Keynote Addresses

Your Story in His Story

Your Story in His Story

The 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove

October 9 – 11, 2015   Thornley Chapel
Commemorating the Centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby,

William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington

Including Three Teachings by Dr. Ralph Blair
“The Bible Tells Me So”, “This is My Story” and “To God be the Glory”

(PDF version here)

It’s 1915

It’s 1915. “The Great War” rages in Europe while the U.S. resists involvement, though 123 Americans are among over a thousand dead in Germany’s sinking of the Lusitania. All warnings were ignored, believing that a passenger liner carrying civilians was safe in an active war zone. There’d not even been a lifeboat drill.

The Ottoman Caliphate slaughters millions of Armenian Christians. Ignored, this genocide will spur Hitler’s pursuit of his “Final Solution” against the Jews, sneering: “Who remembers the Armenians?”

A hundred years hence, Islamic claimants to the allegedly final Caliphate, will kill thousands more Christians in one year than the Romans killed in 300 years, and they’ll leave millions homeless. The Ayatollah of Iran’s theocracy will call for annihilation of Israel, death to America and to all who will not bow to worldwide Shariah.

Meanwhile, amid the dead in Belgium, surgeon and poet John McCrae pens memorable lines while he mourns the death of his beloved young friend, Alexis. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, / Between the crosses, row on row, / That mark our place; and in the sky / The larks, still bravely singing, fly / Scarce heard amid the guns below. / We are the Dead. / Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, / Loved and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders fields. / Take up our quarrel with the foe: / To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high. / If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.”

It won’t end until the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In its wake, 9 million are dead, 21 million wounded and millions more die of disease and starvation. Even then, it won’t end. From 1939 to 1945, unresolved self-righteous resentment will break out in still more deaths and destruction called World War II. That will give the present conflict its lasting designation, “World War I”. After that, there’ll be yet more “wars and rumors of wars” – in Korea, Southeast Asia, the New Middle East and elsewhere. (Matt 24:6)   Read more →

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Dr. Ralph Blair

Evangelicals Concerned 73rd Connection, May 30, 2015

In 1946, a 20-year-old Flannery O’Connor came north to take part in the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. But, privately, she was writing prayers: “Dear Lord, please make my mind vigilant about [loving others]. I say many, many, too many uncharitable things about people every day. I say them because they make me look clever. Please help me to realize practically how cheap this is. I have nothing to be proud of yet, myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule. Please help me to stop this selfishness. … I do not know you God, because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

She wasn’t yet the popular storyteller she’d become before she’d die just 19 years later. Her fellow believer and author, Marilynne Rob­inson, in a 2013 New York Times review of the posthumously published prayers, writes: “The brilliance that would make her fictions literary classics is fully apparent in [these early prayers].”

What else is fully apparent is the young O’Connor’s honest sensi­tivity to her own self-righteousness. But secular reviewers of these prayers tend to miss this. Sadly, that’s largely due to their self-righteous distaste for her serious Catholic faith and her having grown up and remained in the rural and segregated south.

Now, nobody holds the patent on self-righteousness. Human history is the history of self-righteousness. It’s a predisposition of all men, all women, every race, ethnicity, nationality, class, political stripe, ideology, gender identity and sexual orientation. Self-righteousness is rife in secular and religious realms. Even a public mea culpa can be infected and indeed, induced, by self-righteousness. The passive, “mistakes were made,” and similar self-righteously unapologetic “apologies” are the real mistakes.

Well, as Schiller knew: “The history of the world is the judgment of the world.” Aware of this history, Pope Francis says his central concern is “massive amnesia in our contemporary world.” In such stupor, the Right longs for what it romanticizes as the past while the Left lauds what’s replaced what it scorns as the past. Both are but self-serving figments of illiterate imagination – one in the nonsense of nostalgia, the other in the nonsense of narcissism.

As self-righteous know-it-alls, we refuse to accept what we refuse to know. Averting attention from what stares back at us from all the accusing mirrors of our minds, we try manipulating into mantras of “self-esteem.” We try to swallow shibboleths we can’t swallow. We try to think we’re good or, at least, better than “them,” so as to sanitize “us” and disparage “them.” But who needs to sanitize or disparage if we really think we are as good as we pretend to be? There’s something afoot. Read more →

Fall Festival 2014 – CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos is the text of the teachings Dr. Ralph Blair presented at the 2014 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 3-5, 2014. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on five Christians honored:

The 300th Anniversaries of
Matthew Henry, James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield
200th Anniversary of
Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner”

Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Ralph Blair

It’s 1714. Isaac Watts is writing words on praise, here and hereafter: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath, / And when my voice is lost in death, / Praise shall employ my nobler powers; / My days of praise shall ne’er be past, / While life, and thought, and being last, / Or immortality endures.”
Matthew Henry passes away to “employ [his] nobler powers” of praise, while here, his work continues to bless us. And three boys are born who’ll be evangelical leaders of their generation and beyond: James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield.
England’s Queen Anne dies and the Stuart royal line ends. George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, arrives to be King George, first of four Hanoverian kings – all named George. The last Hanoverian reign will begin in 1837 with Queen Victoria and last until her death in 1901.
Other notable deaths in 1714 include theologian Gottfried Arnold and Sir Edmund Andros, appointed as first proprietary governor of New York, an area including what will later be New Jersey and the state of Maine.
Parliament is offering a reward for an accurate way to determine longitude. It’s worth 10,000 pounds to anyone who can determine a ship’s longitude within one degree and worth double that to anyone who can cut that by half. Read more →

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 →

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