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

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 →

“To God be the Glory”

“To God be the Glory”

Your Story in His Story

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This sermon was part of the 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove, October 9 – 11, 2015 commemorating the centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby, William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington.

(PDF version here)

“What’s the meaning of life?” It’s been said that this question is itself, meaningless. And some find saying so, a handy posture of sophistication in the face of fears over delving any deeper.

Still, as put, “What’s the meaning of life?” can seem so conveniently abstract that it’s tempting to try to distract ourselves from any meaningful inquiry and any serious response. We try too simply to dismiss it as simply “unanswerable”. It’s not so simple. Yet, the postured meek, shrug with arrogance and rhetorically ask: “Who am I to say?” – meaning: “Who are you to tell me?” But their condescending remark is itself presented as an answer to the question. And, it’s a dogmatically simplistic “answer”, at that! Besides, the postured explanation leaves the one who strikes that pose, stuck in the fears that prompted the evasion of the issue in the first place. Those anxieties are not resolved.

So, we really can’t duck out of our responsibility to deal with what’s, at least, meant by the question of the meaning of life. We do ourselves no favor, trying to duck out of our responsibility.

We can’t get away with merely rationalizing that we have more practical or more pressing personal problems to contend with than to waste time with some “ivory tower” speculations on “the meaning of life”. Again, even that “ivory tower” expression of dismissal is as much an answer, in effect – and by intent – as a response given after rigorous investigation and contemplation.

Well then, instead of using the so-called practical or pragmatic or personal as a way out of facing the question, a merely rationalized refusal to look into the matter of meaning, let’s make the question practical, pragmatic and personal in terms of everyday life. Let’s move it from the seemingly esoteric to the conspicuously egoistic.

   In fact, that the question of “the meaning of life” can be, as put, reasonably faulted as too impersonal, can be a useful gift, suggesting that we ask it in more personal terms. If we do ask it in more personal terms, we find that the most meaningful way to ask the question about the meaning of life is to ask, “What’s the meaning of my life?” “What’s the meaning of yours?” This moves it out of the all too comfortable sphere of propositions and theory – often quite conveniently judged to be so unanswerable, so then we’re so unaccountable – into the discomfiting zone of one’s very own personal life where, our everyday personal responses are our inescapably everyday responsibilities. After all, that’s where we live, and where our daily experience of meaning means so very much to us. Read more →

“This is My Story”

“This is My Story”

Your Story in His Story

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This sermon was part of the 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove, October 9 – 11, 2015 commemorating the centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby, William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington.

(PDF version here)

Ever hear someone ask sarcastically, “What’s his story?” Ever hear yourself ask, “What’s her story?” The questioner smirks and rolls the eyes while putting the question to someone from whom a smirk and a roll of the eyes is sought and, calculatingly, assured. And it’s all done out of the questioner’s need for reassurance.

But, of course, it’s not really a question, is it? It’s a rhetorical question, so, it’s a statement.   And it’s a statement in search of affirmation and reassurance, so it has to be asked again and again – for seeking affirmation and reassurance that way never works. It’s put by someone who’s insecure enough to ask the “question” and it’s put to someone who’s insecure enough to give the affirming response that’s expected. It’s put by someone who’s seeking affirmation and reassurance, to someone who’s seeking affirmation and reassurance.

Now, there’s no chance for any real affirmation and reassurance from another who’s desperate for affirmation and reassurance. From his insecurity he’ll tell you whatever he knows darn well will work for him – for his best interest. So, how can one’s insecurity, plus another’s insecurity, add up to security for either person?

And, it gets still more troubling. The more anxiously insecure one thinks she is, the more danger she is to herself and to others. She attempts to overpower her anxiety with hostility but hostility isn’t up to the task. How so?

A person is anxious because he thinks he’s in danger. Whether or not he’s really in danger doesn’t matter to anxiety if he’s telling himself he’s in danger. But his hostility, meant to quell his anxiety, may actually invite an actually dangerous response from another whose sense of danger, from him, now prompts the hostility of his retaliation. Now he may sense even more insecurity and so, more ideas of danger and so, more anxiety, as well as now he might, in the presence of the real danger he’s brought on himself through his supposed remedy of hostility. So he escalates hostility.

Smirks and eye rolls are intended to bring reassurance of safety, but they betray the seekers and fuel the anxiety that prompted them. And each person senses something of what he’s doing as each one tries to escape the insecurity of his own shaky story about his own sensed flaws.

Meanwhile, our smirks and eyeball rolls about others, fail to address our own narcissistic notions that we don’t measure up. And, of course, it’s our judgments against ourselves that are distracting us, for what we really do think and worry about is what we buy into. And, too, our own smirks and eyeball rolls suggest that we are the objects of others’ smirks and eyeball rolls.

As long as that sort of assurance of safety is our aim and nothing more effective than denial and denigration of others is our game, our attention is stuck in our narcissism that’s, itself, of course, the trap. We can’t let go of our self-obsessing stories about our self-assessed flaws, even though our self-absorption is exactly what we really need to be freed from.

And trying to find faults in others does zilch to resolve any flaw we, ourselves, find in ourselves. We fall all over our own felt flaws and that’s not anyone’s fault but ours. Read more →

“The Bible Tells Me So”

“The Bible Tells Me So”

Your Story in His Story

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This sermon was part of the 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove, October 9 – 11, 2015 commemorating the centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby, William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington.

(PDF version here)

On the weekend after this summer’s EC retreat, an Australian ex-Catholic priest, now “theologian in residence” at Kirkridge, gave a workshop called, “In Memory of Jesus”. Advance publicity asked: “How would Jesus have wanted to be remembered?” Whoa! What’s with the subjunctive, the conditional and hypothetical? Does this ex-Catholic priest think Jesus didn’t make his intensions quite clear? Does he imply that Jesus was just another sage who got killed and vultures ate his rotting carcass, as another ex-Catholic priest, with the discredited Jesus Seminar, contends?

The publicity’s question disregards what Jesus told his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. It discounts their accounts of that memorable night in the upper room. It discounts their amazing accounts of his having been raised from the dead – an utterly unexpected outcome so far as they’d been concerned.

Postmodern “progressives” pretend to know better than eyewitnesses whose lives were completely changed after their encounters with the risen Jesus. These Jews then submitted to torturous deaths rather than recant their witness that Jesus is the risen Messiah, the everlasting Lord.

Clearly identifying with the Paschal Lamb, Jesus pointed to the sacrificial significance of his death. This was nothing his disciples expected. So, they didn’t make it up out of nothing.

Jesus, himself, told them to remember him, as he, himself, intended to be remembered: as the Innocent Substitute, Ultimate Sin-Bearer, God’s Sacrificial Lamb, as he began to disclose this to them, there in that upper room, in his discourse over bread, “my body”, and wine, “my blood”.

Of course, there in that upper room that night, what he was saying was not all that clear to them. But they sensed something strangely significant that required subsequent events to flesh out – literally – when they would later touch his resurrection flesh.

After despair and fear experienced over Calvary, after his resurrection and their fellowship with the risen Christ, they began to grasp the fuller meaning of his words and something of the eternal implications for them and for the whole wide world.

But a “bloody gospel” of sacrificial substitution is not what religious progressives wish to tolerate. This is what they despise. They insist that that’s all now so unacceptably out-of-date.

Well, they’re more right than they realize, they’re more right than they want to be and they’re right for the wrong reason. Read more →

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 →

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