March 2020

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TruthTalks Sermon: Jesus in the Perfect Storm

Top ImageThe Covid-19 virus has now hit South Africa, as it has so many other parts of the world. Instead of panicking, we should look to the Lord Jesus both as our example and object of faith.

I was so pleased to have been able to preach the first sermon from our church’s online platform designed especially for the period of national lock-down. The text is Mark 4:35-41 and the title says it all.

You can listen to the sermon by clicking on the “play” button below and if you want to share it with your friends and family then please do so by simply clicking on one or more of the social media icons at the foot of this post.

If you prefer watching me preaching this message (although I don’t know why anyone would want to  ) then just click HERE. You can also read the article I wrote as a transcription of the sermon by clicking HERE.

May God be with us all and keep us safe and spiritually vigorous during these very challenging times.

TruthTalks Sermon: Jesus in the Perfect Storm Read More »

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Jesus in the Perfect Storm

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A perfect storm occurs when a warm wind collides with a cold wind over a warm and wet area. The result is often a very intense and destructive storm.

Here in South Africa, we seem to be experiencing our own ‘perfect storm’. For some time now our nation has been ‘warm and wet’ with corruption, crime, recession, and the like. Then came the warm wind of even more electricity load shedding than last year, followed closely by the cold wind of Covid-19. The results of the ensuing storm are stock exchange and rand collapse, rapidly deepening economic crisis… and panic! Like three apocalyptic horse-men with the 4th grim reaper not far behind!

So, in this brief article, I want to take the account of Jesus in the storm as a model of how we should behave in these crazy times.

The Mark 4:35-4 Account of Jesus in the Storm

“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  NIV
The storm that Jesus’ disciples found themselves in was furious with waves crashing over their boat and threatening to swamp them. Luke 8 records that ‘they were in great danger’. Very much like a localised micro version of the storm that currently besets us and the whole world.

It Happens Suddenly

One of the details I want to highlight is given in the Matthew 8 account, which records that it all happened suddenly. Here in South Africa, we could track the Covid-19 events unfolding first in China and then in Italy and other countries. We got some idea of the health risks, but we had very little grasp on just how suddenly it would arrive, how quickly it would spread, and how devastating it would be to the economy. It happened suddenly.

I will pick up on other necessary responses in a moment, but here I want to touch on a less obvious response required from us – the need to be adaptable. Now, Covid-19 is physically hardest on the over 70’s age group and it is this same demographic that has the most trouble learning to adapt. Adaptability is the capacity to rapidly change our attitudes, actions, and lifestyles to meet the challenges of new situations. So, 70 years older or not, we all need to acquire this ability, and for this to happen we need to be humble and obediently dependant on the Holy Spirit.

We Are Not Alone

A second point that I want to draw from the account of Jesus in the storm is the fact that the disciples were not alone. They had each other in the boat and they were accompanied by other boats. In South Africa, we are fortunate to be able to draw on the collective knowledge and experience of the best minds in the entire world. Not only are they in similar boats to us, but they have been longer in the storm. We are not the only ones dealing with a financial collapse, health risks, and social isolation. And in addition to this, we as Christians are together in the boats of our local churches and the same Jesus who accompanied the first disciples is the one who said, “Surely. I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”

What Do We Expect Jesus To Do?

Those first followers seemed not to grasp this reality because they were terrified and cried out, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Of course, Jesus cared for them just as He cares for us. However, a more valid question occurs to me: ‘what did they expect him to do? And by extension, what do we expect him to do in our storm?

Well, it’s clear from their reaction after Jesus supernaturally calmed the storm with a word that they hadn’t expected him to do that. Perhaps they expected him to help them bail, trim the sails, toss out anchors and so on – “wake up rabbi, all hands on deck or we all perish!”

Practical As Well as Faith-Filled

Note, by the way, that although Jesus rebuked the storm and their lack of faith, he did not rebuke their efforts to save the situation. I realise that I am ‘reading a little between the lines’ here, but it is a reasonable deduction. Some of the disciples were seasoned fishermen and would hardly be having a prayer meeting in the boat during a terrible storm.

We, like them, need to be practical as well as ‘spiritual’ in times like this. This is consistent with what Peter later wrote in 1 Peter 4:7 and 5:8: ‘The end of all things is near. You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray… Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant, and cautious at all times.

So, my take away here is that we too need to be wise and responsible, thoughtful and purposeful. Not in place of being faith-filled, but in addition to it – Faith and responsible action working together. Here is what Martin Luther wrote to his fellow pastors when the Bubonic Plague struck Wittenburg in 1527:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us… then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If my neighbour needs me however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.”

Fear is an Enemy

Unfortunately, our response to a crisis is often either presumptuous ‘faith’ or debilitating fear. Some shout at the devil and bind storm-demons, while other cower and have panic attacks – “Master, master, we’re going to drown!” Now fear triggers a fight or flight reaction that can save our lives if we are being mugged, but in a prolonged crisis, it clouds our judgement, precipitates rash actions, and is the enemy of faith. And if you don’t think that otherwise reasonable people can respond to fear like that then consider:

  • Those who buy-up everything in the supermarkets including all the toilet rolls
  • And those who sell their equities at 30% down from last year’s values and thus ensure that they actualise their losses.
  • What about those who run off at the mouth with every imaginable conspiracy theory and disastrous scenario, effectively spreading their fear to others.
  • Not to mention the young and middle-aged who swamp the doctors and clinics with demands for testing and treatment when they know they only have about a 1 in 100 chance of getting really sick and thus putting the people who need to be tested at risk.
What did Jesus say to his disciples concerning this? “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

What is Faith?

Once again a question suggests itself to me: ‘What did Jesus mean by faith?’ By logical deduction, he could not have meant that they should have calmed the storm themselves, by faith. They had no idea at that time that such a thing was even possible for Jesus to perform, let alone themselves. Equally, Jesus surely could not have meant that they should have had faith in their physical seamanship abilities to save the boat. He would also not have meant ‘faith in faith itself’ because this aberrant doctrine had not yet been dreamed. Only one meaning appears to be reasonable –“Where is your faith in me?”

He was in the boat with them all the time and if they had faith in who he was then they would not have been so scared. And so it is with us: Jesus must be the sole and only reasonable object of our faith.

The Climax of the Story

Now for the climax of the story. Jesus rose from his rest, rebuked the storm with a word… and it obeyed him! God displayed His awesome power and glory and the result was:

  1. The storm died as suddenly as it has come to life,
  2. His disciples realised just who this Jesus was and wondrously proclaimed, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

We can get so caught up with our preparations and responsible actions that we lose sight of the huge potential of our situation for God to act miraculously. Could this national and international crisis be a time when we will see God arise, speak forth His word, and act? Could this be a time ripe for revival?

 

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A Rant Today to Keep the Devil Away

Top ImageIn naming this article ‘A Rant Today to Keep the Devil Away’ I am not just butchering a common adage, but summing up my purpose in writing this post. I don’t rant often, however when I see the word of God tortured and butchered, then ranting seems most appropriate.

By ‘Word of God’ I mean, firstly, the Lord Jesus Christ, and secondly, the inspired scriptures (the bible) that reveal His nature, character, principles, and priorities. Hardly a month goes by that I don’t come across some or other form of ‘Word butchering’, but when I am personally impacted in one week by not one but two such acts of spiritual brutality, then I feel its time for a bit of a rant.

My first encounter of the week was with an attempt to build a theological foundation for dominion theology almost exclusively on the authority of three very well known charismatic teachers, one now departed and the other two alive and kicking. The second encounter was with someone who had taken issue, ever so kindly, with the leader of the small group they are attending. Before I give examples and analysis, I must first make a disclaimer.

Why I Don’t Name Names

I very seldom call a person out by name when I  write or preach into what they say or do. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The people who teach aberrant theology, prominent as they may be, are not the focus of my attention. I am more concerned about helping folk to recognise false teaching and false prophets than I am on naming and shaming the culprits.
  2. Before I would think of calling someone out I would need to carefully study their teachings and practices in context and then, preferably, have interacted with them personally at some level. I have not met either of these preconditions concerning my sources for this article.

The Big Bad Picture

I am aware that for some readers, too much detail and too long an article, detracts from their appreciation of the content. For this reason, I will first describe the overall problem and the heart of my rant. After that, I will give some details of the encounters with the faulty theology and biblical interpretation I have recently encountered.

I have previously written about Hyper-literalism and flawed semantics HERE, so I won’t bang on about these issues again in this article, although what I want to highlight does flow from these two poisoned wells.

The people whose faulty interpretations and theology I am ranting about here all claim to respect the inspiration of the bible and to love Jesus. They make a point of stating that they are both biblical and Jesus-centred in their approach. However, being truly ‘biblical’ does not allow taking texts out of context, creating elaborate and ultimately illogical word chains based on a word or two in the original languages, or leaping to unwarranted conclusions in order to make the text mean what they want it to mean (eisegesis). And to be Jesus-centred does not allow detracting from His uniquely divine-human nature, nor playing fast and loose with what He taught.

     One of the key proof-texts for a brand of theology that is the cause of my current distress is the last part of Psalm 138:2, which the NKJV translates as ‘For You have magnified Your word above all Your name’. This is a carry-over from the KJV of the bible translation and is regarded by every major theologian I have consulted as a very poor translation of the Hebrew. The NIV translates this verse far more accurately as ‘for you have exalted above all things your name and your word’. The bible does not proscribe God, but He, through the agency of His Word (Bible and Jesus), proscribes all other things. From this deformed root has grown a theology that teaches that what certain people understand of the scriptural revelation binds God and proscribes what He can and can’t do. For instance, they claim that God cannot do anything on earth without the participation of human agencies… because He has said that man has sole dominion over the earth. The reasoning is as follows:

  • When God created man, He said: “and let them rule over.. all (non-human) creatures” (Genesis 1:26). Therefore, if mankind has dominions that means that God has given up His divine dominion.
  • As a result, they claim that God has no jurisdiction on Earth and cannot even enter the physical realm without human permission. So, not only has what has said become His master, but so have the humans who decide what He meant by what He said. In my view, this theology is both heretical and blasphemous and evidence of massive human arrogance. Genesis 1:26 ‘says’ no more than that God permitted mankind to look after His creation. It is not an irrevocable mandate or power of attorney and there is a multitude of biblical passages proclaiming God’s ongoing sovereignty over all things.

     From this warped understanding of scripture, at least one of the culprits I have read reinterprets the whole mission of the Lord Jesus and the prime purpose of all Christians. According to him, Jesus came not to reveal the Father, nor to provide eternal life for those who believe, but to reestablish a physical Kingdom of God on earth and to enlist people into His colonisation project. 

My First Upsetting Encounter of the Week

My first encounter of the week concerned the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’.  I have already described the misconception that Jesus’ purpose on earth was primarily to announce that the world was now a colonisation of the heavenly Kingdom of God and that His disciples are actually its ‘kings’. Here, I will summarise one of the arguments for this as follows:

They contend that God’s purpose is to govern the earth through His followers. This, they say, is made clear in two Old Testament scriptures. Genesis 1:26-28, which is part of the creation account, where two Hebrew words are translated as ‘rule’, and Psalm 8:3-6 where another Hebrew word translates in a similar way. This is used to ‘prove’ that God’s purpose for each of us is to partner with God and each other in ruling the world.

Of course, the deciding factor in biblical interpretation is not simply the meaning of particular words in the biblical account, but what I call ‘the first intended meaning’. We determine this by;

  1. Considering the context of the word and passage
  2. Referring to what Jesus said and did,
  3. Surveying what the rest of the bible teaches,
  4. Considering the meaning of the actual words and syntax of the original languages used.

A reasonable and consistent understanding of ‘dominion’ relates to stewardship and care of the natural world rather than dominance over it. While He walked this earth, the Lord Jesus was an example of this ‘care’ concept both in what He taught and how He acted. However, the line of reasoning used by the dominion-now protagonists, to whom I am referring, centres rather on one of Jesus’ ascriptions as ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ used twice in the book of Revelation (Revelation 17:14 and 19:16). Their argument is as follows:

The words ‘King’ and ‘Lord’ are in the singular tense, but the words ‘kings’ and lords’, indicate that we are all kings and lords born as a god-class to have dominion over the world.

However, the context of this passage in Revelation is much more obviously understood as a simple reference to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus over all others, particularly those who are earthly kings.

My Second in a Week Run-in with Aberrant Thinking

As if all this was not enough to trigger a good rant, I was speaking to someone about the inter-church bible study group they attended. The leader had just announced that the next book they would be studying would be by yet another well known, now deceased, misguided teacher. Note well that the ‘bible study’ in mind actually consisted of a string of books rather than the bible itself. The person I was talking to informed the group leader that what they were teaching was neither biblical nor theologically sound. The leader, who claimed to be passionately committed to biblical authority, gave a defense that floored me when it was recounted to me. In essence, this is how it apparently went: “All teachers are human and not perfect but the Holy Spirit inspires some to teach profound truth. Paul was human and so what he wrote in the bible was no more authoritative than what these other ‘men and women of God’ have written”. So much for the unique inspiration of the bible then!

Now for the Real Rant

I could write a whole lot more, but I think I have made my point. The object of my concern is not as much for the authors concerned as it is for the thousands of Christians who believe them and teach others and then propagate their doctrines. Of the three well-known teachers, I referred to in this article, two are dead and buried and I know with certainty that the other has been challenged many times by many sound theologians and church leaders, all to no avail.

I realise that most of you who read this post will be just as amazed and outraged as I am, but there are some folk who are sent this article, or just stumble upon it, who really need to catch a wake-up call! To those readers, I say:

“Please, for the love of God, and for your own sake, stop buying into and propagating false doctrine, half a ‘gospel’ message, and an unbiblical portrayal of Jesus. There is so much excellent teaching out there and so many churches where the truth is faithfully proclaimed. Commit yourself rather to seeking the truth, for Jesus himself has said: ‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you’” (John 16:12-14).

God have mercy on us all, and God bless us all.

 

 

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TruthTalks Sermon: Things we Don’t Know we Don’t Know

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When it comes to understanding the bible, we sometimes encounter things we don’t know we don’t know.

Because we do not live in early church times, we sometimes don’t appreciate the different cultural and religious contexts of scripture. It is hard for us to grasp the things that the people of Jesus’ day would have readily understood.

In this TruthTalk Dr Peppler gives an example from John 6:1-15 and then explains what we should do when we come to a part of the biblical text where we suspect that we just don’t know what we don’t know.

This sermon is both interesting and spiritually inspirational. If you want to share it with your friends and family then please do so by simply clicking on one or more of the social media icons at the foot of this post.

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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.