Sermons

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 →

Christ & His Preparation for Cosmic Life

Christ & His Preparation for Cosmic Life

Ralph Blair

When Paul wrote to Colossians, he began with a thankful prayer. He then inserted an early Christian hymn in celebration of Christ’s supremacy over all. Scholars say its insertion here “can be taken as a deft, preliminary counter-blow against a heretical demotion of Christ” (Robert Gundry), for as Richard Bauckham concludes: “the earliest Christology was already the highest Christology.” All the evidence refutes the propaganda of today’s skeptics who push their notions that it took centuries to turn a peasant prophet into a “God.”

This earliest of Christian hymns affirms: “In him all things were created: things in heaven and things in earth, visible and invisible, thrones and powers, rulers and authorities. All things are through him and to him. He’s before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ “is the head of the body, the church; he’s the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him, to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

This is no endorsement of the trite talk of the Karen Armstrongs, Bart Ehrmans and John Shelby Spongs. If the earliest Christian reception of the risen Christ had been no more than the lifeless plots of these latecomers, neither they nor we would ever have heard of him.

This weekend, we’ll take a close look at this ancient Christ hymn in the wider context of Hebrew scripture and the New Testament.

We begin this morning by focusing on Christ and His Preparation for Cosmic Life. This afternoon we’ll look into Christ and His Propitiation for Cosmic Liberty. Tomorrow, we’ll consider Christ and His Purpose for Cosmic Love.

Explicitly and expansively, this hymn praises Christ as the manifestation of God himself. He’s over all creation since it all came into being through him and he holds it all together. And it’s all destined for him! Read more →

Christ & His Propitiation for Cosmic Liberty

Christ & His Propitiation for Cosmic Liberty

Ralph Blair

The Christ hymn that Paul passed on to Colossians affirms that, in Christ, everything in the heavens and on earth was brought into being. Then, there’s this striking parallel: in Christ, everything on earth and in the heavens was brought into reconciliation with God. From heaven to earth, Christ brought forth what’s needed for life; from earth to heaven, Christ brought forth what’s needed for liberty from sin and death, what’s needed for new birth, new life.

According to the Talmud, “All beginnings are arduous.” And, as in the chaos of the Big Bang’s birth pangs, indeed, as in all births, the new birth, too, began in a bloody mess, for this new birth into liberty was brought forth in the bloodshed at Christ’s cross. (Col 1:19-20)

The blood of Christ is at the crux of the Good News. And so is his bodily resurrection. Without his blood poured out on the cross and without God’s raising him to resurrection life over death, there’s no Good News.

Says the Torah, it’s blood that’s required for atonement (Lev 17:11) and the book of Hebrews acknowledges: Without the shedding of blood there’s no forgiveness. (Heb 9:22) Bloodshed shows how very serious a matter sin is.

So, the night before his bloody crucifixion, Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:27f) These words were, no doubt, distracting, distressing and disgusting to his disciples, and for more reasons than one. Jesus was inviting these men who, all their lives, had avoided any ingesting of blood, to drink what he was calling his “blood” and, in that, was alerting them to his imminent death. Read more →

Christ & His Purpose for Cosmic Love

Christ & His Purpose for Cosmic Love

Ralph Blair

Aside from details in today’s troubling headlines, they’d not surprise the Roman historian, Livy. And he died when Jesus was still a carpenter in Nazareth.

Livy gave voice to his world-weary sighs: “We can neither endure our vices nor their remedies.” And, Livy, neither can we. We, too, are weary of the everyday evidence of the failure of fallen humanity and of fallen humanity’s failed efforts to fix what’s failed.

We repeat and repeat: “If only we’d all just get along!” “If only we’d just do this!” “If only they’d just stop that!” These faulty diagnoses and failed cure-alls are full of the same fallacies we’ve fallen for before – whether as “vice” or “remedy.” And confusing one with the other, we’re bound to continue to fail. What’s been will be; what will be has been – unless there’s truly significant Intervention.

But “if only” is doomed from the beginning. It begins with “if” and “if” reveals it isn’t. Anything offered by “if” is a fantasy and a fantasy cannot be counted on.

And “if only” brings up the rear in reductionism. So simplistic, it’s far too complicated. Besides, “if only,” is narrow-mindedly fixated on only what’s intended. It fails to adequately anticipate unintended, but usually rather predictable, consequences. Its own blinkered bias blindsides itself.

“If only” starts and stops in a dead end. So, going the way of “if only” gets us nowhere. We’re out of touch. And, out of touch, we’re out of control. And out of control, we make ourselves frustrated and fearful as we try to do what can’t be done. Trying to get out from under all that frustration and fear, we get hostile. And that means more conflict until we burnout in despair. 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 →

Preaching Festival 2012

1912 ~ The Centennials ~ 2012

Lottie Moon – William Booth – Francis Schaeffer – Jacques Ellel

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2012 Preaching Festival.  The 2012 weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all.  Sermons from the weekend are available here.


In the Year of Our Lord, 1912

We’re commemorating centenaries of the deaths of Lottie Moon, Baptist missionary to China, and William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. We’re also commemorating the 100th anniversaries of the births of apologist Francis Schaeffer and French sociologist and legal scholar, Jacques Ellul.

The year is 1912. New Mexico and Arizona are admitted as our 47th and 48th states. In another 47 years, we’ll have Alaska and Hawaii, too. First Lady, Helen Taft, plants the first cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. In November, in a four-man Presidential race between William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Eugene V. Debs and Woodrow Wilson, Wilson wins.

Times Square has a new attraction. It’s called the Automat. You get the food through little lift-up doors, for just nickels a serving. A new cookie’s come out in Hoboken. It’s called Oreo. Read more →

JESUS: THE ORIGINAL EVIDENCE

The first in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2012 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

Jesus: The Original Evidence

“Who Invented Christianity?” This provocative question popped up on my computer screen. It was an ad for “an all-star lineup [in] scenic Durham, North Carolina [this weekend]. Four of the greatest powerhouse intellectuals in the field of Biblical studies and archaeology in this three-day program filled with the excitement of discovery, new ideas and dynamic discussion.”

The teaser makes false and misleading allegations of conspiracies: “Some of Christianity’s most important doctrines – the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the doctrine of heaven and hell – were not found on the lips of Jesus or his earliest followers. They instead represent later developments … . Where did these doctrines come from, and how did Jesus’ later followers modify his teachings to invent what we think of as Christianity today?”

To assert that the Jesus of the New Testament is not the historical Jesus, but an invented “Christ of faith,” how do they know? They don’t; they assume, they pretend. To know would require trustworthy 1st-century evidence of an alternative Jesus. It doesn’t exist. Read more →

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