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Debt Free

I heard a report the other day that there are about 50,000 dogs roaming the streets of Detroit. Why is this happening in poor bankrupt Detroit city? Well, a major contributor to both the city’s and the dogs’ demise is… debt. Many of the automotive workers in Detroit had been living beyond their means for years. As their house values went up so they borrowed more to live better on what they had not yet earned. Then came the world economic meltdown. Car sales slumped and tens of thousands of factory workers lost their jobs. House prices plummeted and many people found that the bonds on their homes were now higher than the actual market value of the property. So, in their scores, people closed up their homes, left the keys in the letterbox and their dogs on the street, and drove off! There is a correlation it seems between debt and stray dogs in Detroit.

It is unlikely that your dog is roaming the street as you read this article, but it could well be that debt is dogging your life. If so, this article is for you. Proverbs 22:7 reads ‘Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is slave to the lender.’ Now there are at least three ways in which a borrower is slave to a lender – legally, emotionally, and spiritually. As I am not an attorney I will address only the last two.

High debt levels cause stress and worry and these in turn can cause ill health, marital problems, and unethical behaviour. Financial problems constitute one of the major causes of marital breakdown and divorce, and debt usually underlies financial problems.
Debt levels can also lead to the reprioritisation of family roles and functions. Dad wants to spend time with his children; he wants to be home at five to bath the baby and read stories to his six year old, but he can’t because he works until eight every night to earn enough to service the family debt. The wife often would like to be a stay-at-home mum but she can’t; she has to take an office job to pay for the house and the cars.

Debt also leads to limited giving and an inward, self-preserving outlook on financial life. It limits scope, dreams and vision and, perhaps worst of all, it affects ones Christian witness.

Slavery to debt is not just a matter of the mind and emotion, it also has profound spiritual implications. Jesus said “No one can serve two masters… you cannot serve both God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Mammon is a personification of worldly wealth; it is a false god whose castle and seat of power is… debt. Jesus calls on us to live in daily dependence on Him, trusting Him for what we need (Matthew 6:3-34). Mammon says; “Don’t listen to him, depend on me and I will allow you to live well today on what you have not earned and do not deserve.” Many of the residents of Detroit listened to Mammon rather than Jesus, as did half the western world’s population, and we are all still suffering from the collapse that resulted. A major underlying cause of the economic melt-down was that people and corporations lived greedily on what they had not yet earned – they lived on debt.

Just in case you think that all this doesn’t apply to us in South Africa, here is a sobering statistic. In 2012 the average level of household debt to disposable income was 76%! How do you shape up against that disturbing average? What is your level of credit card debt? Overdraft? Hire purchase agreements? House mortgage bonds? To measure your degree of financial slavery from another angle ask the question; ‘How much do I give to my church, family and society every month, and just how much money do I save and invest?” The smaller the figure, the more mammon has you in bondage.

Of course the key question that should follow is; “What can I do about my condition of slavery to debt?” Well, it took David only five stones to defeat the giant Goliath and it only takes five simple principles to bring Mammon to his knees. This is not rocket-science, it is simple rock-science. Here are the five ‘stones’:

  1. Stop complaining about how the bank made you do it, own up to the fact that you got yourself into debt, and decide right now to change. Make a solemn covenant before God and your family that you will not incur any further debt ever again. Cap your debt here and now.
  2. Declare to your family and to all who will listen that your new financial priority is to become debt free. Proclaim that you are going to take Romans 13:8 seriously and literally; ‘Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another.’
  3. So far it’s been easy – now comes the hard part. Eliminate assets that are surplus to your real needs. Downscale to a smaller house; sell your holiday home; downsize your car. Now use the funds released to pay off your debt, starting with credit cards and overdrafts, then HPs, and finally home bonds. Don’t prevaricate and justify – just do it.
  4. Next, budget to live a more simple life and use the surplus each month to increase your debt repayments. Cut entertainment, holidays, restaurant meals, clothing, and gadgets.
  5. Lastly, agree with your family that all windfall income will be used exclusively to pay off debt. Tax refunds, inheritances, and bonuses… everything that isn’t normal salary income.
This rock-science really works. Nearly three decades ago I left an executive position in a bank to pastor my local church. I had debt at that time and my move into full-time ministry cost me 50% of my monthly income. My wife and I immediately placed our trust in the Lord Jesus and put the five principles outlined here into practice. Within just a few years we were debt free… and we still are!
The borrower is slave to the lender but with God’s help and some common sense you can get out of financial slavery. It is not that hard, and actually its quite fun and very satisfying. Take up the five ‘stones’, load them into your financial slingshot, and watch mammon fall prostrate before you in Jesus name!


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So what?

As I sit writing this article, the television news channel is blaring on about the escalating violence in Libya and the renewed dissatisfaction in Egypt. The price of crude oil is about $115 a barrel and the economic futurists are sharpening their pencils in preparation for a series of doom-and-gloom articles. I change channels and what do I find? I find an American right wing ‘evangelist’ figuratively mounting one of four horses of the apocalypse! Daniel’s king of the South is advancing, the king of the West is about to intervene, and all hell is about to break loose on earth!

So here is my question. So what? So what if the so-called Libyan rebels disrupt the oil production and as a result the price per barrel breaks through $120 and continues to climb? So what if America fulfills Chavez’s cynical prediction, rushes in to secure its oil supplies and as a result China gets militant? Don’t get me wrong. These things would not be good for anyone and I don’t say ‘so what?’ as if they don’t matter. Rather, my question exposes the fundamental problem that ordinary folk like us have, and that is knowing how to respond to the things that are happening in our world; ‘so what are we supposed to do?”

comet comingIf North Africa blazes in social unrest and the price of petrol, and consequently almost everything else, rises steeply… so what are we supposed to do about it? If indeed the TV evangelist is correct and we are witnessing the start of The Tribulation… so what are we supposed to do? Do we sell up everything and head for the hills? Do we accost everyone we meet with an escape-from-the-hell-to-come gospel? My answers are no, and no. We are supposed to be light to the world, not lamps in hiding. We are called to be disciple-makers, not harvesters of expediency driven ‘commitments’. So what then are we supposed to do?

I believe that the book of Hebrews gives us an answer to the ‘so what?’ question. Hebrews 10:19-25 reads; ‘Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’  So what should we do? We should draw near to God, hold to the hope we have, and encourage one another.

The most important thing in these times is to be close to Jesus. The imperative for this hour of human destiny is to spend time in fellowship with the only one who doesn’t change, who will not let us down, and whose secure friendship endures for all eternity.

Now is the time to seek the Lord while He may be found. Nothing is more important than a rich relationship with the Lord Jesus.
Also, a most powerful testimony in these times is the living testimony of a person full of hope. Not hope in materialism, or politics, or religion, but hope in the living God. ‘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 3:15-16)

The third thing we should do is to expend time and effort on the church fellowship. We need each other. We need to be encouraged and we need to encourage others. Negative, destructive scare-mongering is not the right response to our times; words of faith, hope and love are.

So what? So press in to God, give a witness of hope to the world, and encourage one another.


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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.