Recently I received an email (partly screenshot above) announcing my nomination to receive an honorary doctorate degree. It is is possible that I would have felt more flattered and been more tempted to go after this fake degree from these fictitious institutions had I not already been a “Dr.” (medical). Coming from a family in which my grandfather was an emeritus professor and where my mother and father-in-law are PhDs in history and economics respectively, these titles don’t exactly faze us. Yet those who offer them know they are toying with very powerful human emotions, motivations and identity issues at the core of our being and have made a good business of it. As my best friend said when I forwarded the said email to him, “this has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with business.”
Some however, including many Christian leaders, have taken the bait and gotten decorated with very dubious degrees and titles. Recently, there was a huge brouhaha over a popular Ghanaian musician based in London who was alleged to have amassed three degrees, including a PhD, within four months! Perhaps if he had even shut up, none of this would’ve become an issue of investigation and castigation setting social media abuzz but he was flaunting it and ‘praising God’ for the fake feat. The desire to flaunt it itself reveals the very identity and emotional challenges he might have that perhaps led to him to go for those inauthentic accolades in the first place.
The above picture of Sonnie, whose giftedness is unquestionable but his academic credentials are, was uploaded by himself on social media touting his feat. I have met Sonnie. He is a fine young man and anointed. But I can also tell you he is far from perfect; just like you and me. Speaking of Sonnie and musicology, incidentally, my grandfather was a celebrated ethnomusicologist. His work earned him many accolades including several honorary doctorates but he never used the title “Dr.” because although he had done enough original research work to deserve ten doctorates he never really formally pursued a PhD per se. Interestingly, he shot straight from ‘mister’ to ‘professor’ and was ’emeritus professor’ for the last three decades or so of his life.
This degree brouhaha touches on at least three issues: identity, purpose and authenticity.
There was once a programme organized by a friend of mine. The MC got on stage and introduced a certain pastor to come up and offer a prayer. He inadvertently introduced him, with no malice, as Mr. XYZ. XYZ comes up, grabs the mic and makes a correction, “I’m not Mister, I’m Pastor.” That wasn’t all; it gets worse. Later he clears his throat and amends his correction saying something like, “In fact, I’m not Pastor, I am Reverend.” Ahem. Wow! What a shock, what a shame.
But lest I come across as holier than thou, remember I told you that the people offering fake degrees know exactly what they are massaging in us: the ego. I can tell you that as a medical doctor myself there are many times when people address me in speech or in writing as ‘Mr.’ and I have a natural gut reaction to get offended, said in my head something like “do you know who you’re talking to?” and yearned to correct them. There’s a part of me that even justifies it thus: “mehn, but you earned it.” That, my friend, is not the authentic self.
We need not, and indeed should not, root our identity in external things like what we wear, how much we earn, what degrees or title(s) we have acquired. Anything that man can give you, man can take away. Let’s not root our identity in any such thing. And you would think that supposed men and women of God would know better and root their identity in nothing less than Christ himself.
You may have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not accomplish your God-given purpose. There are some without degrees at all and yet have made much more impact in the world than those with many letters behind their names. Your purpose in life determines the vehicles and tools you need to use. It’s strange to make the acquisition of vehicles and tools our primary objective when one hasn’t first sat down to evaluate if that is what they need to get done the job they came on earth to accomplish. It’s about dreams, not diplomas and degrees.
Did you read about the recent brouhaha over the apparent insistence of Jill Biden, wife of the current U.S. president, to be called “Dr” ? It’s really been going on for at least a decade now: “Hi, I’m Jill. Jill Biden. But please, call me Dr. Biden.” The December 2020 op-ed by Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal implored Jill Biden to “think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.” Personally, I think the essence of what Epstein was trying to say became lost in what became an embroilment in sexism. The real question should be: does being ‘Dr.’ make Jill a better educator (that she’s been for decades) or not? Everything else is secondary; even tertiary.
This degree saga leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to authentic leadership. It speaks to the core of authenticity. Authentic leaders have:
- nothing to prove–a matter of humility (not try to project self worth)
- nothing to hide–a question of integrity (no playing of games but totally transparent)
- nothing to lose–a matter of simplicity (not strive for social image or popularity).
As you might have noticed, humility, integrity and simplicity as an acronym spell HIS. This is particularly instructive to Christian leaders. Those of us at the Third Lausanne Congress on world Evangelization in Cape Town in 2010 were passionately exhorted by theologian Chris Wright to be God’s saints, Christ’s people, HIS people of humility, integrity and simplicity.
NOT SO WITH YOU
Again, especially for Christian leaders, the primary power base of an authentic (wo)man of God is spiritual power—not positional or personal power. Others may go that route but Jesus was very clear to his followers who would be leaders: “not so with you.” In May 2020, I wrote quite extensively on that here. We need to lead different. This issue just won’t go away until Christians really chose to be H.I.S. people.
In light of the recent brouhaha about fake degrees, Friends, BE WARNED. Don’t allow your ego to be stroked and stoked, making your false self acquiesce to receiving fake degrees from fictitious institutions. If you want a degree, go to school and study for one! In any case, one doesn’t necessarily need a degree to succeed in life! Hopefully your going for a diploma or degree would only be because you have observed It will a good vehicle or tool towards your dream. Again, the thing is: You can have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not fulfill your God-given purpose in life.
I have a mentor who likes to say, “the thing about titles is that if you’re good you don’t need them; if you’re not they won’t help you.” Heaven help us!
There is no talk of Black History without faith, especially the Christian faith. PBS recently released a fascinating Henry Louis Gates Jr. documentary on the Black Church. What some dubious people tried to oppress and suppress black people with became the very thing that liberated us and is now giving us a global leading edge.
Africa is the most Christian continent in the world today. The year 2018 was the first in history where there were more Christians in Africa than on any other continent in the entire world! (Johnson 2018) THIS IS A BIG DEAL!—this is a one-thousand year record held by Europe that has been broken by Africa in our lifetime. That makes me super excited about Black History Month this year because history is being made right now. As you read this, a number of continental Africans and those of African descent in the diaspora have synergized to birth a new network known as Send Africa to promote further faith formation among ‘unreached people groups’ around the world.
At the formal launch of this Send Africa Network online on February 24-25 during this 2021 Black History Month, my Kenyan friend, Sam Ngugi, and I will be launching a ground-breaking book entitled Africa to the Rest to celebrate this huge feat of Africa becoming a leading global force of faith to the rest of the world. This book is to “celebrate this momentous occasion in world history that has been inadequately highlighted by mainstream missions and missions. It traces some of God’s goodness to Africa in the Bible and throughout history until now to make clear that Africa and Africans have been central to God’s missional purposes; not an afterthought.” You may register for the Send Africa Summit here.
CAPTURED & DISTORTED HISTORY
Of course Africa features in the Bible from start to finish. There were actually two black guys (among the five) that played hands on the apostle Paul and commissioned him on his missionary journeys (Acts 13). Africa is the cradle of monasteries and ecumenicsm. The term Trinity came from Tertullian the Tunisian. St. Augustine was from Algeria, and not a European as we were made to believe growing up in Africa.
As Sam and I state in our book, “People consider Christianity as the white man’s religion to oppress the African due to the last 500 years of Euro-American missionary activity mixed with colonialism without realizing that the first 500 years A.D., Africa was so synonymous with Christianity that one of the most common terms for Christians in Arabic sources is afariqa–indicating a significant degree to which “Christian” and “African” were synonymous concepts (Merrills 2004, 303).”
In fact, the subtitle of our book is “from mission field to mission force (again)“ because Africa(ns) as a mission force first impacted Europe with the Gospel! That notion that Africa first evangelized Europe is the essence of Thomas Oden’s book titled How Africa Shaped the European Mind. “My core hypothesis,” Oden himself says, “is that much intellectual history flowed south to north: from Mumidia to Sicily to France and Italy. It flowed from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Danube. It flowed from Pelusium to Gaza to Cappadocia. …There is ample evidence available that the seeds of African orthodoxy have been lifted by high winds to distant northern climes. Only much later have they returned to Africa in a Western guise.”
Only a century ago, at a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, not only was there no continental African there as a delegate, we were described as “heathen” in need of being saved. Today there are more Anglicans in Kenya than in England. At the time, the continent had 9 million Christians while Europe was home to 406 million. Today, Africa has over 630 million Christians, a clear 30 million more than Latin America in second place with Europe in third place with 571 million Christians. And it’s not a nine-day wonder, for by 2050 (Deo volente), there will likely be more Christians in Africa (1.25 billion) than in the next two continents combined! (Johnson 2018)
It is good to know that Africa leads the world in something. There are churches that began in Africa and are in 198 countries now. The largest congregations in Europe are pastored by Africans, like Sunday Adelaja’s in Kieve, Ukraine. The most multinational congregation in the world—108 nationalities—was founded by and pastored by my good friend and mentor in Vancouver, Canada, Dr. Sam Owusu. I could give you a list of about 10 global mission organizations–including the Navigators, SIM, Langham Partners and SIL–currently led by Africans!
Why is all this important? For many reasons but three will suffice for now. First, black people have been part and parcel, even central, to the purpose and mission of God unlike others have tried to make us think. We are equally made in the image and likeness of God as anyone else. We ought to rejoice and while not bragging about ourselves, ‘make our boast in the LORD.’
Secondly, the Christian faith is authentically African. As one scholar put it, Christianity is a beggar looking for clothes in whatever culture it goes into. The fact that it was captured by Europeans and Americans and tailored as a tool of oppression of blacks in slavery, colonialism etc. is simply not right (not the authentic Christian faith) and doesn’t make the faith the preserve of the white man either.
Finally, the business world and other sectors in Africa that are trying to make a mark on the world stage could learn a thing or two from the African Church that leads the world in faith today, hands down.
THE FUTURE HAS COME
I come from a long and rich family history of black (hi)story tellers. My grandfather was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology and my mother is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade. I feel privileged to take my turn to tell stories of African leadership, and in this particular case, leadership in faith, church and missiology.
The assassinated Congolese nationalist leader, luminary and first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, must be smiling in his grave that the day he prophesied is here: “The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations… Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.” The day has come!
For those of no faith and saying to themselves “who cares if Africa is the most Christian continent?” because we’re yet to see it tell on our socioeconomic indicators or the millennium development goals, just you wait. Works soon follow faith. Unless it’s not true faith; because faith without works is dead.
Johnson, Todd M., Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman, and Peter F. Crossing. “Christianity 2018: More African Christians and Counting Martyrs.” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 1 (January 2018): 20. doi:10.1177/2396939317739833.
Merrills, A. (Ed.). (2004). Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (1st ed.). Routledge, 303. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315235127
Oden, Thomas. 2007. How Africa Shaped the European Mind, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p.71.
Perbi, Yaw & Sam Ngugi. 2021. Africa to the Rest: from mission field to mission force (again). Forthcoming. Xulon Press.
Carmen Bernos de Gasztold has a collection of poems called The Creature’s Choir which I just ordered (something I should’ve 3-4 years ago!). In it, she puts prayers in the mouths of animals and birds. Bob Fryling, in his book The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are, first brought my attention to the peacock’s cry.
This beautiful bird proudly describes its external beauty, while humbly mourning its discordant cry and mournful heart:
“Lord, let a day come,
a heavenly day,
when my inner and outer selves
will be reconciled in perfect harmony.”
Amen and amen!
Love is an attitude (head), affect (heart), and action (hands). Here’s a way to get a handle of it, literally!
“LOVE” might very well get the vote for the most used and abused word, ever! It’s a good thing that languages like Spanish and Greek help a little by having different words to mean different kinds of love, from a ‘strong like’ to ‘brotherly/sisterly love’ to ‘unconditional love’ to sheer ‘eros.’
If truth be told though, the hardest part about love isn’t so much understanding it; it is showing it. I have a mentor who likes to say that the biggest gap in the world is the gap between knowing and doing. But sometimes we just don’t know how.
The Community Temperature Reading (CTR) by my mentors Pete and Geri Scazzero (an adaption of Virginia Satir’s work) has helped me practically love my spouse, children, friends and team members much better and I suspect might be of use to you too.
1. APPRECIATIONS | “I appreciate…”
Call it thanksgiving or praise, even God loves to be appreciated! I suspected having created us in His image and likeness makes us love being appreciated as well. Learn to say, “I appreciate…” eg. “I appreciate washing the dishes last night when I was too tired to.” Like me, some people, cultures and families are very stingy with appreciations. I tend to verbally appreciate only, almost exclusively, extremely high performance but I’m learning to be much more generous in saying, “I appreciate…”
You may have come across Dr. John Gottman, “the guy that can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy.” According to him, for every one negative feeling or interaction between partners, there must be five positive feelings or interactions. How is your appreciation:criticism ratio? The last I checked, I didn’t like my ratio with my children. I’m working on that.
2. PUZZLES | “I am puzzled…”
My most frequent exercise is “jumping to conclusions,” especially in situations in which I have little information yet strong opinions and a big mouth. And it doesn’t help at all that my ‘high D’ personality makes me unafraid to confront people and situations! I often come across as judgemental, even when I have the best of intentions.
I’ve learnt that “puzzle is a loving word.” Now instead of being super upset and angrily asking one of my staff, “Why didn’t you reply my email?” (with all sorts of assumptions lurking) I’m learning to rather say something like, “I’m puzzled as to why you didn’t reply my email.”
Peter and Geri Scazzero share in their Emotionally Healthy Relationships course, “instead of thinking, No one washed the dishes last night. I live with a bunch of slobs! you can say, “I’m puzzled as to why you left your dirty dishes in the sink last night.”” Try it. You can appreciate me later.
3. COMPLAINTS WITH POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS | “I notice… and I prefer…”
If you adopted this one, I would feel really loved as my personality cannot stand whining but loves solutions. No doubt, as long as we are imperfect humans in a broken world we will all have concerns and complaints. Many of us tend to suffer in silence though on one hand or unproductively complain about everything without taking responsibility for anything, not even suggestions for improvement.
The panacea to this, how to love well when there are things you don’t dig, is to use the words: “I notice… and I prefer…” eg. “I notice our clinical meetings start late, and I prefer we start at the agreed upon time.” This gives voice, a respectful voice, but also gives the other ears to hear, especially coming with a clearly stated alternative. Even if the ‘possible solution’ preferred is merely the opposite of the complaint, like in the example above, verbalizing it as an alternate proposal will be taken better. Give it a try.
4. NEW INFO | “My new information is…”
True, “love does not keep a record of wrongs;” but true love keeps news up to date. I wise man once told me, “It isn’t distance that keeps us apart; it is silence.” If you know me well as a public speaker and prolific writer you might find it hard to believe this but I tend not to be as communicative at home as I am in public. The CTR tool has given me a reason to consciously say, “My new information is…” It could be about an event, decision, appointment, achievement, opportunity, activity, whatever! As the Scazzeros put it, “relationships can only grow when people know what is happening in each other’s lives, both the trivial as well as the important.”
5. HOPES AND WISHES | “I hope…”
I found out rather late in my marriage how much Anyele feels loved when we verbalize our hopes, dreams and plans for the future. No wonder!, for “hopes and wishes offer windows into our unique souls, revealing significant parts of who we are” (Pete & Geri Scazzero). eg. “I hope we can get to visit the Caribbean next year.”
“LOVE ME THIS WAY”
The people in our lives are crying out, “this is how I want to feel loved, would you please love me this this way?” If we all regularly practised any of these five skills the people in our lives would feel loved; if we did more than one often they would feel much loved; if we made a habit of all five they surely would feel very much loved. Don’t just say you love somebody; don’t just feel the feeling, do it these five ways! If you didn’t know how, now you do!
Post Script | Great Commandment vrs. Great Commission
For those who are Christ followers, it may be worth noting that the Great Commandment (to love God with your all and love your neighbour as yourself) comes before the Great Commission (to make disciples) in sequence and in rank (Jesus said the greatest command is love). Besides, the Great Commission includes teaching the Great Commandment if we are to teach folks to do everything Christ commanded. The first of the fruit of the Spirit is love. Remember God Himself is love. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There’s no way getting round love as a Christ follower.
One curious thing about the Great Commission is how many of us have read it to mean that making disciples of Jesus is by teaching them stuff that Jesus commanded. Meanwhile, a careful and slow re-reading of the text shows the essence is to train or teach people how to obey the stuff Jesus commands. Jesus said “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” not just “teach them everything I have commanded you.” No wonder there are so many Christians who know ‘everything’ but do nearly nothing the Scriptures say! This understanding of the Great Commission has made a world of difference to me and those I walk/work with. The Community Temperature Reading (CTR) tool above, teaches you how to obey the command to love. Try it!
A friend and old school mate asked an ‘innocent question’ on Face Book: “Why is African Traditional Religion confused with wizardry or witchcraft?” Some of the responses I saw got my missiological juices going!
My grandfather, who was so well-eulogized in The New York Times when he passed away last year (March 2019), was so African that some people wondered how on earth he could be Christian! Even I used to wonder, with his close proximity to traditional folklore and hunter songs, familiarity with traditional palace protocols, committed transcription of Akan drum language and such. It was hard for me to decouple African traditions from ancestral and demonic worship. Being born and bred Evangelical, in my conversations with him I tried to figure out whether he actually had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Was he truly born again?
In the last couple of years as I’ve taken courses at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute for Theology Mission & Culture I have come to appreciate his way of being African and Christian, which the current rector of the institute, during his Evening of Remembrance sermon (see pg. 39) at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana, said that Grandpa epitomized. In fact, Prof. B.Y. Quarshie entitled his sermonette from Galatians 3:1-9 as “Fully African, Fully Christian.” After all, Prof. Nketia was the founding chancellor of Akrofi-Christaller, an accredited postgraduate degree-awarding institution, and continued for a decade, till he was about 95 years old. In his scholarly work in ethnomusicology I did not realize Grandpa was directly touching on missiology, documenting the different sights and sounds of the very “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” that John the Revelator had a vision of, “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). “The music of Africa, like its language, is, so to speak, ‘ethnic-bound.’ Each society practices its own variant,” Grandpa said. Alas, this African Christian was doing holy work! As one colleague put it, and reported in The New York Times, “He showed that the African history of music was a sacred tradition revealed.”
1. THE GOSPEL CHALLENGES EVERY CULTURE
So back to Eliza’s question: “Why is African Traditional Religion confused with wizardry or witchcraft?” Good question! My first instinctive answer was, “There’s a thin line; that may be why.” Every culture has what is great about it (there are features/fingerprints of God all over) but also what is broken since Eden. Idolatry is one consequence of that brokenness, whether African, Mesopotamian or European culture. It’s actually hard to beat the many gods the Greeks and Romans (Europeans, remember?) had. Paul speaks to this issue not in an idol-ridden African village but at the Areopagus, in the heart of Greece as he gives his ‘TED Talk’:
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone. God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:22-31, NLT, emphasis mine).
The past is forgiven. God is now calling and commanding “everyone everywhere” to have a change of mind (repent) and turn towards him (convert)! All peoples, everywhere! Africans aren’t the only ones who have been called to turn away from idols to the one true God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); all are in need of redemption. “All” means all including all, excluding none.
2. THE GOSPEL CHANGES EVERY CULTURE (BUT IS ALSO SHAPED BY IT)
As a missiologist, I was surprised how in the said Face Book discussion little credence was being given to the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for every nation, people group (ethnos), tribe and tongue. Do people just not know that or do they intentionally suppress that truth?
So while the Gospel challenges and changes every culture it is also remarkably shaped by every culture! Kenyan theologian John S. Mbiti said it best: “Christianity is always a beggar seeking food and drink, cover and shelter from the cultures and times it encounters in its never-ending journeys and wonderings.” True, some Westerners knowingly or ignorantly tried to Westernize (ostensibly ‘civilize’) our African peoples and that’s a shame (a very human thing to do—to believe what we have is best and others must conform) just as some early Christians wanted to make Jews out of Gentiles (by making circumcision a necessity) before they could be accepted into Christ.
It is a real shame that Christianity and Colonialism came from the same vessel. This generation’s got to separate the grain from the chaff. If you are an African Christian you’ve got to decolonize your faith in Jesus Christ. ‘African Christian’ is not an oxymoron. On the contrary it is the ultimate fulfilment of everything African. My Christianity must make me more African, not less, otherwise I’ve missed something really basic about the Gospel.
As a fellow Achimotan, I mentioned to Eliza she had to marvel at how the founders expertly maneuvered the tension between what’s good in our African cultures and needed to be upheld and what has to be discarded (including witchcraft) because of God’s revelation in Christ. They therefore wanted an institution whose ideals were “the belief on which all else rest, in Jesus Christ as the revelation of all time and all people, of the love of God, and as the guide and pattern for our lives” and simultaneously one where there was “respect for all that is true and lasting value in the old African culture, beliefs and ways of life.”
3. DECOLONIZING THE GOSPEL STORY
Every African Christian must own a copy of and read Oden’s ‘How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind.’ Early African Christians (as early as the 30s and 40s A.D.) and later on into the second to fifth centuries literally shaped Western Christianity before the latter turned round 1,500 years later to bring us a Gospel that was in Western garbs and made to look as if Jesus was ‘Made in the West.’ Know your history so that no one robs you of your salvation in Jesus Christ, which is for all people–every nation, tribe and tongue.
Even newer than Oden’s work is Bantu’s “A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity” (2020). In it he asserts how “Christianity is not becoming a global religion. It has always been a global religion. The early Christian movement spread from Jerusalem in every direction, taking on local cultural expression all around the ancient world.” And asks, “So why do so many people see Christianity as a primarily Western, white religion?”
When people, out of arrogance or ignorance, tell Africans like me that “Christianity is the white man’s religion”, I laugh on many levels: anthropological, historical, missiological, scriptural, theological… I wish I had the time to chase all those assertions and their originators. The fact that I do not always respond should not be misconstrued as I have no cogent answers.
Even without going into the MANY Scriptural references to Africa(ns), I can think of African Christians in the last 2,000 years who have shaped Christianity like Athenesius, Anthony of Egypt, St. Augustine (from Algeria), Justin, Clement, Origen (picture above) etc. In fact, even the term ‘Trinity’ was coined by an African called as Tertullian (from Tunisia). He is the same guy who gave us the designations of Old and New testaments.
Origen, for example, “was incomparably the greatest scholar and theologian of the Eastern Church in the early centuries as well as a prolific writer. His learning and his works were encyclopaedic. He is reputed to have written about 6,000 books. The first scientific theologian, Origen was a man ahead of his age, particularly in terms of Biblical scholarship and criticism” (Dictionary of African Christian Biography). Make the time to visit the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, and be inspired by the stories of ancients through martyrs and missionaries to nationalists. ALL AFRICAN.
TIME TO COOL OFF WITH A SIP OF GLORIOUS PALM WINE
I like how intelligent contemporary Africans are asking intelligent questions about culture and faith. May it go with an attendant desire to learn proper history and with discernment to extract the pure Gospel from its various cultural entrapments. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for ALL people–EVERY nation, tribe and tongue!
Leadership takes both being and doing, identity and purpose, character and charisma. In fact, who we are is even more important than what we do, for the latter flows from the former. To lead well it takes both. Always. One without the other is dead on arrival.
A royal train,
than jewelled enamel.
now I spread it in a wheel.
I must say I derive
some satisfaction from my good looks.
are sown with eyes
my discordant cry shames me a little–
and it is humiliating to make me remember
my meager heart.
Your world is badly made,
if I may say so:
the nightingale’s voice
would be properly attired–
and soothe my soul.
let a day come, a heavenly day,
when my inner and outer selves
will be reconciled
in perfect harmony.
(‘The Peacock’ by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, The Creature’s Choir, trans. Rumer Godden).
This final instalment is for those who agree that childbearing and childrearing is hard but worth it, especially in the light of the mission of God. Imagine what earthly contributions of eternal ramifications one could make with a 200-year family vision.
Children are many things we don’t like but they can be real entertainers (remember The Sound of Music? picture above). For us, the Perbis, I often say that in a certain sense we don’t need a TV or even Netflix in our home. We get live Broadway-like shows for free! That’s a bonus; but children are of far more worth than mere entertainment.
In Part 2 of this trilogy, we already established the fact that God wants godly children out of godly marriages to carry out His three-fold mission in every generation. You would think that God chose Abraham, claimed as the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to become a great and powerful people group to accomplish His mission of blessing all nations for some fantastic reasons like his intellect, handsomeness, brute strength, high net worth, aristocratic status or something of the sort but no. God’s reason for choosing Abe is as humbling as is shocking: “I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised” (Genesis 18:19, NLT).
We have 16-20 years of intense, direct discipleship of our children in our homes and then another 30-50 years of mentoring (guiding spiritually, coaching, counselling, teaching etc.) them and our grandchildren for the sake of the three-fold mission of God to bring Himself glory through all nations, bring people a blessing and vanquish evil to establish His just kingdom on earth forever. Grandparenting may not be primary and as intense but it is still parenting; only ‘grand’. Our job of raising godly children for the mission of God is not over with our sons and daughters; it continues with their nuclear families too.
MORE THAN MUSIC
We are blessed with two boys and four girls. The other day Anyele and I overheard the children’s conversation about a serious dilemma they were facing. About a year ago when we had five cubs, two boys and three girls, the boys had hoped the next baby was going to be a boy to restore the balance in their parliament (which used to be 2 boys: 2 girls) to 3:3 but alas that was not to be. As they licked their wounds and began to get used to the idea of being outnumbered they even came to the point of the said dilemma regarding the anticipated seventh child: torn between reducing the gender gap to 3:4 with another boy or becoming a mirror of their favourite silver screen family of five gorgeous girls and two ruddy boys: the Von Trapp of The Sound of Music!
That is only a recent conversation so no, the Von Trapps were not our original inspiration to have seven children. I would say we were just inspired by the Lord, independently, to have seven children to advance His mission on earth–and this was before we even got married. Yes, we love children but the number seven seemed especially significant since it’s a ‘perfect number’ or ‘the number of completion’ (as some put it). But then again, so is three. I remember us joking when we had three children: “Honey, this is the other perfect number. We either stop right here or go aaall the way to seven!” As they say, the rest is history.
MORE SIGHT THAN SOUND
Seeing is everything. The greatest teacher who ever lived once said, “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness“ (Luke 13:35-36, NLT). When I encounter supposed Christian young couples too smart to have children or raise any (adoption, fostering, mentoring are equally legitimate Kingdom-minded options), it leaves me wondering if their ‘enlightenment’ is not actually darkness.
We already dealt with seeing children in terms of our worldview and attitude of the heart in Parts 1 and 2 of this trilogy. The other kinds of seeing I want to touch on here are in terms of focus (what we centre our lives around) and vision (our picture of the future).
WHAT’S YOUR FOCUS?
There are self-focused marriages, spouse-focused marriages, marriage-focused marriages, money-focused marriages, career-focused ones, children-focused marriages and kingdom-focused marriages. The purpose of this series has not been to lead us into children-focused marriages but actually Kingdom-focused ones. Do we wrap our careers and all else around the primary mission of God’s Kingdom or not? Focusing on God’s Kingdom will rightly advance our selves, spouses, marriages, finances, careers, child bearing and rearing for His glory but focusing on these per se first will not necessarily advance the kingdom of God. Why else do you think Jesus said “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33, NLT)?
A Kingdom-focused marriage seeks to be an avenue for the fulfillment of the three-fold mission of God to bring himself glory through all nations, bring a blessing to all peoples and vanquishing evil to establish his equitable kingdom on earth forever. What is your family’s contribution going to be?
THE SIGHT OF MISSION
So for Anyele and I, the Sight of Mission, not the Sound of Music, inspires us seven-ward. On our journey, we encountered a paradigm and prayer that deeply challenged and greatly spurred us on: “GOD, WOULD YOU WORK A MIRACLE AND GIVE US SIX FAITHFUL CHILDREN, WHO ON AVERAGE WOULD THEN HAVE SIX FAITHFUL CHILDREN, GENERATION AFTER GENERATION, FOR THE NEXT 200 YEARS?”
In 200 years, according to Rob & Amy Reinow of Vision Family Ministries (assuming 1% of your descendants become pastors, 0.5% missionaries and all your progeny give 10% of their income to advancing the kingdom of God), this should result in:
- 279,936 followers of Jesus Christ
- 2,799 pastors & 1,400 missionaries
- $53,747,520,000 ($54 billion) Kingdom giving.
In 200 years, faithful generations with four children each will result in:
- 16,384 followers of Jesus Christ
- 164 pastors & 82 missionaries
- $4,368,000,000 ($4.4 billion) Kingdom giving.
Do you see the huge difference between six children and four? How about faithful generations with 2 children:
- 128 followers of Jesus Christ
- 1 pastor & 1 missionary
- $50,800,000 ($51 million) Kingdom giving.
Apart from a total of $1.4 million in Kingdom giving, the rest of the math is very ‘ify’ when it’s only one child from generation to generation even for 200 years. Maybe a pastor or missionary some way somehow someday somewhere along the line, perhaps? As for zero children raised… nuff said. Of course, apart from career pastors and missionaries I would hope that every Christ-following child we raise will be missional in their marketplace field of endeavour, from Archaeology to Zoology.
How about faithful families with 8 children generation after generation for 200 years? (see picture below)
So you choose. From 1 to 8 children; or more; or none. Anyele and I are praying to God that our seven or more children will result in at least a million Christ followers, some 10,000 pastors and 5,ooo missionaries and at the minimum a quarter of a trillion dollars of Kingdom giving to the glory of God! True, these are all ideal projections. People die early, a handful are barren (no excuse; can still adopt, foster or mentor), some (grand)children walk away from the faith… blah blah blah. I get that. But will the Kingdom of God be worse or better off with your contribution? You be the judge.
A Christ follower makes decisions by seeking God’s mind (through His Word, His Spirit, His people, His circumstantial signs) towards fulfilling his mission. Have you, if you are truly one of His, really asked God HOW MANY, HOW SOON? of are you letting your own conveniences, feelings, secular human philosophy, Planned Parenthood/UNFPA, the economy, school fees, peer pressure, family tradition or whatever else determine that?
If Jesus tarries for the next 200 years, may you and your household have significantly contributed to the teeming number of pastors, missionaries and missional leaders in every field from Archaeology to Zoology to advance His mission on earth, as it is in Heaven. “Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever” (Daniel 12:3, NLT). Yes it’s qualitative impact and reward, earthly and eternal; but also quantitative.
Do you have a family vision and mission statement? Happy to share ours, if you might find it as useful draft/guide for yours.
In an April 15, 2020 memo to members, alumni, associates and partners of The HuD Group worldwide through the various country CEOs, the Global CEO bared his heart out regarding a paradigm and practice that is direly needed: deep mentoring.
“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, NRSV)
“He [Jesus] appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” (Mark 3:14, NIV)
BY NOW YOU SHOULD KNOW | If you didn’t, now you do.
COVID-19 or not, it is a function of leadership to cast and recast vision—clearly, creatively, constantly. But I dare say particularly in COVIDic times like these, it is suicidal not to cast and recast vision. Every year, The HuD Group runs with a throbbing vision, a focal theme for the season: 2017 (Family First), 2018 (Leading with Health of Soul), 2019 (Pursuing God’s Will Together). In 2020 our focus is Deep Mentoring.
By God’s grace I just finished (in December 2019) a three-year journey resulting in a Master of Arts degree in Global Leadership. One of the key mentors at the institution I studied at, Dr. Bobby Clinton (joined in 1982), after diving into thousands of historical, biblical and contemporary case studies came to a “startling conclusion—few leaders finish well” (Clinton & Stanley 1992, 11). Bad news. The good news, after further studies, showed that of the few who finish well, “other individuals helped most of these men and women in timely situations along the way” (11). But you know the best part? If you’re reading this there’s great hope that you will run your life and leadership well and finish strong because The HuD Group is committed to mentoring; not just mentoring, deep mentoring.
WHAT ON EARTH IS MENTORING? | One of the most used yet least understood words in our generation.
Simply put, mentoring is “a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources” (12). Christian mentoring, in particular, is “a dynamic, intentional relationship of trust in which a mentor enables a mentee to maximize the grace of God in his or her life through the Holy Spirit, in service of God’s kingdom purposes, by sharing their life, experience and resources” (Lawrence 2004, 207).We have the rest of the year, indeed the rest of our lives, to learn about these different resources and the different types of mentors there are but suffice it to say it is deep mentoring that really matters.
By deep mentoring, we speak of a departure from what Eugene Peterson (writer of The Message version of the Bible) describes as a past half-a-century trend where “leadership … has been functionalized and depersonalized into programs that have steadily eroded the very core of the Christian life, which ought to be a life of trinitarian-shaped intimacy and community” (Reese & Loane 2012, 7, emphasis mine). He says this as part of the foreword to a book, ‘Deep Mentoring,’ which is our main study text alongside the immutable, living and active text of the Bible. While programmes, seminars, courses, workshops, books, videos etc. are all helpful in our discipleship and leadership formation, the essence of deep mentoring is “a leadership of companionship and a spirituality of relationship” (8).
The ultimate example of this is Jesus Christ himself who “appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14, NIV). A distant second will be the apostle Paul. In our other 2020 Deep Mentoring theme text, can you sense the depth of the relational experience the apostle had with the Thessalonians? “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, NRSV).
Only deeply transformed people are able to deeply transform the church and the world, by God. I see too many, far too many, untransformed people trying to champion change in the church and/or society. You know too well the names and faces of the countless casualties. People want to ‘microwave’ leaders into being and produce them en mass. It doesn’t work that way—if there ever was a ‘superman’ who could do that it was Jesus yet even he did not because “paying attention to the formation of others is a lifelong work, which holds in tension our growing with our serving—our followership [discipleship] with our leadership” (16, emphasis mine). I am convinced, like the authors of our core textbook for the year, that “leadership development in Jesus’ name is a slow and deep work” (16). We had better get going then—slowly but surely.
CONCLUSION | So what are you going to do about it?
Choose to intentionally journey with your various national HuD Group leaders and their designates poco a poco, day by day, here a little there a little over the course of this whole year (and even another 2-3 years) and see what difference deep mentoring makes in your life and leadership for the sake of God’s kingdom coming more fully on earth, as it is in Heaven!
So help us God! Amen!
Clinton, Robert J. & Paul D. Stanley. 1992. Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Lawrence, James. 2004. Growing Leaders: Cultivating Discipleship for Yourself and Others. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Reese, Randy D. & Robert Loane. 2012. Deep Mentoring: Guiding Others on Their Leadership Journey. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
GOD IS AT WORK; LET’S GET TO WORK!
By Julius Duah Coomson
The end product of any masterpiece can hardly be imagined in the midst of the scanty scaffolding on site, seemingly aimless paint strokes on a canvas or meandering strands of textile. But for faith in the genius of the master craftsman one would even pay them no mind; yet just you wait and see!
The events of life can sometimes be like a piece of tapestry. When viewed from the back, it appears like random pieces of thread woven aimlessly together without a design. It is only when viewed from the front that we see the design intended. The COVID-19 situation is no different. Since the world was plagued with the coronavirus pandemic, people have asked me various questions. Some have wondered if God sent this pandemic. Others are at a loss as to why God allowed it. Still, some others are asking why God is not responding to our prayers to stop it. We have a lot of why questions which may never get answered on this side of eternity. However, there is one thing we can be sure about and it is that God is at work even in the midst of this dark situation for His REDEMPTIVE PURPOSES. The reason we can be sure about this is because we have both the promise and examples of scripture to back this.
“FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO”
First, The Promises of Scripture: In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes.” That is to say, our God works sovereignly in ALL THINGS (good and bad) to bring ultimate good (conformity to Christ; v.29) for His people. This is the promise of Scripture and we can be sure it is true about our present situation. God is at work but often it is only in retrospect that we see that the divine hands have always been working even in the messy situations of life. Even though we may not see His hands, we can trust His heart.
“LOOK AND LIVE”
Second, Examples in Scripture: Not only do we have the promise of God to assure us, but we also have the examples in scripture to encourage us that God is at work even in the darkest of situations to manifest the most glorious of lights. An example of such a situation is the story of the early Church in Acts 8:1-5. The passage can be considered in two main parts:
1. Human Authorities Determined to Silence the Gospel
Verse 1 of Acts 8 begins, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the Church in Jerusalem”. This leads us to ask “on which day?” The answer to this question takes us back to the previous chapter which records the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Now, Acts 6 describes Stephen as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (v.5), full of grace, power, performed great signs and wonders (v.8), was full of wisdom, and persuasively defended the Gospel (v.10). However, when Stephen was lied about, arrested, condemned and stoned, God did not prevent Stephen from dying. Not only did God allow Stephen to die but He also allowed His church to be persecuted. Acts 8:1-3 describes the persecution as great (v.1a), a persecution that scattered the church (v.1b), and a persecution that nearly destroyed the church (v.3). We are not told why God allowed Stephen to die and for persecution to scatter His church, but we learn that God worked to advance His redemptive purpose in the midst of it, which brings me to my second point.
2. God’s Sovereignly advanced the Gospel the Evil Intended
In the minds of the Sanhedrin and the Chief priests, they were quenching the fire of the church by persecuting it but what they eventually did was to spread the fire of the gospel to other places like Samaria (v.5), Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19-22). They thought they had made the members of the church refugees but little did they know that they were unleashing an army of missionaries for the gospel. It was those who were scattered that “preached the gospel wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). How is it possible that the evil intent of the Sanhedrin resulted in the advancement of the very gospel they wanted to terminate? It was only because God’s hand was with those persecuted, which caused the evil they were going through to serve His redemptive purpose. We read in Acts 11:21 that God’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Out of a great persecution came a great harvest of souls because God’s hand was at work. Hallelujah!!
Only our God can cause dark situations like these to result in salvation. He is the same God who worked through the wicked schemes of Joseph’s brothers to save the lives of both Jews and Gentiles during the famine in the days of Joseph. Because of God’s sovereign hand, Joseph could say “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
The ultimate example of this is how God used the darkest event in the history of the world; the crucifixion of the righteous, unblemished Son of God-the Lord Jesus Christ to accomplish salvation for the world (Acts 4:27-28). Friends, the God of the Bible is a specialist in working out His redemptive purposes through the dark events of life. Therefore, we can be sure that even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, God is working to advance His redemptive purposes.
“WHAT SHALL WE SAY TO THESE THINGS?”
And so, convinced that God is at work in the midst of our present dark situation, what should our response be? There are three things I would want us to consider. We need to (3Rs):
1. REMIND: ourselves in the midst of this pandemic that, we who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ have what it takes to give people eternal safety far beyond what sanitizers and spatial distancing can accomplish. We need to remind ourselves that not everyone will contract this virus or die from it. However, everyone will spend eternity somewhere and that is a far bigger issue. As believers in Christ, we have the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. What we have is able to save the souls of people and give them life beyond this life. This is very important to remind ourselves of. If someone found the cure to the coronavirus and did not share with others, we will say they are wicked. How much more wicked should he/she be considered who ignores sharing the gospel, which can give people everlasting life.
2. RECOGNIZE: that this time of history is a unique opportunity the Lord has put us in so that we can advance the gospel. In these times, many people are asking questions and looking for answers. If we don’t provide true biblical answers, people will take the false ideas being circulated as true. Let’s not forget that nature abhors vacuum and that evil thrives where good people do nothing. Who knows but that we are in Christ for such a time as this? Therefore, recognize the gospel opportunity this pandemic affords.
3. REACH OUT: It is not enough to have the Good News. It must be shared! That is the essence of good news. The Good News is no good news one second after people slip into a Christ-less eternity. Not only must we work hard to ensure we are safe, we must work harder to ensure that people are saved. We can’t be passive about this! We should reach out in good deeds; meeting people’s physical needs. We ought to reach out to people in prayer; praying for the salvation of their souls. We must reach out with the Gospel that Jesus saves and provides Life after this life. Who can you share the good news with? We have shared sanitizers, nose masks, food items and our wealth. Now, it is time to share the Good News.
DO YOU KNOW THE WAY?
Before you attempt to reach out to others with the Good News, you will need to first answer the question of your own relationship with Jesus. Do you have a personal relationship with Him? If you don’t, you can invite Him into your life by praying the prayer below in faith:
Dear Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that I am a sinner but also that you are a great Saviour. I invite you into my life to save me from my sins and to be my Lord. Let the Holy Spirit take residence in me and help me to live the rest of my life for your Glory. Amen.
Rev. Julius D. Coomson is a pastor with the Legon Interdenominational Church, at the University of Ghana. He holds a Master’s degree from Wheaton. His passion is to see the lost saved and the saved discipled to become committed followers of Christ. Julius lives in Accra with his lovely wife Mawuena and their beautiful daughter Gracey.
So what is the paradigm shift we need, a totally different worldview, in order for us to embrace and love children as the ‘blessing’ that they are supposed to be? Those who are too smart to have/raise children will actually soon not be here anymore–and there will be little evidence that they were even ever here. But does this all even matter?
So because children are an inconvenience, suckers, an unwelcome reflection of our marred selves and a host of other pains, many postmodern people would rather have dogs and cats than ‘kids.’ If we do at all, two is the most ‘decent’, ‘smart’ and even ‘cute’ thing to do: “a boy for me and a girl for you, and praise the Lord we’re finally through!” as I heard one preacher humorously quip.
I’ll tell you why Anyele and I have three times the ‘ideal’ (so far) but right from the get go let me be clear what I’m not saying:
- I’m not saying everyone should have seven (or more) children like we plan to. Of course it’s your choice in the light of your calling and circumstances (that is the essence of family planning) but I cannot guarantee that you won’t be inspired to do better than two at the end of this;
- I’m not saying we shouldn’t have economic and ecological considerations of the society or even the earth in mind but I cannot guarantee you won’t drop the silliness being propagated that this world is overpopulated. The whole world’s population can fit into the state of Texas (I know we can argue about arable land, amenities for all etc. but that mathematical fact should shock us to reconsider the lies we’ve bought into);
- I’m not saying biological children is the only way to go. Once we truly understand the purpose of children, including the disabled, we are happy to love on them whether they are from our own womb or not. Even with our blessing of ease of conception, painless labour (did you know that?) and having half a dozen biological cubs already, my dear wife and I still have discussions about the possibility of adopting a couple of children. If you understand the purpose and promise of children you will raise some; even if not yours by biology.
FROM NOTHING TO NOTHING: A SERIES OF NOTHINGNESS
By now you probably know that everyone, irrespective of age or gender, ethnicity or era of history overtly or unconsciously asks themselves these seven questions: 1. Who am I? 2. Where am I from? 3. Why am I here? 4. What can I do? 5. Where am I going? 6. What’s wrong with the world? 7. How can it be fixed?
The answer to each question results in one child, thus our seven. LOL! No; seriously, our answers to these questions is determined by our worldview, which in turn determines how we see children and feel about them. I am happy to debate the (de)merits of postmodern human secularist answers to these questions in a different blog but suffice it to say that they don’t satisfy and are largely to blame for the inconvenience of children. For starters, there’s no God (or if there is he/she/it doesn’t matter) and if I’m just an advanced ape with less hair but more smarts who evolved from amoeba and is heading who knows where then what’s the point of anything, even of life itself, let alone the pain called children?
Who am I? Nothing. Where am I from? Nowhere. Why am I here? No rhyme or reason. Do you have the time for me to go through the remaining questions? Let’s pause briefly on the third question. “This culture basically says that there is no rhyme or reason, so we’re here to make the most of it. Consume. Enjoy. That’s why we’re here. That is the overarching mentality in our culture, both inside and outside the church, resulting in unquenchable materialism and causing us to look at children as a blight and a burden. … Why? Because they get in the way of our consumption and our enjoyment. They cost too much. That’s the fruit of postmodernism and secular humanism” (Voddie Baucham in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World).
I first speak as a theist; then as a Christian theist. Somehow our generation has managed to divorce God’s mission from our life’s purpose and as Rob Rienow laments, also separated our purpose from marriage, separated marriage from sex, separated sex from children and well… children are left hanging.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and everything in between (Genesis 1:1–it doesn’t get more basic than that). Human beings are not nothing because God created mankind, male and female equally, in His own image and likeness and blessed us. The first thing God ever did for man is to bless us! Wow! We are blessed! And His first instruction to us was: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth…” We are happy to skip all of this and go to the part that says we should steward the earth, take dominion, lead, even be productive in other ways but don’t want to put first things first! To make babies is man’s first job description.
So why on earth will will Almighty God with bigger and better things to do (have you seen a picture of the Milky Way alone?!) make having children his first priority and man’s first job description, even a couple of thousand years before the 10 commandments? God is on mission to fill the earth with His glory (if you think he’s a megalomaniac feel free to take Him to task about that but remember He made all things and it all belongs to Him including your sharp brain and smart mouth). What the heck has that got do do with human reproduction? Human beings are the crowning glory of His creation! Being God’s image-bearers, every human being brought to life reflects the glory of God and extends it on the earth more and more.
So key is this God-glorifying mission to the Creator that he made marriage of man and woman as the context for this co-creation so that marriage isn’t purposeless, sex isn’t purposeless and the children that result aren’t purposeless either.
SCRIPTURE’S HIGH VIEW OF CHILDREN
Since Jews, Muslims and Christians make up nearly 60% of the world and mainly agree on the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. ‘Old Testament’), let me just highlight its high view of children throughout: its very beginning (Genesis), middle (Psalms) and the end (Malachi). Of course there are many other places in between but already this blog is much longer than I had intended! (By the way non-religious people, who also tend not to have children (or many children) will be dying out and shrink by 2060. They can keep insulting me for my stupidity of having so many children but they can read the Pew Research here).
Beginning: “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28, emphasis mine)
Middle: “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates [or when they contend with their opponents in court]” (Psalm 127:3-5, emphasis mine).
End: “Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15, emphasis mine).
God’s purpose and plan for godly children from marriage is why the Malachi verse above is followed by the rather strong, “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:16). Often that divorce scripture is quoted out of context. What’s so bad about divorce? Well, while God’s heart breaks alright when divorce tears two consenting adults apart (especially for the women 3,000 years ago who had no socioeconomic props unlike now) his sizzling hatred for divorce is actually because of what it does to the children; to His cosmic plan of filling the earth with his image-bearers. They are marred.
Yes, you probably knew Malachi was the last book in the Hebrew Bible but did you realize that the last verse of the last book talks about children too? The LORD speaks of the coming of a certain prophet (who then appears 400 years later in the New Testament) whose preaching “will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers.” Otherwise, disaster (see Malachi 4:15-16). How I pray this blog will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents!
PARADIGM SHIFT: PURPOSE OVER PAIN
A Christian theist view of life gives us purpose greater than the pain of having and rearing children just like many of us when we were in medical students would tell you that the glorious hope of becoming a doctor one day gave us the oomph to make it through a lot of manure in medical school. Purpose over pain. Even for the ‘superman’ Jesus Christ who we just commemorated at Easter barely a week ago, because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its pain and shame shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Party forever. We’re to fix our eyes on this pioneer and perfecter of faith (see Hebrews 12:1-2). Purpose over pain.
There are many people who are Christian in name but human secularist in their thinking (particularly the postmodernist kind). Surely this must give cause to “cognitive dissonance.” There are many things we do in life that are hard but we do them. Waking up is hard, taking our bath is hard (be honest! ), growing up is hard, school is hard; sports is hard, marriage is hard (if you don’t think so then you haven’t tried), work is hard, lockdown is hard… (heck, life is hard!) but we do them! Having and raising children is hard too but why separate that hardness from the rest of life? No, we do that too. And if you should ask me, it’s of much more value than most of these other hard things we do. There is a higher Being than our selfish selves that beckons; a higher purpose than the painful inconvenience that compels; and a deeper fulfilment of something (and someone) that outlives making merry today and just dying tomorrow.
Part 3/3 here.
Blah Blah blah… Okay, okay we hear you. Children matter. But is how many we have/raise of any consequence: two, seven, a dozen? God-willing, I’ll tell you about a certain 200-year vision and why we want seven.