Monday, February 19, 2007


In the beautiful and very sensual Old Testament love poem, the Song of Solomon, we see described in metaphorical language the courtship and marital relationship of a bride and groom.

After the marriage is consummated, we see the bride fall into some bad habits of the type that still hinder intimacy in marriage today. She describes a scene perhaps familiar to many married couples (5:2-6).

I was asleep but my heart was awake,
A voice? My beloved was knocking;
“Open to me my sister my darling” (verse 2).

This may describe a literal scene where the husband has literally been locked outside, or more likely, it is a metaphorical way of describing his approaching her with a desire for intimacy. Anyway, she has excuses for not getting up and going to the door.

“I have taken off my dress,
How can I put it on again?
I have washed my feet,
How can I dirty them again?” (verse 3).

Well, the young groom is persistent for a while, and she is finally aroused (verse 4), but by the time she gets around to opening the door, he’s gone (verses 5 and 6). He’s had enough. Sound familiar?

I believe it is this metaphor that lies behind the call that Jesus gives in Revelation 3:20 to the church in Laodicea, the seventh of the churches to which he addresses a letter (Revelation 3:14-22):

14. And to the messenger of the church in Laodicea write: These things says the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Origin of the creation of God:
15. I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot.
16. So because you’re lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I’m going to vomit you out of my mouth!
17. Because you say, “I’m rich, and I’ve become wealthy and I have need of nothing,” and you don’t know that you’re wretched and pitiful and poor and blind and naked,
18. I’m counseling you to buy from Me gold refined in fire so that you may become rich, and white garments, so that you may clothe yourself and that the shame of your nakedness won’t be shown, and eyesalve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.
19. As many as I love, I reprove and discipline; so then be zealous and repent.
20. Look! I’m standing at the door and I’m knocking. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I’ll come in to him and I’ll dine with him and he with Me.
21. The overcomer, I will grant to him to sit with Me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
22. The one who has an ear – listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

This church had a lot of problems. Of the seven churches, this is one of only two about which He could find nothing good to say. It makes me think of a former boss of mine who loved to mangle proverbial sayings. One of his favorites was, “If you can’t say sometin’ nice about somebody, den say sometin’ nasty.”

Jesus introduces Himself in this letter as the embodiment of truth. The first title He gives Himself is “the Amen,” a Hebrew word related to the ideas of both truth and faithfulness – something that could be relied on. We put it at the end of our prayers to signify that we mean what we say. The next two would agree with the first. He is absolute truth and expects the same from His followers.

He has many gripes. They are lukewarm. Jesus wanted either hot or cold, just like we do today. They make Him want to barf. They think they’re rich. They’re apparently wealthy materially, by the standards of their day. But they were spiritual paupers – just the opposite of the church in Smyrna (2:9). It’s a pretty sad picture.

What’s wrong with this church? He doesn’t name any horrible sins or vices. He doesn’t name any doctrinal heresies.

I get the idea that they were just a smug satisfied church. Just going through the motions. After all, they did have “works.” But there’s no reality left. Perhaps many of the members were Christians in name only – they had never really put their faith in Christ. Their names were on the church roll. They belonged to the church as they might belong to a club. The counsel Christ gives in verse 18 makes it sound like that. The things He counsels them to buy are the things that accompany salvation – the gold, the white clothes. They needed first to put their faith in Christ.

But in verse 19, He turns His attention to those He loves. This is not the usual word for the love of God for us. The Greek word used is PHILEO, the love of affection, the love one has for a friend. It is the word used for Jesus’ love for his friend (PHILOS) Lazarus. “See how He loved him” (John 11:36). Jesus still has friends in the church in Laodicea. It is with them that He seeks to rebuild that relationship.

And so in verse 20, we find Christ standing outside the door of the church. As the loving bridegroom of the Song of Solomon, the heavenly Bridegroom longs for intimacy with those in the church for whom He has a deep affection. And all it takes is for a hearer to open the door.

And in the same way Christ desires intimacy with us. Even if some of our church organizations have locked Him out, we can invite Him in.

But Christ is a gentle Lover. If we, as His bride, choose to just roll over and go back to sleep, if we make excuses for our neglect and rejection of His advances, He won’t force us. He’ll just wait for us. Though He may have to “reprove and discipline,” He desires us to willingly seek Him, as the bride in the Song of Solomon.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


In 1956, the world saw what was considered a horrible tragedy. On a sandy beach along an unknown river, deep in the jungles of Ecuador a number of young American missionaries were savagely killed by members of a tribe known then as Aucas. The reports of their discovery made headlines throughout the country. LIFE magazine did a huge spread of pictures. Radio and TV commentators discussed the event. It was, for much of America, a first exposure to independent missions and to many it seemed senseless. But this event had an impact on many in my generation. I was 19 years old and a fairly new believer in Christ.

My opinion of missionaries up till that point had been that they were social misfits, isolationists, old maids – people who couldn’t make it in the “real world.” But these were real men, most of them not even ten years older than I.

It wasn’t long after this happened that I met two of their fellow missionaries, Bill Gibson and his wife Gladis. Bill and Gladis had known these men and of their plans to reach this savage tribe, but they were back in the U.S. on furlough when the event occurred. I can’t remember many of the details of what Bill said as he related their story from his perspective, but I do remember that he talked of these guys as real persons, not just pictures in a magazine.

Why would these men who had everything going for them, in the prime of their life, with families, risk all just to reach what most would think of as a handful of ignorant savages? Though their journals have been published, books written and movies produced, it perhaps can best be summed up in a few paragraphs from the journal of one of them, Jim Elliot:

“God I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life, and may I burn up for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like You, Lord Jesus” (1947 – age 20).

”He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (1949 – age 22).

As I studied the sixth letter from the risen glorified Christ in the book of Revelation, the above thoughts came to mind. This is His letter to the church in Philadelphia (not Philadelphia, PA, but a small town in the Roman province of Asia, today, Western Turkey). (Revelation 3:7-13):

7. And to the messenger of the church in Philadelphia write: These things say He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one will shut and who shuts and no one opens:
8. I know your works (Look, I have given before you a door standing open, which no one is able to shut) you have a little power and you have kept my word and you haven’t denied my name.
9. Look! I’m giving some from the synagogue of Satan, who say themselves to be Jews and are not, but are lying. Look, I’ll make them come and bow down before your feet and they will know that I have loved you.
10. Because you have keep the word of My endurance I’ll also keep you out of the hour of testing which is going to come upon the whole inhabited earth to test those who dwell on the earth.
11. I’m coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.
12. The overcomer, I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will not go out any longer and I’ll write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem which comes down out of Heaven from My God, and My new name.
13. The one who has an ear -- listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Here was a church about which Christ had no complaint. Of the 7 churches, only one other has this distinction (the church at Smyrna – 2:8-11). The church mentioned just before, Jesus called dead, and the church following, He says makes Him want to vomit. This church gets nothing but His praise.

Christ introduces Himself as the holy, true and sovereign King. He is the One who opens and closes doors, Who gives or withholds opportunities.

As with all these letters, He begins His address with an “I know,” but then immediately shifts thoughts before He returns to what He knows about them.

They have “a little power” – or it could be translated simply “little power.” They were of that group that Paul refers to in his first letter to the Corinthians “ … not many wise … not many mighty, not many noble …” They were among “ … the foolish things … the weak things … the base things …” that God has chosen (1 Corinthians 1:26-30). They didn’t have a big reputation like the previous church.

But they had been faithful. In a culture much like ours that demanded conformity, they had dared to stand out. They had kept Christ’s Word (mentioned twice, verses 8 and 10) and had not denied His name, even though it probably was demanded of them. While those of the culture around them and even some of the churches were denying Christ through paganism and emperor worship, this little, weak group held tight to Christ, no matter what the cost.

Because they were faithful, Christ promised them opportunity. The open door was, I believe, a metaphor for the opportunity for missions and evangelism. (See Acts 14:27: “He had opened a door of faith to the gentiles”; 1 Corinthians 16:9: “ … a wide door … has opened to me …”; also see: 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3, 4).

And Christ promised not only opportunity, but success. I believe this is what He means when He says in verse 9, that their adversaries would “ … come and bow down before your feet and know that I have loved you.” He’s not telling to this little church that their adversaries would bow down to them, but that they’d bow down to Christ in their presence. In other words, this church would be successful in their evangelism. Because they were faithful to Christ, He could promise them not only opportunity, but success in their efforts. And I believe that’s still true today, even though that success may not always be visible.

Today a large number of the Waodoni (Auca) people are believers in Jesus Christ. Some of the very men who murdered those missionaries are even elders in their little church. Though those original missionaries never saw results in this life, their spouses and families did return and lead many to faith in Christ. And their courageous act of martyrdom inspired many of my generation to also commit their lives to service for Christ.

It seems we don’t need to look for opportunities to serve Christ. What He wants is faithfulness. He wants our passion. When He sees this in us He’ll open the doors as He sees fit.

Or perhaps the doors of opportunity are always open. It is only those who have a passion for Christ who see them.

NOTE: For more about my friend Bill Gibson,
go to:

Bill Ball

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Churches today are caught up in marketing. We want to advertise what we have to offer – whether to “seekers” or newcomers to our town, or even to distinguish us from the church down the road. Buzz words and catchy slogans abound. Is there anything wrong with that? After all, it works for automobiles and aspirin tablets, so why shouldn’t it work for us?

One problem is that many people are calloused toward advertising claims. If we watch television, about one-third of the things we see and hear are sales pitches. It’s just as bad or even worse with our printed media. Magazines and newspapers. So we grow not only calloused but cynical. We even assume we’re being lied to.

So when churches claim to be “exciting,” “loving,” “caring,” etc., we not only yawn, but our opinion of the church may be lowered in our estimation.

Apparently, this is nothing new. The New Testament church of Sardis seems to be more concerned about reputation than reality. Sardis was the fifth church to which the risen glorified Christ dictated a letter in the book of Revelation (3:1-6):

1. And to the messenger of the church at Sardis write: These things says the One who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive – and you’re dead!
2. Wake up and establish the things that remain, which were about to die, for I haven’t found your works complete before my God.
3. So then, remember how you have received and heard, and keep it and repent. If then you don’t wake up, I’ll come to you like a thief and you won’t know in what hour I’ll come on you.
4. But you have a few names in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and they will walk with me in white because they are worthy.
5. The overcomer will thus be clothed in white garments and I will not ever erase his name from the Book of Life, and I will confess his name in the presence of My Father and in the presence of His holy angels.
6. The one who has an ear – listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

All this church had was a name, a reputation and a few incomplete works. I can’t help but wonder how they acquired their good name.

Perhaps they had a great beginning. Perhaps they had been alive and the community around them had recognized this, but now, as many churches (and church people), they had simply “backslid” and were living on their past reputation, glorying in the good old days. Jesus’ advice to them to “remember” in verse 3 may indicate this.

Or perhaps they were devoting all their energy into promoting a reputation, with little concern about the reality behind it. If we may being them into the 21st century, we might imagine their members’ bumper stickers “SARDIS – THE LIVING CHURCH.” Billboards with the pastor’s picture heralding “THE CHURCH ALIVE – SARDIS CHURCH.” I could go on.

Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

But Jesus is more concerned about reality than reputation, completeness rather than claims. He gives them counsel.

There’s a little bit of reality remaining – the church is not quite dead. But the reality has never been carried through to completion. His advice is to wake from their near dead stupor and get back to their beginnings. He tells them to “remember how" (not “what”) they had received and heard. He is not calling them back to the facts of the gospel, but to their receiving of it.

I believe He is calling them back to their initial faith. Their church and personal life is to be built on their faith. Just as they had relied totally on Christ for their initial salvation, so they are to do in their continued daily lives. They were relying on their reputation. He wants them to rely on Him! (Compare Paul’s advice to another church: Galatians 3:1-3.)

In verse 4, He speaks of those few who “haven’t defiled their garments.” Apparently most of the church folks had. But the letter makes no mention of any gross immorality or false teaching as in most of the preceding letters. It’s possible to “defile” our garments – ourselves with an over-concern about our external reputation.

Jesus ends this letter, as the others, with a promise to the overcomer – He gives us pure garments and He guarantees us our security in Him. We don’t need to worry about making or upholding a name for ourselves. We have a name. Our name is written in permanent ink in His book.

Bill Ball