Of course ‘everyone’ wants to know, “why on earth am I here?” Why else would authors sell a tonne of books on that! But as I discover more about this valid existential question, some of my strong views and approaches to the whole issue of purpose/calling are being challenged and changed. This is a series of reflections and confessions of such.
“MR. KNOWS IT ALL”
Yes, I’m headstrong and very passionate about the things I’ve come to know, understand and believe. Yet my inner circle will also tell you that I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know;” neither am I ashamed to say “I was wrong.”
In fact, long before the term “paradigm shift” became cliché, I remember running seminars for young people, even 15 years ago, and challenging them thus: “if you come into contact with new information which makes you realize that a particular way you’ve been thinking and living has been making you ineffective, SHIFT YOUR PARADIGM!” Up to this day, my wife, Anyele, reminds me that at that moment, I will characteristically jump from one spot of the room to another, to illustrate my point.
Come on, after all, “we live and learn.” Did not some wise Greek philosopher once say something like “I know one thing; that I know nothing”? Even Albert Einstein is quoted as stating, “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know,” an obvious remix of Aristotle’s “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” So congratulations if you know it all 🙂
In the next few weeks, I want to humbly acknowledge a few mistakes and missteps of mine regarding the whole idea of calling or vocation. In a series I’m calling “Confessions of the Called” I will basically share some further enlightenment I’ve received, particularly based on the work of my seminary president, Mark Labberton, in his book Called: the Crises and Promise of Following Jesus Today (2014).
In this book, Mark Labberton attempts to paint two pictures. First, a dull one of the current states of the world and the church and then a brighter picture of the ideal—what could and should be. The first third of the book summarises well “the crises and the promise of following Jesus today” and then for the next three chapters reboots paradigms about where, how and to whom/what we’re called, finally showing the way forward in the last chapters.
Having been a student and teacher of purpose/calling for the last 15 years I seem to think I’ve learnt almost all I need to know about the subject. I was curious to know if Labberton had anything ‘out of this world’ to add to my knowledge and experience. Thus the question I had in mind when I started reading this book proactively was, will I really learn anything totally new about calling than I already do?
BACKGROUND TO CONFESSION
A decade-and-a-half ago, when a bunch of us set out to start the WannaBe Institute, which later metamorphosed into The HuD Group, we were bent on “inspiring and empowering young people to discover their God-given purpose and reach their full potential.” That still remains the core of what we do although the mission has expanded beautifully into God’s grander purpose for leadership and mission in over a dozen countries.
I was personally sick and tired of young people sitting around purposelessly not realising that they were not a mere accident but an intentional creation of a very personal God who had a very specific purpose for their lives. We’ve since taught thousands of people how to find their specific God-given purpose in life, and write personal mission statements, especially by looking through the lens of the manufacturer’s manual (the Bible) and how they’re wired.
NOW, TO CONFESSION #1
I am sad to say that in my overdrive to help many emerging leaders quickly find their specific God-given purposes for their lives—to become “meaningful specifics” rather than merely “wandering generalities”—I inadvertently got blindsided from adequately pointing them to and thoroughly addressing their primary call. I have been too eager to move to “next things” (as Labberton puts it in his book), even putting “next things first” sometimes. I remember saying to my wife, Anyele, a couple of mornings ago, “Honey, I think we’ve overdone it.”
As I read Labberton’s book, it became obvious that my paradigm of calling is exactly the opposite of Labberton’s (and we just might both be coming from two extremes and need a “radical middle” as my Vineyard friends oxymoronically put it). This is how Mark states his perspective of calling: “Beyond these first things, God sometimes has next things” (emphasis mine). “Only sometimes?” I thought in bewilderment.
This is a radical thought for me. I sure do affirm the general purposes of God for our lives, the primary purpose of loving Him and our neighbour, but quickly move on to what I consider the ‘main thing’, which Labberton calls a temptation, finding God’s specific purpose for one’s life assuming everyone has this, always. I am considering writing to the author about my struggle.
Let me tell you why Mark Labberton thinks my specific approach hitherto is dangerous. TO BE CONTINUED…
Will you share your thoughts so far with me?
Life seems simpler when we can stereotype and put people and things in a box. But when your mental caricature is challenged by hitherto unknown facts or up close and personal encounters you had better shift your paradigm. Ghana’s new vice-president and his wife are making many re-think what being Muslim could look like.
Anybody who knows me well will tell you that the use of such a vulgar slang like “shitty” is uncharacteristic of me. This week many joined Americans to celebrate Martin Luther King Jnr. Day. While great progress has been made regarding race relations in North America we still have a long way to go. Some white officer just showed me so!
SPEAK NO EVIL
Once I went all the way to defend myself in a court of law in another province of Canada, a three-hour flight from home, because I felt the police officer who had stopped me months prior was prejudiced because I was black. Even three-and-a-half years ago when I became the first black president (and only black staff at the time) of a predominantly middle-age, white Canadian organization someone came to inform me about one unhappy staff who was wondering, “Why did they [the board] bring this African here to lead us?” I could write a whole book on times I’ve felt ill-treated just because of the colour of my skin.
However, I try to avoid writing on racial tensions, in particular black/white issues, for a number of reasons (which I shan’t enumerate here); but like us all, when it really hits close to home we bury our ‘political correctness’ and as Nike says, “just do it.” As a black man living in North America, I have faced covet and overt discrimination—including being hooted at in a restaurant in southern Ontario by a white woman who I bet hadn’t ever left her province before let alone seeing the rest of the world—but none has gotten to me like the one last Friday. And it’s hard to forget because it was the infamous Friday the thirteenth (13/01/2017).
BLUE AND GREEN
My wife is the Chief Operating Officer of Adeshe Real Estate. As I’ve shared before, we believe in investing in assets towards financial freedom. Because she wanted to check on a property she recently purchased in Champlain, NY (the last major town in upstate New York before crossing the border into Quebec, Canada) last Friday we all decided as a family to go along with her just for the ride.
Out of my own stubbornness (that’s another subject for another day) I have not picked up Canadian citizenship or passport so whenever we travel it is a very interesting array of five blue Canadian passports and one green Ghanaian one—mine. As a result, usually I’m the one who delays the rest of the family at the border because I’m often asked to go into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBD) building to receive an I-94 form to enter the States. This time, I was quite exhilarated that this wouldn’t be necessary because I had kept by last I-94 form intact in my passport since I got it last July six months prior. In fact, it was due to expire the next day (January 14) and so I planned to leave it with the Canadian border authorities upon our return from Champlain before re-entering Canada. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what was about to happen in Obama’s America.
BLACK AND WHITE
Had I known what was about to transpire I might not have changed from the lane of cars I originally was in. There weren’t too many cars at the border so barely two minutes after I switched lanes we got to pull our grey Dodge Caravan, laden with the Perbilets, to the window of Officer Robert.
After the initial pleasantries I handed him the deck of passports as he asked, “Where are you headed?”
“Just over to Champlain,” I confidently responded.
“What for?” he continued his inquiry.
“To check out a property we purchased over there?” I replied.
And that is when he lost it… This young, white kid (probably 20 or 21 years of age) then says, “THAT IS SUCH A SHITTY STORY!”
“What? Excuse me?” I retorted in disbelief. “Did you say “Shitty Story?”
Officer Robert not only had no remorse but in addition, decided to ask us to proceed into the building I was hoping I could avoid a waste of time in.
“Why do we need to do that?” I insisted, “since I have a valid I-94?”
The young man in his white prejudice had either been blinded to that fact or couldn’t care less.
“Too bad, you still have to go because I’ve already punched it in the system that you’re heading there.”
I expressed by utter disgust at his unprofessionalism and promised I would report him to his supervisor. Again, he couldn’t be bothered.
STUPIDITY, LIKE SUCCESS, HAS NO COLOUR
So we dragged ourselves in our annoyance—a family of six, with four children bundled in cumbersome winter jackets, hats and stuff—into the building. My wife Anyele was fuming; going gaga! And she had every right to.
The officer who received our documents inside wondered why on earth we had been asked to come and see her when I had a valid I-94—and even planned to return to Canada not just the same day, but even in less than an hour’s time! She just handed our passports back to me and asked us to proceed but I wouldn’t let this slip by without a fight. I told her I wanted to see their supervisor.
When I did launch my complaint against Officer Robert—from his rude attitude through to his uncouth, vulgar “shitty story” statement to his incompetence (can’t even read a date!) in sending us into the building—she casually apologized and said she would have a conversation with the young man but I noticed what really got her taking me very seriously was when I said, “I’m going to put this on FaceBook.”
She made a copy of my passport and handed me a formal complaint sheet to fill and submit. They’ll be receiving it soon, DV.
RED & WHITE STRIPES
I have travelled to some 30 countries and sometimes met with some very annoying circumstances but honestly I have never felt more disrespected at an international border. The last place I would think would be Obama’s America.
So, half a century after Martin Luther King’s civil rights fights and significant progress made—to the extent that eight years ago we saw a black man occupy the White house—the evil of racial prejudice and discrimination still has deep roots in the United States of America. At least I wasn’t shot at like others unfortunately have, leaving Anyele a widow with four fatherless children.
I have heard and read of many glamourous and well-known bright, black stars in the land of Red and White Stripes that have been very badly treated because of their skin colour; in spite of their glory and fame. Even some maintain that President Obama himself, by virtue of his black heritage, has been, arguably, the most disrespected sitting U.S. President till date.
Many were surprised when the Republican Party’s only African-American senator, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, told the U.S. Congress last year that since he came into office, he had been stopped seven times by police in a single year.
Scott said that one of his black staffers in Washington, D.C., got so tired of being pulled over in his nice car that he sold it.
“Imagine the frustration, the irritation, the loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops?” he said.
“While I thank God that I have not endured bodily harm, I have however felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted,” he said.
“I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself,” he added.
In fact, in this CNN video clip he admits that while he was rightly accosted sometimes because he was in the wrong–speeding–he laments, “But the vast majority of the time I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighbourhood or some other reason just as trivial.”
DREAM OR NIGHTMARE?
This week is historic in America. The same week that began with a Monday on which Martin Luther King Jnr. is celebrated, closes on a Friday when the first and only black president leaves the Oval office for a white one who many fear isn’t exactly colour-blind. We, my family and I, were living our dream of being international investors, a reality some white officer thought was so incredulous for a black family with an accent to live in—a “shitty story,” even in the year 2017 in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
As Obama gives way to Trump will Martin Luther King’s dream, “… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” remain a dream, become a reality or even morph into a nightmare? We watch and pray.
A laser focus on God and goals through a concentrated time of fasting, reflection, purposeful planning and prayer at the start of every year has done wonders for my family, friends and I over the last 10 years. Why change a winning strategy?
WHAT GOT ME GOING
“Are we doing it again in 2017?” is the question (in an email) I woke up to on the dawn of the last day of 2016. “Of course, of course!” is the summary of my response to this dear Chinese-Canadian mentee of mine who has tasted the power of starting the new year right for some years now.
Meanwhile, earlier that week a Quebecois friend visited our home in Montreal to interview me on how I get to set my goals for every year. As I pondered her questions it had occurred to me that it may be a good idea to put some of these thoughts on paper for a wider audience and then that email on December 31 just got me going. So here goes!
NOT WITHOUT GOD
It is true that the end of a matter is even more important than the start but it helps a whole lot how you start also. As a doctor, I know that a child’s early nutrition can even determine their intellectual rigor and physical height (stunting) in latter years. So yes, how one starts matters a whole lot.
For me, starting the year with a God focus is not only the right way—it’s the only way to go. “In the beginning, God…” Those are the very opening words of Scripture in Genesis 1:1. How else would anyone want to start a new year but with the Originator of all things? Over the years I’ve come to call it “the Proto Principle”—in all your getting get God first. So yes, how does one start the year right? Not without God!
NOT WITHOUT GOALS
If you aim at nothing for 2017, guess what? You’ll hit it: nothing! “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” (1 Cor. 9:26, NIV) To run with purpose in every step and not just shadowboxing your way through life, you need to set goals.
The way I go about it is to have a framework that enables me to set goals holistically—in every area of life. Otherwise what happens is that only “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.” So I set:
- Spiritual goals—worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, evangelism/mission
- Physical goals—health, wealth, work, others
- Social goals—family, mentors, mates (friends), minnows (mentees)
- Mental goals—knowledge, skills, others
So yes, how does one start the year right? Not without goals!
PATH OF PRAYERFUL PRAXIS
Although this is an amazing framework that helps me not to miss any important area of life how do I determine what exact goal to set in that particular sphere? This is where the interview with my Quebecois friend got really interesting.
First there must be good praxis. Praxis is a big word that simply means deep reflection on your practice for action. According to Wikipedia, “Praxis may be described as a form of critical thinking and comprises the combination of reflection and action. Praxis can be viewed as a progression of cognitive and physical actions:
- Taking the action
- Considering the impacts of the action
- Analysing the results of the action by reflecting upon it
- Altering and revising conceptions and planning following reflection
- Implementing these plans in further actions.”
So I take a good look at how I’ve done life, say regarding my health in 2016. In pondering how I could do things better and my desired outcome regarding my health in 2017 I write down a health goal (diet, exercise, sleep).
And why do this prayerfully? First of all, life is too busy yet too short to go chasing every good goal; I want the God goals. King David had a goal to build a temple for God. Was it not a good spiritual and physical goal? But was it a God goal? No! God had other plans.
There are many good goals that come into my head during my praxis but in order to find the specific one that my Creator and Sustainer has for me this year I want to do my goal-setting prayerfully. It always amuses (yet even scares) me whenever I remember how God referred to the ‘good’ visions of some people in Jeremiah’s day as “delusions of their own minds.” Is this just a good goal or a God goal you are setting for 2017? I don’t want to be deluded!
So “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV)
Secondly, setting a God goal is one thing; accomplishing it is another. “Unless the Lord builds a house, the builders labour in vain.” I prayerfully set these goals for God power (ranging from anything from divine opportunities through intellectual rigour to physical strength) to enable me accomplish them to His glory and my joy.
For example, the circumstances surrounding the accomplishment of my family’s goal to purchase our first two properties—one in Ghana and the other in Canada—were nothing short of miraculous. Regarding the former, the landlord had literally laughed and sworn he was never going to sell that property when we first made the unsolicited offer. Later he would come literally ‘chasing’ us to buy it. Regarding the latter, God had kept it for two years on the market for us. All those who had previously made offers did not get the financing. Until we came along with God power…
So why bring God into this ‘purely human thing’ of goal setting for the year? For God goals and God power!
WAY TO GO
Thus since January 2007, for some of the reasons above (and more), an annual concentrated time comprising a 21-day fast with purposeful prayer and planning (P3) every January has wrought wonders for my family, friends and I. Now, it’s not even an option.
Why do we fast? That will be the subject of another entirely different blog but let me just put it this way, using an vehicular metaphor. Most cars on our roads are two-wheel drives (either front or back axles) and do a great job of taking us from point A to point B. When stuck in mud or snow however, you probably have seen those same cars spinning their two front or back wheels frantitcally yet making no progress. Those cars that are four-wheel drives (4×4), however, are able to engage an auxiliary gear which then gets all four wheels turning and off and away they go! Prayer is powerful in and of itself (like a two-wheel drive); adding fasting is like engaging the auxiliary gear in a four-wheel drive.
You may join my family, friends, co-workers and I, especially from The HuD Group and ISMC, from 5 to 6pm ET EVERYDAY from January 2nd to 22nd to pray together on the phone line +1-647-848-3378 with access code 1234577788#. In various countries there are organized groups congregating to pray at the equivalent local time as well.
Here is the schedule. The recommended fast is a 6am to 6pm full-day fast from food (or anything with calories) but not water.
“So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” (Ezra 8:23)
Yes, how does one start the year right? Not without God goals and God power!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
The following is a Memo sent from the Office of the Global CEO to all The HuD Group members, associates and partners worldwide through the various country CEOs and will be of great benefit to anyone who wants to be inspired and empowered to fulfill their God-given purpose and reach their full potential.
First of all learn to put your religion into practice by caring for your own family
(1 Timothy 5:8)
Hands up; hands down
It was the last-but-one day in November. What a delight to see the whole family waiting for me at the Pierre Trudeau international airport in Montreal—it was a surprise! Considering that I had flown over 130,000 miles on 63 flights that year alone, it would be the exception that my family would be at the airport to pick me. I had no idea Anyele and the cubs were planning to be there. My heart was deeply touched. That was upon my last overseas trip for the year 2016. The excitement was palpable.
Then I heard from my dear wife that our older daughter had said in her excitement that I was coming home that day, “I’m so happy Daddy is coming to visit. I hope he stays for Christmas.” Visit? Ouch!
Although I had for months felt a deep impression on my heart that something along the lines of family was to be our overarching 2017 theme for The HuD Group globally—including hints from observations I had made of the lives of many young professionals in our circles—that profound statement ‘out of the mouth of babes’ was the final nail.
Out there or right here?
There are seven spheres (‘mountains’ or ‘pillars’) that shape any culture and society. Somehow in our quest to ‘change the world’, ‘impact society’ ‘make a difference’ or any other such parlance people normally use to express our desire to be significant there is a tendency to focus on any and every one of these spheres except the one which should be first and foremost—FAMILY. After all, everyone is born into one (no matter how atypical or even dysfunctional) and everyone has access to one. While becoming president to affect the course of a nation may be farfetched for the average Joe, one’s family is right within their circle of influence.
It is not an overstretched metaphor that the family is the cell (basic functional unit), of Church and society. Just like a disease process in the body is traceable all the way down to the cellular level so can the ills in any society. Think of cancer for a moment. Do you realize that cancer basically just means that ‘ordinary’ cells in a part of one’s body decide to go bonkers leading to an ‘extraordinary’ pathology which in advanced stages affect the whole being, even leading to eventual demise?
So why do we want to impact Religion out there, Education out there, Government out there, Media out there, Arts & Entertainment out there, and Business out there when Family is right where we are, right within our grasp, right now?
In the HuD Group, we teach how to discover and fulfill one’s God-given purpose. Try as we may, we may be “sincerely wrong” in our feeling and conviction that our Grand Designer has called us to any of these six afore-mentioned spheres of influence but we cannot be wrong that we are called to our Families! After all, we did not choose our parents or siblings—God who formed us and called us did. Who else is better qualified and uniquely called to influence the children from your own loins? When God has joined two together in the covenant of marriage how could there be an iota of doubt that the other covenant partner is your lifetime ministry?
When it dawned on me that I very well could be wrong that I’ve been called to youth or international students or to write or whatever I’m hotly pursuing globally now but I cannot be wrong that I’ve been called to Anyele and my four children (so far) I enshrined the following in my personal mission statement: “My Queen and cubs are my first and primary protégés. … The proof of my love for my wife and children is my investment of quality TIME and substantial RESOURCES in their lives. Seeing all of these family commitments as ministry, I pledge to honour my parents as well and make myself available and accessible to my siblings.”
“He will direct his children and his household after him”
It was E.M. Bounds who said, “Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. ”” Again in The HuD Group we believe in ‘ONE Power’—the power of one person to change the world. Throughout Scripture when God has wanted to do anything significant on Earth he’s sought “a man” (male or female). Then, his/her family. In the first dozen chapters of the Bible alone think of Adam, Noah, Abraham…
In fact, do you remember why—apart from pure grace in election—God chose Abraham in particular when He wanted someone who He could partner with for global transformation?
“For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”” (Genesis 18:19, NIV)
From his immediate family, Abraham would later influence the whole earth with his progeny—including being the Patriarch of all three major world religions that jostle for Jerusalem as their ‘headquarters.’
Today, in the places of the world where the church is growing fastest it is partly because the Gospel is spreading along family lines and whole households are being saved and baptized. There isn’t a more rapid way to see the whole Earth filled with the glory of the knowledge of God. This is what Paul and Silas had in mind when the responded to the Roman jailer: ““…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.” (Acts 16:31-34, NIV)
God’s method is men—(s)he and all their household. So important is family in God’s scheme of things that he rubbishes our so-called faith or religious fervour if first our own families are not well taken care of and says the atheist is better of! “But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.” (1 Timothy 5:8, NLT)
FAMILY AS CHURCH
“As for me and my family”
Thousands of years ago Joshua got the idea right. That ministry was first in here with family before out there, that God’s method was first one man and his/her family, thus his powerful statement to the rest of the nation of Israel:
“But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15, NLT)
One day it dawned on me that my family IS church. What is church? Is it not where two or three are gathered in His name? (Matthew 18:20) Or as Neil Cole beautifully put it, church is “The presence of Jesus among his people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.”
Then I asked myself, why I was more interested in my Chinese congregation or The HuD Group or International Student Ministry than the Perbi family? That was about two years ago. I set out a long-term “Fellowship” goal thus: “See and treat my nuclear family as the CHURCH that they are!
–> Intercede for them FIRST
–> Apply all ‘one another’ scriptures to them FIRST
–> Not do/say anything nice to anyone without Naa and cubs FIRST.”
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Proto people in pleasing God pronto
I know we care about family in The HuD Group. But do we care about family too; or family first. When all is said and all is done then we give family the crumbs or when family is fully well taken care of and then the rest of the world gets the remainder? In the HuD Group we believe in the Proto Principle—that in all your getting get God first (the first and foremost commandment according to Jesus Christ). However, when it comes to loving people (the second commandment), is our family our Proto People or the rest of the world is?
Family first pleases God most. For example, the young pastor in his late teens was admonished by his mentor thus: “…if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” (1 Timothy 5:8, NIV) The New Living Translation begins the verse this way, that your“…first responsibility is to show godliness at home…”
Easier said than done. Trust me, I know. Sometimes I do well to keep family first; most of the time I fail. It still beats my mind why we tend to be more concerned about strangers and ‘the whole world’ than members of our own household!
So as we focus on family first—not just family too—in 2017 what are you going to do differently after this paradigm shift? Whatever tactics, strategies and habits you take on remember that the proof of how well you’re doing in putting family first is the measure of attention, energy, time and money you’re investing in your own family.
I hope to share with you some of my SMART goals and practices for my family this year and look forward to learning from your best practices too!
Your number one calling is to your God-given family till Christ returns or calls you Home. Yes Home, to the ultimate family Person, “our Father who art in Heaven.”
So help us God! Amen!
Dr. Yaw Perbi
What is more disappointing than a Trump win is the trumpeting of “functional atheists” following the declaration of the winner of the U.S. general election.
I slept early this morning and woke up later this morning, thanks to my earnest following of the November 8 U.S. Presidential election results. I remember having the privilege of walking around in New York City, especially CNN’s booth at Times Square, eight years ago on Election Day and then watching history unfold as Barack Obama became the first ever African-American President. It was exhilarating. This dawn I was eager to see history being made again.
History was made alright but like millions of others around the world I am disappointed; but not quite for the same reasons most are. My disappointment lies not in Trump trumping all odds and becoming the 45th President of the United States of America but in the reaction of many ‘functional atheists.’
It was the astute modern educator, Parker Palmer, who I first read using the term “functional atheism . . . the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.” A “functional atheist” describes Christians who “behave as though they believed what atheists believe.” In other words, people who say they believe in God and follow His Christ but betray this apparent belief by their attitudes, thoughts, words and deeds.
Even a decade ago as a young medical practitioner this phenomenon struck me but I couldn’t quite conjure a picturesque phrase to describe it as “functional atheism.” I used to be baffled, so baffled, at the attitude and reaction of most professing Christians whenever my medical staff and I had the hard job of informing them that their beloved one had passed away. Of course it is, always is, a heartbreaking and heart wrenching fact to soak in but the degree of wailing, blaming and such made me wonder… Actually, in my experience, the Muslims took the death of a loved one much better than most Christians. After a brief moment they would say something like, “Allah knows best” or “His will be done” or something along those lines.
Precisely so that there is no such ‘functional atheism’ surrounding death, the apostle Paul writes to Christ followers: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, NIV) Christians have a hope of a life after death which atheists don’t. So if we are uniformed and grieve like a hopeless atheist would, there is a problem, Paul seems to suggest. “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14, NIV) So why do many Christ followers behave as ‘functional atheists’ when it comes to life and death matters?
Back to Trump. Christ followers believe, or at least claim to believe, that “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” (Romans 13:1, NLT emphasis mine) So why then are Christians who should know better behaving like it is white racists, sexists, and whatever other ‘ists’ who catapulted Donald from Trump Tower to the White House and not God by His authority for whatever purposes (which we will all soon find out as his presidency unfolds)?
Do we really believe this God stuff and Bible verses like Psalm 75?
Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.
No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt themselves.
It is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another. (Psalm 75:5-7 NIV)
“So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (Romans 13:2, NLT) Why are my many Christian family and friends’ social media feeds not reflecting this?
What then should true Christ followers be doing after an election like this? “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:2, NIV)
So, if you are a true Christ follower and not a ‘functional atheist’ then read and obey the rest of Paul’s commands in Romans 13:5-7: “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honour.”
If you are a true Christ follower and not a ‘functional atheist,’ then honour God by honouring President-elect Trump.