At the end of each year, many folk like to look back and review the year, but I prefer to be looking forward to the year ahead. The events of 2019 are now fixed in history and there is nothing I can do with them except learn and adjust. But 2020 is history still to be written and each of us has a pen with which to write.
Trying to predict the future is an essentially futile endeavour, for no one but God knows what is yet to come. But what I, and you, can do is look to The Lord with hope and faith for the year before us. With this in mind, I offer you the two passages of scripture that are before me today.
Ephesians 5:15-17 ‘ Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is’.
Psalm 25:1-2, 4-5 “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God… Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long”.
One of my hopes for 2020 is that we would see a genuine Jesus-centred Holy Spirit revival sweep through our land. If you would like to find out more about the why, what and how of Revival then just click on the link below for my free book on this subject.
May the Lord bless us, keep us, and make His face shine on us in 2020.
‘When Darkness Falls’ is an appropriate title for this article because all of us living in South Africa have once again been subjected to rolling blackouts, euphemistically referred to as Load Shedding.
It is not just that this is inconvenient, annoying, and disruptive to us as individuals, it is also hugely damaging to our nation. Businesses lose sales, industries lose production, labourers lose jobs, and the country will very soon lose the last remnant of its investment-grade status. Of course, all this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg because Load Shedding is but one symptom of a nation in crisis. Sigh!
In the midst of this ‘controllable crisis’, as the government minister calls it, the jokers, quippers, and cartoonists are emerging. Many of their efforts are really funny and I wish I could see the smile on my wife’s face when she reads them on her smartphone, but I can’t because it’s too darn dark (just kidding). Making light of something is one of our ways of dealing with fear and hardship. If we can’t get the lights on, we can at least get lighthearted, right?
However, humour doesn’t help to actually solve our problems, personal or national. What we need are visionary leaders, well-conceived plans, competent managers, and a national will to make things work. But we need even more than this, we need both realism and faith, hope, and love.
We need to be realistic in our expectations. Eskom is not going to transform into a model energy provider in a few months or even a few years. As a nation, we will undoubtedly fall fully into the ‘junk’ investment status and that will add another blow to our staggering economy. The political smog of war will not suddenly clear revealing a great saviour figure. Rather, the ruling party will continue for quite some time to wage their internal power-struggle and the opposition parties will continue to be opportunistic snipers and disruptors. Crime levels will not even stabilise until a great number of jobs are created and the police and judicial systems cleaned up and revitalised.
Yes, it’s dark now, and it is bound to get darker before the dawn. And after that, well, I am still optimistic that with God’s grace and help we can realise our hope for a just and prospering South Africa.
Ok, so much for realism, but what about faith? The three prime virtues of the Christian Faith are Love, Hope, and Faith Love for our nation is called nationalism and whilst pride in and love for our nation is a heart-stirring ideal, it is more the result than the cause of transformational change. Our politicians can make any number of nation-inspiring speeches (even if we had inspirational leaders), but talk does not create reality. However, we can and should love our fellow citizens of all races, genders, and religions and help each other through the dark times. This we can all do, and perhaps “many hands make ‘light’ work” after all.
Hope is the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19); an anchor cast into the future that we grasp to pull our life-boat forward. However, hope must be based on trust and trust is based on positive past performance. Hope in something or someone we cannot trust is just wishful thinking and a ‘paper anchor’. But, there is one person we can trust, who’s past performance makes Him worthy of our trust, and that is Jesus Christ. We can and should put our hope in Him – in what He has done in giving us new spiritual life, in the example of His life and works, and in what He teaches us to be and do. We can place our hope in Him, and we can try as best we can to share this hope with those around us, both Christians and non-Christians alike.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)
The third of the golden-three is Faith. Christian faith goes beyond the more reasoned concept of hope to fully embrace the goodness, reliability, and divine perfection of God. It is a certainty that yields unconditional surrender to the object of our faith. And that object of our faith is not wealth, or education, or a politician, or ourselves, or even faith itself. The ‘object’ of our faith must and can only be the Lord Jesus Christ,God incarnate and eternally with us. This faith comes in part from a rational appreciation of the biblical evidence, but more so from the witness of the Holy Spirit within us. We can share this faith with others in our nation by helping them to ask for and receive the rebirth of their spirits in and through Jesus Christ.
So what can WE do in these dark times? We can be realistic about the prospects and time frame of national reconstruction, and we can be those who practice, share, and teach Faith, Hope and Love; and this we can do. And guess what? As we do this, WE can play a part in restoring our nation and making it a great place for our grandchildren.
Two scriptures that speak so powerfully to us in these days are Isaiah 60:1-2 and Matthew 5:14-16. Here they are. God bless you, dear reader. Be encouraged as you end 2019 and enter the new year that lies ahead.
Isaiah 60:1-2 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. NIV
Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” NIV
Have you ever left a church because it was too imperfect?
In this podcast, Dr Christopher Peppler discusses the matter of finding yourself hurt, angry or in disagreement with your church and leaving. If you, or anyone you know has had this thought, or are thinking of leaving then you need to ask yourself…
The church is made up of imperfect people among imperfect people. That may sound like a strangely clumsy statement, but let me explain.
In my last two articles, I made the claim that ‘our churches today are crowded with Christianised people who have never been born again. Therefore they have no real relationship with God, no empowerment for life and ministry, and no evidence of ‘salvation’ beyond rule-keeping, rituals, good works, and some bible knowledge.’ I did not mean this either as a criticism or as a judgement, but simply as my observation of a real condition. People who are not born again are imperfect at a fundament level of their being, yet in many ways, many of them are less imperfect than some of those who are born again. Spiritual rebirth is the start of a process of growth into the perfection of Christ Jesus, but it is by no means the end. Spiritually, we can be born again in an instant, but our thinking, character, emotions, words and actions need a lifetime before they even approach anything less than imperfection.
Jesus told a story of weeds and wheat and it goes like this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds , you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'” Matthew 13:24-30
The Nature of the Local Church
Every local church is a microcosm of the Kingdom of God, and each one is full of both weeds and wheat, unregenerate and spiritually regenerate people; but all imperfect people. A local church is neither a building nor a formal organisation although it usually has both of these elements. Rather, a church is a collection of people seeking to live out some form of community life centred on the Lord Jesus Christ. Strange as it may seem, one of the ways such a disparate bunch of people maintain themselves as a group, is the realisation that they are all imperfect. A church, by its truest definition, is a part of the body of Christ and should as such only be composed of born again people. An alien cell does not belong in a human body and an unregenerate person does not belong in the body of Christ, yet the formal and visible ‘church’ is a mixture of regenerate and unregenerate ‘cells’, the wheat and the weeds. This is the reality that Jesus acknowledged and addressed in His story of the wheat and the weeds. But, what I want to stress is that in so many ways the wheat is as imperfect as the weeds, and that too is a reality.
Now, here is another reality – a vast number of born again believers have given up on the church because of the imperfections they encounter within it. In terms of Jesus’ story, they have not pulled the weeds out of the church, but instead, they have pulled themselves out. They are examples, millions of examples, of self-weeded wheat. Most times they blame others for their isolation from the church. Someone hurt their feelings, marginalised them, or was mean to them. Or, the pastor taught things that they believed to be wrong, self-serving, or nonsensical. Or perhaps the music was too loud, or too boring. Or the sermons just didn’t ‘do anything’ for them… and so on. And it is true, we do sometimes get hurt in our church life, and sometimes things are just not what we would like them to be.
However, one of the main reasons that folk choose to leave a local church is because they cannot or will not recognise that they themselves are imperfect people among imperfect people.
A Personal Confession
I have a confession to make. Since retiring from pastoral ministry, I have more than once seriously considered leaving the local church I led for three decades. And the main reason for the very real emotional pain and turmoil I suffered at those times is that I became overwhelmed by the imperfection of some of those around me and underwhelmed by my own imperfection. In the past, I sometimes said to the congregation; “Hey, you may not like what I am saying, but you had better get used to it because we are going to be together for eternity.” It is only in my more self-honest moments that I realise that what I said applies equally to me. If we are born again of the Spirit, then we will be with each other in heaven for eternity, whether we like it or not. So we had better learn, now, how to get along.
Two Questions to Ask and Answer
Sure, most church leaders need to do regular reality checks on what is preached, how they lead, the realness of its fellowship, and so on. But, we who make up the bulk of the local church also need to conduct regular legality checks. The two main questions we each need to ask and answer are:
How am I seeking to become more like Jesus? and
How am I helping others to become more like Jesus?
Helping Others to be More Like Jesus
Part of helping others to become more like Jesus is to gently and respectfully share the need to be born again with those in the church (and also those outside the church) who’s lives do not evidence any real difference to the lives of unbelievers. This does not include moralistic pronouncements, implied criticisms, self-righteous condescension, or bible-bashing. Our approach must be what Peter had in mind when he wrote; ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect .’ 1 Peter 3:15
It certainly does not help others to become more like Jesus if we live one way in the church fellowship and another way in business, private life, and so on. It also doesn’t help others to pretend that we are perfect or to share only our successes, achievements and ‘good deeds’.
Then we all need to read, and re-read Pauls inspired instructions to us:
‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’. Ephesians 4:1-6
On a Lighter Note
After reading this article, I hope no one will be tempted to go off and start a new church called ‘The First Perfect Church’, for if I, or anyone else, joined it then it would immediately be even more imperfect than when it had just one member. 🙂
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. I have started a site called Classical Guitar SA to serve classical guitar enthusiasts in South Africa.