Keynote Addresses

Self-Centered to Serve:

Self-Centered to Serve:

From Selfish Self-Centeredness to Self-Centeredly Informed Service for Others

Ralph Blair’s Keynote for connECtion2014

At the time, it was called the “greatest single event in human history”.  That was in 1964.  Guess what it was!  If you were born in 1964 – that wasn’t it.  Since it was only 50 years ago, you can be sure that it was not the “greatest single event in human history”.

With 1964 came The Civil Rights Act and The Great Society. In Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement was launched – long since gagged by ever-restrictive speech codes. In 1964, 76 percent of us trusted government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time.”  Today, 19 percent do. Both Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama were born in 1964. The Beatles arrived for their first tour in America as Broadway welcomed Funny Girl and Hello Dolly.  Then, instead of fixating on genitalia as antigay clergy do today, a great evangelical theologian, Helmut Thielicke, affirmed: “Very certainly [homosexuality is] a search for the totality of the other human being.  He who says otherwise has not yet observed the possible human depth of a homoerotic-colored friendship.”  Thielicke urged, a la Jesus’ parable that we think of it “as a talent to be invested so that the homosexual in his actual situation can achieve the optimal ethical potential of sexual self-realization.”

But none of these was what was called, at the time, the “greatest single event in human history.”  So, what do you think it was?

Here’s my self-centered focus. In 1964, I got my MA from USC, got my first full-time job on IVCF staff at Penn, and was soon told I’d not be reappointed since I was advocating evangelical support for same-sex couples.  Those were surely milestones in my life and pointed to my life’s calling, but, to label any of them, the “greatest single event in human history”, would make no sense at all. Read more →

Fall Festival 2013 – Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign

Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign

Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign is the text of the teachings Dr. Blair presented at the 2013 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 11-13, 2013. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on four Christians we honor in this, their bicentennial year:

David Livingstone – Soren Kierkegaard – Robert Murray M’Cheyne – Jemima Thompson Luke

Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Ralph Blair


In the Year of our Lord 1813

It’s 1813 and the War of 1812 drags on – the “wars and rumors of wars” of which Jesus forewarned a fallen race.  The British and Americans battle each other on Lake Erie and Long Island Sound, at Buffalo, Plattsburg and Toronto.  Explorer Zebulon Pike is one of the casualties.  John Lawrence’s command, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, will become our Navy’s motto.  On September 7th, The Troy (NY) Post creates  “Uncle Sam”.  Other “peace” papers follow. (In 2013, Time magazine will rate “Uncle Sam” as one of the 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.)  James Madison begins his second term as president, the first Federal vaccination law is enacted, Congress authorizes steamship use for transporting mail and patents are granted for rubber and for the making of coal gas.

Three signers of The Declaration of Independence die: Benjamin Rush, Robert Livingston and George Clymer. Among our births of 1813: Henry Ward Beecher, who’ll lead the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights.  On Sunday mornings, ferryboat dockings at Brooklyn’s pier will announce simply, “Beecher!”  Susan Fenimore Cooper is born – the daughter of our first world-renowned novelist. A Christian naturalist, she’ll write against the vote for women!  Others are John C. Fremont, abolitionist and first Republican Presidential candidate, Nathaniel Currier of Currier & Ives, Stephen Douglas, who, famously, will debate Abraham Lincoln.  And, Montgomery Blair is born – Lincoln’s postmaster general who’ll introduce regular city delivery and money orders. Read more →

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

Matthew 13:1-30, 36-43

 

In July, Time magazine published The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.  Editors drew up this list of fictional characters with some help from “contributors” such as F. Murray Abraham, Jodie Foster and Chris Colfer.  The public then voted for its top choices from the list.  Not surprisingly, Santa Claus ranked No. 1.  But James Bond was No. 2?  Sherlock Holmes followed him.  No. 4 was The Dude. The Dude?  Jeff Bridges as The Big Lebowski.  The Good Samaritan was fifth.  The Prodigal Son ranked farther down the list, getting about a third as many votes as did The Good Samaritan.  The Prodigal Son was ranked just ahead of Dorothy Gale but far ahead of Jay Gatsby, Tarzan and Pollyanna.

In his Prodigal Son essay, a sports writer for Time misses the point of the parable. He hails the Prodigal as a “designer of daydreams” and says the older brother “needs to take a few more risks to earn his rewards, just like Baby Bro.” (Sean Gregory)  But, the anonymous comments on The Good Samaritan are on point.  The character’s function as archetype of folks who come to the aid of needy strangers is recognized and the writer says that Jesus asks us “to practice the most demanding act of the Christian faith: to love and help even our enemies in an age in which so many voices urge us to demonize.”  Some get a parable’s point and others don’t.

Well, this weekend we’ll be looking at some of Jesus’ other parables.  But before that, and since Jesus is so poorly stereotyped in the public mind, I’d like to quote from a letter I have in which C. S. Lewis responds to an enquirer, addressing the misconception that was popular in Lewis’ day as it still is in our day.

Lewis wrote: “Of course, ‘Gentle Jesus’ my elbow!  The most striking thing about our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. … Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist.  So go on: You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him.  This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the tiger and the lamb, the avalanche and the rose.  He’ll frighten and puzzle you; but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can’t.”

Let’s hear God’s word. Read more →

The Humility of God’s Reign

The Humility of God’s Reign

Matthew 18:1-10

One day, Jesus did more than merely tell a parable.  He produced a parable. He portrayed a parable. He presented a little child in tableau vivant – a “living picture”. Then, as now, a picture can mean more than mere words.  But, still, just as ears must be willing to hear, eyes must be willing to see.

Again, the parable is from Matthew, the most quoted Gospel of the early Church.  Let’s hear God’s word.

“Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked: ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  Calling to a little child, Jesus told the child to stand beside him.  Then Jesus said to the disciples: ‘Here’s the truth: Unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  But, whoever does humble himself as this little child is humble, that one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.”

The Universal Society for Optimism has produced a portrayed parable.  It’s a video. It shows a kid walking onto a deserted baseball field.  He brings along a bat and balls and steps into the batter’s box.  Then, he yells to no one but himself: ‘I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” and he tosses a ball into the air.  He swings – and misses, “Strike one” he mumbles. Again, he yells, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!”  Again, he tosses that ball into the air and swings – and misses, “Strike two”.  Again, he yells, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!”  Again, he tosses that ball into the air and swings – and misses, “Strike three”.  Dejection!  Then suddenly, he brightens up and yells: “Wow!  I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”  Read more →

God’s Revolution and Reign

God’s Revolution and Reign

Mark 2:16-17, 21-22; Luke 5:36-39  

Let’s hear God’s word:

“When the scribes of the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, they said to his disciples: ‘Why is he eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’ ”

“Sinners” was a catchall term for all Jews who didn’t follow the dictates of the scribes of the Pharisees.  The tax collectors were lumped in with these other “sinners” for reasons we’ve mentioned – they were seen as traitorous thieves who did the pagan’s bidding.

Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees had not fared well in direct debate with Jesus.  So, here, their attack is indirect.  They try to stump his disciples.  They didn’t want their “gotcha questions” to trigger any more “gotcha answers”.

Of course, theirs wasn’t a question; it was yet another accusation meant to entrap Jesus.  But, they were more insistent on being right than sure they were right.  The self-righteous don’t really believe they’re righteous.  And, although they’re blessed with an uneasy suspicion of their unrighteousness, they nonetheless suppress it and insist on their righteousness.  So, they do all of this with such little tactical caution, that their malicious maneuver malfunctions.       

“Jesus overheard them.  And he said to them, ‘People who are healthy don’t need a physician; the unhealthy need a physician.  I have come to call sinners, not those who’re well.’ ”

Foiled again!  Still, at God’s deeper level of mercy, they were given yet another opportunity to find the truth even in the foiling.
Read more →

Obedience begins with Awe!

EC Connection 2013 Keynote by Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here)

Here’s how Jesus wrapped up what’s called, “The Sermon on the Mount”.  Let’s hear God’s Word.

“Don’t sit in judgment on others, unless you want to be judged with the same harshness.  For, it will be on the basis of your judging others that God will judge you. The same measure you use on them will be used on you.

“And, how can you see a speck in the eye of a brother or sister when you don’t see the stump in your own eye?  How can you say to them: ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while, look, there’s that big stump in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First, get that stump out of your eye. Maybe, then, you’ll see clearly enough to get a speck out of the eye of a sister or brother.

“Don’t give what’s holy to dogs.  Don’t show your pearls to pigs.  They’ll trample them. Then they’ll turn on you and slash you with their teeth.

“Ask, and you’ll receive. Seek, and you’ll find what you need.  Knock, and the door will be opened for you. For, all who ask will receive, all who keep on searching will find and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Who among you, if your child asks for bread, would give him a stone?  Or, if your child asks for a fish, would you give her a snake?  Even though you’re evil, you know how to give good gifts to your children.  Then, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask!

“Therefore: Whatever you want others to do for you, do the same for them.  This is the whole point of scripture, the Law and all the Prophets.

“Enter at the narrow gate, not at the wide road to ruin.  Yet, many do choose the way that’s wide, for the narrow path that leads to real life, is difficult.  Only a few find it.

“Watch out for false prophets.  They’re ravenous wolves disguised as harmless sheep.  Recognize them by what they produce. You don’t get grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles, do you?  Likewise, good trees produce good fruit but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit. And a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Any tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and burned up as useless. So, be discerning in dealing with prophets, taking careful note of what they produce.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter into the heavenly kingdom, but only those who continue to do what my heavenly Father wants them to do.  On Judgment Day, there will be many who’ll say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we preach in your name!  Didn’t we exorcise demons and didn’t we do many miracles in your name!’  But, I will tell them plainly, ‘I’ve never known you.  Get away from me, you evildoers.

’“So, everyone who hears and obeys what I say is like a wise person who built a house on rock.  Rains came down, floods came up and winds blew and beat against that house. Yet, it did not collapse, for its foundation was on rock.

“Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey is like a foolish person who built a house on sand.  Rains came down, floods came up and winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed. And, it was a total disaster.”  (Matt 7:1-27)

May God bless our hearing of these words of warning, comfort and call and may God help us to obey what we hear.

Well, this world’s in a mess! Have you noticed?  This is no Golden Ruled world.  Ever notice we, ourselves, are a mess?  How do we live the Golden Rule – treating “them”, as we want “them” to treat us?  Do we seek justice for “them” or just us? Read more →

NONE SO BLIND: The Suppression of God’s Truth

Dr. Ralph Blair’s 2012 connECtion Keynote

Let’s hear God’s word.

“God’s wrath is revealed against all godless suppression of God’s truth.  For what can be known of God is clear.  God has made it clear.  The visible has always been evidence of the invisible – God’s Power, God’s Person.  No one has an excuse.  For, aware of God, they refused to recognize God and they refused to be thankful.  Self-obsessed and lost in the darkness of their speculations, they claim to be wise, but they make themselves fools.  They exchanged God’s glory for sticks and stones they shape into idols – mere images of people, birds, bulls and snakes.  Exchanging God’s truth for a lie, God gave them over to the worship and service of their distortions of creation instead of an appropriate awe and gratitude to their Creator – forever blessed!

Since they refused to be mindful of God, God relinquished them to their mindlessness.  Assuming God’s irrelevance, they turn to self-centeredness: greed, injustice, arrogance, sex rituals and abuse, deceit, slander and murder.  And they reap the results of their delusion.  Puffed with pride, they conjure up cruel schemes and flaunt transgression.  They hate God.  They cheat and lie, break promises and fail to love their families.  Ruthless and self-asserting, they’re unconcerned with the needs of others.  Yet, aware of God’s judgment – that all who do such things deserve to die – they not only do them, they applaud all who do likewise.” (Romans 1:18-32)

Beginning with the pagan past, Paul reviews human rebellion against God and the concomitant wrath of God.  This wrath is not well understood by people these days.  It’s not a heaven-sent hissy fit nor is it impersonal karma.  The wrath of God is the wrath of GodGod’s determinedly compassionate opposition to our killing ourselves with our idolatrous self-worship and pretentious self-righteousness over against the awe and gratitude that fits what we owe to God for our very life and for God’s very Presence. Read more →

Living Together / Our Liberty in Christ

A keynote address by Dr. Blair at the 68th & 69th ConnECtions of Evangelicals Concerned, 2011

On the night before he sacrificed himself for sinners, consuming the cup of wrath with all its debris, decay, death and utter destruc­tion – the forewarned fallout of our fall into sin – Jesus prayed for his followers. He prayed, too, for us who, through their witness, would follow him, just as falteringly as they, but who also, by God’s grace in him, would be just as finally freed.

Father … I’ve revealed you to those you gave me out of the world. … I’ve given them your word and this world has hated them, for they are not of this world as I am not of this world. … Set them apart by your word, the truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For their sake, I consecrate myself to you, that they, also, may be consecrated to you [and] that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. … May they, together, be brought into maturity so that the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them even as you have loved me. … I’ve made you known to them. I will continue to make you known so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and so that I may be in them. (John 17)

In unfathomable love and irrefutable wisdom, God answers Jesus’ prayer sweated out in blood. And Jesus knew it would be answered with wise love, for he knew the One to Whom he prayed: “Not my will, but thine be done.” Read more →

“Anointed – or just Annoyed?”

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Keynote at the GCN Conference in Seattle, Washington, January 4-7, 2007

At first, they were impressed – a bit surprised, but impressed. But when the guest preacher began to “reinterpret” Scripture, they were confused.  As he went on, they were shocked.  Finally, they were furious.  They knew their Bible.  And, for starters, they knew he’d stopped short in his reading.  They’d wanted to hear that part about God’s vengeance on the gentiles, the goyim, those filthy outsiders.  But he didn’t read that part.  He’d stopped just short of that part. And then things got worse.  He defended the faith of some of the outsiders and he denounced unfaithfulness in insiders. Who did he think he was? What authority did he have to speak this way?  But when he hinted by whose authority he was speaking in assumed Messianic identity, they were outraged.  They got themselves so outraged, they wanted to kill him – literally.  And they tried to kill him.  But somehow, he slipped away.

That was a long time ago, at the synagogue of the Nazarenes.  The guest preacher was a son of the congregation.  But he was also the Son of God!  His name was Yeshua – Jesus – because the angel had told Joseph: “He will save his people from their sins”.  Well he wasn’t going to save them, if they had any say in it!

The Bible reading was from a Messianic passage from Isaiah.  And, by convention, Yeshua read it out loud: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom to people in bondage, sight to those who are blind, release to the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18,19; Isaiah 61:1,2)

He stopped just short of that lip-smacking part about God’s alleged vengeance against the goyimRead more →

COMING OUT AHEAD: Disconnecting, Connecting, and Reconnecting for Christ

An expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions 2003

INTRODUCTION

Earlier this year I was at Wheaton College for the centenary of that brilliant observer of the 20th century, Malcolm Muggeridge. He was the consummate insider who was ever the outsider. In his memoir, Chronicles of Wasted Time, he tells of a recurring scene in his mind, “both sleeping and waking.” He describes “standing in the wings of a theatre waiting for my cue to go on stage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this play at all, but belong to a quite different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder frenziedly what I should do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way on to the stage, and there look for guidance to the prompter, whose head I can just see rising out of the floor-boards. Alas, he only signals helplessly to me, and I realize that of course his script is different from mine. I begin to speak Read more →

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