”, and not enough recognizing God’s independent actions in my life. i think that much of the “doing” i engage in distracts me from the face of God because i am not able to see God expressing his character through his actions in my life.

building on this point, i think that “seeking the face of God” should include more observing his expressions of his character not only through the disciplines i’ve described above (reading/meditating on Scripture, prayer, etc.), but also noticing the simple subtleties of his participation in our lives.

[to be continued]

Leave a Comment