Wednesday, January 31, 2007


A friend of mine who is attending seminary e-mailed me that he was assigned to ask the following question of three men in the ministry: “How does the Trinity impact your ministry and message?”

My first question back to him was: “Do you mean the doctrine or the Persons of the Trinity?”

Answer: “He didn’t say.”

This is a tough one. I’d never considered it.

Well here goes.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that my ministry and my message is the wrong place to start. I must start with my own personal relationship with God. Jesus, in His prayer in John 17:3 said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and the One whom you sent – Jesus Christ.” Tie that with the passages earlier in John’s gospel where Jesus spoke concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and we see the ministries of the three cannot be separated (as we often do in theology class):

”But the Helper (parakletos), the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and will remind you of all things that I told you” (John 14:26).

“Whenever the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father … He will testify about Me” (John 15:26).

“He will glorify Me, because He will take of Mine and He will report it to you” (John 16:14).

Also see John 14:16, 17; 16:7, 8, 12, 13.

In John 17:1, the Son asks the Father to glorify Him, as He has glorified the Father, yet earlier He said the Spirit would be the One who would glorify Him.

Look at the passages about their mutual love:

“But that the world may know that I love the Father and as the Father commanded Me, so I do …” (John 14:3`).

“Even as the Father has loved Me, I also love you” (John 15:9).

“You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

I hope I’m not sounding sacrilegious when I say that we have in the Trinity a sort of “mutual admiration society.” If God’s main desire and purpose is to bring about His own glory, I believe we can conclude that the desire and purpose of each Person of the Trinity is to bring about the glory of the other Persons.

So where am I going with this? The God I know is a Trinity, and it is only as the Trinity that I can really know Him.

So how does this affect my ministry and message? It means that their purpose must be to bring people into this knowledge of the one God who is three persons.

I believe that having a (reasonably) clear understanding of the three Persons is essential for a clear message: knowing not only what it is that distinguishes the Persons, but also their different works.

I believe that the average Christian is very vague in his/her understanding of the Trinity. We hear it in their prayers. We hear the Father being thanked for dying for us. We hear prayers closed “in Thy name,” without, I believe a real understanding of whose name it is. (We can, however, be thankful that though “we don’t know how to pray as we should … the Spirit intercedes for us … and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is …” Romans 8:26, 27.) Many think of Jesus, in His incarnation, almost as if He were some sort of theophany and have little understanding of His real humanity. The Holy Spirit seems to be thought of as some sort of “force” rather than a real Person. We may confess a belief in the Trinity, but to many, the doctrine is avoided or ignored as though it were beyond comprehension by any but professional theologians. Yet the Christian who does have some understanding and is able to relate this to life can really grow.

So the Trinity is central to my message and my ministry. No matter how the gospel is presented, no matter how I tailor the message, it must always involve the three Persons. If not, it is defective.

When we tell people that Christ died for their sins, we have to know and explain Who Christ is – not merely a good man, not merely a theophany – but God in the flesh. And we have to communicate what sin is – an offense against a Holy God – the Father of the One who died. And we must understand that the message itself would make no sense to its hearers without the illuminating work of the Spirit.

And I can only perform my ministry in relation to the Trinity. Following the example of the incarnate Christ, I must live in submission to the Father empowered by His Spirit.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Years ago when I worked for a brief time with an alcohol and drug treatment center, I gained some new vocabulary. Words like “co-dependent” and “enabler” became important. Granted that they suffer today from overuse and have become part of our modern psycho-babble, they do speak of a dangerous condition into which Christians are often in danger of falling.

Sometimes, what we think of as love exercised to those involved in self-destructive behavior is really a sort of sloppy sentimentality that is not beneficial to those who are an object of that love. It “enables” them to continue in their action. We tolerate sin for whatever reason and by tolerating, we actually encourage it.

We don’t want to scare people away from church. We want to be “seeker-friendly.” This is not, however, a new problem in our churches. It was a problem that raised its head even before the ink was dry on the New Testament. It’s seen in the fourth letter that the risen Christ dictated to the apostle John in the book of Revelation (2:18-29):

18. And to the messenger of the church in Thyatire write: These things says the Son of God who has His eyes like a flame of fire and His feet like polished bronze:
19. I know your works and your love and your faith and your service and your endurance and your last works are more than your first.
20. But I have this against you that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads astray my servants to commit fornication and to eat idol-sacrifices.
21. And I gave her time to repent, and she doesn’t want to repent of her fornication.
22. Look! I’m throwing her into bed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent of her works.
23. And her children I’ll kill with death, and all the churches will know that I am the One who searches the minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
24. But I say to you, the rest of those in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, as many as have not known the deep things of Satan, as they say: I’m not putting on you any other burden,
25. except, hold tight to what you have till I come.
26. And the overcomer and the one who keeps my works to the end, I will give him authority over the nations,
27. and he will shepherd them with an iron rod; as vessels of the potter they will be shattered,
28. as I also received from my Father. And I will give him the Morning Star.
29. The one who has an ear -- listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

In this letter we hear Jesus using what is known today as tough love. He is not being an enabler. He is not being “gentle Jesus meek and mild.” Though He doesn’t say so here, it’s apparent that He’s angry.

What’s He mad about? A woman named Jezebel. Verse 20 describes her actions. She was a leader in the church, a self-proclaimed prophetess. (A few Greek texts have the word “your” here. The word “woman” could also be translated “wife.” If so, that would mean she’s the wife of the “messenger” addressed in verse 18. She could be the pastor’s wife!) She is using her “gift” to seduce the folks in that church to get involved in idolatrous pagan worship. This worship involved as it often did, illicit sexual activity.

I assume that Jezebel is not the woman’s real name. I can’t imagine any parents giving their daughter that name. Her namesake Jezebel was the daughter of a pagan king of Sidon and lived hundreds of years earlier. She was married to Ahab, king of Israel and introduced the worship of the fertility god Baal to the nation (1 Kings 16:29-33). She slaughtered the prophets of the LORD and is pictured as one of the most evil figures in Old Testament history. Her final end was that she was killed in a coup – thrown out of an upper story window, trampled by horses, eaten by dogs and spread “as dung on the face of the field” (2 Kings 9:30-37). Pretty grim!

The prophets in the Old Testament railed against, not only sexual sin, but idolatry, the worship of other gods, besides the LORD. The LORD is presented as a jealous God and sees worship of other gods as adultery. Israel was his wife and “fooling around” was not tolerated.

The New Testament church is the bride of Christ and Jesus will not tolerate our “fooling around” with other “lovers” – false gods or idols. Though in this text He threatens harsh action against Jezebel, she is not the only one He is upset with. It is the church at Thyatira, addressed thought the messenger. It was the church’s tolerance of sinful teaching and leadership in its midst. The object of His disciplinary action is that “The churches will know” who He, Christ is (verse 23).

This church like the church in Smyrna (see previous) was a compromising church, but not only was it putting up with false teaching, it was tolerating sinful behavior by one of its leaders. Perhaps like the church in Corinth, they were “puffed up” (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2) and thought they were open-minded and liberal in allowing this sort of behavior.

We often hear preachers condemning the sins of those “out there.” Jesus doesn’t do that. He offers grace and forgiveness to those who have not yet come to know Him. But though He is gracious to those who have come to know Him, He expects more. He expects His bride to be pure and faithful to Him. He expects us to “hold tight” to Him (verse 23).

Bill Ball

Monday, January 22, 2007


Over two decades ago, Alan Bloom, in his highly controversial book, THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, spoke to what he saw as the situation among the students of his day. I don’t think it’s changed much since then.

He says, on page 25: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. … The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness.”

He talks about how young people can’t even understand it being any other way. The most horrible moral danger, as they see it, is to hold to absolute values. Absolutism leads to intolerance, which is the cardinal (or only) sin.

Well, those who were students when Bloom wrote are the leaders in today’s society. I’m sure that Bloom was painting with a broad brush and not all of the generation he speaks of are relativists, but it’s still frightening.

I know too that this sort of thinking has penetrated the church. Christians bring it to their worship, to their study of Scriptures (see WHAT IS TRUTH, 4/10/2006).

If I question students as to what beliefs are held by the churches they attend, I sometimes receive puzzled looks. The question makes no sense to them. Churches don’t believe! They worship. They have programs. They are “tolerant” of others’ beliefs. It’s no big deal!

But, lack of correct belief can be fatal spiritually. And this is not just a current problem. The third church which Christ addresses in the book of Revelation nearly 2,000 years ago, the church at Pergamum had a problem similar to that of many churches today.

Revelation 2:12-17:
12. And to the messenger of the church in Pergamum write: These thing says the One who has the sword, double-edged, sharp:
13. I know where your home is, where the throne of Satan is, and that you’re holding tight to my Name and you haven’t denied your faith in me – even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan’s home is.
14. But I have a few things against you: that you have there those who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block in front of the sons of Israel: to eat idol sacrifices and to commit fornication.
15. In the same way you have also – you - those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise.
16. So then, repent. And if not, I am coming to you quickly and I’ll wage war with them with the sword of my mouth.
17. The one who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: To the overcomer I will give the hidden manna and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except the one who receives it.

This was a church on the cutting edge of missionary activity. They had planted themselves right in the middle of Satan’s territory (verse 13). Pergamum was a center of idolatry at the time this letter was written. There were temples to Asklepius, to Zeus and even a center of emperor worship. Yet they’d held tight to Christ’s Name. They’d “kept the faith.” Jesus says he understands their tough working conditions and praises them for their boldness. They had already lost one of their own – a martyr because of his faithful witness.

But when we work close to the enemy, there’s danger. Perhaps new believers were coming into the church carrying their previous beliefs and lifestyles. Perhaps the church folks were simply trying to be open and tolerant toward the members of their community.

There were within the church, two groups holding to false and dangerous beliefs: “Those who hold to the teaching of Balaam,” and “those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” Not all of the church people were in these parties, but apparently all tolerated them.

Balaam was a “prophet for profit” who had lived 1,500 years earlier, who was hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel. When he was prevented from this, he counseled, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Satan has many strategies. If outright persecution doesn’t work, he uses compromise and in this way, nearly destroyed Israel. Those who held his teaching in the church apparently taught that freedom in Christ is freedom to sin.

Who the Nicolaitans are, we don’t know, but we’ve already seen their “works” in the church at Ephesus (verse 6).

Jesus give an “or else” threat. Repent! Deal with these people! Stop being so tolerant! His threat is that He will judge by warring with the sword of His mouth. He doesn’t say exactly how He’s going to do this, but if the sword as elsewhere (Hebrews 4:12) represents the written Word of God, then He is applying it to the problem.

All teaching in the church must be judged by the Scripture. Right theology is the basis for right behavior. Sin is always (among other things) a violation of the Word of God.

Jesus ends this letter, however, not with the treat, but with a promise (verse 17). Though there is much symbolism here, it seems to all point to intimacy with Christ.

Intimacy, however, demands a conformity to His Word.

Bill Ball

Monday, January 15, 2007


To listen to some of my Christian friends, one would think that the church in America is suffering terrible persecution. Often particular groups are pointed out as the persecutors.

Now I know that many of us have in some way experienced this – job discrimination, ostracism or taunting by family and/or acquaintances. Many also fear the possibilities and the unforeseen future (see FEAR, 11/15/2006). I’d like to say a few things to put our fears and sufferings in perspective. One of the best ways, I believe is to look at a biblical suffering church, the second of the seven churches that Jesus addressed in the book of Revelation (2:8-11):

8. And to the messenger of the church in Smyrna write: These things says the First and the Last, who became dead and came to life:
9. I know your affliction and your poverty – but you are rich – and the slander from those who say themselves to be Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
10. Don’t be afraid of the things you’re going to suffer. Look, the devil is going to cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested and you will have affliction ten days. Become faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.
11. The one who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: The overcomer will in no way be harmed by the second death.

This is a church that was really going through it. They were going through affliction. They were poor – the Greek word is ptocheia – it had the idea of abject poverty, having nothing, reduced to begging. From what follows, it appears that poverty is not caused by those forces which are usually blamed, but by the external persecution they were experiencing. Perhaps because of their faith they were ostracized by those who had formerly done business with them. Perhaps they had lost jobs or been ejected from the family business.

They were slandered – and this by those who professed to be followers of a God-given religion. History has shown that what happened in Smyrna has happened elsewhere and is still going on today. Jesus told us this would happen: “ … an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2b).

And Jesus doesn’t give them a lot of hope for avoiding future suffering. He rather promises imprisonment and even death as awaiting them in the future.

Jesus does give hope, but hope of a different kind.

1. First, He tells them that He has gone through what they are going through – all the way to death – and He’s triumphed. He became dead and came to life (verse 8).
2. Secondly, He knows. He doesn’t ignore those who suffer, even though at times we may think He does (verse 9).
3. He tells them that they are actually rich. Their wealth, however, is not wealth as measured by the standards of this age.
4. He promises a reward for the sufferer – the crown of life. (He’s not promising eternal life here. That’s already ours through faith in Him – His death for our sins and His resurrection). This is a reward that He will give those who are faithful through testings (verse 10; James 1:12).
5. He promises that though the believer will go through physical death, he will never suffer the second death (verse 11; cf. 20:6, 14; 21:8). We will spend eternity with Him.

I believe much of our worrying as American Christians is caused by the fear that we may have to suffer, coupled with the hope that we won’t. But look at what Paul told Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Or what Peter told his readers: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled” (1 Peter 3:14). It’s coming!

And there are many Christians, many churches, throughout the world, who are suffering imprisonment, ostracism, even death for merely being Christians. In North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, other Communist and Islamic countries. Christ is not popular in this world. And He told His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Paul told us that, as members of one body we all suffer with these: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (2 Corinthians 12:26).

How can we join them in their suffering? By recognizing the fact that others in the body do suffer horribly and that our relative ease here is not the norm. By spending time in prayer for those who are persecuted and for their persecutors. By giving to those organizations that aid the sufferers and their families. By telling others what is going on.

NOTE: For more on today’s persecuted church see:;;

Bill Ball

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


I grew up listening to country music. The Grand Old Opry was on our radio on Saturday nights. Later, in my teens, I was exposed to R & B. (We had to stay up late and listen to it on our local radio station, however, because it wasn’t played till after 11 P.M., when the older white folks had gone to bed.) Then came Rock & Roll. All three of these musical styles, though had one theme in common: unrequited or spurned love: ”my baby done left me,” “faded love,” etc., etc. Bob wills, Hank Williams, B. B. King, Bill Haley – all moaned similar complaints.

Jesus has a similar complaint. In the book of Revelation He voices it. Revelation 2 and 3 contain seven unusual letters, dictated by the risen glorified Christ to the apostle John and addressed to the “messenger” of each individual church. In each of these He makes some reference to Himself, commends something good, complains about something bad and gives counsel.

The first letter is to the church at Ephesus (2:1-7):

1. To the messenger of the church in Ephesus write: These things says the One who grips the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks in the middle of the seven gold lampstands:
2. I know your works and toil and your endurance and that you are not able to put up with evil persons and you have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not and you have found them liars
3. and you have endurance and you have put up with a lot for the sake of my name and you have not grown weary.
4. But I have this against you that you have forsaken your first love.
5. So then, remember from where you’ve fallen and repent and do again the first works. And if not, I am coming to you and I will remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.
6. But you do have this: that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7. The one who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: To the overcomer I will grant to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.

I want to focus on the complaint in verse 4. This church had forsaken her first love. Just like all those women in all those country and blues songs.

Jesus is complaining like a jilted lover. Now the church at Ephesus was not a new church. If my understanding of New Testament dating is correct, this church had been around for about 40 years. A 40-year love relationship! There just aren’t many like that around. Uni and I have been married for 50 years. We’ve seen many marriages break up and what’s just as bad, we’ve seen many that have just grown cold.

According to verses 2 and 3, the church at Ephesus was externally quite a church. They were a hard working church. They had endurance through all their trials. They were doctrinally sound. They hated and rejected false teaching and bad behavior.

But they’d forsaken their first love. Their “lips were warm but their heart was cold as ice.” Who was their first love? It was Jesus Himself. See Paul’s letter to the Ephesians written over 30 years earlier. “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” (6:24).

We’ve known churches like that: busy, programs and activities for all ages; evangelistic; but they seem to be just going through the motions. It seems as if Jesus is missing from it all. They’re like those marriages where the husband and wife just go through the motions but the passion is gone.

We have to ask, is our church like this? Whether or not it appears to be this way, the next questions should be, is my own life like this? Am I just going through the motions? Am I a busy, active Christian, “serving the Lord,” without the passion? Is my Christian activity simply activity?

In verse 5, Jesus gives us a three-step program for restoring that first love:

1. “Remember from where you have fallen.” Recall when you first “fell in love” with Jesus. Just as in a marriage, there are undoubtedly some great memories tucked away somewhere. That knowledge of forgiveness, of acceptance, of freedom that you had.
2. “Repent.” Repentance has been defined as “a change of mind leading to a change of direction.” Recognize that you’re headed in the wrong direction, confess it and ask the Lord for restoration.
3. Repeat. ” . . . do again the first works.” Don’t stop all your “Christian activity” (though it may be necessary to drop much of it). Get back to those “first works,” the time spent in the Word and prayer – not as a duty, but as a desire.

Though verse 5 contains a threat, verse 7 ends it with a promise: a restoration to not only our original relationship, but to a future in paradise itself.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


Every new year I find myself meditating on the 90th Psalm. It’s a Psalm about time – about the brevity of our lives as compared with God’s eternity.

The title, which is part of the original text, tells us that it is “A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.” The Hebrew word translated prayer is “Tephilah” which has the idea of an intercessory prayer.

I have often wondered just when Moses wrote this prayer. After all, he lived to be 120 years old – 40 years as a prince in Egypt, 40 years as a fugitive murderer and a shepherd in the desert of Sinai and 40 years as the leader of the nation of Israel as they wandered in that same desert. He had plenty of time to write, and a number of sad circumstances which could have moved him to write this rather melancholy bit of poetry. However, the references to the brevity of life seem to fit best within the last period, perhaps in the last few years of his life.

At that time, Moses would have witnessed the deaths of all of his contemporaries. The Bible tells us that the whole generation that left Egypt died in the desert (except for 2 people). How depressing! Somewhere I read that Harry Truman complained that the worst thing about living long was that you have to attend all your friends’ funerals.

But it’s the 10th verse that especially grabbed my thinking this year:

“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years.”

In Moses’ day, 70 years was a good life span and we haven’t hit that as an average until only recently. And in a few weeks, I’ll hit that number. It’s sobering. Those 10 year increments always seem to hit the hardest, but 70 years! It looks like I’ll make it to my allotted time, maybe even more. The last half of the verse, however, puts it in perspective:

“Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.”

Life is fleeting. Moses saw that. I can see that. Life is short. Moses didn’t even get to enter the promised land, but died before his goal was reached. I haven’t reached all of my goals yet and I doubt if I ever will. As a matter of fact, I’ve learned to give up setting goals. As someone has said, I’ve reached the age where I don’t buy green bananas.

But Moses did pray for some goals and I believe I can honestly say that God has answered these requests in my life:

“Do return, O LORD; how long will it be? And be sorry for Your servants” (verse 13).
-- Let me experience God’s compassion. And I have.

“O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness” (verse 14).
-- Let me be satisfied with God’s love. I am.

“Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us, and the years we have seen evil” (verse 15)
-- Let me have as much joy as trouble. I’ve had more.

“Let Your work appear to Your servants and Your majesty to their children” (verse 16).
-- Let me know what God is doing in my life. I’m still learning this.

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands” (verse 17).
-- Let me see a permanence in my work. I’ve seen examples of this.

I thank God that when I look at life from this perspective – nearing the end, I have seen the answers to all these requests.

Thank You, Lord.

Bill Ball