Monday, July 27, 2009


The other day while I was slicing strawberries over our breakfast cereal, the thought struck me. These were big red, beautiful strawberries and I had to fight off the temptation to gobble them down immediately. Why did God make these beautiful things?

I have not been able to get this and similar thoughts to go away. I gaze at my beautiful wife and am still stricken with awe. I pick up a cup of fresh ground coffee and the aroma has my taste buds doing their warm-up exercises before a drop touches my lips. Why did God make her so beautiful? Why did He make coffee so fragrant?

Then on top of these thoughts come additional questions: How would the evolutionist and atheist explain them? What would Richard Dawkins say? I’m sure they could come up with some explanations, usually having to do with reproduction and “gene survival”; or that a taste for beauty is a matter of conditioning. After all, not everyone likes strawberries or coffee (though I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with me regarding Uni’s beauty)!

Yeah, sure! But somehow these interpretations, even if they may contain some elements of truth, seem a bit hollow. The whole is more than simply the sum of its parts!

Paul speaks to Timothy of “God who grants to us all things richly for (our) enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).

And the Psalmist, in praising the LORD for all of creation tells us that, “He makes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for man’s labor … wine that makes man’s heart happy … and bread which sustains man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14, 15). Not only does God provide for our needs, but apparently also for our pleasure. Wine – and coffee? – are apparently given by God just to make us feel good!

The materialist must dissect everything in order to force it into his preconceived idea that everything fits somehow into the evolutionary chain. Beauty -- even love -- must have some observable explanation.

The person of faith, however, sees these as evidence for the existence of God. And not just “a god,” but a kind, benevolent God, who gives us some things just for our enjoyment – like strawberries.

Also see WHAT DID QOHELET MEAN? (10/27/2007)

Bill Ball

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I came across an article with this title in the magazine THE WEEK. It is an excerpt from a larger essay (which I didn’t read) in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY by Sandra Tsing Loh.

Ms. Loh describes her divorce after a 20-year marriage, as well as her friends’ gripes about their marriages and husbands. She quotes some statistics and a few experts and asks some very pointed questions:
 “Why do we still insist on marriage?”
 “But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?”

She makes a few suggestions and concludes, “In any case, my final piece of advice is straightforward: Avoid marriage – or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty of breaking up a long-term union in midlife.”

Is she right? Is she on to something? Have Uni and I been pursuing the wrong course for all these (nearly) 53 years? Did I do wrong in marrying those dozens of couples in my years in the ministry? (Apparently some of them thought so – they didn’t all take!) Did I do wrong in counseling all those couples to be faithful and to stay married? Would we all have been better off single?

I don’t think so!

It is easier to be sympathetic, however, with Ms. Loh’s views when we look at them in their context. She lives in a world that is unfamiliar to me, but which I fear is encroaching more and more on that of my family and friends – even church friends.

Her world (it appears) consists of two career families, families where children seem to be more of a burden than a joy, where the “girls” have their “night,” where bored and boring sexual partners have long ago set aside their passion for one another. The passion has been gone so long that it’s not worth attempting to recover. God is nowhere to be found. Divorce is inevitable!

Maybe she’s right! If that’s what marriage is, then why bother? If the relationships we enter in order to find happiness bring nothing but boredom and grief, maybe they’re not worth entering!

But what’s the alternative? Boredom and grief alone? Multiple sex partners who can provide what has been called “recreational sex”? A lifetime of being impoverished, not only relationally but financially? (Obviously finances are not a problem to Ms. Loh.)

Most of us spend our lives in “the pursuit of happiness,” and, I believe, never has this been truer than it is today. We seek our own happiness in things, in careers and in our marriages. If our things don’t satisfy, we get more and better things. If our careers don’t satisfy, we quit and look for better ones. And if our marriages don’t satisfy, we quit and either look for a better one, or seek the benefits of marriage without the burden of commitment.

But the pursuit of happiness doesn’t work. Happiness must pursue us! If we make our personal happiness our main goal, we will never attain it. Happiness is a byproduct!

We all need to take a look at what Jesus said. And He was saying to all, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he needs to deny himself and pick up his cross every day and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for My sake, he will save it. For what is a person profited if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)

This is the great paradox of the Christian life. When we seek our own life -- our gain, profit, happiness -- we don’t find it. When we give our life away for Him, we really find it.

And this applies in marriage. If we enter marriage expecting it and our partner to bring us happiness, we will be sadly disappointed. It’s not first of all about me – my happiness. It’s about a commitment to Jesus Christ and to our partner. It’s about seeking their happiness. And it’s about finding happiness – finding life – through giving it!

It’s worth the bother!

Bill Ball

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Recently, a state governor confessed publicly to having an adulterous affair with an Argentine woman. This sort of thing seems to be a commonplace among governors, senators and legislators of both political parties these days. This man, like many of the others, was an advocate of a strict moral code, which he himself broke.

I’m not writing here to condemn his adultery and apparent hypocrisy nor to defend him. There are enough talking heads and comedians for that. I would simply like to examine and comment on one thing he said during one of his press conferences:

“What I found interesting is the story of David and the way in which he fell mightily – fell in very, very significant ways – but then picked up the pieces and built from there.”

I heard similar words about 40 years ago from a fellow minister who was discovered to be having multiple affairs. I suppose I too might appeal to David if I were in their shoes.

But while David is definitely an example of grace, he, however, is not an example of how easy it is to “pick up the pieces.” He is rather an example of the fact that even though we can find grace and forgiveness, the pieces may continue to fall, and we may never be able to pick them up. In other words, sin, even when forgiven, can have consequences – a sort of ripple effect. So I’d like to look briefly at David’s story.

David was the second king of the nation of Israel, chosen by the LORD and anointed as king. He was God’s Meshiach, His anointed one (1 Samuel 16:1-3, 12, 13). The LORD made an eternal covenant with David (2 Samuel 7). The first half of the book of 2 Samuel relates David rise to power.

But the story takes a nasty turn in chapter 11, when David “saw a woman bathing (Bathsheba)” (verse 2), committed adultery with her, and then when he found she was pregnant, had her husband murdered and took her for his own (eighth?) wife. Then apparently he thought he could cover it all over.

Nathan the prophet then confronted David with a parable of a wealthy man who took a poor man’s one ewe lamb. David, apparently unable to catch on to the analogy, angrily pronounced a sentence on the man who would do such a thing.

“As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. And he must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion” (12:5, 6).

Nathan responded with “You are the man!” (verse 7), related to David what he was guilty of and pronounced sentence on him (12:7-14).

David repented. He did not go to the public, nor to the press, he went straight to the LORD. His prayer of confession is recorded in Psalm 51, one of the most moving confessions I have ever read. David did find forgiveness by throwing himself on the LORD’s mercy (2 Samuel 12:13). Many believe that Psalm 32 is a record of David’s prayer after he found forgiveness.

But the story doesn’t end there. The rest of 2 Samuel records the broken pieces – the apparent consequences of David’s sin.
• The child of the union with Bathsheba dies.
• David’s firstborn son Amnon, rapes his half-sister Tamar.
• David’s son Absalom murders Amnon to avenge Tamar.
• Absalom leads a coup and displaces David.
• Absalom has sex with David’s concubines.
• David’s friend Ahithophel betrays him, then commits suicide.
• Absalom is killed in warfare by David’s men; David is overcome with grief.
• There is another revolt followed by murders and intrigues among David’s own men.
• David’s son Adonijah attempts a coup (1 Kings 1)

So where does all this history take us? I believe it’s there to warn us that all of our actions have consequences; our sins as well as our good deeds. Though we can find forgiveness from even the worst sins, even adultery and murder, we may not be able to “pick up the pieces.” Often our families and those closest to us are the ones who are forced to pick up the pieces

If I seem to be ending this post on a negative note, I would refer the reader to THE WILL OF GOD, PART 3.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Our daughter was a precocious child. It seems she was born talking and asking questions. So when she was about 3 years old, we put her in a Sunday school class for kindergarten-age children. After Sunday school and church she would explain to us what she had learned.

One Sunday we asked her what her teacher had taught that morning.

“We heard about Nicodemus and Jesus,” she said.

(This is good, I thought -- the 3rd chapter of John. That’s where John 3:16 is. What better passage for a child to hear the simple truth that all one has to do is believe in Jesus!)

“What happened?” I asked.

Her eyes grew wider as she related the story as she recalled it. “Nicodemus was in the house and Jesus was outside. And Jesus kept knocking and knocking, but Nicodemus wouldn’t let Him in!”

I was a bit puzzled, as I had read that passage many times, but didn’t recall those details, so I asked, “What happened next?”

“It started raining – real HARD! And still Nicodemus wouldn’t let Jesus in.”

I frowned at her. “Are you sure that’s the way your teacher told the story?”

“Well, I made that part up about the rain!", she replied with a look of shame.

I could imagine what the Sunday school was like. I knew her teacher, a dear sweet elderly lady who loved the Lord and loved children. But like many teachers, she had tried to use metaphorical language to communicate concrete truths to children who see everything concretely.

She had probably told the children that Nicodemus wouldn’t “open his heart’s door” to Jesus, meaning he wouldn’t believe. But to a child, that’s a real wooden door with hinges and a doorknob.

Jesus spoke of the “little ones who believe in Me” (Matthew 18:6). He apparently thought that children were capable of exercising faith. Yet we seem to feel that instead of giving them the simple truth about Jesus, we muddy it up with metaphors.

And this is done with adults as well as children.

Jesus said, “… whoever believes in Him will … have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Paul defines the Gospel as consisting of four basic assertions, “Christ died for our sins … He was buried … He was raised … He was seen” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5a).

To believe is simply to recognize these truths and to confidently rely on them and the One of whom they speak – Jesus Christ – for our eternal salvation.

What could be simpler?

But I have heard the following appeals made:
• Open your heart (or heart’s door) to Jesus.
• Let Jesus into your heart (or life).
• Accept Jesus as your personal Savior.
• Make Jesus your Lord and Savior.
• Give your heart to Jesus.
• Pray the sinner’s prayer.
• Walk the aisle.
• Make Jesus Lord of your life.

I am positive that many people have come to saving faith in Christ despite our lack of clarity, despite our muddying up of the water of life. But why not let the message be as clear and simple as it is? Perhaps one reason is that we want to see results, we want to see a conversion experience. But the danger is that one could put faith in the conversion experience and not in the Savior Himself.

Bill Ball