“Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors.” ~Paul the Apostle, A.D. 62
Although the official book of the story of God has been ‘closed’ with the canonized 66 books of the Bible, God is still writing his story every day in and through our lives.
Today, November 28, 2018, I will be defending myself against three criminal charges leveled against me by one James Simon of Montreal: assault, assault with a weapon and attempting to steal his iPad. One day, not long after this trial is over and I am vindicated, God-willing, I shall tell the full story publicly. Suffice it to say I was officially served notice in September 2017 regarding a parking incident involving the two of us in May 2017 in the course of my duty as an Associate of the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS). Up until last year, for about seven years I had been mentoring medical students at McGill University. Fortunately, I had two of my medical students present at the time of the alleged incident who are willing witnesses in court today.
I have asked myself several times why God would allow such a wicked triple venom to be spewed at me and how the Montreal police and Quebec judicial system could even allow these frivolous accusations to travel this far but be that as it may I have taken great encouragement from the life of one of my top three historical mentors in the Bible: Apostle Paul.
If you should ask me, it is no accident that a day before my trial I found myself in Rome of all places (for the first time in my life). While on a five-hour transit at the Leonardo da Vinci airport en route back home to Canada I felt led to take a pilgrimage to the Mamertine prison area (Carcere Mamertino in Italian) where Paul was kept in AD 64, under house arrest for two years, awaiting trial by Emperor Nero (Acts 28:30). It was from there he penned the amazing book of Ephesians. I arrived in the frigid hours of the morning and spent quality time between 6 and 7am supplicating and interceding with tears mixed with rain to Paul’s God that my trial too will be for his praise, glory and fame.
False accusation against God-followers is an old tool of Satan the adversary and “accuser of the brethren”—from Joseph through Jeremiah to Jesus. Speaking of that and Rome, that particular Mamertine prison (carcer) has held several Christians, including Apostle Peter, especially in the time of Emperor Nero who even accused Christians as being behind the ravaging July 19, AD 64 fires of Rome. Oh, the other famous accusation was that Roman Christians hated humanity (popular till date especially among humanist-secularists).
My trial was originally slated for June 2018 but had to be postponed because the police officer who took my accuser’s statement and processed the case (without ever taking my side of the story!) went on vacation! During that time in June when my lawyer pointed out the baseless nature of the accusations to the Crown prosecutor who then sought the consent of my accuser to withdraw the case the latter said “no way,” and that I had still been coming around (during a time I was away in Ghana with my family for eight months!). He supposedly added that I was dangerous and ought to “be put away!” Ha!
Back to Paul and his inspiration regarding trials. Interestingly, only two weeks ago I was in Israel (again, for the first time in my life). When I had the opportunity of a customized one-on-one tour of selected places, one of the sites my gifted Jews for Jesus tour guide, Dalia, felt strongly we should visit (and at that time the name meant nothing to me) was Caesarea Maritima. Dalia must’ve been led by God’s Spirit unbeknownst to her. I was familiar with the other Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, where Peter had made his famous divinely-inspired confession about Jesus: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But Caesarea Maritima, that strategic port Herod the Great built along the Mediterranean, did not ring a bell. Yet it was here that I got to walk on the very grounds of the room that Apostle Paul was kept in as prisoner two years earlier (AD 62) than the Roman incarceration while being tried by Festus and Felix (Acts 24-26). Was my pilgrimage to Caesaria Maritima an accident or a ‘God-incidence’?
God is still writing his story in the lives of his people and his earlier recorded stories are for our inspiration and instruction. Incidentally, when St. Paul wrote to the very Romans many years prior that was his exact encouragement: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4, NIV).
Today, I too will be standing trial, comforted by the words of Apostle Paul that, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, NIV). I am counting on Jesus, who not only knows how it feels like to be falsely accused and unfairly tried but made his followers, like me, a solemn promise: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:18-20, NIV).
In a court case I call “a bizarre cocktail of mental health, racism and spiritual warfare” I trust truth will prevail, justice will be served and ultimately God will be glorified. God is still writing his story in our lives every day, even today. And He has the last word. Be encouraged.
My Unwholly Holy Initial Thoughts, Honest-to-God
‘To build or not to build?’ is more often than not a rather profound, mind-wracking, heart-churning, soul-searching question, be it for a young couple or a growing congregation, a thriving corporation or even an emerging country!
My initial reaction to the notion of building a national cathedral in Accra, Ghana was not that of excitement and welcome. No. It was a rolling of the eyes, a cynical “yeah right! another opportunity for sleek politicians to line their pockets with 10% kickbacks and oil their party’s campaign wheels.” The other thought was, “Really? In a country that is struggling to procure beds for the sick and school buildings for the young or even prevent needless deaths every year from perennial floods? Can this be a priority with our degree of poverty?”
Apart from the economic prudence and social justice angles, from a purely missiological lens I shuddered we may be treading the undesirable path of so-called ‘post-Christian’ Europe, ending up 100 years from now with beautiful but empty cathedrals only good for tourism or sale to condo developers, effigies of a dying spirituality.
Oh yeah, and there is the splendid basilica in Yamoussoukro next door, Notre Dame de la Paix, which I got to visit a couple of times during my one-year sojourn in Cote d’Ivoire as a United Nations peacekeeper. The grandeur of the edifice from afar and the sense of awe it evokes in the soul upon standing on those holy grounds left me schizophrenic how a nation with such a holy habitation would be at war or why this multi-million dollar erection is queerly perched in the middle of poverty and even backwardness. Apparently the papacy—John Paul II was the pope at the time—before agreeing to the 1990 commissioning of this expensive edifice in the midst of pauperism insisted that he would do this only on condition that a hospital be built in the vicinity of the cathedral (sort of to ease his conscience, I guess). As far as I know, then-president Félix Houphouët-Boigny acquiesced and that hospital was commissioned at that time but is still yet to be built, 28 years later!
That being said, my willingness to travel all the way from Montreal to Accra, at my own expense, to be part of a discourse organized by the National Cathedral Secretariat proved to me that my mind wasn’t completely closed to the idea. After taking pains to learn a wee bit more about the proposed project and spending some time last weekend in the United States with a former national head of a historical and significant Ghanaian church denomination, I am now almost won over. May I share why? (these are not his thoughts but mine)
1. More Than a Building
Part of my unease about hardware with no software, the case of Western civilization’s empty cathedrals but denying the power thereof, has been eased with the knowledge that this venture is a two-edged sword of both Cathedral-as-Infrastructure and Cathedral-as-Convenor. Those who say faith should have no place in the public space are ill-informed at best and naïve at worst. This is true and matters even in the West where the so-called post-Christian era has brought in its wake such a keen thrust towards secularism let alone in Africa where religion is life and life is religion, period. You can find loads of books and scholarly articles written about how culture and religion are inseparable in the African paradigm. The Cathedral seeks to facilitate conversations and critical public debates. There is one in the works, which I plan to attend, that has even garnered international interest. We have a lot to talk about, with so much faith and so little integrity, or so many churches but so much filth and poverty in Ghana. Then to act.
In this vein, I congratulate the National Cathedral Secretariat for not falling prey to what Jim Collins calls, “‘the tyranny of the ‘or’” but fully riding on the wave of “the genius of the ‘and.’” Not Cathedral-as-Infrastructure or Cathedral-as-Convenor but both/and. For my worry that we may be building concrete structures rather than investing in the actual making disciples of Jesus Christ, I say to myself, it isn’t either/or; it can, and indeed should, be both/and. For Christians who say our body is the temple of God so we need no other such national cathedral, may I again submit, it’s not either/or but both/and.
2. Just the Land
One of the most important things I have learnt about this project is that the government is only providing the land. None of the money for the proposed cathedral will be taxpayers’ money. The Christians who believe this will be honouring to their God are expected to put their money where their mouth is. That eases my concerns a bit, as a sort of secular state (that’s a fallacy; plus we should perhaps revise our stance on annually facilitating pilgrimages to Mecca on taxpayers’ money).
There are enough Christians and more than enough Christian cash to put up this building. Between a mere two denominations, say the Church of Pentecost (have you seen their conference centre at Kasoa?) and Lighthouse Chapel alone (go and see their Anakazo edifice in my hometown, Mampong-Akuapem), this is easy-peasy.It will be great to see the unity of the body of Christ in Ghana around this one national vision and mission.
As a budding missiologist, such a monument of the Christian faith is of much interest to me as a symbol of Christianity on a continent which only 100 years ago was considered ‘savage,’ ‘dark’, ‘primitive’ and ‘heathen.’ This year, 2018, is the first time in the history of the world, actually, that Africa has been billed as the continent with the most Christians in the world! Perhaps a national cathedral in Ghana, a major player in quantity and quality of Christianity on the continent, may be a worthy monument to mark this new era, to the glory of the God of Africa too.
3. Priorities and Prime Time
It seems like the only good time to build a national cathedral is after there is no poor person in Ghana, a perfect doctor-patient ratio, Malaria has been eradicated, everyone has a job or is in school… in other words after all our problems are solved. In that case, there will never be a good time to build a national cathedral then; not even a house of parliament or a national sports stadium.
The people of Israel, in the prophet Haggai’s day, kept saying “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.” God was upset and queried: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?” In this case, there isn’t even a national cathedral yet, in the first place, but many of us have two, three or more real estate properties. Now, this is what the LORD Almighty’s exhortation: “Give careful thought to your ways.”
This issue can really be a chicken-or-egg-which-comes-first one. Do we prosper first and then honour God with a national cathedral or do we honour God with one first and prosperity ensues. In the context of Haggai, God has no doubt which comes first: “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.”I will suggest you read the whole chapter here.
We may be saying that when all is well with us we will build a national cathedral for God’s glory; he might be saying, until you build me a national cathedral for my pleasure, honour and glory nil will be well with you.
4. Poverty as an Excuse
Smack in line with the above argument against the national cathedral is the argument about poverty in Ghana. Poverty around is not an excuse for not giving God our best. That is the whole concept of the widow’s mite. That being said, we must put on record that nobody has done more work in alleviating poverty, building hospitals and schools like the Church (Body of Christ) in Ghana. The Church has done enough for society to be worthy of a single ecumenical cathedral at her own cost! Aaba! Even then, this is not just a monument but a practical, functioning construction for the use of the State!
It will be interesting to research how much the Church has contributed against how much even government itself has done in bringing dignity to the lives of Ghanaians. If I may be permitted to be so crass I would dare say that perhaps the Church deserves a national cathedral even more than the government deserves a Jubilee House! Can the Church in Ghana do more? Sure! But even then the Body of Christ in this country has already done more than enough to bless Ghanaians of faith or no faith with education and healthcare, peace and prosperity, civics and commerce, ideas and industry, to deserve one national, non-denominational, inter-denominational edifice to the glory of this God of theirs!
Read some history! It is because of the Church that our local languages like Twi and Ga are written today. The first seeds of cocoa, Ghana’s export lifeline, were brought into the country by the Church; not Tetteh-Quarshie. Even our very independence from colonial masters was to a significant degree catalyzed by the work of the Church. The erudite Kwame Bediako asserts that “a number of educated Christians who had a clear self-consciousness as Africans and Christians and who were alive to their intellectual responsibility to their society” was “as a result of the impact of missionary Christianity on our people.”*
There was poverty in Ghana when we built Parliament House and the National Theatre and the Accra International Conference Centre and Jubilee House. “The poor you will always have with you.” We will come back to who said that and in what context shortly. That is not to say we be cursory or even fatalistic about poverty in our developing country and not do much about it; what is meant is that if we’re going to use poverty in society as a barometer, we will never build anything celebratory or symbolic except hospitals, schools, roads, prisons and such.
5. When Extravagant Worship is OK
Also related to the above is the fact that many shouting, “this is extravagant, oh so unnecessary when we have the poor,” actually don’t care a hoot about the poor! Ghana’s woes stem from that same educated middle and upper class. They remind me of Jesus’ treasurer, Judas.
If anybody loved and cared for the widow, orphan and poor it was Jesus. Yet on this one occasion when a woman with a past decided to pour her expensive jar of perfume on Jesus, he did not stop her. Everyone else thought this was a waste or rather extravagant at best (it was worth a whole year’s salary!) but Jesus thought it was the coolest thing ever—whole-hearted worship, giving God one’s very best.
The ‘everyone’ included Judas Iscariot, who was audacious enough to open his big mouth to say this perfume could’ve been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. He said that because he was a thief and wanted to help himself to additional cash in the kitty, yes, but more importantly Jesus made it clear that there is a place for pure-motived, no holds barred, deep-felt extravagant worship even in the midst of poverty. It was in that context that Jesus shockingly revealed that “the poor you will always have with you.” After investing the equivalent of all the cathedral project money into poverty alleviation programmes as church and government have done for decades, we shall still have poor people in our midst.
6. In the Hearts of Kings
Leaders like to build—figuratively and literally, people and things, systems and structures. I have heard “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases” quoted in untoward circumstances when Christ followers want to see a heart-change of sorts of someone in power regarding some policy and such. But if the Christian God does direct the hearts of leaders of nations, could it be that it is he who has put this desire in the heart of the Ghanaian president? That desire to build for God was put in world leaders like Darius, Cyrus, Nehemiah, Solomon… dare I say Houphouët-Boigny? Could it be that this desire has been implanted into the heart of Ghana’s President by God himself?
7. Might Not Be the One or the Time
Inasmuch as I just spoke to the notion that a leader’s desire to do something great for God is a fact of life and of history it isn’t always acceptable to God because it might not be for them in particular to do and/or the timing may not be right in God’s scheme of things.
The great Jewish king David loved God and once said to himself, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” A prophet called Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” That night, the LORD appears to Nathan and asks him to go back to David and disappoint him. Fascinating! Check out the full story here.
A national cathedral for Ghana may be a good thing, but depending on whether it is God’s will, especially vis-à-vis his timing, it may not be a pleasing and perfect thing in his sight. David rescinded; but provided all the resources for the one appointed and anointed to build that national cathedral to do so at the future perfect time—his heir and son, Solomon.
A Holier Conclusion
For Christians, the question to ask is if such a national cathedral in Ghana will bring glory to God at this time, be a blessing to people at all times and in any way deal another punch to evil to make the righteousness, love, joy, peace, and power of God’s kingdom more established on earth as it is for all time and all eternity in heaven. Will other nations travel from near and far to come and see this edifice and leave breathless in wonder—like the Queen of Sheba when he visited Solomon and his national citadel—that the God of Ghana is great and most greatly to be praised? At the same time, will the beauty and glory of our everyday lives (not just when we’re suited up for church but at Makola and the government ministries) match the magnificence of this national cathedral? As for where to site it as well as the maintenance culture and costs, that is another conversation.
Personally, I would like to give this national cathedral a chance. I am very close to echoing the response of city officials to Nehemiah’s national building proposal, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.”
*Bediako, Kwame. 2014. Christianity in Africa: The renewal of a Non-Western Religion. Akropong-Akuapem. Regnum Africa.
I seldom share my personal written prayers in public. But as the LORD mercifully answers this one may it be your reality too.
So where did I get the idea that I am somehow an originator of love when you are not only the pioneer, picture and perfector of love, you are Love itself; or rather should I say, Himself?
Today, I am happy to be caught in the cross-fire of the “love that flows between the Father and Son, enfolded in [your love], sharing [your] passionate love for the world” (Seamands 2005, 53). As I read about Jack frost (53-56) I wondered if the author had heard about me and retold my personal story with that pseudonym. You know I am a recovering workaholic, performance-driven, results-oriented, doing-more-than-being hard taskmaster, but you have been transforming me by the renewing of my mind since I began Fuller over a year ago. Thank you.
And now if indeed Jesus is sending me as you sent him (John 20:21), o then may I feel afresh “the profound awareness of the Father’s affectionate love [as] the foundation of [my] ministry” too (63). May my sending (achievement) be out of a sense of being (acceptance), well-being (sustenance) and being-ness (status) (63-64).
O how I often slip away from this foundation and time and again become a ‘loving worker’ instead of a ‘working lover’ (65). May I truly profoundly and experientially know your heart for me before having your heart for the nations (66-67).
What a stark reminder, dear Lover and Lord, that who I am is more important than what I do not just because the latter flows from the former but that my identity as a son is proto, prime and permanent. If even I did nothing, I will always still be your beloved son in whom you are well-pleased. Profound. Wow!
May you remove every known and unknown barrier to your love for me, may I feel your passionate phileo and even eros love for me—not just agape. I want to feel the fire of your love afresh in my soul.
So! back to the beginning. I am happy to be caught in the cross-fire of that divine love which “is a burning fire; in all its intensity and infinity…has but one object and but one joy, and that is the only-begotten Son” (72).
Thank you for including me in “the circle of that fiery love” (73). May I always be content to stay there—to just be.
Your co-lover and co-loved,
Seamands, Stephen. 2005. Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Sometimes one can’t help but wonder whether names of people in history were given to them after they lived the way they did (to capture the essence of their lives) or really before. Naming is important; names are prophetic.
Nana Ahomka Asamoabea Perbi
And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
Considering the challenge of name pronunciation in the global context we kept the idea of holistic, wholesome, bringing God pleasure in every area of her life and gave her the simpler version Ahomka, Nana Ahomka–God’s pleasure (delight). This emphasizes both our prayer that she will live a wholesome, holistic life, all aspects pleasing to the LORD, as well as that she will bring delight to us and everyone she ever encounters.
The middle name, Asamoabea, is that of my beloved paternal grandmother who was quite the prayer warrior and story-teller! And boy could she dance with delight to everyone’s delight!
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favour and good repute In the sight of God and man. 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 3:3-6)
From ‘Fantastic Four’ to ‘Fabulous Five’
Our children with their prophetic names (from left to right)…
- Nana Agyina (God’s Purpose) | Boy, 9 years
- Nana Adwenepa (God’s Paradigms) | Boy, 5 years
- Nana Ahotew (God’s Purity) | Girl, 2 years
- Nana Ashede (God’s Principles) | Girl, 7 years
- Nana Ahomka (God’s Pleasure) | Girl, 0 years (or 1 year, the Chinese way 🙂
In a world replete with success philosophy and prosperity preachers, how does one make sense of life when tragedy hits and one has no mental framework or faith construct to deal?
Man! February 2017 was one nasty month—humanly speaking. Tragedy upon tragedy. Within a week a friend and co-worker gets a stroke in Canada, a mentee loses her grandfather in France, another (a former international student in Belgium) loses her dad in Ghana… and then, as if these weren’t enough, the month wouldn’t end without the loss of a friend, a younger medical colleague in Ghana!
In fact, today is the ‘one-week celebration’ of the latter (picture above). Man! Akua was barely 31! I remember her beautiful countenance, not only from her internship days at the 37 Military Hospital when I was a medical officer there, but even only last November (2016) while I was in Ghana I had the joy of seeing her in her home. What had happened was that my bosom friend and brother Ben had urged me to come along with him to visit a school mate of his (and fellow church member) who had recently suffered a stroke. Prior to that I had no clue it was Akua’s home we were visiting—and that she was the young wife of Kofi. (As it turned out later, Kofi is actually the classmate of my wife, Anyele, from primary school).
My heart sank when I saw this hitherto strong young man, Kofi, wheelchair-bound and struggling to utter a few words from a seriously contorted face. This young man who was working in the insurance world had barely been married a few months when he suddenly had this stroke. Not even surgical interventions in the United Kingdom had salvaged the sad situation. Yet it was gratifying to observe his faith and how strongly supportive his young bride had been from the beginning up until the day I visited them, nursing him with love. The smart, pretty doctor now had a husband for a live-in patient.. O boy did I pray my heart and lungs out!
So imagine my shock last week. I had missed a phone call in the midst of busy travel. When I finally got to call back the conversation went something like this.
“Yaw, do you remember Kofi whom you prayed for?”
“Aha, of course.” (They say fear and faith don’t mix–well, at that moment I had both somehow.)
“Kofi’s wife just died!”
“Huh? Ben, what are you saying?”
“Yes oo, Yaw. Kofi’s wife, Akua, just died!”
“What?!!What’s going on?!” …
BRINGING IT HOME
Silence. Sadness. … Sometimes, life just doesn’t make sense and it would be interesting to hear what strictly-prosperity preachers have to say to these things. As for atheists and agnostics, I don’t know how they make it through life but for me, without God there is neither hope nor any sense to life. Yet then again, like David Bosch puts it in A Spirituality of the Road, “A god who provides all the answers becomes an explicable and comprehensible god, but also ceases to be God.” Bosch continues to share about an Albert Schweitzer (French-German physician and theologian) experience:
“Albert Schweitzer, in recollecting the ten years he taught catechism classes to boys in Strassbourg before the First World War, noted that after the war some of those young men thanked him that he had shown them so clearly that the Christian faith does not explain everything. This awareness enabled them to survive spiritually in the trenches, whereas many others, who were told that Christianity provided all the answers, lost their faith when faced with that which was inexplicable.”
But this was my shocker: the story of a piece of paper found among the ruins of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw after the Second World War. It is said to contain the last words of a certain Jew, Jessel Rakover, as he was preparing himself for an impending violent riot aimed at the persecution and massacre of his ethnic/religious group. The portion of Bosch quotes in A Spirituality of the Road gives me the chills. Here goes:
“I believe in you, God of Israel, even if you have tried your best to dissuade me to believe in you. I believe in your laws, even if I cannot approve of the way you manage things. … I bow my head before your majesty, but I will not kiss the rod with which you hit me. … I would like to say to you that at this moment, more even than in any previous period of our eternal struggle for survival, we, the tortured, the humiliated, buried alive, burnt alive, insulted, mocked, we, murdered by million, that we have the right to know: until when are you going to allow it to continue? …I say this to you because I believe in you, more than ever before, because I know now, with absolute certainty, that you are my God, because you cannot be the God of those whose deeds are the most horrendous expression of godlessness; … I die in peace, but not appeased; persecuted, but not enslaved; embittered, but not cynical; a believer, but not pleading; a man who loves God, but does not say amen to everything. I have followed God even when he had flung me down, tortured me, and made me an object of humiliation and derision. And these are my last words to you my angry God: all this will do you no good. You have done everything possible to destroy my faith, yet I am dying precisely as I have lived, saying: ‘Shma Yishrael, hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, one Lord.’ Into your hands, O God, I commit my spirit.”
WHAT WILL YOU DO?
Are there any more persons on earth who have such stubborn faith? Any of the Augustine stock who would say, “For it is better for them to find you and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you”?
I just got off the phone this morning with a young man who lost two of his sisters in a tragic car accident a few years ago—and their father is a world-renowned preacher who as at this very morning was still doing his Lord’s bidding in London, UK. That day, apart from the two teenage girls, four other church members lost this lives. I knew and loved those dainty girls, especially the 19-year old whom I had grown fond of since her high school days! Tell me, how many preachers have a theological framework that can contain such inexplicable tragedy?
It is easy to talk about tragic Job and weeping Jeremiah or even Jesus whose life was cut short at 33. But as the Japanese theologian Koyama challenges, “Jeremiah and Jesus place their trust in the forsaking God! There is no longer the faith built upon God’s obvious answer. They believed in God even though God did not answer! … Here we do not see an answer-theology. We see instead a relationship-theology.”
I ask again. In a world replete with success philosophy and prosperity theology, how does one make sense of life when tragedy hits and one has no mental framework or faith construct to deal with it? Who is willing to “place their trust in the forsaking God” in a ‘God-forsaken’ place? This is hard; but such is life.
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.
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.