The Pilot and the Preacher.
Call me weird but the smoothest airplane touchdown of my life, today, is my most precious birthday gift. This was Melbourne to Sydney on Jetstar JQ502. I couldn’t help but literally clap my hands in my wing seat (I have said my autobiography just might be titled “Wingman;” I’m almost always flying on the wing!). A few others applauded too. Then as we deplaned and I approached the cockpit I noticed the captain who had performed the magic had his door open and was standing right in front of it, interacting with some passengers. Again, I couldn’t pass by without verbalizing my appreciation of his masterly act. “That was a great landing, sir,” I blurted out. The captain half-smiled, almost embarrassingly, and managed to mutter under his breath his appreciation of my applause.
On the jet bridge a sense of regret began to creep over me. Ah! I should’ve asked to take a photo with him! A little weighed down by that remorseful thought I still, slowly but surely, made my way into the terminal and headed for the place people empty their bladder. Guess who I spotted when I returned to a cafe in the terminal to grab some breakfast: the first officer of the flight, looking to make a purchase. And the captain! Yipeee!
I was happy to repeat my admiration and appreciation and ask for his name and a selfie this time. He graciously obliged. So I gave him some context: over the last eight days I had taken 10 flights–Accra to Amsterdam, to Detroit, to Montreal, to Toronto, to Houston, to Auckland, to Gold Coast, to Adelaide, to Melbourne and now to Sydney–and no landing could compare. I could’ve had a hot cup of tea sitting on my lap during that landing and it wouldn’t have spilled!
WHAT DO YOU DO?
By the time I had shared my itinerary above with Captain Phil Peatfield, he had to ask: “What do you do?” To which I immediately responded, “I am a preacher.” Usually in the marketplace context I would mention something more relatable like leadership consultant or executive coach but it felt so good to say “I am a preacher,” even if it meant I would be canceled (as in today’s ‘cancel culture’). “I used to fly preachers around,” Captain Peatfield responded, to my surprise. Apparently he served with Flying Doctors Australia, a non-profit organisation that “provides emergency and primary health care services for those living in rural, remote and regional areas of Australia who cannot access a hospital or general practice due to the vast distances of the Outback.” I didn’t tell him I’m a doctor too. And well, that I was once a captain as well, a military one.
The irony is that as a little boy I had really wanted to be a pilot. I was fascinated by planes and impressed with pilots’ uniforms. I was starry-eyed when I saw my professor-grandfather’s itinerary as he jet set around the globe lecturing on African ethnomusicology. In a moment of annoyance at a friend in junior high who wanted to be a pilot too (he was too enthusiastic about it for my liking) I snapped out of it and decided becoming a medical doctor would be the way to go.
“PEARL OF GREAT PRICE”
As I celebrate my forty-fifth birthday today, as a preacher I am thankful for this unexpected pilot gift from God. Educationists like Parker Palmer encourage parents to take seriously what early manifestations and proclamations their children make about what they want to do when they grow up. Palmer says in, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling the who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live–but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”*
As I think of that thing that was triggered in me whenever I heard about or saw my grandpa flying the world, I think of Parker Palmer as a grandfather today.
Watching my granddaughter from her earliest days on earth, I was able, in my early fifties. to see something that had eluded me as a twenty-something parent: my granddaughter arrived in the world as this kind of person rather than that, or that, or that. She did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, with her shape of her own sacred soul. Biblical faith calls it the image of God in which we are all created. Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or ‘that of God’ in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price.*
Now that I know what I know, I’m eagerly looking out for what my children, nephews and nieces and young mentees were born to be. God creates no one for nothing. We need to find the clues and lead people in the way they should go–they way they are bent.
BORN FOR THIS
I now know that traveling the world was my calling, even from childhood, although I didn’t get my first plane ride till my late teens. But when it rained it began to pour so much that by age 18/19 I had been to every continent in the world except Australasia/Oceania. What a birthday present to have finally made it ‘down under’ to New Zealand and Australia, a quarter of a century later. And it wasn’t being a pilot or physician that brought me here. It’s the preacher I was born to be. Even the pilot was impressed by the preacher’s itinerary. “Wow, what do you do?” The clue all along was that I was born to travel the world preaching the gospel and raising leader-labourers for the Kingdom of God. I know now that I wasn’t meant to be in the cockpit per se but to enjoy the ride and views–the planes’ and the Lord’s.
Whether a pilot like Peatfield or Perbi the preacher or physician, Palmer’s point is one worth profoundly pondering: “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent… Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?”* Good food for thought on my birthday.
*Palmer, Parker J. 2015. Let Your Life Speak : Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.
You may have my bag but not my friends.
An exhortation on not allowing circumstances and people who know no better rob you of the wealth of intercultural relationships in our diverse, complex and globalized world.
MYSTERY OF THE MISSING BAG–WHY ME?
I was the last one to walk out of the airport arrival hall at Gold Coast in Australia. I had all the customs and immigration officers to myself, nearly a dozen, yet I gave them absolutely nothing to do. I not only had nothing to declare, I had no bag! Apparently, my only checked-in bag on the three-and-a-half hour NZ 179 flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Gold Coast, Australia had never been loaded onto the plane in the first place. I had waited and waited in vain for it until when nearly everyone on this very full flight had left the baggage hall and Carousel 6 was literally bare, I approached the Baggage Counter to complain about my missing travel companion.
The chap at the Air New Zealand counter was very nice but his assumption that I was going to be in Gold Coast ‘forever’ fascinated me (I’m surprised I wasn’t annoyed).
“Oh sorry sir but your bag will be delivered to you at home tomorrow,” said he.
“Tomorrow? Who told you I’ll still be here tomorrow,” I quizzically retorted.
It was obvious he felt he was doing me a great favour by offering me special at-your-door delivery but I was not amused. Not only did I need the items in my bag today; I was not going to be in Gold Coast in the morrow. This was a 24-hour meet and greet and off to Adelaide, another two-and-a-half hour flight to the western half of the Australian subcontinent.
By now my mind had begun to formulate various plausible permutations why I alone (for I saw no one else approaching the Baggage Counter to lodge a complaint) had my bag delayed. Why me? What was so unique about me that my bag would be singled out for NOT delivery? The only other thing I knew made me different was that I was the only Black African on the flight. Did this have to do with anything?
Interestingly, as I passed through the Auckland airport earlier I had taken a photo in front of the All Blacks memorabilia shop and tweeted “I wonder why I feel so #welcome. #AllBlacks vs #WhitesOnly. How the times have changed–this one, for the better. #NewZealand rocking it!” Did someone spot that and nab me? Was I too quick to praise New Zealand for progressive race relations? Did this bag saga really have anything to do with my Black skin at all? It is easy to read racism into nearly everything once you’ve been a victim of that dehumanizing attitude and act, I must admit. I resist that. I resent that, even.
MYSTERY OF INTERCULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS–SO WORTH IT
All those thoughts and feelings totally dissipated once I set eyes on the last two people left in the welcome area: Julia and Billy-Jo, two of my special friends from the 1997 cohort of the World Vision Youth Ambassadors! Sooo worth the hustle! I had had the privilege of being a World Vision Youth Ambassador for Ghana in 1996 and had the additional honour of returning in Julia and Billy-Jo’s year as a staff intern, together with Claudia from Colombia.
Julia had represented Canada back then and for her, this was our third in-person meeting since 1997 (Prague 2015, Ottawa 2021 and now Gold Coast 2023). But Billy, I had not seen in-person at all since our teenage years! Billy-Jo (yes, she was the first lady I met called Billy–she was way ahead of the gender conversations today!) was the Youth Ambassador from New Zealand. Again, the first Pacific Aboriginal I had ever met, a beautiful Maori, inside and out. Billy’s since become a senior nurse, married to Matt (great guy!) with whom she has three children and migrated to Australia. Interestingly, both Julia and Billy-Jo’s husbands are called Matt. Julia’s Matt is American while Billy’s Western Samoan.
What an incredible day of food, fellowship and fun we had all day, at home and at the Burleigh Beach. The unadulterated love, the open-hearted learning, the deep laughter… What a precious gift we received from Dr. Jerry and Mama Ruth Chang of World Vision Taiwan a quarter-of-a-century ago, a gift that keeps giving, even today.
Now I’m glad our children are getting to know each other as well. The gift ripples on. Just before my family permanently headed to Ghana after a dozen years of being resident in Canada, Julia’s two girls and my brood had a whole day together at their home, right outside of Ottawa, Ontario. In fact, even in the midst of the jamboree we made a WhatsApp video call to Ghana for my older girls to say “hi” to their Canadian sisters. And now that I’ve met Bella and Asher, Billy’s last two (the oldest is away playing rugby and doing school in New Zealand), we have already started conversations about getting them to visit Ghana!
MYSTERY OF INTERDEPENDENCE
Friends, that’s how it ought to be. People are people, made in the image and likeness of their divine Creator, and made to link up with that source, live, love, learn, and lead, leaving a good legacy. Becoming a World Youth Vision Youth Ambassador was a life changing experience–50 young people from 50 different countries. That opened my mind a lot and opened the world to me. As I’ve said before, “My heart expanded and has never been able to shrink again.”
Back to the mystery of the missing bag. For sure I felt very special, having been singled out for some (or no) reason. For good or ill, that’s a conversation for another day. Suffice it to say, this has been a fascinating week, beginning on Monday March 6 in North America (Toronto, Canada and Houston, Texas, USA) with a celebration of the land of my birth’s Independence Day and her renaming from ‘Gold Coast’ to Ghana. I was now ending the week in another Gold Coast, of Australia. The same chaps christened and colonized both; on either side of the equator. What we really need in this world, from individuals to nations, is interdependence; not dependence or independence per se. We were made for this! And we all ought to live the way we were purposed to in order to flourish personally, as families and communities, in the corporate world and among the commity of nations.
In the mean time, you can have my bag but you won’t rob me of the richness of interdependent, intercultural relationships. Never!
O National Cathedral of Ghana: My Hopes and Fears Have Met in Thee.
In the interest of full disclosure, first of all I am a Bible-believing, Jesus-following, Spirit-filled African Christian. Secondly, at the time of writing, I have no membership of any political party—just a citizen who passionately loves his motherland and has served both major political parties when called upon. Finally, I comment on the National Cathedral of Ghana matter primarily as a missiologist and leadership scholar. These thoughts were largely shared on the Cit FM/TV current affairs programme The Big Issue on 21st January, 2022. The crux of my submission, that the project be halted and audited, was also carried on Citi News Room here.
THE THING THAT I FEARED HAS HAPPENED
My first article on the proposed National Cathedral of Ghana in August 2018 was entitled in a manner that exposed the battle that raged within me upon hearing the president of the Republic of Ghana announce his vision to put up a national cathedral. It was an inquiring heading: “National Cathedral: Vulgar or Virtuous Venture?
In it, I confessed “my unwholly holy initial thoughts, honest-to-God,” sharing my initial skepticism about the project, mainly concerned about it being a mere political scheme to siphon monies, only with a nice religious façade. Secondly, I questioned the prudence of it amidst the poverty and sheer lack of basic infrastructure and public services in a developing country (NB. This was before Covid would hit and make everything that was bad, worse). Thirdly, I was wary of the perilous path of Europe where centuries old grand cathedrals now only stand as emblems of a once-upon-a-time vibrant Christendom while the faith itself is dying today, precipitously. Even then, one need not cross the oceans to note the dangers of religious opulence over pragmatic faith. Just look next door, right across the Ghana border to the near-white elephant of the Notre Dame de La Paix in Yamoussoukro, whose proposed community-impacting hospital as an attachment to assuage the papacy’s guilty conscience is till yet to see the light of day, thirty-two years later.
As I studied the cathedral proposal further, especially as an African missiologist, its merits rose above my cynicism and mounting hopes tamed my fears to the extent that I was willing to give the project a chance, even my support. In fact, not only was I present at the foundation stone-laying, I wrote a cogent trilogy about how even the president might not be fully aware of the extent to which Almighty God may be using him to accomplish His glorious purposes in and through Africa, especially considering this unique moment in history where the once derided “dark continent” now has more Christians than any other continent and will double that lead by 2050, with more Christ followers than the next two continents (Latin America and Europe) combined! In fact, a summary of the trilogy even made its way into the Cathedral’s published magazine.
Over the last couple of years since then, I have found my faith in the project on a slippery slope back to where it first began, with supposed scandal after seeming scandal and allegation upon allegation that rival the corporate sins of the Arthur Andersons and Enrons at the turn of this century (if not making them pale in comparison), that do not befit an edifice for the King of kings. The opacity in the project’s financial dealings, including estimated project costs, eye brow-raising fund transfers and amorphous government seed money, make nonsense of the God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. The purpose of this rejoinder is not to dive into each of the smudges and spots on the project but to put on record that while I have enumerated prior at least a dozen reasons this could be a virtuous project, like ‘the greatest man in the East’, for me too, “the thing I greatly feared has come upon me” (see Job 3:25-26). I seek to document for posterity my revised position on the National Cathedral of Ghana for not only are my values being violated, the very faith in whose name this edifice is being erected is endangered.
NOODLED & NUANCED
This cathedral matter is a very nuanced one and thus requires the highest levels of leadership competence, care and character to navigate it. What do I mean? Four things. First of all, the president is not a king; he cannot just pronounce edicts, fiats and decrees at an enlightened citizenship. Secondly, we don’t live in a theocracy, but in a fairly vibrant democracy (although admittedly we are a pseudo secular state with our national anthem and pledge referring to ‘God’). Thirdly, private-public partnerships can be a tricky dance. And finally let’s face it, things are hard socioeconomically right now!
As if all of this is not enough, the president in particular hasn’t shown the kind of great leadership in casting vision (constantly, compellingly, creatively) and galvanizing the people from the grassroots. To make matters worse, the government itself has lost the trust of the Ghanaian people with its economic mismanagement, real and imagined, poor emotional intelligence in matters like this and poor consultation culture–from this cathedral issue through the recent e-levy saga and even current Domestic Debt Exchange debacle.
Then the process itself has been fraught with paucity of information and poor communication, poor governance (really governance 101), low accountability and too much opacity. In fact, in my frustration the other day while preaching on an Ephesians chapter five text about leading and living in the light I bellowed, “Stop the Cathedral in the name of the Lord!”
Don’t get me wrong. There are pluses about this project. Many. Between my initial article and the subsequent trilogy you will easily find a dozen cogent reasons why this could be a virtuous venture, including how the cathedral is more than a building (although the Africanization of it, its tourist attractions and income generation nature per se are all something to write about). The fact that the cathedral has a mandate to be a convenor of national conversation and debate warms my heart.
If the government had kept to its initial promise of providing “just the land” and only “seed capital,” I’ll be at peace. It is for the body of Christ to build this cathedral to the glory of the LORD, but considering the nature of Christianity in our Ghanaian public sphere and the prime place of faith for the African this is a nuanced matter. Any good government would have a keen interest in this matter, hence the sense in situating the NCG in the country’s capital city’s ceremonial core to provide “the missing link” (words of the architect) as a final piece of a national puzzle. Apparently, the other national pieces are all already in place: the people’s place (international conference centre, national sports stadium), the people’s representatives’ place (parliament building and State House), the peoples’ heroes’ place honouring the dead (Osu cemetery and adjoining military cemetery).
Granted, it isn’t everyone who is able to appreciate that we are a building a nation here; not just an eclectic collection of utilitarian infrastructure. That’s how come although we still have children learning under trees we still have national stadia and presidential edifices like Jubilee House and Peduase Lodge. To build or not to build this cathedral is really a nuanced and noodled matter that requires a certain high level leadership that I, honestly, haven’t seen on the horizon.
THIS ISN’T A ZERO SUM GAME
As a missiolgist, I believe that even the president does not fully know or understand the magnitude and implications of his vision. His initial vision may have been personal but vision is often progressive and it is possible He is being used by the Sovereign God in ways the man himself cannot fully comprehend, let alone the masses crying out against this vis-à-vis the impoverished state of the state. In order not to repeat the dozen or so cogent reasons why this project can be worthwhile, I will strongly encourage you to take a look at trilogy 1, the second part and the final installation, all from March 2020.
GOING FORWARD: SEVEN STEPS
1. STOP! STOP! STOP!
This may very much sound and look like the ‘STOP WORK’ in red paint on uncompleted building projects by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) yet, I see red flags all over this project that require concomitant red paint markings all over it too. This is not from the AMA this time. Just “we the [Ghanaian] people” saying, “STOP WORK!”
Secondly, let us get any of the so-called ‘Big Four’ global auditing firms in the country to do a thorough audit of the NCG secretariat, board of trustees and other associated names like JNS Talent etc.
Sometimes those AMA signs not only read, “Stop Work” but continue with “Produce Permit.” I would say for this cathedral project, in conjunction with step one, let us also “Stop Work and Produce Audit.” The result of the audit will help clarify our next steps—if even this project should continue at all, and if it should, how.
3. CALL FOR CONVERSATIONS AND DEBATE
Let us on purpose have a broader conversation and debate of the best minds and hearts for the way forward. “In the multitude of counselors there is safety,” said the wisest man that ever lived. And this is a sagacious king who could’ve easily ignored the counsel of others. Interestingly, he put up the most magnificent temple in the whole world in his day, for YHWH. Even Africans like the Queen of Sheba travelled long distances to come and see. If we want to see the reverse today, others come from elsewhere to behold the magnificence of the NCG, then we had better consider wise, broad-based consultation.
In my humble opinion, this government has been unbelievably militaristic; so non-consultative! Yet the thing is that even if people do not agree, they will support the project, or at least not be as antagonistic, because they have been seen (recognized) and heard. Conversations and debate will cause the significant groundswell needed for such a massive national venture with international ramifications.
4. GIVE OURSELVES TIME
If from the pause, audit, conversations and debates it becomes apparent that this project should continue, then we must give ourselves time. This cathedral doesn’t have to be built by 2024 and ready for a January 2025 swearing-in. That is precisely part of the problem with this project: the fact that the president is in a hurry to put this up while he is in office.
While a sense of urgency is good, undue pressure because of time crunches leads to many mistakes and often unethical behaviour, no matter how hitherto virtuous one’s cause. For example, this strange exchange of over two million Ghana Cedis between a whole national project and a private individual’s company obviously happened because apparently the project couldn’t wait for government funds to clear (this issue is under investigation, and rightly so). Besides, things are über hot in the economy right now, Ghana’s caught up in a socioeconomic inferno. It is wisdom to let both the times and tempers cool off.
If this is truly a national cathedral and not H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo’s pet project, then it should stand the test of time by traversing other administrations—perhaps two or even three terms down the line, including opposition parties—and be owned by all and sundry. If is by the good people of Ghana it for the glory of Almighty God, then we are not in a hurry. When we are not in a hurry we can think properly, do things appropriately, follow due process… Time is money and time will save us a lot of money—and a multitude mistakes.
5. TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY!
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NIV). Even some corporations have more transparency and better governance than the current supposedly religious project. Anathema! If this is truly an edifice to the Most High God then there cannot be even a hint of inappropriateness and misappropriation. As it stands now, not only has there been too much darkness and opacity surrounding a building that is to be a Lighthouse for the nations; too many allegations and suspected scandals that even some ordinary government projects cannot rival.
My mind goes to another cathedral project’ in ancient times where it was said, “They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty” (2 Kings 12:15, emphasis mine). I’m afraid we cannot say this of the NCG people or process so far.
6. LET GOD’S PEOPLE BUILD GOD’S BUILDING
The government of Ghana has done more than enough, giving the land. And way more seed than was my impression at the start of the project. If this sanctuary is really for the LORD then let’s let the Body of Christ in the country build it. And yes, we can! Christians have literally put up thousands of edifices strewn across the length and breadth of the country, ‘from Gambaga to Accra, from Wiawso to Keta.’ Let the Church do this for the glory of Almighty God. We thank the generous government of Ghana for the head start but no more government/tax-payers’ funds, please.
Let God’s people be able to say, like in Nehemiah’s day, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.” Whenever God gives a vision, He also makes the provision. But if this venture isn’t of God, then we are on our own; it will be hard.
For a number of great cathedrals that have been built, people have felt so privileged to be a part of the history-making that they have voluntarily given, not just of their substance but of their very selves. Carpenters, masons and other artisans and professionals have offered their services for free, and not the case of exorbitant amounts being paid to the current architect and others. In my opinion, the celebrated architect should feel so privileged to do this for God and country that he does this gratis! You tell me how much we paid the designers of our national flag and presidential stool; or composers of our national anthem and pledge.
7. WORK AS PASSIONATELY ABOUT OUR ‘SOFTWARE’ AS WE ARE ABOUT THIS ‘HARDWARE’
By software I mean our values, our paradigms and attitudes etc. The nation is so full of poor work ethic, corruption, filth (environmental and figurative), incompetence, dishonesty, lack of integrity etc. yet we want to build a magnificent cathedral for God. There is so much grievous poverty in the lives of the majority yet we want to put up this ceremonial and celebratory infrastructure at a cost of $400 million in the heart of Accra. The scriptures are replete with what God requires of us, first and foremost, and it is not so much physical buildings as that our spiritual, social, mental and emotional states reflect His glory; also, that our physical bodies will be hallowed as His temple. So as we are excited about the hardware (physical building of a cathedral), o how I pray that we are equally excited to work on our values, attitudes, morality, ethics, true selves, true faith and integrity. We also ought to disciple our sectors and systems of Ghanaian society so that these reflect a people that believe in a righteous and excellent God, the Most High.
Despite the bold vision of the NCG, we haven’t as a people or leadership displayed the kind of competence (eg. vision casting, convincing communication, broad consultation), character (eg. transparency, accountability) and compassion (eg. sensitivity to the present economic plight of the Ghanaian people) that a project of this magnitude demands.
I believe if we took the above seven steps, that should put us in good stead and hopefully lessen the painful memories and bitter aftertaste that this project would otherwise bring us. I do not believe the NCG is an entirely vile venture; but neither will it be entirely virtuous without great leadership in its purpose and process. Repentance and restitution must take place where the audit finds wrong and the best way forward forged as a body politic. The virtues in the idea of a national cathedral can be redeemed and the dead and near-buried hope and glory resurrected. This project can still bring God glory and bestow blessing on not just Ghana but the nations of the world if we would be quick to vanquish the evils that crouch at the foundation and front steps of this edifice. But for now, both my hopes and fears of these past six or so years have come to a head in this embattled National Cathedral of Ghana project.
It was heart-warming to find that a couple of the National Cathedral’s Board of Trustees members, namely Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams and Rev. Eastwood Anaba, reiterated my January 21 call above to ‘stop work and produce audit’ barely two days later, January 23, 2023. It was soon followed by a formal press release by the chair of the Board, Rev. Prof. Opoku Onyinah the next day, following a January 23, 2023 Board of Trustees meeting at which they agreed to engage Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world, to carry out an audit.
The hope expressed in the final paragraph of the said press release is mine too: “It is the hope and trust of the Board of the National Cathedral of Ghana that once these nagging issues are satisfactorily dealt with, the public interest and confidence in the project would be restored and rekindled to enable the citizenry to contribute generously to complete the Cathedral to the glory of God.”
Raise the Roof, Lift your Lid!
I just arrived at my room in Cape Town after three flights from Accra to Nairobi, Nairobi to Johannesburg and Jo’burg to Cape Town. A question on my mind as l flew here far above sea level, sometimes as high as 38,000 feet, has been, “How high is your leadership lid?”
THE FIRST OF THE IRREFUTABLE LAWS OF LEADERSHIP
Of course you know what a lid is, the cover of a container. How high your lid is determines the quality of the leadership that you provide for those you lead. I learnt this a long time ago, some 20-25 years ago from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It was the very first of the principles of leadership he espoused in that bestseller and my life has never been the same since.
As John challenged me then from the written word—and many years later in-person—I must always endeavour to lift my leadership lid because no family, organization, church, community or country would ever grow past their leader. The leader is the lid over those (s)he leads. Sometimes when training leaders I ask, “are you a leader or ‘lidder’? because a leader is literally the lid on the progress and prosperity of their constituency. In a sense, every leader is a lidder; the question is “how high?”
IMAGINE THIS PRESIDENTIAL LID
You probably have heard me tell the story of a certain African president that a group of us, Maxwell certified leaders, were trying to connect in-person to John C. Maxwell for a national transformation process and programme. This president had never heard of John. In all probability, he hadn’t read any other contemporary leadership experts but hopefully he has digested at the very minimum some of the leadership classics like Plato’s, ‘The Republic’. It is a scary thought that this African nation—and by extension every family, organization, corporation, community, church etc. within her—would be constrained by the tightness of this head of state’s lid. I almost added, “through no fault of theirs,” but I guess they voted him into power.
HOW TO LIFT YOURS
While we educate a new generation that should be too enlightened to allow such tight lidders to lead African nations in the next decade, let me ask you, let’s get personal: how high is your lid? We forget, many of us (or we might even not know), that leadership is not just caught, it must be taught. And that’s why I love the opportunity, come October 07, for us all to be part of a life-altering, lid-lifting Live2Lead virtual experience with local faculty and global ones beaming all the way from Atlanta, Georgia.
We are gunning for 2,000 leaders—from emerging (youth) leaders, through leaders in the establishment (i.e. government/public sector leaders) to established leaders in the private sector, including executives from the corporate space. We will be taught in word and deed by powerful speakers and shakers like John C. Maxwell himself, two Patricks (Lencioni of the USA and Awuah of Ghana) and a Patricia (CEO of Vodafone, Ghana).
RAISE THE ROOF!
One of the most powerful discoveries in psychology over the last generation has been that people can learn and grow and change! So wherever your lid is today, if you learn to lead better you provide more room for those you lead. John will be the first to tell you that “your capacity determines your impact.”
Perhaps, some of the conflicts you are experiencing right now in your organization, church or wherever you lead is because your lid is too low and so people keep hitting it. And there is going to be continued tension and banging (conflict) till at some either you leave the stage or your people take their exit. As you have probably heard it said, people join organizations but they leave people (managers/leaders). It’s time to make room, lift your lid, raise the roof!
I have been part of things l left because the lid was too low. It just wasn’t life giving and l know people have also left my leadership when my lid was low because it was just too tight. Learn to lead. Each one of us can learn to lead better. Blow off the lid so that all of a sudden the people under your leadership feel this space and freedom because you lifted your lid and now they can breathe and create and innovate and… live again.
Join us at Live2Lead Ghana 2022, on October 7, and let’s all learn to lead better so that the people following our leadership can live better. If leading is your purpose on earth—that you live2lead—then you might as well as learn2lead, and do it well. As Donewell Insurance puts it, “If it must be done, it must be done well.” If we must lead, then we must lead well. Let’s blow off some lids and see our constituents blessed beyond measure, growing great and strong.
Right outside my hotel room window is the breathtaking view of the majestic, towering Table Mountain at 3,500 feet above sea level with no real ‘peak’ per se. No lid! So in the meantime, while you contemplate your lid, I will enjoy Cape Town on your behalf.
Register and join LivetoLead here.
‘I DO’ or ‘NO CLUE’?
Happy Saint Valentine’s Day! I think it makes a difference when you prefix the ‘saint’ before ‘Valentine’s Day’ because unfortunately a lot of unholy things happen on Valentine’s day but it’s a day to celebrate a saint who out of love, gave of himself for others. That’s what the essence of love is, it’s not so much what we can get but what we can give.
This is why I love the commonest scripture which numerous people who are not even Christ-followers know that by heart (John 3:16): “ For God so loved the world that He gave…” Love is three things (3As): Love is an affect (emotion), an attitude, and an action. If you would take another look at the most famous passage in all the world about love, 1 Corinthians 13, you would see love showing up mainly as attitude and action. There are a few affects sprinkled here and there but mainly attitude and action. That’s what love is–not just an affect and an attitude but love is action, so love gives.
On this particular Valentine’s day, I want to send a shout out to the love of my life, Naa Anyele Perbi (nee Ampa-Sowa). We’ve been married for over 15 years now and one of the things that has saved and sweetened our marriage is searching for and satisfying each other’s emotional needs, something we learned from marriage mentors of ours in Montreal, Canada. Gerry and Kathy Kraemer do a marriage workshop and illustrate this beautifully. The point is that each of us–depending on where and how we were born and raised, our make-up/wiring, personality, life’s critical incidents etc.–receive love differently. This is not just the general and popular ‘five love languages’, no! This is way beyond that. This is deeper than that. Based on our life stories, we each have unique emotional needs.
The Kraemers love to tell the emotional needs tale this way: On the day we get married you we exchange vows and say, “I do.” Gerry and Kathy half-joking assert that we probably should rather say, “No clue!” instead of “I do!” for indeed, we have no clue what we are getting into, no matter how much in love we are and how much we think we know of ourselves and of the other. They actually project their 1970s wedding picture and ‘photoshop’ in an ‘invisible’ suitcase by each of them, symbolizing the baggage each of us comes into a marriage relationship with!
And this is how they illustrate it: Gerry is blindfolded by his wife, who then holds a cut-out heart, a big heart, right in front of her. Now, Gerry holding a bow and arrow (the plastic kind with a sucker at the end) then tries to hit the target, the heart of his dear Kathy, going boom, boom boom!!!! And guess what? He misses Kathy’s heart every time. Until eventually he allows her to remove the blindfold so he can now see exactly where her heart is and can strike it point blank or from afar, any and every time.
The point is this: there are a lot of books and audiovisuals out there that talk about love and romance in such generic terms such as ladies love flowers and guys like sex. Don’t buy this stuff! There are guys who love flowers and gals who have a bigger desire and capacity for sex than most men you know! There is actual work to do in specifically finding out through conversation and some tools (those who take our YAW PERBI Family Foundations Mastermind actually get to go through this) to know these things. Basically, you can find out from conservations with or without expert help. What makes your spouse feel fully alive? In other words, what gives oxygen to their souls? When you find that out (when your spouse let’s you in on the master key(s)–and by the way you don’t have to understand it!, you don’t even have to like it–just do it! When your spouse says, “I am XYZ and this is how l love to be loved, would you love me this way?” I hope your answer would be yes!
Today being St. Valentine’s Day, a lot of people are going to give gifts that they would have loved to receive; not gifts people would loved to get, necessarily. That’s how humans behave: we tend to give what we would like ourselves or what we think is good. But if we would take the time to hear the heart of whoever we’re trying to love, they would tell us, they would give us a clue what makes them feel loved or what gives oxygen to their souls.
“I am Yaw, this is how I love to be loved… (Errrm… I won’t tell you! Only Anyele knows that!) …Would you love me this way?” Love somebody the way they want to be loved, the way they feel loved this Valentine’s Day; not the way we want to love them. Have a Happy Valentine‘s Day!!! and a great month celebrating love, true and love, lasting love, pure love, for God is love. Whatever you do today, may be it be saintly!
PANDEMIC OR NO PANDEMIC, POSITIVENESS IS STILL A FUEL FOR SUCCESS
The following is a snap peak of the preface to the third edition of Dr. Yaw Perbi’s third book, ‘Positiveness: a fuel for success’, first published in 2003 to commemorate his silver jubilee.
It took a global pandemic to make this third edition of Positiveness: A Fuel for Success, possible. I have been trying to republish this book for nearly a decade now. The revised manuscript was done in 2012, and I had nearly completed the back-and-forth with a publishing company. All was ready to go, or so I thought. Then life happened and I put this on the backburner. Until now. It took the lockdowns of the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 to get this going again.
I have changed a lot since I turned 25 and first launched this book and so have many things too. We didn’t even have smartphones back then, and the internet was still a novelty. But some things have remained the same. After thousands of copies sold and many countries reached, “through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and joy,” what hasn’t changed is the fact that positiveness is still fuel for success.
In the past two decades, I have lived and worked for a year or more in three countries on two continents. In doing so, I have needed a whole lot of positiveness, especially in those times when I was geographically separated from my family. I have formally had various occupations and preoccupations ranging from being a medical doctor in Ghana, a military captain with the United Nations in Cote d’Ivoire, a leadership consultant and speaker around the world, pastor of a Chinese congregation in the French city of Montreal, a financial security advisor and investment consultant, to being president of a couple of Canadian and global charities. Positiveness is still fuel for success no matter the field of endeavour.
You see, this book was only my third book and, back in 2003, I wrote and self-published it with a white cover and silver inscriptions to celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday (silver jubilee). At the time, I was a struggling medical student in Ghana attempting to do ‘what Napoleon couldn’t do’. I was trying to straddle the world of medicine and human development. In May 2003, together with a group of friends, while still in med school, I founded The HuD Group to inspire and empower young people to reach their full potential. Now I am a full-fledged medical doctor who has hung up his stethoscope— after four years of clinical practice—to focus on human development, especially holistic leadership development, because I sincerely believe, like my mentor John C. Maxwell, that “everything rises and falls on leadership.”
The HuD Group began in Ghana but, at the time of writing this, I am feverishly coordinating our global operations in two dozen countries on all continents of the world and currently domiciled in Montreal, Canada. If I thought I needed a daily prescription of positiveness back in 2003, then I might need a thrice daily prescription now. The two-year battle with the Canada Revenue Agency alone to get charitable status for The HuD Group warrants a book on its own. I’ll save that for another day, but it took positiveness to fuel my success.
When I was much younger and naïve, I dreamed of working with the United Nations. And unlike many for whom that is still a dream, I achieved it. I did that, for a year, in La Cote d’Ivoire. Even while already enjoying that success, I still needed positiveness as fuel when I got car-wrecked on July 21, 2008 and lost two of the military colleagues I was travelling with. It was positiveness that got me back on the road to recovery. My commanding officer, out of rare soldier-sympathy, wanted me to return home (to Accra, Ghana) and recuperate but cheers to positiveness, I was convinced to stay put and serve with grace. I prevailed. Positiveness prevailed.
So yes, life has changed—a whole lot— and so have I since 2003. Now married to my dear wife, Anyele, and a father to seven amazing children, I certainly have a broader and deeper perspective on life today. But if anything, these changes have only affirmed and confirmed the principles that were penned in this book nearly two decades ago. Positiveness is fuel for growth, success, and significance in any and every endeavour, and at whatever age and stage in life, that hasn’t changed.
THE PRESENCE ~ Part 3 (of 3)
Do you know the story about the wealthy arts collector and his son? Eventually when both died the man willed all of his wealth—unbeknownst to the other wealthy art connoisseurs and museums who were eyeing his stuff—to whoever bought the ‘unimpressive’ but deeply precious painting of his son. Usually, this story is told in an evangelistic sense for people to consider Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord—“whoever takes the Son, gets it all”—yet this is the same Son who said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [THE PRESENCE] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Friend, whoever takes the Spirit, THE PRESENCE, into 2022, gets it all.
THE PAINTING is like THE PRESENCE
Everything you need is in THE PRESENCE; just like every painting the connoisseurs wanted was in that one painting of the son. Moses knew, that everything he and the Israelites would ever need was in THE PRESENCE. And so when God said “I’m not going with you guys any longer,” Moses retorted without skipping a beat, “then we’re not going!”
1Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 3)
As I said in the beginning, many people wouldn’t mind such a deal at all, just like heaven without God! If getting to the Promised Land was guaranteed, with an angel to boot, what’s the problem if it’s ‘only that’ God isn’t coming along for the ride? At the various Watch Night/Cross Over services around the world, I dare say that for the majority of people as long as were assured of the promises of God, angelic guidance and protection, prosperity of what to eat and wear and spend (milk and honey) in 2022, who cares about THE PRESENCE?!
12Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” 14The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
The company you need is in THE PRESENCE, favour is in THE PRESENCE, pleasure is in THE PRESENCE, rest is in THE PRESENCE, distinction is in THE PRESENCE. We’ve all been raised to think how sad it was that Moses never entered the Promised Land. Are you sure? What if I told you he did? What if the Promised Land is God Himself? I’ll leave you to wrestle with that for a bit.
SO WHAT? FOLLOW THE CLOUD
I hope I’ve been able to convince you that EVERYTHING you need for 2022 is in THE PRESENCE of the LORD; all you’ll EVER WANT is in THE PRESENCE. Do you then now have the faith to pray, “Dear God, all I need for the New Year is YOU! so All I want for New Year, is YOU!”
Remember, s(h)e who takes the Spirit, THE PRESENCE, gets everything! Lord, LEAD! LORD, your presence or nothing! Will you follow the crowd or the CLOUD? Using ‘CLOUD’ as an a acronym, here’s how to practicalize this message and maximize THE PRESENCE in 2022: Cultivate, (Be) Led, Obey, Unwind, Discern.
1. CULTIVATE— Cultivate THE PRESENCE
This year, learn to stop at set times (also spontaneously) during the dam, calm your spirit (breathe in and out deeply) and centre yourself by being conscious of your breathing and God’s presence, saying, for example (with breathing in), “Lord, “I breathe in your Spirit…” and as you exhale, “I breathe out my stress or anger.”
Incidentally, on the very 31st January, prior to traveling to preach this message in the evening, my wife and I were going to look at a piece of property and burst a tyre. She had to continue alone in an Uber. Initially I was getting upset, wondering whether this was an attack on 31st or whatever… Then the Spirit reminded me of this very message. I stopped, calmed down, centred myself, cultivating THE PRESENCE.
2. LED— Be Led by the PRESENCE
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…” (Rom 8:14). Let the Lord lead in 2022. Listen & be led.
3. OBEY—Obey the promptings of THE PRESENCE
What more is there to say?
4. UNWIND—Relax, Lounge, Chill and build intimacy with God
Mark Thibodeaux describes four stages of praying, or relating to THE PRESENCE. By unwind I mean the fourth; not the first three.
o Talking at God—This is simply parroting prayers, whether recited ones like “Bless me, Lord, for what we’re about to receive we thank thee O Lord” or the kind of mindless speaking in tongues
o Talking to God—We become more comfortable finding our own words to speak to God, rather than readymade prayers but still “give me, give me, give me more, Lord.”
o Listening to God—This is when we begin to enjoy a two-way relationship with him.
o Being with God—A final stage is where “finally, we simply enjoy being in the presence of God—who loves us. This is far more important than any particular activity we might do with Him [or for Him]. His presence makes all of life fulfilling.”
5. DISCERN—Scripture says we should not be foolish and act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants us to do, understudy God’s moves and waves and will. Moses said, “show me your ways” as He asked for God’s presence and glory. My favourite definition of discernment is Ruth Haley Barton’s: “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.”
Let’s thank God for every time you experienced THE PRESENCE in 2021. Confess your eagerness to have stuff and success in 2022 but not necessarily HIM! Let’s pray for a life that follows the CLOUD in 2022. If you’re serious about THE PRESENCE, tell God, in the words of Don Moen’s classic:
If Your presence doesn’t go with us
Lord we don’t want to leave this place
Lord we need You near
As we go from here
To lead us by Your love and grace
May Your presence fill us every day
May Your Spirit lead the way
Lord to You we call
Let Your glory fall
And may Your presence go with us
If we have found favor in Your sight
Show us Your ways O Lord
Cause we want to know You
And live in Your light
For all of our days
Show us Your ways
We have our hopes
And we have our dreams
But we cannot go
Where You will not lead
Lord to You we call
Let Your glory fall
And may Your presence go with us
Rest assured, we have a guaranteed general, guide, guard, giver and glory for 2022, the “Captain of Israel’s Host,” THE PRESENCE.
THE PRESENCE ~ Part 2 (of 3)
17When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. … 20After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13)
THE PRESENCE FROM EGYPT
God will not necessarily lead you through the shortest routes in 2022 but the best routes, according to His good, pleasing and perfect will. God was Israel’s captain as they exited Egypt to possess the Promised Land. A captain is a commanding officer of a ship, someone in command or a leader of a group (like a football team). This captainship is clearly captured in phrases like “God did not lead them…” (v. 17); “So God led the people…” (v. 18); “By day the LORD went ahead of them… to guide them” (v. 21); “…in front of the people” (v. 22).
And they were many, an estimated 2 million of them! It is no wonder they are described as a host (like stars or a vast army). A host is “a multitude or great number of persons or things.” God was the General, Guard & GPS of this ginormous group, host!
THE PRESENCE IN ENGLAND
It is this amazing story in Exodus 13 that captured the imagination of Charles Wesley (1707-1777), the brother of the founder of Methodism (John Wesley) to pen those words in 1762 (the original words are in bold, my brief commentary is in italics):
Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
The same God who was Captain of the Israelites exiting Egypt to the Promised Land called Canaan is the Guide of those of us who eventually want to exit Earth to the Promised Land above we call Heaven;
He can be the General of those of us exiting 2021 and wanting to enter the Promised Land called 2022. For he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Beneath Thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of Thy protecting love;
The shadow, cloud, pillar of fire—these are all metaphors of THE PRESENCE.
Will you abide (John 15) in THE PRESENCE for intimacy (love), protection, provision, piloting (guidance), production (fruitfulness)…
Our strength, Thy grace, our rule, Thy Word;
Jesus Himself says, “my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness in 2022” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
What laws or constitution or playbook will you live by in 2022? How about the Basic Information Before Leaving Earth (Bible), which itself is already saturated with THE PRESENCE?
Our end, the glory of the Lord.
Is God’s glory the purpose and end goal of your life or your own idea of what is cool and successful? God’s own glory is God’s mission!
It is no greatness if it brings God no glory!
A WORD ABOUT GOD’S GLORY IN UNEXPECTED PLACES & WAYS
God’s glory can show up in ways and places that are strange to the human mind. Think about it: one day in John 9, “As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God [or the glory of God] might be displayed in him.” But blindness?!
How about when Jesus says to Peter (John 21), “Very truly I tell you [Jesus says to Peter], when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” A death that glorifies God? Come on! JUST FOLLOW THE PRESENCE.
THE PRESENCE is powerful; even in the valley of the shadow of death, according to twenty-third Psalm, I fear no evil for you are with me (THE PRESENCE). In Genesis 39, “…while Joseph was there in the prison, 21the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” THE PRESENCE in prison; glory through prison. Unstoppable God; unboundable PRESENCE!
BACK TO EXODUS
We’re told in the ninth chapter of the book of Numbers that:
17Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. 20Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23At the Lord’s command [captain of the host!] they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.
The second verse of Wesley’s hymn continues…
By Thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray
THE PRESENCE makes no mistakes—He is the omniscient (all-knowing) One to steer us aright from missing our way yet if we sin and stubbornly deviate He also is the gracious omniponent (all-powerful) One to, like a GPD does, re-route us, even if it takes 40 years in the wilderness! Re-calculating… Re-calculating…
We shan’t be lost in 2022, amen!
Just move when God moves; stop when He does; stay when he stays.
We shall not full direction need
It was reprinted in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780), where John Wesley altered this line 3 of verse 2 from, ‘The light of man’s direction need’ to ‘We shall not full direction need’.
Nor miss our providential way;
Just as He gives us our daily bread, let us look to Him for daily direction. There is no grace for tomorrow; only today. We don’t need the full direction! Sometimes we don’t even need direction in our heads or hearts; he just orders our steps, like Simeon!
As far from danger as from fear,
While Love, almighty Love, is near.
God is Love, and the Bible says “perfect love drives out fear.” Fear and God cannot co-exist. In 2022, God will keep us far from danger just as He will keep us far from fear, as long as THE PRESENCE is near!
Hallelujah! Finally, in Part 3, we’ll end with Moses’ craving of THE PRESENCE and why we should too–abiding angels and promised properties, even flowing milk and honey, just won’t do. I share five practical tips on maximizing THE PRESENCE.
Whoever Takes the Son Gets It All
Years ago, there was a very wealthy man who, with his devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate. The widowed, elder man looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector. The son’s trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world.
As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His beloved son was missing in action. The art collector anxiously awaited more news, fearing he would never see his son again. Within days, his fears were confirmed. The young man had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic.
Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season, a season that he and his son had so looked forward to, would visit his house no longer. On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home.
As he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.” As the two began to talk, the soldier told of how the man’s son had told everyone of his, not to mention his father’s, love of fine art. “I’m an artist,” said the soldier, “and I want to give you this.” As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the son.
Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture over the fireplace.
A few hours later, after the soldier had departed, the old man set about his task. True to his word, the painting went well above the fireplace, pushing aside thousands of dollars of paintings. And then the man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given. During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy’s life would live on because of those he had touched. He would soon learn that his son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stilled his caring heart.
As the stories of his son’s gallantry continued to reach him, fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease the grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.
The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. The art world was in anticipation! Unmindful of the story of the man’s only son, but in his honor, those paintings would be sold at an auction. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day, the day he had received his greatest gift. The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; greatness would be achieved as many claim “I have the greatest collection.”
The auction began with a painting that was not on any museum’s list. It was the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent.
“Who will open the bidding with $100?” he asked.
Minutes passed. No one spoke. From the back of the room came, “Who cares about that painting? It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s forget it and go on to the good stuff.”
More voices echoed in agreement. “No, we have to sell this one first,” replied the auctioneer. “Now, who will take the son?”
Finally, a friend of the old man spoke, “Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That’s all I have. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”
“I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?” called the auctioneer.
After more silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice. Gone.” The gavel fell, cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can get on with it and we can bid on these treasures!”
The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, “What do you mean it’s over? We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son. What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! I demand that you explain what’s going on here!” The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son…gets it all.”
Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? Just as those art collectors discovered on that Christmas Day, the message is still the same: the love of a Father, a Father whose greatest joy came from His Son, who went away and gave His life rescuing others. And because of that Father’s love, whoever takes the Son, gets it all.
THE PRESENCE ~ Part 1 (of 3)
As I prayerfully pondered how best to enter 2022 personally as well as what to share with a church plant on the Akuapem mountains (in the Eastern Region of Ghana) that had invited me as guest preacher for their Watch Night service, THE PRESENCE became overwhelming clear.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR 2022?
Take a pause and sincerely answer the question: What do I want for 2022? How about THE PRESENCE as a present? Yes, God is everywhere (omnipresent) so why does He say where two or three are gathered in His name He is present, among them? God can choose to concentrate His presence in a person or place, and that is what I mean by THE PRESENCE. My aim is to show that everything you need for 2022 is in THE PRESENCE of the LORD; all you’ll ever want is in THE PRESENCE. At the end of this, my prayer is that like the Mariah Carey song, “All I want for Christmas is you,” you’ll leave here saying, “Dear God, all I need for the New Year is YOU!” so “All I want for the New Year, is YOU!”
HEAVEN CAN BE HELL
Four years ago, when I was still president of ISMCanada, I led a team to organize our biennial staff conference for most of our 100 staff from coast to coast to come to McGill University in Montreal, on the east coast of Canada. One of the devotional speakers I arranged to exhort the conference attendees was a young pastor (he’s a white African from Zimbabwe) from the Peoples Church of Montreal. Pastor Chris asked a question that I would like to repeat: HOW MANY OF YOU WOULD STILL LOVE TO BE IN HEAVEN EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? My own response revealed my heart and I was shocked. I realized to my utter shock and shame, I didn’t really mind being in Heaven—the golden streets, tree of life, worship music, peace, no more sickness, sweat or tears…—even if God was absent.
But really, WHAT IS HEAVEN WITHOUT GOD? Heaven without God is hell! Samuel Rutherford put it this way, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.” Teresa of Avila said, “Wherever God is, there is heaven.” And for John Milton, “Thy presence makes our paradise, and where thou art is heaven.” Simply put, God’s presence is paradise.
Now, let me ask you: WOULD STILL LOVE TO ENTER 2022 EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? 2022 without God is hell. Yet even Covid in 2022 with God is heaven. Everything you need is in the Presence of Yahweh; is it protection, provision, guidance, favour, promotion, strength…? It’s in all in THE PRESENCE. For many of us, we don’t mind having this stuff without God coming along! We want his hand but not his face; we want his stuff but not him. That is a tragedy of our times; an error!
This last Christmas season, I was really challenged by the Spirit-led life of Simeon in Luke 2. He was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem who Joseph and Mary met when the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, and they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Interestingly, my main text for this message, Exodus 13, begins by explaining that what was written in the Law of the Lord—“Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”—was part of the Exodus story as God killed all the firstborns of Egypt and spared the Israelites’.
Simeon was no special person per se—not a priest, prophet, pharisee, politician—just an ordinary guy who thought right, acted right, was in right and intimate relationship with the LORD and devoted to Him. He was waiting for the promised Jewish Messiah (“the consolation of Israel,” they would say) and the Holy Spirit was on him [THE PRESENCE]. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Someone reading this needs revelation in 2022; it’s in THE PRESENCE.
Just check out at the intimacy in THE PRESENCE—such a deep thing that thousands of generations had waited for in faith, and God chooses to promise this sight to simple Simeon! It reminds me of Abraham’s intimacy with the LORD to the extent that God said, before he would rain judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah, “shall I hide what I’m about to do from Abraham].
Moved by the Spirit [THE PRESENCE compels, propels], he went into the temple courts right when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required. Indeed, the steps of the righteous are ordered by THE PRESENCE]. Simeon took him in his arms [may you too take hold of and take delivery of God’s promises in 2022 by THE PRESENCE] and praised God [there is praise in THE PRESENCE], saying some amazing things which made Mary and Joseph “marvel” (v. 33), including prophesying some incredible things like the crucifixion, all of which could only have been revelation. Such is the life of an individual in THE PRESENCE.
In Part 2, I share about the remarkable Israelites-in-the-desert example of THE PRESENCE, so well-summarized in the following famous two-stanza Wesleyan hymn:
Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
Beneath Thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of Thy protecting love;
Our strength, Thy grace, our rule, Thy Word;
Our end, the glory of the Lord.
By Thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray
We shall not full direction need
Nor miss our providential way;
As far from danger as from fear,
While Love, almighty Love, is near.
Find Part 2 here.