Saturday, December 30, 2006


I received the following questions by e-mail and decided to include it and my reply (with permission) on my blog.

“I had a quick question for you, though I don't know how ‘quick’ it really is. I am trying to do ‘research’ on a question, and, naturally, didn't know where to start, so I decided I would consult a few pastors I know and trust!”

“My question is more of a scenario (it is not my scenario, but it is applicable): If a woman feels the Lord is calling her to go (be it to missions or something else) and her father says ‘No, that is not the Lord's will for you,’ what does she do? Is it a sin to not follow where she feels the Lord is calling her, or is it a sin to go against what her father believes is the Lord's will? Is there any Biblical basis for this? Is the Old Testament scenario about ‘If a daughter makes a vow before God and her father overhears he can release her from that vow’ applicable still?”
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I believe that there are clear biblical answers to your questions, although there will probably be many who disagree with me. I will try to deal with the relevant Scriptures.

I’m assuming that the woman you are speaking of is old enough to have left home, or though living at home is capable of leaving. I’m also assuming that her father is a believer and is sincere in his convictions.

First, the command, “Children obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20) is in the context of the home, and does not apply to older children. While we are to honor our father and mother, this does not always include obedience.

Even though the New Testament gives clear instructions about authority, this does not constitute a “chain of command.” Rather we obey, submit, etc., because God has placed authority figures over us. We might say that is part of His method of governing. Romans 13:1-7, though speaking of human government, makes this clear. Peter in 1 Peter 2:13-21 also speaks to this issue. He tells servants to be submissive even to unreasonable masters, and even to the point of suffering, not because they are part of the “chain of command,” but because of our conscience, our witness and the example of Christ.

But there are exceptions. When the apostles were commanded by the religious authorities of their day to stop preaching Christ, they refused to obey (Acts 4:18-20; 5:29).

So the principle is simple (though not always easy): We are to obey God at all times. One aspect of that obedience is submission to human authority as long as that authority does not demand disobedience to God’s clear commands. But when the human authorities demand of us disobedience to God’s clear commands, we are to obey God. This obedience/disobedience may cost us dearly, as the Scriptures and history bear out. Remember Micaiah? Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego? Daniel? The long string of martyrs from the first century till now?

Now I’m not saying this young woman should just “blow-off” her father’s desires. She is to honor him. She needs to find his reasons for saying “it is not God’s will for you.” Perhaps he knows something about her that he feels might cause her to fail. She should seek his wise advice.

Secondly, we don’t need to “feel” a subjective “call” to missions to go. We have the clear commands of Jesus to go. Matthew 28:19, 20, is a command. It doesn’t require feelings. Also see Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46, 47; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8. These commands are not just for the Apostles and a few “called” 21st century Christians, they are for all of us. Our only problem is determining how and where to go.

Thirdly, Jesus’ call to discipleship demand that we choose Him over all other relationships. These include father and mother as well as others. For example, see Matthew 10:37-39: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.“ Jesus even warns that this can lead to family conflict. Verses 34-36: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

Look at the three would-be disciples in Luke 9:57-62. Jesus seems to be demanding of them that they turn their back on their family.

I don’t believe the Old Testament teaching on vows is directly applicable to believers today. The Mosaic Law is part of the covenant God made with Israel, and while it gives us some clear illustrations of God’s regard for vows, we are to obey the Law of Christ. See Matthew 5:33-37. In verse 34, Jesus says, “But I say to you, make no oath at all, …” In verse 37, He says, “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’; and anything beyond these is from the evil one.” We should be careful about making vows.

Hope this helps.

Bill Ball

Thursday, December 14, 2006


In the little book THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE, the author, John D. Barrow, attempts to explain, in words understandable by laymen, how he believes the universe had its beginnings about 15 billion years ago in what is commonly known as the “big bang.” He speaks of an “initial singularity” at the beginning, at which “all the mass in the universe is compressed into a state of infinite density” (pg. 37). A bit further on (pg. 45), he asks a number of questions: “If the universe did begin at a singularity from which matter appeared with infinite density and temperature, then we are confronted with a number of problems in our attempts to push cosmology any further. ‘What’ determines the sort of universe that emerges? If space and time do not exist before that singular beginning, how do we account for the laws of gravitation, or of logic, or mathematics? Did they exist ‘before’ the singularity?” His answer is quite astounding: “If so -- and we seem to grant as much when we apply mathematics and logic to the singularity itself – then we must admit to a rationality larger than the material universe.” Earlier (pg. 27) he says “ … the starting state of the universe must have been very highly ordered, and hence extremely special and perhaps governed by some grand principle of symmetry or economy.”

The apostle John begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (1:1-3). Our English word, “Word,” is a translation of the Greek word “Logos.” Now, logos means much more than our English translation would have us think. John was using one of the most complex and profound theological and philosophical concepts He could find. THE GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON of Liddell & Scott, takes 2-1/2 pages to define Logos – 5 columns – 3-1/4 inches x 9-1/2 inches each of very fine print.

The word had a broad range of meanings over almost a thousand-year history. Though sometimes it had the meaning of “verbal expression or utterance,” it rarely meant a “single word,” but “usually a phrase.” However, among the various other definitions given, were “proposition,” … “reason, ground” … “reason as a faculty” … “creative reason.” Perhaps “rationality” would not be an incorrect translation.

Logos was also used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament – ca. 200+ BC) to translate the Hebrew “Dabar” – “word” (Psalm 33:6; ”by the Word of the LORD, the Heavens were made”).

So maybe Mister Barrow is on to something. Perhaps he and John are saying the same thing. If we replace John’s “Word” with Mr. Barrow’s words, we have “In the beginning was the ‘grand principle of symmetry or economy’, ‘the rationality larger than the universe’ and the rationality was with God and the rationality was God.”

I believe Mr. Barrow is “not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

But we must go farther than scientific hypotheses can take us. John goes on in verse 14 to tell us that the Word not only was the origin and originator of all things, but that the Word entered into and became part of the universe that He had created. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

And that’s what we celebrate at this season of the year.

Bill Ball

Friday, December 8, 2006


When some friends of mine who are in the ministry told me they belonged to an organization called the “Free Grace Society,” I asked them who Grace was and if she had been incarcerated unjustly. I had this mental picture of people with placards bearing this slogan, picketing at Huntsville State Prison.

Then it was explained to me that this was an organization to promote the teaching and preaching of “free grace.”

Now, I don’t belong to this organization, but I am in agreement with their objectives. However, I have some questions:
-- Isn’t this redundant?
-- Isn’t grace, by definition, always free?

Apparently some think not. And many more are uncertain.

“Grace” has become another one of those terms that has to be defined by a synonym, like “true facts.” (See CHEAP GRACE.)

I guess a definition is in order here. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says: “ … its meaning is that of undeserved blessing FREELY bestowed on man by God – a concept which is at the heart not only of Christian theology but also of all genuinely Christian experience” (pg. 479).

Berkhof’s Systematic Theology says it “ … generally means favour or good-will. … The fundamental idea is, that the blessings graciously bestowed are freely given, and not in consideration of any claim or merit” (pg. 427).

When we speak of God’s grace, we may be speaking of any number of “favors” that God extends to man (and woman), but we are primarily speaking of His grace in Christ. (Ephesians 2:8, 9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”)

We are reconciled to God through the death of His Son. (2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”)

All that is required on our part is faith plus nothing. (Romans 4:5: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”)

These passages and many others like them seem to be clear, yet there are many who object. And it gets personal. I have been accused by some of my students and others, “You are teaching that all a person has to do is make a profession of faith and then they can live as they please! Those people who do this aren’t saved!”
Some object that there must be some sort of “commitment,” along with faith, or that faith must be redefined to include commitment. Others object that there must be some criteria used to distinguish between “true believers” and “professing believers” (by the way, neither of these is a biblical term).

Apparently, according to these objectors, I am sending people to hell by preaching and teaching the gospel!

This is not just some minor (or even major) doctrinal disagreement. This goes right to the heart of what Christianity is all about. It is an either/or. (Galatians 1:8: “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”)

So in reply, I’d like to say the following:
1. Our salvation is totally based on the work of Christ on the cross. It is His work completely. No one can add anything to it. He died for ALL of our sins.
2. Our receiving of that salvation is by FAITH, not by “profession of faith.” These are two different (though not unrelated) matters.
3. Grace can be abused. As any parent knows, there will be those children who see freedom as an opportunity to sin. God’s children are no different than ours. There are those who say, “Let us do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8). But possibility is not permission.
4. We are not the arbiters of who is saved and who is not. God is. He alone can see whether faith is real or not.
5. Christianity is not primarily a moral code. It is first of all a religion of rescue. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
6. It is only AFTER we have experienced the grace of God in Christ that we can do works pleasing to Him. We will fail often. But our eternal salvation is based on that initial faith in the finished work of Christ, not on our successes and failures afterward.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Apparently the results of the recent election have struck fear into the hearts of many:

-- There will be increasing terrorism in our country.
-- Our marriages will be destroyed.
-- The gay conspiracy will now be free to take over our nation.
-- Illegal aliens will overrun our country.
-- There will be increased slaughter of our babies.
-- And worst of all – we have set ourselves up for the presidency of the evil demonic Hillary.
-- America is doomed!!!

This would all be laughable if it were the tongue-in-cheek remarks of some TV comedian like Colbert or Jon Stewart. Or even if it were merely the rantings of some cynical far-right radio or TV loony like Limbaugh or Coulter.

But it’s not only from them that we hear these things. Concerned citizens write letters to the editor of my local newspaper expressing these fears. Worse than that, some of my concerned evangelical Christian friends express these same fears. And they are totally mystified that I don’t share their fears.

Get over it!

God is in control!

I see a number of serious problems here, all of which need to be addressed.

First, many of these expressed fears are based on lies and half-truths spread by politicians, demagogues and others who inhabit the fringes. These people build a following based on fear of and hatred for all those who disagree with them. All sources of information are considered false unless they emanate from “us.” It’s a sort of a cult mentality that plays on our normal human fears.

Then there is the problem that we’ve forgotten the doctrine of original sin and total depravity. We are ALL sinners: “ … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We love to divide mankind between the good guys and the bad guys, between “us” and “them.” But it’s not that way. This nation is governed by sinners of both political parties. One or many elections won’t change that.

And bad things have been happening in this country since the beginning. People have done and will continue to do evil acts, no matter who is in the majority in Washington. My fearful friends see conspiracies everywhere. Maybe there are, maybe not. But the ultimate conspirator is Satan, not the “liberals,” the Democrats or even the religious right: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

God is the One Who is ultimately in control. He put G. W. Bush in office and He gave us a Democrat majority in Congress: “ … In order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17). If Hillary Clinton is our next president it will be because He will put her there.

Finally, fear is not fitting for those who trust in Christ: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

Bill Ball

Friday, November 3, 2006


Last night, I received word that one of my students had taken his own life. Though I have been close to many who have died, this is different. Both of my parents and both of Uni’s parents have passed on. As a pastor and a hospital chaplain, I’ve spent time with many dying people.

It seems so senseless. I know and have known of many wasted lives. But I’ve also seen many of these lives saved. And while they are still alive there’s always hope. But death is final. There is no further opportunity for him to be saved.

I had talked to him just a little over a week earlier, and though he said he was angry with God and hated Christians, he had trusted Christ as his Savior.

Is he “saved”? In the sense of, “Is he in heaven?”, I believe he is. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? … For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, … nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:33-39).

He will stand before the judgment seat of Christ “saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15). I hope to see him one day.

But this life was wasted.

Some further thoughts:

The Bible never uses the word “suicide” and it says little, if anything directly regarding suicide as a moral issue. The Mosaic Law is silent regarding suicide, as is the New Testament.

But the Bible relates a number of suicides, making little comment on them. We should be very careful not to make “prescriptions” out of “descriptions.”

Samson (Judges 16:23-31), as a prisoner of the Philistines, blinded and forced to perform for their entertainment in the temple of their god, found a way to bring the whole building down on himself and his captors. The only comment made was that “the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.” He is listed as a judge of Israel and is included among the heroes of faith of Hebrews 11 (vs. 32). His final act (as most of his acts) is neither commended nor condemned.

Saul (1 Samuel 31). Wounded by the Philistines, Saul took his own life to avoid humiliation by his enemies, as did his armor bearer. Again, his act is neither commended nor condemned, although he is given a sort of hero’s burial. Later, David commends those who heroically rescued Saul’s body from the Philistines (2 Samuel 2:4-7).

Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:14, 22), David’s counselor, sided with Absalom, David’s son, in his rebellion against David. When Absalom did not follow Ahithophel’s counsel, Ahithophel committed suicide, possibly realizing that his wrong choice would catch up with him. No moral pronouncement is made.

Judas (Matthew 27:3-10; Acts 1:15-20, 25), the betrayer of Jesus, is probably the best known of all biblical suicides. It is notable that although the New Testament speaks condemningly of Judas, it is his act of betrayal, not his suicide, that is condemned.

A biblical perspective

1. The undeserved taking of a human life is a violation of the sanctity of human life (Genesis 9:6) and is to be regarded as a sin. This, it seems, would include suicide.

2. The taking of one’s own life, however, is not an “unpardonable sin.” To die with unconfessed sin would bring shame and loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ, but the believer who commits suicide would “be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 John 2:28).

3. An exception would be that of giving one’s life for another (John 15:13; Romans 5:7). This is not suicide. Jesus did this for us.

4. We who know Christ need to be aware of those around us – brothers and sisters who are hurting -- and should deal compassionately with those who have these tendencies. We can’t always know what their motives are and what their actions will be. We can’t always save them. But we can show them the love of Christ.

Bill Ball

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Eight times we read in the gospels that Jesus “had (or felt)compassion.” The Greek verb is splanchnizomai and comes from the word splanchna which means the inner organs – the “guts” (See Acts 1:18 where we read that Judas “burst open and all his splanchna fell out.”)

The verb is used to describe the feelings of the father of the lost son in the parable (Luke 15:20) and the feelings of the Samaritan for the half-dead man on the road (Luke 10:33).

The definition of compassion in my Websters is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it.” Tying this with the Greek word we see a deep “gut feeling” for those in need.

I have long been fascinated by the emotions that the Gospel writers tell us Jesus felt. I have often wondered how they knew His feelings. Sometimes He told them, but often He did not. But as I studied I realized that He didn’t have to tell how He felt. It showed. Every time we’re told that Jesus “had compassion,” we are told that He did something about it.

Matthew 9:36: “Seeing the crowds, He had (not felt) compassion for them because there were harassed and cast down like sheep without a shepherd” – and the following story tells that He sent His disciples to preach and heal.

Matthew 14:14: “He saw a great crowd and He had compassion for them and He healed their sicknesses.”

Matthew 15:32 and Mark 8:2: “He said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve been with me 3 days already and they don’t have anything to eat’” – so he fed them.

Matthew 20:34: “ … and Jesus had compassion” (on the blind men) – so He healed their blindness.

Mark 1:41: “ … and He had compassion” (on the leper) – so He healed him.

Mark 6:34: “ … and He saw a great crowd and He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” – so He taught them.

Luke 7:13: “ … and seeing her (a widow grieving for her dead son), the Lord had compassion on her” – so He raised her son to life.

Every time we read of Jesus’ compassion, it is not simply a deep sympathy. It shows itself by His actions. He healed, raised the dead and taught the Word, whatever was needed to alleviate suffering He had more than feelings. His feelings were translated into actions. He in a real sense entered into their sufferings.

Isn’t that what He did in the incarnation? As God in His pre-incarnate state He loved us – felt compassion for us in our need. And He became man to enter into our sufferings and alleviate them, ultimately by His death on the cross.

So do we as followers of Christ, have compassion? Do I? We’re commanded to. Paul tells us to “put on compassion (splanchna) and mercy” (Colossians 3:12).

I like to think of myself as a pretty sympathetic guy. I cry at the movies. I cry at weddings and funerals. But that’s not compassion. Compassion is when I not only enter in peoples’ feelings, but when I enter so deeply that I do something about it.

We in this century are confronted with hundreds of images of people in need. We see people not only suffering physically, but people “like sheep without a shepherd.” Are we compassionate? Only if we are doing something about it.

Bill Ball

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was as far as I know, the first to use this phrase, in his 1937 book, THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP. It is thrown around quite casually by many today, often in accusations against those who preach or teach salvation through faith. Many of those who use the phrase have little if any knowledge of who Bonhoeffer was.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany, prior to and during the Second World War. He was part of what was known as “the Confessing Church,” a small minority of pastors who opposed the interference of Nazism with the church, and the church’s catering to it. He saw a comfortable church, a church that was doctrinally sound, yet with no real commitment to Christ. He attributed this to “cheap grace.”

He begins his book with a tirade against it:
-- “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.”
-- “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.”
-- “Grace without price; grace without cost!”
-- “Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.”
-- “An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.”

All that and more on the first page! We can hear the echoes of his spiritual forebear, Martin Luther, in his contentions against the sellers of indulgences.

But the title of the first chapter of this book is “Costly Grace.” Costly grace is the opposite of cheap grace. “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. … Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son. … and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us” (pages 47 and 48).

Powerful words! We who have committed our lives to Christ can’t help but say “Amen! Yes, this is true and it is true for me!” And as we minister to other people we sense Bonhoeffer’s frustration with those who profess faith in Christ but show little if any evidence of the Savior in their lives. We teach simple truth but they don’t get it. We give what we feel is biblical counsel to those in pain, but they continue in their self-destructive behavior. We see discipleship reduced to church attendance and a few legalistic rules.

But is the solution to this to make grace more expensive for the believer? It is with fear and trembling that I venture to disagree with this saint. But I must.

In the first place, I agree that grace is costly. As Bonhoeffer points out, it is costly to God, because it cost him the life of his Son. That’s an infinite price. And Christ paid that cost on the cross – for me. It can’t get any costlier than that!

In the second place however, grace is not costly to me the sinner. Nor is it cheap. IT’S FREE!!! That’s what grace is all about! “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). As the old hymn says, “In my hand no price I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.” To add any cost for myself to the infinite price is to cheapen grace.

There are those who try to raise the price of our salvation to exclude those who show no evidence of it. They demand a total commitment and include that in their definition of faith. But that’s not costly grace. That’s “cheapened grace.”

When I was a teenager (my pre-Christian days :^) ), I spent Friday and Saturday nights at a local dance hall. Although alcohol was not served, there was plenty consumed on the premises. Frequently deputy sheriffs were called in to collar the drunks, break up fights, etc. It got to be a hangout for those who were referred to by the owners as “riff-raff.” Finally the owners of the dance hall decided the solution to their problems was to raise the price of admission to “keep out the riff-raff.” As I recall, the price went from 25 cents to two dollars (big money in those days). It wasn’t too long, however, before the place closed. It seems that the only ones who went there were the “riff-raff.” Heaven’s sort of like that. Only riff-raff get in. If we try to shut them out, there’s no one left. “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).

But paradoxically, free grace does make demands on those who have experienced it. It doesn’t allow us to “continue in sin that grace might increase” (Romans 6:1). It puts us in a new position in Christ. Grace makes us saints and expects us to live up to our name. It tells us “as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:19). Elsewhere we’re told to present our bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice” to God. Paul says this is “our reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

Bonhoeffer is right. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (page 99). I would add, however, not in exchange for eternal life, but as the only rational response to God’s “costly grace” which is free to us in Christ.

Bill Ball

Friday, September 29, 2006


I guess it’s time to respond to Steve’s comments to my CHRISTIAN AMERICA, PART 2 blog. It’s been a month.

Steve said (among other things), “I'm suggesting that we will get farther with the typical Am Christian by interacting with them on their turf, rather than challenging their cherished stories, like ‘our Christian forefathers.’ Of course, the same would apply to humanist scientists and their evolution myths.”

I disagree. While I believe we should be gentle with our fellow Christians, I do believe that untruths need to be challenged. “ … instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3, 4). “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth … “ (2 Timothy 2:24, 25).

For years I have kept silent while being subjected to myths fed to me by my fellow believers. All that this silence ever accomplished was for them to assume that I held to those same myths.

As far as “humanist scientists and their evolution myths,” while I believe they need challenging, I don’t find this to be as important as challenging the myths held by my fellow believers. The New Testament example is that of challenging false teaching within the church – among believers.

When Paul faced “secular” thinkers in his day, he did not give a rebuttal to their thinking. Rather, he used their myths as a bridge to the gospel. Read Acts 17:16-34, especially verse 23: “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance this I proclaim to you.” But in the church Paul confronted false teaching with passion (Acts 15:1, 2; Galatians 2:5, 11, 14).

I believe we have for too long done the exact opposite of the New Testament examples and commands. We’ve pointed our finger at the sin and error outside the church and ignored the sin and error within the church.

As far as “certain stories where everyone in our group agrees on their meaning,” isn’t the biblical story (or narrative) enough? While we as Americans have other “stories,” our interpretation of those stories must be done in light of the biblical “story.”

Bill Ball

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I read last week where Rosie O’Donnell said that “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam.” I don’t know the context, but I might suppose that she said this more for its shock value than as a statement of belief. We shouldn’t be surprised by a remark like this from the loony fringe of the left.

But maybe she’s sincere. If so, she may be on to something. Maybe radical Christianity is threatening. Certainly radical Islam should be no great cause for fear. Didn’t Jesus say, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)?

I looked up “radical” in my Webster’s and among a number of definitions, I found these: ”3. a) marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional; EXTREME; b) tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions.” This sounds like a pretty good description of the type of Christianity that its founder Jesus taught. Look at His sermon as recorded in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

He made radical statements like the following:
-- “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).
-- “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
-- “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

He gave radical commands:
-- “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:39-42).
-- “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
-- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
-- “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Read the whole sermon!

This is radical stuff! It fits Webster’s definition. And it IS threatening. It shakes up our views of the good life, of “the American way,” even of what we may believe is the moral life. And, sad to say, it is practiced by very few of us who profess to be followers of Jesus.

Uni and I pray daily for the persecuted church in the 10/40 window (check out We’ve been doing this for a number of years. In many of these countries Christianity is illegal, followers of Christ are persecuted and even put to death. We pray for the leaders of these countries as we’re commanded to in 1 Timothy 2:1, 2. I have often wondered why Christians seem to be hated by so many people. What is it that causes political leaders, religious and irreligious, to hate Christians so? Christians are usually good citizens, moral people. One would think that kings and presidents would encourage the growth of Christianity rather than hate or fear it. It’s no threat to them, is it?

Well, maybe it is. And just because it is radically different. Jesus told His disciples, “… The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:25, 26). Jesus’ teaching turns the world’s power-oriented philosophy on its head. And the world hates it. What would we expect? They hated Jesus.

So Rosie, you’re almost right. Radical Christianity is MORE threatening than radical Islam.

But Rosie, you don’t have to fear! Jesus died for you!

Sunday, September 17, 2006


That was the question on the cover of TIME this past week.

I admit I had a number of reactions. My first was to ask myself what sort of coverage a “secular” newsmagazine would give to a question that has caused much disagreement among Christians.

Another reaction was to recollect a routine by Eddie Murphy on some old TV show. He came on, dressed in gaudy clothes, sort of a hybrid between a televangelist and a pitchman on an infomercial. He pointed his finger at the screen and shouted, “You can make me rich!” This was followed by a satirical pitch. I have often suspected that this was the real, but hidden message, of many “health and wealth” preachers.

Another reaction was simply to answer the question, “Apparently God doesn’t want me rich, because I’m not rich.” Of course, further thinking forced me to admit that I am rich – materially – in comparison to most people in the world.

When I opened up to the article, I did find a fairly balanced coverage of the question. It presented opinions and even gave lists of proof texts for both sides.

So where do I start when writing about a question which has been addressed by so many? I believe the first place we should start is with the Bible. But we can’t, as so many do (and as the TIME article does), just pull out proof texts that support our opinions and throw them at each other.

1. We need to distinguish which promises stated in the Bible are addressed to us – Christians, New Covenant believers. Contrary to popular opinion and an old gospel chorus, every promise In the Book AIN’T mine. Many of the promises quoted are given to God’s Old Covenant people – ethnic and national Israel. They were promised land and material wealth for obedience, and suffering for disobedience. We weren’t! Though many preachers love to quote Malachi 3:10, (“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”), this passage was not directed toward God’s New Covenant people.

2. New Testament promises, such as Luke 6:38 and John 10:10, concerning the abundant life should not be interpreted as referring to material blessings and abundance. They need to be compared to Jesus’ other teachings on wealth.

3. Jesus Himself was poor, not just by our 21st century standards, but by those of His own day. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). And this was a poverty that He chose.

4. Jesus taught over and over about the dangers of wealth. Even the TIME article quotes Matthew 6:19-21; Mark 10:24-26 and Luke 12:33. Jesus warns us that, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). He doesn’t say “may not,” He says “cannot.” He is not denying us permission, He is denying that we have the ability. If we make the acquisition of material wealth our master, then God isn’t our master. It’s that simple!

5. The apostle Paul warns of the dangers, not of wealth in itself but of the desire for it. “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). A little further down in the same passage, (1 Timothy 6:17-19) he instructs the rich that riches are not to be an object of their hope, but are to be a tool to be used to serve God and others.

So to get back to the question above, I’d have to answer “possibly.” That’s up to Him. But if God does want me rich, it is so that I may use it for His glory and if He doesn’t want me rich, that’s for His glory as well.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Steve said... (Comments on CHRISTIAN AMERICA blog):

"Bill, rage on.

But isn't it reasonable that those who are Christian and Americans feel such a strong sense of ownership in both that they blur them together? Isn't that kind of a sweet thing in an innocent sort of way?

So if they do good things with this undergirding value, supported by the myth of a Christian America (meaning USA of course, but let's not quibble in the face of such sweet good will....) hey, isn't that great!

If they do bad things, we'll probably get farther by meeting them on their ground, in the midst of their myths, than by asking the dear people to flush a cherished myth down the drain...."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Steve, I love your comments. Thanks. I have to confess that it took a few minutes for their meaning to sink in. I’m slow when it comes to satire.

Truth trumps myth. Webster’s 9th Collegiate Dictionary defines “myth” as “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people or explain a practice, belief or natural phenomenon.” We who are followers of Christ do not need to build our worldview on myth, but on the truth, whether the truth of the Scripture, or genuine historical facts.

The first great commandment, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5), referred to often by Jesus (Matthew 6:37, 38) leaves no room for any other worship. And I believe that our blurring God and America or putting them both on the same level is false worship. We put flags in our church sanctuaries, right along side the cross. We sing patriotic “hymns” in our worship services. We regard the laws of our country as God’s laws and its leaders as God’s leaders. We regard America’s wars as though they are God’s wars.

It is sad when those who are Christian and American “blur them together.” Do I dare says it’s sinful? Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and will despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). The Hebrew prophets “raged” against idolatry, not only blatant worship of false gods, but also false worship of the true God, as well as syncretism, when Israel (literally) was “hopping between two branches” (1 Kings 18:21), when they apparently felt they were worshiping both the LORD and Baal.

I love my country. I try to be submissive to the government. But my country has no place as first in my heart and should have no such place in the heart of any disciple of Jesus. And I believe we whom God has placed in positions of leadership have an obligation to “ask the dear people to flush a cherished myth down the drain.”

Thanks Steve, for stirring me up.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


For most of my life as a Christian, I have heard tales about a mythical land called “Christian America,” a country which was founded by God, or at least by Christians, to be a special nation. I have heard, however, that this nation has left its course, strayed from its original purpose, and is or almost is, no longer what it was intended to be.

Occasionally I hear or read laments about the loss of this mythical land and expressions of desire to see it restored. I hear that it is our responsibility to act (often, but not always, politically) toward this restoration, to “take America back for God.”

But is this restoration desirable or even possible? I contend that it is neither. First of all it is impossible to restore “Christian America” because it never existed. This mythology runs counter to both history and the Bible.

It is true that a great number of the early settlers of this land were Christians fleeing persecution for their faith in other lands (mostly “Christian Europe”) and wanted to set up, as the early Puritans said, “a city on a hill.” However, many of the early settlers did not come here with so noble a purpose, but were opportunists, looking to make their fortune. And even those who came for religious freedom were often only desirous of that freedom for themselves and others of the same persuasion. They denied freedom, to and sometimes became persecutors of, those who thought differently than they did.

Though our founding fathers were definitely influenced by the Bible and biblical morality, they were also influenced by Enlightenment thinking. The references in the Declaration of Independence to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” are not exactly references to the God revealed in Scripture. The God of the Declaration is closer to the God of Deism. This is to be expected since its author, Thomas Jefferson, was not a Christian (except by a very loose definition), nor were many of the others. The fact that they often quoted Scripture simply tells us that they read the Scriptures.

The morality of early America was influenced by the Bible but that doesn’t mean it was biblical. Though our present age has its share of evils, the early nation had its share as well: slavery, mistreatment of native Americans, violence toward one another. Dueling was an acceptable way of settling a dispute. According to some statistics, church attendance was extremely low.

But the strongest argument against the concept of Christian America is biblical. The Bible leaves absolutely no room for this idea. God is sovereign in setting up ALL nations, according to Daniel 4:17, “ … In order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm (Kingdom) of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men.” (See also Daniel 4:32, 34b, 35; 5:21b.) God sets up all nations, not just America. That means He set up Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Nero’s Rome (Romans 13:1), the USA and its current government, as well as Iran and North Korea.

America is one of “the kingdoms of this world,” or more specifically, it is a part of “the Kingdom (singular) of this world.” It is not part of “the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15). These are two separate kingdoms and will remain so until Jesus Christ returns in glory to make “the Kingdom of the world” into His Kingdom.

We are told by Paul in Philippians 3:20, that “our citizenship is in Heaven.” Peter tells us we are “resident aliens” in this world (1 Peter 1:1). As residents of this world we have obligations to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesars” (Matthew 22:21). We are to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1, 2), to submit to authorities (Romans 13:1-5), pay our taxes (Romans 13:6, 7), but we are to do this primarily because we are citizens of Heaven.

So, if this country is not, never was, and never will be, “Christian America,” we who are followers of Christ don’t need to waste our time and efforts on restoring it to what it never was. We need not long for some golden age of America’s past. We are also free to deal with sinners as sinners in need of a Savior and not as evil conspirators trying to take away our country.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


This past Sunday I drove right past a panhandler on my way to church. I barely noticed him. I went right on to church, worshipped, listened to a good sermon, fellowshipped with my brothers and sisters. But I have to confess that I didn’t really practice my religion as I should have.

I suppose many – maybe most – of my fellow middle-class Christians would have done the same as I did. Some, if asked, could have come up with very good reasons for ignoring a panhandler:

-- “He’d probably spend whatever you give him on booze!”
-- “He could get a job if he wanted to!”
-- “How did he get that way anyway?”
-- “I work for a living, why can’t he?”
-- “I’d never, ever ask anyone for a handout!”
-- “People like that are what’s wrong with our country!”

It may seem strange that though the Bible has much to say about the poor, It never condemns them for being that way. It condemns those who ignore or oppress them.

God is concerned about the poor. There are at least eight words in the Hebrew Old Testament and three in the Greek New Testament for “poor” or “poverty,” besides the words for needy groups or persons such as widows, orphans and aliens. There are literally hundreds of references in the Bible, nearly all of them dealing with the need to care for the poor.

Throughout the Law of Moses there are instructions concerning care for the poor and underprivileged. Leviticus 19, for example, the chapter in which we find the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 18) also contains commands about relationships with “the poor,” “the stranger,” “the hired man,” “the deaf” and “the blind” (vss. 13-15, 33, 34). Deuteronomy 15, however, contains some of the clearest commands for taking care of the poor. In fact, it states that “there will be no poor among you” (vs. 4), if they follow God’s commands. Specifically this chapter deals with the laws concerning remission of debts every seven years, but it also deals with generosity to the poor (vss. 7-11). Paradoxically this chapter also states that “the poor will never cease to be in the land.” This is the verse that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7 and John 12:8, which unfortunately is often ripped out of context as an excuse for not caring for the poor.

The prophets spoke severely against mistreatment or neglect of the poor, not only by denying them material care, but also by denying them justice (Amos 2:6, 7; 4:1; 5:10-12, 15, 24; 8:4-6),

There are many passages in the New Testament dealing with care for the poor and it may be difficult to place them all in a neat system.

1. The coming of Jesus was especially related to salvation for the poor and in need. See Mary’s song in Luke 1, especially verses 51-54. Also see Jesus’ sermon which Luke uses to introduce Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18, 19; quoted from Isaiah 61).

2. In His Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Luke 6:20, 21, Jesus pronounces a special blessing on the poor and the hungry. This is a contrast (but not a contradiction) to Matthew 5:3, 6 where He says “poor in spirit” and “those who hunger … for righteousness.” Perhaps these are two separate sayings, or perhaps Jesus is implying that material poverty often leads to humility.

3. Jesus, in His prophecy of His judgment on the nations specifically, homes in on their treatment of the poor and those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).

4. James tells his readers that the poor are the objects of God’s choice (James 2:5). Paul agrees with this, reminding his readers that God has chosen “the foolish … the weak … the base … the despised” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). We tend to exalt the wise, the rich and the powerful, but God does not (see also James 2:6, 7).

5. Paul’s ministry, though mainly involving evangelism, church planting and discipleship, also devoted time to the care of the poor (Galatians 2:9, 10; Acts 20:34, 35). He organized a collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem and personally carried it to them (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8, 9).

6. “Pure religion” is defined by James as involving two things: care for “the orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). Paul especially lays on the rich “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

So, what is our responsibility? Many of my middle-class Christian friends try to ignore the issue of poverty, perhaps because it’s an issue that defies simple solutions. We cannot pass a law or a constitutional amendment abolishing it. We cannot just find a place to picket. We cannot just give counseling. In fact the Scripture condemns counseling alone. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15, 16).

Some suggestions for our thinking:

1. We need to recognize that all that we have is from God. We do not deserve it. It’s all grace. “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

2. We need to develop an attitude of contentment and an attitude of generosity. “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10; also see verses 17-19).

3. We need to develop a compassion for those in need. “ … put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12), following the example of our Savior. (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32).

Some suggestions for our action:

1. We can give more money to organizations that minister to those in need. There are Christian organizations that minister to both the body and the soul.

2. We can give away some of our “stuff.” Many of us have garages, attics and sheds, full of things that are useless to us, but which could be useful to others.

3. We can put a buck in the bucket of the panhandler with no questions asked.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I found a four-page ad in the center of my latest issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. The first page of the ad said in bold headlines:



That got my attention! The second page, however, was slightly more assuring. It only threatened a drop from 34% to 4%, and that only among evangelicals, others not being counted.

This was an ad for a campaign (series of seminars) aimed at reaching evangelical youth. It is endorsed by many evangelical leaders, many of whom I respect. I’m sure that it will be effective and that God will use it.

But do we have to manipulate statistics, history and what’s worse, theology to promote our programs? I won’t say much about the statistics given, except to quote an old proverb (source unknown): “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

From a purely historical perspective, I find it hard, even impossible to believe that Christianity only has ten more years left in this country. Christianity has survived under the most ruthless regimes throughout history. It is even surviving in totalitarian states today.

But what I find most offensive about this ad is its totally human-centered (should I say humanistic?) views of the fate of Christianity. I’d say it borders on blasphemy.

God is sovereign in history. He is the absolute and sole Ruler of the universe. He does what He desires.

“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

“Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth and in all the deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God uses us because He chooses to, not because He needs us. It is our privilege to serve Him. The apostle Paul refers to our abilities to serve as “gifts” – God’s gifts to us, not ours to Him. He referred to his own “office” of apostleship as a “grace” – a favor that God had done to him. (Romans 1:5; 12:3; 15:15, 16; etc.)

I believe that what this ad shows is that we, the church, have bought almost totally into the world system. We base our thinking on statistics, pop psychology, sociology, and politics, rather than on the biblical revelation. The threat in this country may not be against Christianity as much as against our particular style of doing Christianity.

Perhaps the ad could be revised:


That might not be so bad!

Bill Ball

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


The other day, Uni (my wife) found this poem taped in the back flyleaf of an old Bible of mine. I don’t remember where it came from, and the name of John Newton was added to it in my hand-writing. John Newton, of course is the converted slave trader of the late 18th century, the author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

These Inward Trials

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?’
‘’Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.’

-- John Newton

I know nothing of the poem’s context, the circumstances behind its writing. (Nor do I have any idea what “gourds” are.) And I don’t remember the circumstances that prompted me to put it in my Bible. Perhaps I was experiencing something similar to what was written.

We can see many “outward trials” all around us. If we don’t have any of our own, all we need to do is turn on the TV news: war, terrorism, crime, domestic abuse, physical illness, “acts of God” – earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc., etc. Newton himself had experienced many outward trials in his career and had inflicted them himself on the “passengers” in his ships.

But “inward trials.” I wonder what his were, but it’s really not important. Perhaps Newton was experiencing what John of the Cross, a 16th century monastic, termed “the dark night of the soul.” Many of us have experienced something like this. We’ve grown in our love for God, we’ve longed for a closer walk. But God seems to separate Himself from us. We seek Him but He is nowhere to be found.

Job seemed to be experiencing this dark night. ”Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh that I knew where I might find Him, That I might come to His seat!” (Job 23:2, 3). But he was also seeking an explanation from God. If we read on in Job’s story, we know he did find God, but God never saw fit to explain Himself or His actions to Job, as is often our experience.

Perhaps, as in Job’s case, our inward trials are triggered by outward trials. Perhaps not. Sometimes they are inexplicable. I suppose modern thinkers would see them as caused by a chemical imbalance or short circuit in the brain, or as being triggered by some childhood trauma. They may be right. But the trials are still real.

Some Christian counselors would play the part of Job’s friends and blame these feelings on sin or unresolved conflict. They may be right. They would recommend to us that we simply confess our sin or sins to God and/or others we’ve offended. They may be right. But I wonder what they’d have told Jesus as He struggled in the garden. “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Newton’s “inward trials,” as he described them, were not caused by sin. They were brought on as he tried to “seek more earnestly His (God’s) face.” They were brought on by his desire for “rest.” God was setting him free “from self and pride.” It apparently took a while to understand what was going on.

Sometimes we go through these feelings of inward trial and conflict. It’s a simple solution to get a prescription to cure it. And there are times when this may be the solution. But there are times, I believe, when God simply wants us to “seek His face,” to spend time meditating on His Word and speaking to Him in prayers, even if He seems to refuse to answer.

I’m not saying we should seek these experiences. There is nowhere in the Bible where we are told to seek trials, whether inward or outward. We’re just told that they will come. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). But we often hear the biblical writers’ cries of desperation, especially, but not limited to the Psalms. See Psalm 4:1; 5:1, 2; 6:1-3; 10:1; 13:1, 2.

And when we counsel others who are going through experiences like these, we should not be too quick with a solution. It may not be a problem to be solved, but a necessary experience in their growth. They may simply need a listening ear and a supporting arm, a friend to help them through their “dark night.” “ … let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak … ” (James 1:19).

Bill Ball

Thursday, July 6, 2006


The New Testament frequently tells believers in Christ that we are free – free from sin, from Satan’s dominion and from the Law of Moses (see ENJOYING OUR FREEDOM). And it warns us of the danger of returning to our old bondage – whether it’s a bondage under sin or under law-works.

After warning the Galatian Christians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1), and explaining what that means, Paul gives another warning, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). The word “flesh” in Paul’s usage, here refers to our old self – the person I was before I came to Christ – the person who still asserts himself. I am a man with two minds – the new man that I am in Christ, and the old man.

What Paul is telling us here, I believe, is that I am free, but I shouldn’t be using that freedom to behave as I did before I came to Christ. I am free to serve others. And the motivating force for that service is love. The word “love” here is not some mushy, sentimental niceness. It’s an active word, a translation of the Greek word agape, which has been defined as “that which seeks the greatest good (God’s will) in its object.”

In verse 14, Paul quotes a text which was, already in his day, 1,500 years old, Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the verse that Jesus frequently quoted as the second great commandment and James, Jesus’ brother quoted as “the royal law” (James 2:8) and “the law of liberty” (James 2:12). Paul says that in this one statement “the whole law is fulfilled.”

But who are we to love? Everybody?

Many years ago when I was pastoring, there was an elderly lady in my flock who somehow managed to always keep the pot stirred up. You probably have met people like her. She always seemed to know the wrong thing to say. She was usually angry at someone or had someone angry at her. When I finally approached her and tried to explain the problem, her reply was, “But I just looove everybody.” No matter what I said, she always gave the same remark. I finally gave in but I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, right! You love everybody, but you don’t like anybody!”

How often has this been true of me? Someone said it’s easier to love mankind than to love my neighbor.

In the same chapter in the book of Leviticus where the Israelites are commanded to love their neighbor (which would probably refer to their fellow Israelite), they are also commanded to love “the stranger (alien) who resides with you” (Leviticus 19:34).

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:43, 44; see also verses 45-48). There’s no room for hatred at all! This would include a lot of people: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, my boss, ____________ (fill in the blank or blanks).

Jesus tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Paul tells us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25).

My neighbor, the alien, my wife, my fellow believer, even my enemy. And the standard keeps getting raised. First I am told to love as I love myself. Then I am told to love as Christ loved.

Bill Ball

Thursday, June 29, 2006


A friend of mine sent me the following e-mail and I thought I’d include it and my reply on my blog:

“Hi there. I have been having theological discussions with my husband and I am wondering about spiritual gifts. What is the Scriptural evidence that certain gifts have ceased? This is really something that I don't know with any certainty, but now that my kids are older and we have some friends who are Charismatic and others who are staunchly Reformed cessationists and we even have some who are Reformed Charismatics....I am realizng I don't have good answers for my children! Can you direct me in Scripture to something that may clear it up a little. :)

I appreciate, in advance, any help you can offer.

Muddled, _______________”

Dear Muddled --

I had never heard the word “cessationist” until 10 or 15 years ago. One of my students asked me if I was a cessationist and I told her, “No, I think Texas should stay in the Union.” ;^)

I can’t really call myself a cessationist because I can’t find any evidence that the “sign gifts” have totally ceased. I have many students of just about every theological persuasion, so like you, I count both charismatics and cessationists among my friends.

However, I believe that the charismatics are incorrect in seeking the sign gifts for the following reasons (not all of these apply to all charismatics):

1. They read the Book of Acts (and sometimes the Gospels) as prescriptive rather than descriptive. Acts is a history book and describes the development of the early church. It does not instruct us to do as the early Christians did. Just because Peter and Paul healed and laid hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit does not mean that we must.

As a matter of fact, Acts presents the miracles as rare and limited to only a few persons.

2. When Paul tells the church at Corinth to “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (l Corinthians 12:31), he is speaking to the church, telling them to seek for these gifts to be exercised in the assembly. He was not telling them as individuals to seek to acquire or even develop these gifts. The giving of these gifts is in the sovereign will of the Triune God (12:4-7).

3. At least one gift, the gift of apostle, has clearly passed. An apostle was one who had seen Christ risen and been sent out (Greek apostello) by Him (Acts 1:15-26); 1 Corinthians 9:1, 2). Paul in Ephesians 2:20, refers to the apostles and prophets as foundational to the church. This could imply that the gift of prophet, too, has passed.

4. There is evidence that the sign gifts were especially meant for the first generation Christians and were not common among those of the second generation. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul speaks of having performed “signs and wonders and miracles.” These he refers to as (literally) “the signs of the apostle.” If anyone could perform them how could they validate his apostleship?

The author of Hebrews, apparently a second-generation Christian, speaks of “signs and wonders and … various miracles and … gifts of the Holy Spirit” as confirming the message of “those who heard” the Lord (that is, the first generation) “to us” (2:3, 4).

Can God use the sign gifts today? God is God and can do what He pleases. But should we expect them to be the norm for the church today? No – I don’t believe it was the norm for any generation.

Trust this helps,
Bill Ball

Monday, June 12, 2006


On this coming 4th of July, we Americans will recognize our 230th anniversary of independence, our freedom from Great Britain. Most of us will do something to celebrate, though probably few will stop to consider what it’s really all about. There will be picnics, programs, parades, concerts, fireworks, sales at the Wal*Mart and other patriotic activities. Then we will go back to our normal ways with little more thought given to our freedoms or their cost.

Now I’m not complaining or hand-wringing. That’s what freedom is all about: “1. The quality or state of being free as: (a) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; (b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another: INDEPENDENCE” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). Perhaps the best thing we can do with our freedom is to enjoy it in whatever fashion we please.

We who are believers in Christ have a greater freedom than the freedom we enjoy as Americans. Jesus said, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). He was speaking to a group of Jews who were at that time under bondage to the Roman Empire and yet who claimed “ … We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33). Jesus’ reply to this thinking was “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34).

We were as Jesus says, “slaves of sin.” No matter who we were, whatever our national allegiance or economic status. Paul reiterates this in his writings, “ … you were slaves of sin, … (Romans 6:17), but we have been freed from sin in Christ. He also tells us we have been released from the (Old Testament) Law (Romans 7:6) and that before we knew God we were slaves to “no gods” (demons) (Galatians 4:8). He tells us that Christ “ … delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).

Yet it seems that many Christians do not really enjoy their freedom in Christ. They seem to be still in a sort of bondage. Perhaps even more so than they were as unbelievers. I know, because I spent many years in this condition. Saved by grace – free grace – and then given a list of rules by which I must live. I gave up much of the fun I had had before I came to Christ and began to live my life by man-made rules.

Paul, after arguing with the Galatian Christians that they were free in Christ, warns them “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Though elsewhere he warns about slavery to sin, in this passage, he is warning them against placing themselves under some wrong-headed legalistic method of dealing with sin. He does this elsewhere. “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23). ”Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16, 17).

And there are plenty of legalists around today, spiritual killjoys who seem to feel that their ministry is to make sure we don’t enjoy our freedom in Christ. You’ve heard them. They warn you that if you don’t conform to a certain standard (sometimes it’s a biblical standard, but usually it’s their own), that you can’t be sure if you’re saved, or that you will lose your salvation, or that you can’t have “victory,” or be an “overcomer” or whatever. They have lists of rules, telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat or drink or do for entertainment, or whom we should and shouldn’t associate with.

These people succeed I believe, because they appeal to our pride. We want to see our salvation, our Christian life, as in some way depending on ourselves. We don’t want to believe that Jesus is the answer to our need. And we often disguise our pride as humility. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:18, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” When we flagellate ourselves and complain that we just don’t measure up, I suspect what we’re saying is that we want to measure up. But we can’t. It’s all Christ. He wants us to be what we are, and to allow His Spirit to change us, and to enjoy the freedom that He obtained for us on the cross.

Bill Ball

Friday, June 2, 2006


I suppose that every person I have met has had some influence on me. Some very little, some very much; especially parents, teachers, mentors, bosses, older siblings, and other authority figures.

I’d like to tell a story about one such person, who had a great impact on my life, although he was none of the above.

I was pastoring a small church in Georgetown, a small city in central Texas, where I also served as a volunteer chaplain in the city hospital. The hospital was not large enough to require a full-time chaplain, so a number of us – usually six to eight – served on one-week shifts. The group was made up of various ministers, a counselor, and a Catholic deacon. Usually I made my daily rounds of all the rooms in less than two hours’ time, which included stopping at the nurses’ station to discuss where my services were most needed.

One day near the close of my rounds, I came across a room with the door shut. The door was covered with biohazard stickers and a large warning sign, instructing any visitor to carefully wash before entering. I went to the nurses’ station and inquired.

“There’s a young man in there with AIDS,” they told me. “He came in yesterday.” They told me that he was hospitalized because of a gastro-intestinal obstruction and that he would probably be going home soon.

The year was 1989 and most of us were extremely ignorant about the disease. At the time most of those in America who were afflicted were homosexual men, so it carried a double stigma. Most of us had a fear of the disease because we suspected it was extremely contagious. We also knew that most of those who had the disease would die rather soon.

As I walked away from the nurses’ station, the question came to my mind, “What would Jesus do?” The answer was simple: He would touch the unclean, the leper. He would bring healing. I knew that although I could not bring physical healing, God could use me to bring emotional and spiritual healing. So I washed my hands and knocked on the door. I was told I could enter and went in, not knowing exactly what I would encounter. There were two people in the room; a calm, lovely lady probably in her mid-50s sitting quietly in a chair by the single bed, and a young man lying in the bed. He was rail-thin and his eyes were glazed over. He was nearly blind, apparently a common affliction of AIDS’ sufferers. My mind went back to pictures I had seen of the liberation of Auschwitz, of human skeletons, too weak to stand on their own.

I gave my standard greeting, “Hello, my name is Bill Ball. I’m the hospital chaplain. Is there anything I can do for you?” I extended my hand and grasped his weak, nearly limp, hand.

“My name is Lina,” said the lady, “and this is Keith.”

Keith’s first remark was jolting and seemed a bit hostile. “What do you want on your tombstone?”

I replied rather apologetically that I really hadn’t given it much consideration.

He told me that on his tombstone, he wanted lines from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson:
“Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”

“But,” he confessed, “I don’t know what it’s from or where to find it.”

Lina explained to me that her son had had AIDS for some time and had been in and out of Scott and White Hospital, a large hospital in Temple about 25 to 30 miles up the highway. They had come to the Georgetown hospital because it was closer to their home and Keith’s crisis was urgent. She also told me that Keith, 32 years old, was the second of three brothers, that she and their father were divorced, that she had remarried and that Keith had a teenage half-sister. The boys’ father was an abusive alcoholic and had physically and verbally abused his sons. But even worse, Keith was the only surviving one of the three. His older brother had been killed in an accident in the Navy and his younger brother had committed suicide.

“If Keith goes, all of my former life is gone.” And she meant not only the bad, but the good.

The three of us talked for nearly an hour, I prayed with them and left. I went immediately to the public library, did a little research, and found and photocopied Stevenson’s poem, REQUIEM:
“Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
An the hunter home from the hill.”

The next day, I brought my copy with me to the hospital. When I read it aloud to Keith, it seemed to break down some barriers. When I told him and his mother of the church I pastored, Keith asked, “What would happen if I visited your church?” I said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you visit and we’ll find out.” I did explain that our present meeting place was not too wheelchair friendly, but if he’d wait two weeks we’d be in our new building.

As I left, Lina explained her amazement to me. “Keith has been hostile against church and preachers for years.”

After Keith was released from the hospital, I began visiting him in his home. I met his step-father and half-sister, as well as his aunt, his mother’s sister named Babe. Our friendship grew. Babe expressed to me that she was especially concerned about Keith’s spiritual condition, and felt that our friendship could be an answer to prayer.

I told my church people about Keith, his condition and his family. I recall two very different reactions. The first was a “What can we do?” reaction. Some precious women in the church organized to help Lina and to begin praying for them. The second reaction was, “Is he gay?” (It seems that there are many who believe as Job’s friends did, that some suffering is due to sin, and what’s more, we’re really not obligated to help people like that.) My reply was simply, “He’s not a practicing homosexual; -- he’s not able to practice anything in his condition.”

Keith and Lina did come to church. Some men were there each week to help him into his wheelchair and wheel him in (reluctantly at first, though more willingly later). They’d come late, just in time for the preaching, and leave immediately after, as Keith couldn’t sit up very long.

They collected all the old sermon tapes that were at the church, and Keith would lie in his bed at home and listen to them over and over. Aunt Babe also bought him the whole New Testament on tape, which he would listen to over and over as well. Whenever I’d visit, Keith would have a slew of questions.

I began to recognize Keith as a person of real depth and over the next few weeks we became close friends. I found that although he had harbored a hatred against God, the Holy Spirit was breaking that down.

Keith was in and out of the hospital. AIDS is an immune disorder. AIDS’ victims suffer from many illnesses. Each crisis seemed as though it would be his last. The family and their church friends held together.

Then Aunt Babe died -- of a heart condition, I believe. One more crisis for the family.

One day when Keith was in Scott & White Hospital, I went to visit. It was a real crisis. He seemed to have tubes and wires attached to every area of his frail body.

Keith was quite abrupt, as he often was, and the first thing he said to me was, “What do I have to do to become a Christian?”

Though I was a bit startled, as no one had ever put the question to me in that manner, I began to explain the gospel to him. Actually he already knew it. I explained to him that he needed to recognize that he was a sinner, that Christ had died for his sins and rose again, that all he needed to do was believe – to trust Christ to save him.

“How do I do that?” he asked.

“All you need to do is trust Him,” I explained. “Perhaps it would help if you told God of your faith.”

“You mean pray?” he said. “Could you pray for me?”

“Keith, I and a lot of other people have been praying for you, but this time it’s just between you and God.”

Keith burst into prayer, “God I know I’m a sinner and that my sin has got me into the situation I am in. I know Christ died for me and I’m trusting Him as my Savior!’

Over the next few weeks, Keith’s faith blossomed. He even had me inquire about correspondence courses on tape and planned to take a course from Moody Bible Institute.

But over time things got worse. His pain became unbearable. He was kept in a hospital bed at home on morphine, fed and hydrated through tubes. He began to “hallucinate,” or was it visions of heaven? “I saw Aunt Babe,” he reported in one of his more lucid moments. Another time he said, “There are friends over there, but I can’t get to them – I’m in the slammer.”

Then one day Lina called me at my office. “Keith doesn’t have long. Could you get over here please, to be with him before he goes?” I cleared up some business, drove out to the house. We sat and talked with Keith. We told him he could go whenever he was ready. Then he breathed his last and went to be with his Savior. I had known him about three months.

Later, Lina talked about the funeral. She confessed she didn’t know what to do. She showed me Keith’s journals that he had been keeping, especially what he had written after he discovered he had AIDS, but before he became too weak to write, as he was when I met him. “I don’t want a ______ funeral at a ______ church. I don’t want a ______ preacher mouthing ______ when I die. Just cremate me and sprinkle my ashes over the great Pyramids.”

“I want to keep Keith’s wishes,” Lina said, “but I don’t think this is what he would have wanted. He loved the church. He loved you. I think he would want to have a funeral service at the church.”

“That was the old Keith who wrote that,” I said. “I think you know what the new Keith would want.”

Keith’s was the first funeral in our new church building. It was a beautiful, but bittersweet service. It only took two men to carry his coffin. The funeral director said he weighed 68 pounds.
He was buried in a little cemetery along Highway 29, east of Georgetown. His tombstone wasn’t ready in time for the funeral, but it’s there now, with the two lines Keith requested engraved on it.

As we met at the home after the service, I was approached by a women who told me that she was an aunt of Keith’s and that she had been praying for him all his life, that he would find God. She told me that I was an answer to prayer.

I said earlier that Keith influenced my life. How?
-- He reiterated what I already knew but didn’t always practice – that I should always seek to do what Jesus would.
-- He showed me that beautiful people often come in unattractive packages.
-- He showed me that God is sovereign in our lives. I only went to the hospital during my weeks as chaplain and Keith only spent a few days in the Georgetown hospital. We could easily have missed each other.
-- He showed me that no one is hopeless. It’s never too late. I now believe very strongly in death-bed conversions.

Bill Ball

Monday, May 29, 2006


Long before the Internet, I kept a file on juicy gossip that was sent my way:

-- Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s plot to end all religious broadcasting (1974).
-- The Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe (I first heard of it in 1966).
-- Procter & Gamble supporting the Church of Satan (1995?)
-- Scientists discover Hell in Siberia (1990)
-- McDonalds mixes earthworms in their hamburger meat (1980s?)
-- Social Security checks which can’t be cashed unless the bearer had a mark in the right hand or forehead (1981).

Now most of these would be amusing if it weren’t for the fact that people actually believe this stuff, sign petitions and pass them on. And that some of them are actually harmful!

There are plenty of rumor mills producing new ones too. Standing in the checkout at Wal*Mart last week, I read these headlines in the “news” rack:

-- Rednecks Shoot Down Flying Saucer (picture included).
-- Family Breakup in the White House (G. W. and Laura’s picture included).
-- Who’s Gay and Who’s Not in Country Music (Willie and Dolly’s pictures included).

But the greatest rumor medium of all is the Internet and e-mails. (Forward this to at least 10 of your friends or (a) horrible things will happen to you, (b) you will not receive a blessing, or (c) you don’t love Jesus.)

Much of the stuff that I receive is from my friends on the religious right. It seems odd to me that those who see themselves as the guardians of the morals of America apparently do not see gossip as a moral issue:

-- Al Gore claimed his favorite Bible verse was John 16:3 (2000).
-- John Kerry claimed his favorite Bible verse was John 16:3 (2004)
-- I apparently don’t have any friends on the religious left or I would probably have received the same rumor about G. W. Bush. My Internet source says it was floating around.

When I reply and question the truthfulness of the rumors, my friends sometimes give rationalizations such as these (any of which I suppose could have been used by the “witnesses” at Jesus’ trials):

-- “I didn’t know if it was true or not, but I thought I should pass it on in case it was true,”
-- “I knew it was at least partially true.”
-- “Where did you read that it wasn’t true? The liberal press?”
-- “Whose side are you on anyway?”

Well, I hope I’m on the side of truth.

“And he who spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18b).

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Proverbs 20:19).

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth” (and your e-mail) (Colossians 3:8).

In Romans 1:26-31, Paul classifies gossips and slanderers right along with murderers, homosexuals and others as examples of the depravity of man.

The tempter in the garden used half-truths and lies to tempt Eve into sin. We don’t need to follow his methods even when battling with him.

Some questions we should ask before passing on a rumor:

-- Is it true? Don’t pass it on till you’re sure.
-- Is it necessary? Does it serve any useful purpose, other than titillation or making people I don’t like look bad?
-- Is it harmful to those it is concerned with? Many people and organizations have suffered irreparable damage from gossip.
-- Is it edifying to the hearers or readers?

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Bill Ball

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Sometimes we get tired of hearing about moral and ethical failures on the part of those in leadership. Congressmen, CEOs, even presidents all failing and when publicly exposed, denying, blaming others, and worst of all talking religiously. Some of the worst offenders are preachers. I have personally known at least four people in ministry who have taken a serious fall in the area of sexual behavior. Some of these have repented, but not all.

What’s wrong with us? Why do some of us fall and others do not? We are all sinners and capable of what these have done. Maybe some of us just haven’t been caught (yet)!

I’m not trying to either condemn or excuse anyone, but I do believe we need to ask what is missing. And I believe that one missing piece is integrity. We who are in leadership often think differently than we behave, behave differently than we talk, talk differently than we think. We have compartmentalized our lives and failed to integrate them.

The word integrity is defined by Webster as: (1) an unimpaired condition: SOUNDNESS; (2) firm adherence to a code of esp. moral or artistic values: INCORRUPTIBILITY; (3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided: COMPLETENESS. The related words are helpful in understanding: integer, integral, integrate, all have to do with wholeness. A person of integrity then, is a complete person, one whose life is not fragmented, whose behavior and thinking and speech all fit together, the opposite of what James 1:8 refers to as “a double minded man.”

In his book INTEGRITY, Stephen L. Carter says "Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong. ...” Of course, for the Christian this involves an understanding of the Scriptures.

The Hebrew words usually translated “integrity” are TAM and its related words. Some of the uses are interesting. One form of the word is used to describe sacrificial animals as being “without blemish” (Leviticus 1:3, 10, etc.), or of a period of time being “completed” or “full” (Leviticus 23:15; 25:30). When used of a person, it is often translated “blameless” or “perfect” or “upright” (Deuteronomy 18:13; 1 Samuel 22:24), but the idea is still of a complete person.

One of the best known characters of the Old Testament is the man named Job. He is described in the first verse of the book of Job as “blameless (TAM), upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil.” The word translated “blameless” would be better translated “a man of integrity.” In a sense, the descriptive terms which follow really fill out what integrity means. He was “upright” (in his dealings with others), “fearing (reverencing) God” and “turning away from evil.” In other words, all aspects of his life fit together. Later in the story, after Job had suffered horrible disasters and losses, the LORD could brag on him to Satan, that “he still holds fast his integrity” (Job 2:3). In chapter 31, in response to his three friends who claimed that his sufferings were due to his sin, Job could deny all possible faults and in a sense challenge his detractors to “prove it!”

The book of Proverbs gives many of the practical consequences for a person of integrity. The LORD is his “shield” (2:7). “He who walks in integrity, walks securely” (10:9). “The integrity of the upright will guide them” (11:3). One of my favorites is 20:7: “A righteous man who walks in his integrity – how blessed are his sons after him.”

None of us leads a life of complete integrity. There was only one who could really challenge His challengers with “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46).

I believe this is what our goal in life should be: to be as closely conformed to Christ as it is possible in this life; to live a life like His; to have our thinking, our actions and our speech integrated; to be the same person in our private lives as in our public lives.

Philip Yancey quotes a child psychiatrist as defining character as “how you behave when no one is looking.” The same could be said of integrity.

Bill Ball

Monday, May 15, 2006


Emily said … (comment on THE WOMEN AT THE CROSS).
“Sweet!!! Man, that must have been a ... unique (for lack of a better word) place to have been, Watching your son/savior/friend dying, watching people either spitting on him or crying beneath him ... hm. Wow ... amazing. Now, what’s the significance of the women being present? Was it that since the men all fled, the women were the ones to remain and care for the body?”

Em: Thanks for your comment. It has forced me to think, but I still don’t have a neat answer to your question. “Significance” questions are hard to deal with. Webster defines significance as “something that is conveyed as a meaning often obscurely or indirectly.” So then, is the Bible trying to “convey” something to us through the women being present, while the men had fled, or is it simply recording history?

The Bible is full of stories of women who acted when men were afraid to. One of my favorites is in Judges 13 about a man named Manoah and his (unnamed) wife. The Angel of the LORD (probably, as many believe, the pre-incarnate Christ) had appeared to the woman, told her she was going to give birth, and had given specific instructions about her pregnancy. She reports to her husband who is full of doubts and questions. At the end of the story Manoah finally realizes who they’ve been dealing with and cries in a panic, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” His wife calmly reassures him with an answer something like this (if I may paraphrase), “Calm down. If God wanted to kill us, would he have gone to all this trouble?”

Or the story of Deborah, the prophetess, who had to accompany the reluctant general Barak into war (Judges 4:4-9).

Of course, sometimes the women led the men in the wrong direction, as Eve with Adam in the garden, or Sarai offering her servant girl to Abram. In both cases it says that the man “listened to the voice of” the woman (Genesis 3:17; 16:2).

We are told in Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper (not “helpmeet” as the King James is incorrectly read) suitable for him.’” The Hebrew word translated “helper” is ezer and does not mean a subordinate; it is usually used of God as the helper or provider. “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20). “But I am afflicted and needy; Hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay” (Psalm 70:5). The Hebrew word translated “suitable” is neged, which is defined as “in front of” with the idea of being conspicuous. “Corresponding to” would be perhaps a more accurate translation here. One commentator paraphrases it “a helping being, in which, as soon as he sees it, he may recognize himself.” I like to see it as the woman being the missing piece in a two-piece jigsaw puzzle.

So I guess we should look at the women at the cross, and afterward at the grave as simply filling in what is lacking in the men, as they have done through the Bible and through all history.


Thursday, May 11, 2006


In his book of Lamentations, Jeremiah the prophet mourns the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. He describes in vivid, horrible detail the agonies of his people. He personifies the fallen city, and it is sometimes difficult for the reader to tell if Jeremiah or Jerusalem is speaking. But the one thing I’d like to note is that Jeremiah sees all the suffering of Jerusalem as deserved, and identifies himself with the city and her people. “Jerusalem sinned greatly” (1:8). “The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against His command” (1:18). “I have been very rebellious” (1:20).

Daniel in Babylon, toward the end of the 70-year captivity, saw that the time of restoration was nearing and so “set his face” to God with “prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:1-5). His prayer is a prayer of confession, not just of the people of Israel, as though they were a separate entity. He includes himself. “ ... we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, rebelled ... “ etc., etc. “ ... open shame belongs to us.” The prayer is a long recitation of the sins of his people, with whom he includes himself. He confesses that they had received what they deserved, because they had “not listened” to God’s law or His prophets and he begs for God’s mercy and forgiveness (9:6-19).

Nehemiah in Persia, upon hearing of the “distress and reproach” that had befallen the remnant who had returned to Jerusalem, began a period of weeping, mourning, fasting and praying for his people (Nehemiah 1:1-5). He confesses the sin of his people, which had brought on their suffering. And again, he doesn’t pray for a distant “them,” he includes himself in the confession, “ ... we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly ... ” (1:6, 7).

Probably neither Jeremiah or Daniel or Nehemiah had personally taken part in any of the sins they enumerate. In fact, Jeremiah had been haranguing his people about their sins for close to forty years. Yet each of these men identified with his people so intimately that he could understand their sins as well as their deserved sufferings, as his own. They had a sort of “corporate identity.”

But this is not merely an Old Testament or Jewish concept, confined to those who made or make up an ethnically homogeneous group such as the nation of Israel.

Jesus did this for us – for His people. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

When Jesus spoke of “the cup” in His prayer in the garden (Luke 22:42), He was using an Old Testament concept – the “cup” represented God’s wrath for sin. He took our sin and God’s wrath on Himself. He identified with us in a way much greater than the prophets had identified with Israel.

What about the church? Paul tells us over and over that “we who are many are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:27). We’re told that “ ... and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). So if the church is guilty of sin or sins, should we identify? Do we each individually bear some of the guilt of the church as we do the sufferings and the glory? Should we as individual Christians confess these sins as our own? Should we say “Lord, we have sinned”?

Now I don’t mean we should be like the sort of nit-pickers we’ve all come across (and have probably been, at least part of the time). They can tell you what’s wrong with a particular church, whether it’s the music or the preaching or the length of the service. They can identify the sins of any church, but they don’t identify WITH them.

Nor do I mean being a “bleeding heart.” You know the folks who feel that whatever awful is happening in the world is somehow our fault, that the church is to blame for all the evils in America and the world. Immorality, divorce, homosexuality crime, etc. are perceived as in some way caused by the church, usually either by its legalism or its tolerance.

I believe we need to look inside, at what the church is doing wrong, to see ourselves as in a very real way involved, because we are part of the corporate identity, the body of Christ. And perhaps we need to seriously pray something like this:

-- We have sinned, I and my fathers have sinned.
-- We have forsaken You and have turned unto other gods.
-- We have become obsessed with size, with growth for growth’s sake.
-- We have desired to make a name for ourselves, rather than to glorify Your Name.
-- We have concerned ourselves with the sins of those outside, rather than with our own.
-- We have placed our trust in political solutions to the moral problems of our nation.
-- We have failed to love our neighbor.
-- We have failed to concern ourselves with carrying out Your great commission.
-- O Lord hear, O Lord forgive! For Your own sake and for the people who are called by Your Name.

Bill Ball