Saturday, May 29, 2010


I am not very skilled in financial matters. When the nation was plunged into a crisis in ’08, called by some the Big Recession, I had a difficult time grasping what had happened. I listened intently to the news, the testimonials of those involved and the opinions of the talking heads. Though these made some of the details clear, the contradictory views of the crash actually confused me.

But one face kept popping up again and again – on 60 Minutes, the PBS News Hour, the major network news – even The Daily Show: Michael Lewis, author of THE BIG SHORT: Inside the Doomsday Machine. This guy seemed to make sense of some things, and even where he didn’t, he was entertaining to listen to. So I bought his book. I have to confess, however, that after reading it, I’m still confused. But not nearly as confused as I once was.

First, what to me, the very ignorant reader, appear to be the book’s greatest faults: it lacks all those neat little things that a book of this sort needs – an index, so I could keep up with the various players and organizations involved; a glossary, not only of the usual bewildering financial terms, but also of all those acronyms and initialed things; a few more explanatory footnotes or endnotes. I did find, however, at the end of the book, the Acknowledgements, in which the author made reference to his sources (he calls them “subjects”), most of them the very people he was writing about.

Now the good stuff. Michael Lewis is a great story teller! The history he writes is not just cold hard facts, but the stories of people – real people – real characters – people he has talked to. One could almost get the idea that these are his heroes, people that he admires. They are not the ordinary run-of-the-mill Wall Street bankers; they don’t fit the stereotype; they are men who bet against the system and got rich – even when the system came crashing down.

Every time I saw Michael Lewis on TV, he had a smile on his face. He told stories with a childlike enthusiasm I’ve seldom seen in an adult! He seemed to enjoy his topic and to take great pleasure in describing the wins and losses of his “characters” (or “subjects”). The same delight permeates his book. However, I believe that the lightheartedness disguises a sense of moral conviction that pops up throughout the book, often inserted into the descriptions of his subjects.

The book tells the story of how Wall Street bond traders grew filthily rich by selling subprime mortgage bonds and buying default insurance on them and of how certain persons (Lewis’ “subjects”) basically bet against them and cleaned up. (That’s the best I can do to explain.)

The following is my attempt at summarizing what went on as Michael Lewis explained it. May the reader please forgive me, if I misunderstood. I welcome any clarifying comments.

In the years preceding the crash, home mortgages were given out to people who could not afford them. Often the mortgagees were people whose incomes did not justify the size of the mortgages they took out. Lewis tells some horror stories of people being granted mortgages whose values were five or 10 times their income. These people were given low interest payments for the first few years followed by skyrocketing “adjustable rates” afterward, sometimes more than doubling the monthly payments. Often there were second mortgages granted on homes to those who took them out to pay credit card debt.

These bad mortgages were then bundled into bond packages, rated by (complicit or ignorant) rating agencies as AAA bonds and sold on the bond market. Traders grew fabulously rich. Default insurance was sold on these bonds, even though many of them were doomed to fail.

Some false premises underlay these sales. One was the assumption that the housing bubble wouldn’t burst, that housing prices wouldn’t even go down. “Here was a strange but true fact: The closer you were to the market, the harder it was to perceive its folly” (page 91).

“These people believed that the collapse of the subprime mortgage market was unlikely because it would be such a catastrophe. Nothing so terrible could ever actually happen” (page 148).

Another problem, an ethical one, was that the people who bought the mortgages and went broke didn’t count to those who were making money.

In fact, the poor and the financial lower class are seen almost as an object of contempt to the bankers. One incident involving Steve Eisman, one of the main characters, was when he questioned free checking offered by banks and finance companies. It was perceived as “a tax on poor people – in the forms of fines for overdrawing their checking accounts” and was completely unregulated. He says, “That’s when I decided the system was really ‘______ the poor.’ I now realized there was an entire industry called consumer finance, that basically existed to rip people off” (page 20).

Well we all have some knowledge of what eventually happened: the housing bubble burst, housing prices crashed, people were left with higher payments on houses that were not worth what they were mortgaged for, mortgages went into default by the thousands, subprime mortgage bonds were worthless and the big banks and bond sellers went broke. “One trillion dollars in losses had been created by American financiers, out of whole cloth and embedded in the American financial system” (page 225).

But that’s okay. Uncle Sam bailed them out and the people who should have gone to the poorhouse (if not to prison) ended up richer than ever. “By early 2009 risks and losses associated with more than a trillion dollars’ worth of bad investments were transferred from big Wall Street firms to the U.S. taxpayer” (page 261).
“The world’s most powerful and highly paid financiers had been entirely discredited; without government intervention every single one of them would have lost his job; and yet those same financiers were using the government to enrich themselves” (page 262).

Lewis’ “subjects” also grew rich, only it was because they were betting against the system. But they are also portrayed as Cassandras, who saw and warned about the underlying false assumptions of the system, but with very few people actually listening.

I appreciate that the author, though often revealing his moral conviction, does not offer simple solutions. He clearly points out many things that are wrong with the system without offering a cure-all.

It is easy for evangelical Christians to point out many of the sins and moral failures in our society. It is also easy to overlook many. I have to say that I have heard much preaching and many pronouncements on certain ills (usually having to do in some way or other with sex) and very little, if any, preaching on other evils, such as the one this book exposes: greed! But the “subjects” of this book have some things to say about it! Steve Eisman: “The upper classes of this country raped this country … Not once in all these years have I come across a person inside the big Wall Street firm who was having a crisis of conscience. Nobody ever said, ‘This is wrong.’ And no one ever gave a ______ about what I had to say” (page 232).

“Whenever Wall Street people tried to argue – as they often did – that the subprime lending problem was caused by the mendacity and financial irresponsibility of ordinary Americans he’d (Eisman) say ‘What – the entire American population woke up one morning and said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to lie on my loan application?’ Yeah, people lied. They lied because they were told to lie’” (pages 227, 228).

And while greed is a problem for all, the Bible often speaks directly to the problem of greed in the wealthy, and its corollary: the oppression of the poor. Not only in the Old Testament (See: WHAT DID AMOS MEAN, PART 2) but also in the New Testament.

“Go now, you rich, cry and howl over your coming miseries. Your wealth is rotten and your clothes are moth eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up your treasure for the last days. Look! The wages of the workers who mowed your fields, which were kept back by you, cries out, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived in luxury on the earth and have lived indulgently; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter!” (James 5:1-5)

That is unless Uncle Sam bails you out!

Bill Ball

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


For years I have subscribed to a magazine called Christianity Today. Like most magazines, it arrives with those little card inserts between the pages. One of the magazines had an insert with the tempting subscription offer: “Take a taste! Sample Christianity Today at half price!” As I pondered this offer I realized it was one of those sentences whose whole meaning would be changed by how it was punctuated. The intention, I assume, was to place a break (like a dash) between the words “Today” and “at.” But it also would be possible to place the break between “Christianity” and “Today.” I would then be faced with an offer that many would love to take, and I fear, have already taken, the opportunity to “Sample Christianity – today at half price!”

In my previous two posts, I attempted to deal with the issue of commitment to Christ. I looked at the book CRAZY LOVE and felt that though the author’s motives were sincere and I believe, correct, his method was manipulative. In the next post I attempted to explain what COMMITMENT TO CHRIST is from what (I believe) is a biblical perspective, using Luke 14:26-35 and Romans 12:1, 2.

I’d like to say more about this commitment as Jesus described it in the passage in Luke. But first a few warnings. There are some dangerous extremes to avoid when studying a passage like this:
 What has been referred to by some as “Lordship salvation,” or “frontloading the gospel.” The idea that my eternal life is conditional on this commitment – that “saving faith” really includes more than belief or trust in Christ – that it includes a commitment to Christ’s Lordship – that if I’m not willing to make the commitment described here, then I have no hope of eternal life. But that’s not what Jesus said. When He speaks of saving faith, He does not make demands. Faith may and should be seen in visible acts but they are not the same thing. In many passages, Jesus comments on the faith of many: it has saved them!
Luke 5:20: “And when He saw their faith, He said, ‘Man your sins are forgiven you!’”
Luke 7:50: “And He said to the woman ‘Your faith has saved you! Go in peace.’”
Luke 8:48: “And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you! Go in peace.’”
Luke 17:19: “And He said to him, ‘Get up and go; your faith has saved you!’”
Luke 18:42: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight, your faith has saved you!’”
 Another extreme is something like “This is not required for my eternal salvation, therefore it’s optional. Whoa! Jesus didn’t say that. Discipleship, like baptism, a holy life, etc. is not set before us as “pick and choose” or “cafeteria Christianity,” as some would have it. Jesus expects us to count the cost before we make the commitment but He expects us to make it. He does not give us the liberty to not follow.
 Another variation on this is to say that this was meant for a particular group in a particular setting. This is true – partially. But the application is true for us.
Matthew 28:29, 20: Jesus tells His disciples they are to “make disciples … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The whole passage in Luke, referred to in the previous post, is as follows (Luke 14:25-35):
25) “Now many crowds were going along with Him and He turned and said to them,
26) ‘If anyone come to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own soul, he is not able to be my disciple.
27) Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple.
28-30) For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and count up the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he’s laid a foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees will start to ridicule him saying, ‘This guy started to build and wasn’t able to finish!’
31-32) Or what king when he goes to meet another king in battle, doesn’t first sit down and consider if he is able with 10,000 troops to meet the one coming at him with 20,000? And if not, while the other is far off he sends an embassy to ask the terms of peace.
33) Even so every one of you who does not give up all his own possessions is not able to be my disciple.
34-35) So then, salt is good, but if salt becomes tasteless, what will you salt it with? It’s not fit for the ground or even the manure pile! They throw it out! He who has an ear to hear – listen!’”

There are three negative illustrations here along with the three demands which were discussed in the previous post. I believe that they illustrate three dangers – three potential ways that the would-be disciple can fail. All three are predicated on the possibility of incomplete commitment.

The first danger is the danger of not finishing. The builder in the parable could not complete his project because of a faulty cost-estimate. Most of us are familiar with scenes like the one Jesus illustrates in verses 28-30 – a building half completed, pieces of building materials falling off, the land around it overgrown with weeds, while a large sign with its paint peeling, proclaims a “Coming Soon” with a date long since past.

As I grow older, I often ponder (and fear) this possibility in my own life. We’ve probably all met older men or women who have begun well, but somewhere have failed, through sin, disgrace, or just plain neglect. Why? From this parable, we could infer it’s because they didn’t count, or were unwilling to spend, the cost required. And what is the cost? Everything! Jesus demands our all. If we are not willing to pay that price, we cannot look forward to finishing well.

The same goes for the king in the second parable in verses 31 and 32. He is unwilling to consider going to battle against 2 to 1 odds and seeks terms of peace with his enemy. I believe he illustrates the danger of surrender. He has considered the danger and has decided to drop out of the war, to go to his enemy and agree to his terms. I don’t think this is a passage advocating pacifism. We are at war – spiritual war. And again we’ve met Christians who have given up the fight, surrendered to Satan and fallen deep into a sinful lifestyle. What’s the problem? A failure to commit our all to Jesus Christ.

The third illustration, the salt in verses 34 and 35, is the danger of just going flat. Jesus has told us that we – His disciples – are “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50). I’ve read various commentaries that attempt to explain how salt can lose its taste, but I think that they miss the point. You can’t salt salt! Uni and I cook without salt whenever possible; then at the table I salt to taste while she avoids salting. I can imagine sitting down to a meal and shaking the saltshaker, taking a taste of my food and finding it flat. So I shake out more salt with the same results. I repeat. Then I shake some salt in my hand and it’s flat. What do I do? You can’t salt salt. Tasteless salt is useless.

And that’s a danger for the disciples. There are some, not necessarily older, Christians whose Christian life has gone flat. They have no flavor. They do not cause those around them to thirst for the water of life. They’re just blah. They’re useless.

To “be a disciple” is to live life as it is meant to be lived – the “normal” Christian life.

Discipleship – the committed life --is assumed as the goal and purpose of following Christ. It’s the “reasonable service” of every believer. Jesus says I must give up all these to be a disciple (verses 26 27, 33). The warning is against thinking I can be a disciple of Jesus without giving them up.

Jesus is not saying “count the cost and decide whether you want to be a disciple”! He is saying, “count the cost: if you attempt to be a disciple without spending the full price, you’re headed for an incomplete finish, a surrender to sin, or (at best) a useless life.”

We are building!
We are at war!
We are salt!

The danger is that of thinking we can be involved in these without “saying goodbye”! If we want to live the Christian life on our terms, Jesus tells us we’re going to fail!

And if we do it His way, it works! We’ll find what He tells us in Matthew 11:30 to be true: “My yoke is easy and My load is light.”

Bill Ball

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Our initial salvation –- our justification -- is based on the work of Christ on the cross. It is His work completely. It is received by faith alone. Our good works can add nothing to it. (See: WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?) However, there are demands immediately placed on the one who believes. Our lives are to be different. We are not to “continue in sin that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1). Jesus, in the gospels makes radical demands of His followers. The writers of the epistles, especially Paul, make the same demands, although the terminology may be different.

“I urge you therefore brothers, through the mercies of God, to present your bodies a sacrifice, living, holy, well pleasing to God, your reasonable religious service” (Romans 12:1).

“Neither present your members as weapons of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as alive from the dead and your members as weapons of righteousness to God… For even as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness unto further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, unto sanctification” (Romans 6:13, 19).

Paul gives the proper motive for commitment as “the mercies of God” which we have experienced (which he has described in the first 11 chapters of Romans). Because of what God has done for us, His compassionate acts, His salvation in Christ, the only “reasonable act of worship” is commitment to Him. The Greek word translated “reasonable” is logiken. It does not mean “spiritual” as the NASB and others translate. Any other reaction would apparently be “unreasonable.” Notice, this is not something we must do in order to “be saved,” it is an exhortation to the brethren (which includes the sistern), those who have already experienced God’s “mercies.” Nor is it a requirement to “stay saved” or to demonstrate that one “is saved.” None of the contexts even remotely hint at this.

The totality of commitment may startle us. Following Christ is not presented as an avocation or hobby. Jesus’ demands are presented over and over in the gospels (Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 9:23-26; 14: 26-35). Though He words them differently, perhaps, Luke 14:26-35 presents them most clearly. There are three demands, which when placed together, leave little if anything out. These demands are stated negatively.

“If anyone come to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own soul, he is not able to be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

We are to love Him more than all others. The word “hate” in biblical usage often implies a lesser love. Matthew 10:37 makes this clear. No other human relationship is to take precedence. This includes our selves. My commitment to Him takes precedence over all others.

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple” (14:27).

We are to “carry (our) own cross.” In Jesus’ time, if one saw a person carrying his cross, it meant he was on his way to be executed by one of the cruelest methods ever devised, and was not coming back. (As one of my students, a former prison guard said, “Dead man walking!) The implication is that this is to be a willing act. In 9:23, Jesus says “take up his cross.” The cross means a definite resolution to follow Christ, all the way to death, if necessary. It’s not an on again off again thing (9:62), nor is it as many interpret some affliction laid on us from outside, like a chronic illness.

“Even so every one of you who does not give up all his own possessions is not able to be my disciple” (14:33).

We are to give up all our own possessions. The Greek word translated “give up,” is usually translated “say farewell” or “say goodbye.” We are to say goodbye to all our stuff! I don’t believe this means giving away all we have, but has the idea of hanging on to it loosely. If we tell our possessions goodbye, we shouldn’t be surprised when they are gone.

Paul’s demands are phrased differently, but still speak of the same definite commitment. I believe Paul is simply restating what Jesus said, for a different audience.

We are to present our whole self (Romans 12:1; 6:13, 19). Paul uses the word “body” in 12:1 as a figure of speech for the whole person. This, he presents as our first and great sacrifice – our “act of worship.” In Romans 6, the analogy is that of slavery. Perhaps the thought here is of the Old Testament “bondslave,” an indentured servant who was to serve up to 7 years as payment for a debt, but who at the end of those 7 years willingly submitted for life out of love to his master.

We are to present our “members” (Romans 6:13, 19). By this Paul means a dedication of those parts of us that we are most tempted to use in sinful acts: our eyes, our hands, our sexual members. Perhaps this is what Jesus is saying hyperbolically when He says: “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut if off and throw it away from you … And if your eye causes you to stumble, dig it out and throw it away from you …” (Matthew 18:8, 9).

Though these are demands for a positive commitment, and it should be a lifetime one, there is a need for continual renewal. Jesus says in Luke 9:23: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he should deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” This should not be used, however, as a justification for a roller-coaster experience. He is not granting us permission to “backslide.”

Paul gives the “follow-through” in Romans 12:2: “And stop being conformed to this age, but be (continually) transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you can prove what the will of God is, the good and well pleasing and perfect.”

This verse uses present imperatives. The aorist tense in verse 1 says simply to “present” our bodies – just do it! Verse 2 speaks of an ongoing process. This process begins with mental renewal and leads to a continuing transformation into the image of Christ, and a non-conformity to this age. This will lead to a proof of God’s will. Paul doesn’t mean here some sort of ability to discern the future, as some read this passage. “The will of God” here speaks of His revealed will. “Prove” has the idea of putting to the test (cf. Luke 14:19 where the same word is translated “try out”). In other words we will try out God’s Word and find out that it works. (See: THE WILL OF GOD, PART 2)

Bill Ball

Monday, May 10, 2010


I don’t read many books about “the Christian Life.” As I have said before, most of them could be subtitled “This works for me, so it should work for you.” Most are somewhat helpful, but don’t really say much of value.

But a while back some neighbors told me about a book they’d been studying, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. They seemed to have been thrown into a state of consternation by reading it. So since I had a coupon at Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy.

The author states his purpose in the preface, page 21: “This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, those who would rather die before their convictions do. I hope reading this book will convince you of something: that by surrendering yourself totally to God’s purposes, He will bring you the most pleasure in this life and the next.”

That sounded agreeable to me!

He then goes on almost immediately to castigate his readers. He seems to assume that they are not of this group for whom he has just said he had written the book. Page 22: “The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it’s because we have an inaccurate view of God.”

The book pretty much follows this pattern as the author does his “good cop, bad cop” routine, at one point lifting his readers’ spirits and then bringing them crashing down. I feel that there is frustration in his writing – a frustration that I have felt as a pastor and which my congregation probably also sensed in my preaching. We all want to see our flocks knowing the joy of walking closer to God, but instead see many living a passive Sunday-go-to-meeting Christianity. But I fear books (and sermons) such as this have little positive effect.

The first few chapters alternate between great statements about the majesty of God and the wonders of His creation and the readers’ passive understanding of Him. The author gives much personal testimony of his pilgrimage and growth. He challenges the readers to understand that “The greatest good on this earth is God” and to love Him. All good stuff! I told my neighbors that I didn’t find much disagreeable or threatening. “Just wait till you get to chapter 5!” I was told. So I continued reading.

In chapter 4, “Profile of the Lukewarm,” the author jumps into his “bad cop” routine. He gives us here what he claims is “a description of what halfhearted, distracted, partially committed, lukewarm people can look like” (page 68), and challenges his readers to see if they fit the description. He cites various passages seemingly selected at random, most of which are not even aimed at professing Christians and NONE of which use the word “lukewarm.” Any of us could look through these passages and find some fault or faults of ours there. Does this imply that we are “lukewarm”?

In chapter 5 he tells us that “As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.” Wow! He then quotes Revelation 3:15-18 which is a portion of the letter from the risen Christ to the church at Laodicea. It is the ONLY passage where the word “lukewarm” is used in the whole Bible. The addressees are, as the author argues not “saved” people. I would agree.

The logic here is faulty. In chapter 4, he has defined “lukewarm” in such a broad way as to include most of us. Now we’re told “lukewarm” people are not going to heaven. The argument as I understand it, seems to go like this:
 Chapter 4: Every Christian who has faults is lukewarm.
I, the reader, have faults.
Therefore I am lukewarm.
 Chapter 5: Lukewarm Christians are not going to heaven.
I am lukewarm.
Therefore I am not going to heaven.

After frightening his readers, the author then switches to his “good cop” routine. He says (page 87), “I do not want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book.” That’s just the opposite of what he’s been telling us! Maybe the emphasis should be on the word “true.” He doesn’t want true believers to doubt their salvation. Maybe he just wants us all to doubt that we are true believers.

The next few chapters continue the roller coaster ride: doubt – assurance – doubt – assurance.

Apparently Pastor Chan is himself a bit uncomfortable with his use of guilt and fear as a motivator. He keeps introducing what appear to be apologies:
 Page 95: “Perhaps it sounds as though I believe you have to work your way to Jesus. I don’t. I fully believe that we are saved by grace, through faith, by the gift of God, and that true faith manifests itself through our actions.”
 Page 101: My fear in writing the previous chapter is that it only evokes in you fear and guilt. Personal experience has taught me that actions driven by fear and guilt are not an antidote to lukewarm, selfish, comfortable living. I hope you realize instead that the answer is love.”
So why does he write this way?

In chapter 8, “Profile of the Obsessed” he gives his descriptions of those who are obsessed with Christ. These are total opposites of the “lukewarm” he describes in chapter 5. In chapter 9 he gives actual brief biographical sketches of persons he knows or knows of “who really live that way.” Many of these are well-known believers who have given their lives totally to Christ. Some, however, seem bizarre, such as the man who had all of his teeth pulled out so he wouldn’t have to “slow down God’s work” for dental care.

The book ends on an encouraging note with an urge for what he calls “matter-of-fact obedience.” He quotes Oswald Chambers (page 167). “Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” and ads his own warning, “Be careful not to turn others’ lives into the mold for your own. Allow God to be as creative with you as He is with each of us.” Here he seems to contradict the previous two chapters.

Although I believe Pastor Chan’s desires are correct – he wants his readers totally committed to Christ – and though there is much truth to be gained from reading this book, I would not recommend it. The up and down style, alternating between threats and assurances, is manipulative!

The danger of books like this and many sermons that I’ve heard (and a few I’ve preached), is that instead of achieving the purpose for which they are written, they can lead to other reactions in their readers/hearers.

One negative reaction is despair. A reader could say, “I see too many of my faults/sins pointed out in this book (especially in chapter 4); I can never overcome all.” Or “I see the truly committed Christian as some strange type such as described in chapters 7 and 8 and realize I can never attain to this type of commitment (and I probably don’t want to!).”

Another negative reaction is legalism. One could strive (in the flesh) to eliminate the faults described and to develop the qualities described and probably do a pretty good job. Yet never be moved closer to Christ, but rather farther from Him.

More later.

Bill Ball

Friday, May 7, 2010


In a stack of ancient documents on my desk I discovered a worn manuscript. When I had translated it from the original language, I found that it claimed to be a transcript of an actual interview from the 1st Century. I have published it here. You may notice that some portions bear quite a resemblance to writings in the New Testament.

* * * * * * * *

Joseph Friday: “Hello. My name is Joseph Friday. I’m the chairman of the pulpit committee for the Bigger Bible Church of (text unclear). I’m here to interview a potential candidate for pastor of our church, a Mr. Paul, also known as Saul, of Tarsus.

Mr. Paul, you have filled out our questionnaire, but some of your answers are a little strange. Perhaps this interview will help to clear the air a little. All we want are the facts.

Let me start with your calling and fitness for the ministry. Can you explain your background, calling and your qualifications to be a minister?”

Paul: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”

Joseph: “Could you tell us your denominational background?”

Paul: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee.”

Joseph: “And why have you ceased to be active in this denomination?”

Paul: “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

Joseph: “We understand that you are not married. We consider it advantageous for a minister to be married. How do you see it?”

Paul: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I want to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.”

Joseph: “I noticed on your resume’ that you’ve pastored a number of churches, but for relatively short periods. This does not look very stable. Can you explain this ‘flitting around’?”

Paul: “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation … so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.”

Joseph: “Mmm! And your preaching style? The reports that we’ve heard are mixed. How would others describe it and how would you describe it?”

Paul: “Some say ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.’

I would say I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

Joseph: “Mmm. Mmm! What about your physical condition – your health? We need a healthy pastor!”

Paul: “On my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”

Joseph: “It appears that you have had some ‘legal problems.’ We want a man with good standing in the community. Can you explain your ‘run-ins’ with the law?

Paul: “In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and so escaped his hands.”

Joseph: “How about salary? How much could you get along on?”

Paul: “I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

Joseph: “That’s very noble sounding, but can you be a little more specific?”

Paul: “The elders who rule well should be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’”

Joseph: “What about your relationship with other ministers in the community? We want one who avoids controversy. Have you ever had any conflict with fellow ministers?”

Paul: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.”

Joseph: “Yes, yes. How about your reading habits? What have you read lately? A pastor must be well-read, you know.

Paul: “The books, especially the parchments. The sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Joseph: “Mr. Paul, the one thing that most disappointed me about your resume’ was a certain vagueness in your goals. Would you please explain more clearly just what your goals are?”

Paul: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death: in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Joseph: “Thank you Mr. Paul. This has been quite interesting. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

Bill Ball