February 2010

Prisoners of Our Past

I put the phone back on its holder with a mixture of emotions ranging from irritation to condescension. I had been talking to a woman who, although in her seventies, regarded her failures and general unhappiness as the product of her childhood. She is not alone, for it seems that many people blame their parents, or childhood circumstances, for their current woes. I just don’t get it!

I understand that trauma, neglect, and abuse of any kind can leave emotional scar tissue, and that even late in life these negative legacies can trigger defense mechanisms in us. This I get. I also understand that sometimes people need to recognise the childhood causes of their reactions and some also need counselling or therapy to help them cope. What I don’t get is why anyone should believe that they are a prisoner of their past. Yet many people have bought into this strange concept and whole counselling practices have arisen to heal past hurts.

Parents are the obvious targets of these inner healing practices. Now I am a parent, and I realise just how many mistakes I made in raising my two children. There was no ‘How to be a perfect parent’ book available, and even if there was it would probably have been more wrong than right. Child-raising is a grand yet guilt-inducing process where one or more parents stumble through decades of trial and error, success and failure, joy and despair. However, this I know, that the vast majority of parents do the very best they can for their children. Sometimes we make monumental mistakes but mostly they are honest mistakes, made because of ignorance and not malice.

If these mistakes leave emotional scars on our children then the best we can do is to apologise, make right wherever possible, and learn to do better next time.
When I look back on my childhood, I realise that there were some events that indeed left me with emotional baggage, and I concede that my parents often played a role in these events. Yet I don’t blame them, because I know they were doing the best they knew how at the time. I also realise that for every unintended wrong they did me there were ten intended blessings that they imparted. My health, education, interests, and talents were all part of the good that they did me. For 17 years of my life I freeloaded off them, gave them problems, made unreasonable demands and seldom even thought to thank them. And now as a mature adult I should blame them for my deficiencies?! I think not!

The lady I had been speaking to on the telephone is not a Christian but even so it irritates and saddens me that she should blame her parents for her less than satisfactory adult life. She had no trauma inflicted on her, no abuse, and no physical deprivation. All she can claim is a feeling of not being loved enough, and that, she says, has caused her to be unfulfilled and unsuccessful. Give me a break! For those of us who are born again of the Spirit, there is even less reason to be prisoners of our past. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). We who know Jesus as saviour have been made new – we have a new self, created to be like God!

Yet, despite this glorious truth, thousands of Christians throng the sanctuary areas of countless churches every Sunday seeking ministry for some or other childhood hurt. During the week, thousands more take up lifetimes of pastoral attention and emotional energy as they seek counselling and inner healing.

For every one who really does need help there are a hundred who need rather to break out of the shackles of the past and walk thankfully and freely in the glorious reality of life in and with Christ Jesus.

 

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The Rose Among the Thorns

In my day, the gallant thing to say to a woman who found herself seated between two men was, “Ah, my dear, you are surely a rose between two thorns.”

Of course if I said that today to anyone under fifty she would probably think that I was strange to say the least. In the Song of Solomon the young woman refers to herself as a rose of Sharon (SS 2:1). Some commentators understand the Song of Solomon to be an allegory of Christ and the church and so, in this context, they see the rose as representing the Lord Jesus. Certainly, when Jesus was nailed to a cross between two criminals He was the epitome of a rose between two thorns.

The Apostle Paul uses the illustration of a thorn in his flesh to describe a troublesome condition that the Lord made use of to keep him humble and grounded; ‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh…’ (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to have it taken from him but Jesus’ answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (Verse 9).

There is no end to the theological debate that has ensued over the centuries as to what Paul meant when he wrote that his ‘thorn’ was a messenger of Satan sent to torment him, but I won’t attempt to deal with that in this short article. My view is simply that Paul had some sort of affliction that God used redemptively to keep him humble, and the devil used to torment him. There has also been endless speculation as to the exact nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Some say anxiety over his pre-Christian past; others claim it represented his critics such as the ‘super apostles’ of Corinth; yet others claim that Paul was an epileptic or that he suffered from migraines. It is all just speculation, but I believe there is reasonable evidence to show that Paul was probably suffering from deteriorating eye sight (GalatiRoseans 4:!3, 15 6:11).

Perhaps it is best that we do not know for sure what the thorn in the flesh actually was because it allows us all to relate to Paul in his affliction. If we are struggling with relationship problems or physical illness or infirmity we can relate both to Paul’s problem and also to Jesus’ prescription. When Paul asked for relief the Lord simply said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When Kenneth Taylor produced the original Living Bible he translated the first part of this verse as; “No. But I am with you; that is all you need.”

Here’s the thing – afflictions have the potential of drawing us closer than ever to Jesus. Often, it is only when we are experiencing a severe thorn in the flesh that we realise our need for the Lord and admit our dependence upon Him. We cry out to Him and ask Him to heal or release us, but sometimes He simply says, “No….. but I am with you and that is all you need.”
About a year ago a member of my congregation was living through the final stages of a long struggle with cancer. One Sunday after the church service I sat with her and asked her how she was doing. She told me that she knew she only had a short time left in this world. She expressed her concern for her family and confessed her moments of doubt and fear. Then she looked me in the eyes and said, “It has been hard Chris, but I would not swop this experience for anything because it has drawn me so close to Jesus.” She was not trying to be pious or religiously correct; she was expressing a profound and sincere truth – His grace was sufficient for her.

When times of affliction overtake us, as they surely will, we have but three possible responses. Some people become angry with God and cry out, if only in their hearts, “Why me? I don’t deserve this! Why don’t you do something God!” This is not a good response. God does not afflict his dearly loved children. If we think that He has sent our affliction upon us then it is likely that our anger will simmer in defensive resentment and any redemptive value in the ‘thorn’ will be lost. Other folk see their afflictions as an attack by the devil and focus their time and energy on fighting him to the death. As a pastor I have sometimes seen people reacting aggressively to their condition and putting themselves, and their families, through a pseudo-military campaign to combat the devils attack on their health and welfare. So often this yields very little other than strained relationships and the loss of valuable time, energy and resources. The third option is to see the affliction as an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus. He becomes the first priority for time and effort; other key relationships become the second priority; and then together with the Lord and our loved ones we utilise all the resources of medical science, society and church to journey together through the time of affliction. If we do this we will find the Rose among the thorns – we will find Jesus in the midst of our affliction.

 

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.