Keynote Addresses

“Were You There?”

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Keynote

ConnECtion2017

June 3, 2017

Were you there when this question and response was heard each week across America?  “What sort of day was it?  A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times – and you, were there.”  Were you, there?

Those words were spoken in the mid-1950s – so, as a more familiar voice echoes in your ears, “So, you couldn’t have been there, could you.”  You couldn’t have been there? Really?!

I was there.  As the only one here from The Silent Generation, I speak up to say: “I was there.”  Each week in my mid-teens, I heard those sonorous words – there in Youngstown, Ohio, in front of our 21” black-and-white Capehart television set in our living room. Walter Cronkite spoke those words at the end of every episode of You Are There.  It was his CBS series of reenactments and film clips of great historical events.

Watching them, we did have a sense that, yeah, we were there! Of course, that generation was reared to “be there” through radiosound filtered through imagination. Now, we “were there” through sound and sight, so, less was left to imagination and we were there! As it were!

Cronkite’s sign-off made a big impression on me.  His sound and inflections, even his cadence, echoes in my long-term memory.  And, he made good sense!  We all, throughout history, have, as it’s said today, “been there, done that”. Every day is, “a day like all days”, filled with experiences and opportunities that, if used wisely, can be illuminating and life altering.  Live and learn!  But, often, we don’t.

Even facing what we haven’t experienced personally, we should remind ourselves that others, with less experience, less advantage, have “been there, done that”, and have managed fairly well.  As Terence, the ancient playwright who’d also been a slave, learned: “I’m human, so nothing human is alien to me.”

Today is yet another day like all days when, again, we get to live and learn, if we know well enough, and will enough, to do so.  And we may do that from all the hard-won wisdom still available to us.

Throughout the ups and downs of human history, the wise have been wise to the fact that every day is, indeed, a day like all days.  At our recent weekly Bible studies and at our most recent Bible Study Weekend, we’ve seen evidence of this in the timeless truths from the old Hebrew wisdom literature.  As Kohelet said: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9)  Of course, if we don’t know what they knew and we don’t bother to learn from what they passed on for us, none of it is of any use to us.

Yet now, in our turn, we have opportunity to learn what they learned (or didn’t), if we pay attention to their wisdom and folly. Read more →

Wesleyan Practice & Homosexual Practice

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is a slightly expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the Annual Michigan Area United Methodist Pastor’s School, August 22, 1983 on the campus of Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Blair’s address followed one by Dr. Robert Lyon, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Lyon had been invited to focus on biblical and theological considerations and Dr. Blair had been invited to focus on clinical and scientific data, though both speakers included other material as well. A question and answer period followed both presentations.

(PDF version available here.)

Introduction

I suppose that an audience of United Methodist preachers isn’t the very easiest audience to address with much of what I have to say tonight, but I guess that there are preachers of other denominations (unnamed) with whom I might have an even harder time. In spite of all the seeming openness about sex today, we all, including clergy, have a certain uncomfortable feeling about it. And there is even more uncomfortableness about homosexuality. Even though the Bible leads the way in our thinking of God as the great Cosmic Lover, no less than John Wesley himself felt a sort of homophobic squeamishness over Charles’ phrasing: “Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to thy bosom fly.” [1] So I thank you for this opportunity to “calmly consider”—as Wesley might have put it again [2]—some material on homosexuality.

I’m tempted to try to win you over by adopting the strategy Thomas Coke used in another controversy. Your first American bishop reported having “found out a method of delivering [his testimony against slavery] without much offense, or at least without causing a tumult.” His tactic was this: “by first addressing the negroes in a very pathetic manner on the duty of servants to masters, … the whites will receive quietly what I have to say to them.” [3] As there are not very many openly gay people here this evening, however, I cannot really begin by “first addressing the homosexuals in a very pathetic manner.” I assure you, though, that when I’m speaking before openly gay groups, I’ve been known to come down hard against self-destructive patterns of what too often parades for homosexuality per se in some gay lifestyles, especially those of some urban gay males. [4]

Need it be said here that what I’m supporting is not every expression of homosexuality anymore than what most of you support is every expression of heterosexuality? I had hoped not. But apparently it does need to be said, in view of the negative caricature of all so-called “pro-homosexual” advocates painted by the first speaker [Robert Lyon of Asbury Seminary]. Need it be said here that what I support is not every expression of every homosexual anymore than what most of you support is every expression of every heterosexual? Sadly, it seems that I do need to say that I don’t support every expression of every homosexual. May I say, too, that I’m not in favor of the ancient forms of homosexuality known to the Apostle Paul, e.g., rape, cultic prostitution, “call boy” prostitution, and the inequalities of Roman and Greek master-slave pederasty. [5] There are some types of contemporary same-sex expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, and so-called “value-free” gay pride rhetoric that I don’t support any more than you support some types of heterosexual expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, “kiddieporn,” sex with minors, and so-called “value-free” open marriage. Neither you nor I want to be identified with all homosexualities or all heterosexualities any more than we want to be identified with all expressions of Christianity, be it Donald Wildmon’s, Jimmy Swaggart’s, or Mary Baker Eddy’s. I no more support the silly lesbian separatism of a Sally Gearhart than you support the stupid racial separatism of a Bob Jones. I am no more to be confused with advocating the gay est delusions of a David Goodstein than you are probably to be confused with the straight est delusions of a Werner Erhard. When “Gay is Good” becomes “Gay is God,” I protest just as I do when, failing to see the implications of the incarnation, others fail to see that “God is Gay” as well as God is all the rest of what we are, “yet without sin.” Read more →

The Bond that Breaks the Boundaries

The Bond that Breaks the Boundaries

An expanded version of a lecture by Dr. Ralph Blair to Courage Trust at the Anglican Church of St. James the Less, Pimlico, London, November 2, 2001.

(PDF version available here.)


When it comes to the subject of gay and lesbian evangelical Christians, most evangelical Christians agree with most gays and lesbians. Just as Grape-Nuts is neither grapes nor nuts and Christian Science is neither Christian nor science and Therapeutic Touch is neither therapeutic nor touch, to most evangelicals and to most gay people, a gay evangelical Christian is neither truly gay nor truly Christian. For most people, you cannot be both an openly evangelical Christian and an openly gay man or lesbian.

Evangelical and Gay/Lesbian Diversity

Actually there are all sorts of evangelicals—from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t. And there are all sorts of gay men and lesbians—from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t.

According to an evangelical history professor: “Once past a shared commitment to a supernatural gospel, evangelicals are all over the place theologically.” [Mark Noll] The president of Southern Baptist Seminary joins a church historian at Westminster Seminary to declare that “No single evangelical tradition exists.” [Albert Mohler, Jr. and D. G. Hart] A Regent College theology professor states: “Evangelicalism is a network and tradition of Christians united on a few select convictions. As such, evangelicalism is not essentially committed to this or that … so long as Christ is glorified, the Bible obeyed, the gospel preached and the kingdom extended.” [John G. Stackhouse, Jr.]

“Evangelical identity,” says an Anglican evangelical, “has come to embrace such a wide range of theological options.” And he grants that it has been so ever since the 18th century split between John Wesley and George Whitefield—during the very beginnings of what is known as evangelicalism. [Gerald Bray] He notes that “from that day to this, there has never been an evangelical church or even a confession of faith, which all evangelicals can accept as definitive of this movement.”

In his new book, Christian America?, sociologist Christian Smith again reports research that undercuts the notion that evangelicals make up a monolithic community. Evangelicals are divided along political, racial and class lines. And contrary to popular opinion, evangelicalism and the Religious Right are not synonymous, though most people who identify as evangelicals do not approve of homosexuality.

The president of the board of the Religious Right’s World magazine has proposed that a group of conservative Christians start a daily newspaper “from a distinctively Christian point of view.” If his World magazine is any indication, what he means by reporting the news “from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God” is a perspective that’s against homosexuals and for capital-gains tax cuts. But, at any rate, he laments that there’s an even bigger obstacle than the raising of the millions of dollars it would take to finance such a daily newspaper. He complains: “We Christians are woefully disunified and unprepared ideologically and philosophically to define and then live out the profile of a ‘Christian’ daily newspaper. We Christians still disagree way too much on what it means to be a ‘Christian’ anything.” [Joel Belz] Evangelical Christian diversity is “way too much” for him.

As the dean of American church historians puts it: “There are evangelicals and there are evangelicals.” [Martin E. Marty] Read more →

Immortal Intimacy: Where, When, Who, Why & What of Heaven

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1991, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at the University of Denver.

Copyright ©1991. Ralph Blair, 311 E. 72nd St New York, New York 10021


Peggy Lee sings of going to “the greatest show on earth” when she was twelve years old. She remembers:

“There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.”

And she recalls that:

“As I sat there watching the marvellous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to the circus?’
Then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks down by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
And then one day he went away
And I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t
I said to myself,
‘Is that all there is to love?’”

Have you ever thought like this? Remember your disappointment when the cartoon show flashed those three unwanted words: “That’s All, Folks!” Remember the emptiness late on Christmas Day, after all the presents had been opened and abandoned, and all the excitement that had raised expectations for weeks was gone? I’ve heard it for years in therapy: Is that all there is—to sex? to love? to career? to success? to rational living? to life? And if we don’t go deeper with such questions, we settle for superficial solutions. We sing along with Peggy Lee:

“Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze
And have a ball,
If that’s all there is.”

She goes on:

“I know you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it
Why doesn’t she just end it all.
Oh no. Not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes
And I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is?”

Peggy Lee and The Preacher of Ecclesiastes agree: all is vanity. But one responds with calls to reverence God and the other calls for a ball and booze. But the ball ends. Lust doesn’t last. Does anything? Well, after the hangovers we still fear the futility of life we sought to escape. Said Malcolm Muggeridge: “It would be a terrible prospect, wouldn’t it, to just go on and on and on. Everything is bearable because we die.” Yet who wants to die? We die against our will. We may pretend it’s “death with dignity.” There’s a nice lie: Dignified death—“Cold Obstruction’s apathy!” [Byron]. Read more →

Empathways

by Ralph Blair

Empathways is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address at connECtions98 in the summer of 1998.


INTRODUCTION

“Can I see another’s woe, / And not be in sorrow, too? / Can I see another’s grief, / And not seek for kind relief?”

What William Blake here had in mind was empathy as we usually think of it—in connection with another person’s misfortune. But empathy can also connect with another person’s good fortune. In his prayer-poem, “The Celestial Surgeon,” Robert Louis Stevenson reproaches himself at the thought that “beams from happy human eyes / Have moved me not.”

Someone tells of a man who came by to meet his friend and saw her talking with a shabbily-dressed woman with a small child at her side. As he approached, he saw his friend give money to the stranger who then, with her child in tow, quickly moved on. When he reached his friend she told him that that little child had leukemia. He said: “Nonsense. That kid’s not sick. It’s a scam!” His friend said: “You mean that child doesn’t have leukemia?” “Of course not,” he insisted. “Oh,” she replied, “That’s a relief!”’

Who do you think was practicing empathy here? The woman who gave money to that mother or the man who said the mother was lying? Maybe both? Maybe both. You might be as surprised about that as you were with the woman’s expression of relief. We’re going to think about empathy so we might do empathy better.

Some people insist on distinguishing empathy from sympathy. These purists want us to say we empathize with people in the same boat and sympathize with people in a different boat. To them, “I feel your pain” is empathy but “I can imagine your pain” is sympathy. Fair enough. We don’t want to be so insensitive as to tell people we “know exactly” what they’re going through when we’ve never gone through exactly what they’re going through. But fussing over rigid distinctions might mean we’ll miss the boat on empathy—no matter what we call it. Besides, are we not all in the same boat? Some may be in First Class and some may be in steerage, but we’re all on the “Titanic.”

In addition to empathy as this ability to feel for or identify with another in his or her situation, there’s another dimension to empathy. The emphasis here is on accurate prediction. Empathy can be the ability to predict accurately the thinking, feeling and behavior of others.

Back when I was in grad school I studied a psychometric instrument called The Empathy Test. Its validity was established on the basis of how well car salesmen (they were all men in those days) could predict the difference between those who were serious about buying a car and those who dropped by only to take a ride. Obviously, an ability to predict which were serious buyers and which were not could save lots of time and money for the dealer. He didn’t want to be taken for a ride. Here, empathy wasn’t about warm fuzzies; it was about cold cash. So empathy isn’t just hand-holding. The better we are at empathic accuracy, the more successful we’ll be in all sorts of relationships with other people. Read more →

Anger!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of his address on anger at connECtion95, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge and Mills College, June and July, 1995.

©1995. Ralph Blair, 311 East 72nd Street, New York, New York 10021


INTRODUCTION

In a promo for New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, cartoonist Howard Cruse depicts a gay guy asking his lesbian friend: “Where’s the meeting for people who’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore?” She consults the Center’s schedule and replies: “Hm—Depends on what night of the week it is.” Gay columnist Bruce Bawer rightly objects to the fact that “many gay leaders and commentators persist in encouraging us to celebrate rage.” Of course, lesbians and gay men are not the only people who are feeling angry these days.

According to the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern [Baptist] Seminary: “The whole Christian Right movement feeds off of a ‘theology of resentment.’“ [Ken Chafin] A prominent evangelical journalist reports that “Moods of … anger dominate the conservative evangelical subculture.” [Rodney Clapp] Evangelist Luis Palau warns: “I fear the Age of the Angry Evangelical is upon us. That we are getting to be an angry bunch isn’t merely a caricature created by the so-called ‘secular humanist media elite.’ Evangelicals are getting far too angry about far too many things, … we American evangelicals are now known nationally (and internationally) by our anger.”

And how did the angry evangelicals react to Palau’s concerns? Harping on the so-called “gay agenda,” one asked: “Has [Palau] never heard of prayers for God’s judgment on the wicked?” Said another: “Clinton is vile … Yes, I pray for our president … but most of those prayers are imprecatory.” A U.S. News poll finds that most people who say they hate President Clinton call themselves “born again” Christians. Just before last fall’s elections, the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert urged voters to pray down evil upon the Democrats on the group’s so-called Philistine List, “enemies of Christianity and/or biblical morality.” The prayer warriors were told: “Don’t hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them!” This kind of “make-my-day religion” gives rise to placards proclaiming: “God hates fags” and “Thank God for AIDS,” the popularity of Frank Peretti’s novels of politico-spiritual warfare, the fundamentalist flavor of apocalyptic rhetoric in the self-styled militia movement, hateful messages on the Internet, and the increasing incidence of religiously-motivated hate crimes. Read more →

[The] Overcoming Outrage!

by Ralph Blair

[The] Overcoming Outrage is Dr. Ralph Blair’s keynote at the 2009 Evangelicals Concerned summer connECtions held at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at the Holiday Inn in Palm Springs, California.

[The] Overcoming Outrage © 2009 by Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


Have you noticed any rampant outrage these days? Lots of people are “outraged.” That’s what they claim. They’re “OUTRAGED!”—in big, bold italic caps and punctuated by exclamation points with none of the expletives deleted. Are they merely vocabulary-challenged?

And folks try to enlist others in their outrage, hoping that a chorus of outrage outdoes outrage on one’s own.

But is it all a bit overdone? Is it prompting only exasperated eyeball-rolls of, “Puh-leeze!” and angry shout-backs of, “Well, we’re outraged at your outrage! So there!”

Some outrage is sheathed in some seeming civility, but it’s still a seething resentment and passive aggression.

Outrage is over-the-top anger. When, as it feels, we’re attacked by unwanted emotions—say, fear, hurt, frustration, irritation—we try to get on top of the feelings by venting outrage as “righteous” indignation.

Outrage can be spontaneous—as in losing our temper. But lots of outrage is strictly for show—as in temper-tantrums.

And have you noticed that most of us are what so many are outraged at, i.e., LGBTs and Christians? And if we’re both, we get outrage from both. When we get outrage from them, do we get outraged at them? If so, do we get more outraged at the Christians or at the LGBTs?

Do we get outraged at ourselves? Google’s count is 17 million results for “outrage” but only 117 for “outrage at ourselves”—an unfortunate ratio. It can be useful to be outraged at ourselves since we can get our hands on it and maybe do something about it. We can’t get our hands on other’s outrage, though we might be tempted to get our hands around their necks. But that should remind us of our own outrageousness and turn us from griping to getting a grip. And, getting rid of our outrage might preempt outrage against us. But waiting for others to get over themselves is frustrating, even futile. Getting over ourselves instead of having to wait around for them to get over themselves is efficient.

And whether we’re outraged at others, or others are outraged at us, or we’re outraged at ourselves, a sober perspective can help. Read more →

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

The 2016 Evangelicals Concerned

Ocean Grove Preaching Festival

Columbus Day Weekend

October 7-9, 2016

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

“1516, 1616, 1716, 1816, 1916”

John Foxe   John Owen   John Berridge   Francis Asbury   J. C. Ryle   Eugenia Price

 Including Three Sermons by Dr. Ralph Blair
“Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One”, “Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us” and “Participating in His Providence”

Dr. Ralph Blair, Speaker

(PDF version here)

Next year is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On the last day of October, 1517, a 33-year-old Wittenberg University theologian, Martin Luther, took his courageous public stand for the Gospel. He posted ninety-five arguments against what he contended were Rome’s unbiblical teachings, such as the papal “indulgences” that he saw as simply scams for enriching the church hierarcy through fiancial payments for the forgiveness of sin. He argued that these shameful shakedowns mocked our “treasury of merit” in Christ alone.

Having long agonized over his own sins, and having finally found full relief in God’s unmerited mercy in Christ, he committed himself to confront the ecclesiastical establishment and comfort the ecclesiastically exploited.

In his liberating discovery of God’s grace in Christ alone, clearly revealed in the Bible, he was moved to provoke a return to the Christian witness of the early apostles and to move that witness forward into the future.

As we look forward to the Luther Quintcentenary in 2017, we pause here in 2016, to gratefully reflect on that 16th-century revival’s fruit in continued preaching of God’s Good News through each generation since Luther’s day.

Tonight, we’ll glimpse the ministries of six faithful Christians whose work sprang from the influence of that historically biblical Reformation. These faithful Christians were born or died in 1516, 1616, 1716, 1816 or 1916.

 

John Foxe (1516 – April 18, 1587)

In Germany, in the year before Luther posted his call for Gospel purity, there was a call for purity of another staple on Luther’s table. He’d quipped: “Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, doesn’t sin; whoever doesn’t sin, enters Heaven! So, let’s drink beer!” Germany’s Beer Purity Law, Das Reinheitsgebot was adopted in 1516. It became the world’s longest lasting food quality control for more than four and a half centuries – until 1987, when it was ditched by some bureaucrats in the European Union.

Over in England in that same year of 1516, a boy named John Foxe was born. It was the year that England’s Master of the Posts, predecessor of the Royal Mail, was set up and the year that Thomas More finished Utopia, his fictional “nowhere”, so often mistaken as a “good place”. Over at Basel, Erasmus was publishing his Greek New Testament, Hieronymus Bosch, the artist of intoxicating triptychs, died, and the cleric and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced the latest of his world maps. His 1507 version had depicted a newly discovered continent that he designated, Americi.

In Venice, Jews were being forced to reside inside a district called the “Venetian Ghetto”, ever after lending its name to all restrained residential neighborhoods. The Ottoman Empire declared war on other Muslims in Egypt and Syria and defeated the Muslim owned slave-soldiers of Gaza.

Luther died when Foxe was 30 years old, so, Foxe’s more immediate contemporaries among the Protestant Reformers were really Calvin, Beza and Bullinger.

We honor Foxe for his life’s consuming work, Actes and Monuments. It’s a multivolume history of centuries of persecuted Christians. First published in Latin at Basel in 1554, and reprinted for centuries since, it’s known today as, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. For many years, among the poor, it was the one book they owned besides the Bible. A century later, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress would become the third volume in those little libraries.   Read more →

Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us

“Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version here)

Along with Philippians 4:13, Tim Tebow’s favored eyeblack is John 3:16, the second most tweeted Bible verse and the most searched verse at BibleGateway.com.

On Sunday, January 8, 2012, in the NFL AFC playoff game in Denver, Tebow led the Broncos to an overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He did it with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime. Time magazine said it “left the Steelers and the watching world simply stunned”.  But the reporter could not resist labeling this “out” Christian quarterback, “polarizing”.  Of course, had Tebow been an “out” gay player, “polarizing” would not have been the politically correct adjective.

Tebow had set an NFL playoff record by throwing three hundred sixteen yards, 31.6 yards per completion.  316?  31.6? John 3:16! And wait, there’s more!  The CBS rating peaked at 31.6.  31.6? John 3:16! Wait, there’s more!  CNN noted that Tebow had “John 3:16” painted under his eyes when, three years to the day before this Denver play, he led the Florida Gators to their national championship.

Well, Bible numerologists were off and running. And alongside them, it’s not surprising that, the next day, Google Trends’ top three searches were: “John 3:16”, “Tebow” and “Tim Tebow”.

But, as you know, neither John nor any of the original writers of the Bible divided their texts into numbered verses.  These numbers were first inserted in 1551 by the meticulous printer, Robert Stephanus.  So, even Luther would have been stumped had he been asked to quote “John 3:16”.  He’d died five years before.  And, of course, “John 3:16” wouldn’t have rung a bell for John himself.  We shouldn’t read into strings of 3-1-6 what’s not in the text.

But, what’s been in John’s Gospel from the beginning, is so infinitely more significant than all the sports trivia and supposed numerical codes that get fussed over by folks with too much time on their hands, is this utterly earthshaking – indeed, Heaven’s shaking earth awake: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever trusts in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

No sentence in the whole Bible better sums up the basic message of the whole Bible than John 3:16.  The world has never received better news than this Good News encapsulated in the words of John 3:16.

Trivialized, even mocked, by those who may seem to have no clue as to its true meaning, but then, possibly may suspect something of its true meaning, they reject it with defensive fury.  Meanwhile, its eternal truth has been and is still received with eternal awe and eternal praise by all who know even a bit more than something of its amazing grace, even while in this world.

Popular black contemporary gospel singer Kirk Franklin has been apologizing to gay people for antigay attitudes in black churches.  He says: “More than anything, I’m trying to peel back those layers [that] keep people away from God and keep people away from experiencing the love of God and knowing God’s love as a father.  I’m trying through [my recent] album to erase the dogma and the ideology that gets in the way of the true essence of one of the most simplest things we could ever say to somebody: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  Whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’.” Read more →

Participating in His Providence

“Participating in His Providence”

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.”  

Jeremiah 29:11

(PDF version here)

Each of the three top-tweeted Bible verses reveals that God initiates our relationship with Him and invites and empowers our response to Him.

Yesterday, we looked into our sufficiency in the all-sufficiency of God in Christ. (Phil 4:13)  We also looked into our affirming God’s affirmation of us in Christ. (John 3:16)  This morning we look into our participation in God’s providence, assured that His love in Christ reaches out to us, even from everlasting to everlasting.

In this morning’s text, Jeremiah the prophet conveys God’s providential words to Israelites in Babylonian captivity.  There’s good news: “ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  Well, it’s easy to see why folks today are so favorably disposed to use this text – without its context – and frame it to footnote all their fondest fantasies.

But there’s good reason Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet”.  He deeply experienced the pain of fellow Israelites in captivity for their sins.  And he suffered pain in their pushing back against his preaching the truth.  And, as far as it’s even humanly possible, he identified with and anguished over God’s grief over this wayward people.  Jeremiah’s head was so clogged with tears that he wished his eyes were great fountains to relieve such great grief.

As we attempt to look into this text from Jeremiah’s prophecy, we’d be wise to begin our thoughts on God’s providence by recalling the sage advice of John Owen: “There is and always was, much about God’s providential management of this world, that even the most improved reason of mere men cannot reach into.”

In attempting to look into God’s providence, humility is surely the only appropriate starting point. And humility is surely the only appropriate way to wend our way through such inquiry. Finally, humility is surely the only appropriate way to conclude our inquiry – humility under the everlasting sovereign grace of the God of all providence.

These words of caution are especially important if we’re stuck in a systematic theology of whatever stripe, for in such cramped and crowded quarters, we easily mistake that trap for the whole truth or fruit of the Spirit. Read more →

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