Truth Is The Word

despair

Hope Feature image

We All Need Hope

Top image of HopeWe all need hope. The three greatest qualities of a Christian are surely Faith, Hope, and Love. They are also the three greatest needs in the world today.

Hope Defined

We can best define love as unconditional self-giving, which is the opposite of the self-serving greed that drives our world system. One way of understanding faith is that it is complete trust and confidence in God. This is something greatly lacking in the world and, sadly, in much of the church where it has been replaced with faith in faith, or faith in wealth,  or science, or self.

A good way of understanding hope is that it is an expectation of future good, light shining in a dark place and an anchor for the soul.
For many of us, the light of hope has become small and uncertain. Our current politics, economy, the levels of violence, and our personal stress weigh more towards hopelessness than hope. The conditions in the Apostle Paul’s day were also violent and stressful yet this is what he wrote to the Christians in Rome: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13).  Here he identifies God as the source of hope, the one who gives us hope. But, hope in what?

Our Eternal Hope

Above all else, the hope that God gives to those who trust in him is eternal life. No matter what happens to us here and now, we have the expectation of continued life in the presence of the Lord. Paul expressed this in his letter to Titus as follows: ‘When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life’ (Titus 3:4-8).

Hope for Today

However, God also provides hope for here and now.  But what is the hope we have for the here and now?

  1. We believe that Jesus is always with those who are born again of His spirit. Matthew 28:20 records the Lord’s assurance to His disciples; “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
  2. Our hope is that, because of his presence in our lives, ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28-29).
  3. Our hope is based on the fact that we trust Jesus completely. John 4:1 has, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, you trust in God, trust also in me.” So we have the hope of his ongoing presence with us, the expectation that he works in and through us to achieve the highest good, and we hope because we trust him. Therefore, we can have the joy and peace of which Paul writes.

Romans 15:13 again: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’.

Joy is a calm delight, and Peace is quietness, rest, oneness with God, with others, and with life in general. These are the results of placing our hope in God, of believing him and trusting him.

When Joy and Peace are Missing

I have been going through a period where my level of joy and peace has been low. Among other things on my mind, the condition of our nation seeks to rob me of joy and peace. But many folk I know of have, in addition, very difficult personal circumstances, financial problems, relationship breakdowns, and so on. However, all of us need to take to heart Paul’s words in chapter 14 vs 17 of Romans: ‘For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Now, if this does not describe our current reality, then what should we do about it? Here are two things that I believe we should and can do to re-anchor our souls. Firstly, spend more time with the Lord in Bible and prayer dialogue. And I do mean ‘dialogue’, which is talking to him in prayer and reading the scriptures with an openness to his talking back to us. Secondly, we should cry out to him to fill us again with the sense of his presence and the Holy Spirit, and expect him to do just this. Luke 11:13 “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” These seem so obvious and simple, but it is often the obvious that we do not see and the simple that we do not do.

Overflowing Hope

However, the benefits of hope should not be restricted to our own joy and peace, because others are supposed to benefit as well. God expects us to overflow with hope to others. Hope is a bright light we are to shine into the darkness that engulfs so many fellow believers. Many are overcome by the darkness of the world today. Perhaps the deepest darkness engulfs those who have hoped in medicine, or advice, other people, or even in their own ideas of what God should do for them. Proverbs 13:17 states that ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.’ Do you think we can just say to these people, “It will come right”, or “you will soon be out of pain”, or “you will get a job”, or “in time your broken heart will heal”?  Is this the hope we are to offer them, the light we shine into their darkness? No, surely not! Rather, what we can and should do is shine a light focused not on their human expectations or fallible possible solutions, but on Jesus. Show them Jesus in their future, Jesus with them now, and Jesus working good in all things.

Three New Questions

As the face of Jesus our true hope comes into focus, then the questions so often asked in difficult times fade and three new questions form:

How can my current condition help me to know Jesus better?

How can this help me to become more like him? and

How can I use this to help others to know and become like him?

Hope for Unbelievers

However, we also need to shine the light of hope into the lives of those who are not yet believers in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:12 describes the condition of the unbeliever as ‘without hope and without God in the world.’ The Apostle Peter also wrote, ‘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 world needs light, our nations need the light of hope, and Jesus said that we are the light of the world because we know the source of light. the Lord Jesus Christ himself!

A Work of the Holy Spirit

Now, while Jesus is the object of our hope, the Romans 15 text makes it clear that the overflowing of our hope is a work of the Holy Spirit. When we, as individuals, overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, we call it renewal. When the church on mass overflows with hope in Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, we call it… revival! And what South Africa, and indeed the world needs now more than anything else, is true revival!

‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word’ (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Transformation in Christ

The transformative power of failure

Transformation top image

So many people fear failure that there is an actual word describing it… atychiphobia. Perhaps failure would not be so fearful a prospect if we realised its inherent redemptive power.

I have long believed that failure is a great teacher and that we cannot really claim to have learned something completely until we have failed at mastering it at least once. Failure has the power to change us for the better and to redeem us from unproductive ways of life. Yet, the other day I listened to a Pastor declaring that the ‘word’ God had given to him to live by and to teach was; ‘There shall be 100% success, zero failure, for everyone who comes to him in faith believing’. Hmmmm.

Consider some of the qualities we can gain when we fail; qualities like humility, perseverance, and patience. You must have heard that old line “God, please give me patience, and give it to me now!”, but how do we learn to be patient without repeatedly failing to be patient?

Perseverance too is a quality acquired only through repeated failures. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, was fired from two jobs for being ‘non-productive’. Years later, someone asked him how he felt about failing 1,000 times before he succeeded in producing a working light bulb. He answered, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps”. Of course, he did fail over and over again, but he understood that these failures were necessary steps to achieving his goal.

Elon Musk, the South African born wonder-child of the 21st century is a modern example of failure-wrought perseverance. He created a company, which he named SpaceX, to build rockets, but the first three failed at launch. Later, he developed the electrical Tesler car but it brought him to the verge of bankruptcy. Today he is worth in excess of 2.2 billion dollars!

In addition to patience and perseverance, we only learn humility and dependence on God when we fail to achieve real life success in our own strength. Carefully read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10:

‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong’.
This powerful declaration brings into focus the real nature of success. We sometimes fear failure because we see it as denying us success, yet failure is actually a potent means to true success. Paul defines success in terms of humility and dependence rather than arrogant independence, and in weakness rather than strength. Why? Because he understood that a major part of our life’s goal is to become like Jesus, and Jesus was the epitome of truly ‘successful’ qualities. J.I Packer wrote in ‘Knowing God’ that ‘so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being – that is, learning to know God in Christ’.

William Lane Craig tells the story of how he failed his oral examination for his doctor of theology degree. He and his wife had relocated to Germany so that he could study under the great Wolfhart Pannenberg, the same man who gave him a failing mark. William returned to the USA humbled and disheartened. However, the German higher education system allowed a failed candidate to retake the oral examination after a further year of preparation. He recounts how during that year he learned more theology than he had acquired in all of his formal education to that point. A year later, he was re-examined by professor Pannenberg and passed Cum Laude. William Lane Craig has now written or served as editor for over 30 books, he debates the sharpest minds in the non-Christian world, and was named as one of the 50 most influential living philosophers.

“Success is often the product of failure and great success the product of many failures.”

If you would like some examples of monumental failures recorded in scripture then examine the lives of people like Gideon, Jonah, and Peter. I believe that Peter would have been unfit to lead the early church if his flawed character had not been redeemed through failure. Of course, the greatest example of all is the Lord Jesus Christ. John 6:66 records how after hearing Jesus teach some difficult concepts ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him’. After His crucifixion there were only 11 disciples and 109 other men and women left (Acts 1:15), yet the ‘gates of hell’ (Matthew 16:18) have not prevailed against His church and as of 2010 there were over 2.2 billion Christians worldwide – one for each dollar acquired by Elon Musk, yet inestimably more valuable.

If atychiphobia is the word for the fear of failure, I wonder what word would describe the acceptance of failure as a means to true success. Let me know if you come up with one.

‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards’ Søren Kierkegaard, Danish Christian philosopher and theologian, 1844

 

Save

Save

Comparisons Feature image

Comparisons are odious

Comparisons Top Image

We have all heard the expression ‘comparisons are odious’, but it is not the act of comparing that stinks, but what we actually compare.

The phrase itself comes from the early 15th century but it was Shakespeare who popularised it when he adopted and modified it as ‘comparisons are odorous’ in his play ‘Much ado about nothing’. However, we all compare different things and usually find it a productive exercise. If I want to buy a new car, computer, or guitar, then I will go to a lot of trouble researching and comparing the different available options. Companies compare their products and processes with competitive offerings to see where they can improve. Descriptions of Best Practice often include benchmarks to assist practitioners to compare what they do against the best in the field. These types of comparisons are not odious.

The problem comes when we try to compare who we are, and not what we do, against others. Now this can be odious. If we compare ourselves with someone who we regard as ‘inferior’ then we could be setting ourselves up for a superiority complex, or condescending attitude, and those are odorous conditions. If we compare ourselves to someone ‘superior’ then we run the risk of experiencing feelings of worthlessness, anger, or even despair.

Paul wrote; ‘We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise’ (2 Corinthians 10:12).
In order to avoid these noxious attitudes, we have to separate our awareness of who we are from a self-evaluation of what we do. I am not what I can or cannot do; I am uniquely who I am. I can learn to do more or less or something different, but who I am is… well ‘who I am’. When I was still in pastoral ministry people, usually those leaving the church, sometimes told me that they appreciated my teachings. This used to irritate me a little because I am not simply a knowledge base or a competent teacher. So, I have tried to make a habit of saying to people I want to affirm, “I appreciate you” or “I value you”.

When I retired a few years ago, I had to recognise another aspect of this vital distinction. Church leaders, more than any other types of leaders, tend to merge their sense of identity with that of the church they pastor. When I retired, this identity conflation was no longer supportable (not that it ever was supportable). Who was I now? How was I valued? What was I living for? All very silly in hindsight, but anyone who has retired will understand. But my identity has never been ‘pastor’ but ‘child of God’.

‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1)

Another very unhealthy and unhelpful form of comparison concerns neither what we do, nor who we are, but what we receive. Here is a typical example:

You have been working for years for the same boss and have always given your very best. The volume of work gets too much for one person (Mainly, you think, because you have been doing so well) and so your manager hires someone else to work alongside you. You have no problem with this until you notice that the newbie talks a good talk but slacks off whenever the boss is not around. This annoys you, but annoyance escalates to anger, offence, de-motivation, and emotional pain when you learn that little-miss/mr-last-in is earning more than you earn.
Fortunately, the Lord Jesus had something to say about this sort of situation. Matthew 20:1-15 records His parable of the landowner who hires workers throughout the day but pays them all the same although some work the whole day and others just one hour. The ones he hired first complained, and this is what the boss-man said; “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?

Jesus ended his parable with the words, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”… so we trust that the last-in-first-out principle of stock clearance will apply to the newbie in my example. But, even if it doesn’t, just remember that ‘each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another’ (Romans 14:12-13). Hmmm.

Let me end with a somewhat fatuous home-grown proverb:

‘He who compares himself to another is as unwise as another who compares himself to him’ Huh?

 

Save

Save

Save

Follow by Email

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. I have started a site called Classical Guitar SA to serve classical guitar enthusiasts in South Africa.