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 →

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 →

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 →

Understanding and Implementing the APA Task Force Paper on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation

by Dr. Ralph Blair – The American Psychiatric Association Convention, May 7, 2012

An integration model for cognitive therapy with clients experiencing dissonance between same-sex orientation and faith commitment is discussed.
For optimal psychological coping, clients need a coherent understanding of themselves. Since experienced dissonance is evidence that clients are torn between telic congruence and orgasmic congruence (in the American Psychological Association Task Force terms), it is suggested that, in many cases and more often now than ever before, rather than having to choose between contending pressures as clients understand these when presenting for therapy, a balanced integration that safeguards what clients find most relevant in each of the valuations be explored through a more nuanced inquiry toward a coherent resolution.
Without achieving such an integrated resolution, clients can be left with continuing conflict and stress over perceived sexual misbehavior that, try as they might, they find difficult to curtail, and over discarded, or at least discounted, faith they find difficult to live without.
From over forty years of practice in cognitively integrated therapy with same-sex oriented clients, two case histories are presented to illustrate this integration model: one case that worked out well and one that did not.

Malcolm Muggeridge was seen as the quintessential insider. But he saw himself as an outsider. In his Chronicles of Wasted Time, 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 my lines, but they are incomprehensible to the other actors and abhorrent to the audience, who begin to hiss and shout: ‘Get off the stage!’ ‘Let the play go on!’ ‘You’re interrupting!’ I am paralyzed and can think of nothing to do but to go on standing there and speaking my lines that don’t fit. The only lines I know.” Read more →

Preaching Festival 2011

1911 ~ The Centennials ~ 2011

Hannah Whitall Smith – Carry A. Nation – Mahalia Jackson – Bob Jones, Jr.

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2011 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.

Four Christian Departures or Arrivals in 1911

The year is 1911.  None of us has yet been born, much less born again from above. Yet all of us are on God’s timeless Mind and in God’s timeless Heart.

In 1911, were we to ask: “What’s new?”, we’d hear that Orville Wright kept his flying machine in the air for a record 9 minutes, 45 seconds.  Wow!  A Model T hits a new record in hill climbing and gasoline sales now surpass the sale of kerosene.  There’s another new motorcar – the Chevrolet.  And Studebaker is offering something else that’s new, customer credit.  The Stock Exchange now lists car stocks.  A Computer Tabulating Recording Corporation has been incorporated in New York.  100 years from now, it’ll be IBM, the world’s Number 1 “green company”.  You’d think that with a hundred years of experience it would no longer be green!   Read more →

Preaching Festival 2010

 1910 ~ The Centennials ~ 2010

William Holman Hunt  – Louis Klopsh – The Fundamentals F. F. Bruce

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 20120Preaching Festival.  The 201o 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.

Introductory Lecture

 William Holman Hunt     April 2, 1827 – September 7, 1910

In 1854, 27-year-old William Holman Hunt unveiled his first rendering of what eventually would be three versions of his painting, “The Light of the World”.  It was an instant classic – enthusiastically received by both the art world and the general public.  The painting depicted the text of Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and I will sup with him and he with me.” Read more →

“Ye Olde Postmodernism”

The first in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2010 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

“Ye Olde Postmodernism”

Prefixing “Postmodernism” with the quaintness of “Ye Olde” and its visions of English village shambles and whiffs of ale and Cheshire cheese, isn’t as anachronistic as “Ye Olde’s” pseudo 16th-century affectation, itself.  And digging through ancient layers of human history to find traces of today’s pop jargon isn’t as out-of-joint as it may seem.

Way back in the mists of Eden, a pontificating snake strikes the pose of a primeval postmodernist.  Not yet cursed to crawling around in the dust, the snake struts its stuff.  The snake sneers at what it dogmatically disdains as a dogmatic God.  It’s judgmental of what it judges to be a judgmental God.  It pretends to push a participatory pluralism but betrays its postured tolerance for a diversity of truths by slithering into its own “grand narrative”: It, alone, is right and God is wrong.  It exchanges the truth of God for it’s own lie and labels that, the “truth”.  It tries to replace God’s revelation for us with its own revolution against God.  Discarding God’s clear meaning, the snake hisses rationalizations that the meaning of any author, including God, is secondary while any recipient’s reading, and especially the snake’s own reading, is primary.  This trickster tells the humans: “Words mean what you say they mean.  There’s no inherent meaning in words, you idiots.”  And with a serpentine “truth” of its own, presented in the guise of a simple question – “Hath God said?” – it proceeds to trap its prey in a wily postmodernist deconstruction of God’s word of love. Read more →

“The Good News: It’s a Whole Lot More!”

The second in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2010 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

 “The Good News: It’s a Whole Lot More!”

Luke gives us this report: “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were approached by a slave girl who had a spirit of fortune telling on which her owners made a great deal of money.  She trailed after Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God.  They’re telling you how to be saved.’  She kept on screaming this, day after day.  Finally, Paul became so troubled by the screaming that he turned around and said to that spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her!’  And at that very moment the spirit left her.”  (Acts 16:16-18)

The Greek term that Luke uses for the source of the slave girl’s fortune telling “talent” literally means “a spirit of puthona”, or Python – the ancient mythical sentinel snake at Gaia’s navel, the supposed “center of the earth” at Delphi.  Was this girl a pawn of con men?  Maybe she did ventriloquism and the peasants took her strange sounds as “secrets from the spirit world”.  Read more →

“The Light of the World”

The third in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2010 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

“The Light of the World”

In the biblical book of Revelation, at 3:14-22, we read Christ’s letter to the messenger of the congregation at Laodicea in Asia Minor.  Here it is:

   “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  How I wish you were either one or the other!  So, since you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

   Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 

   To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

A 19th century art critic referred to Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World”, as “a painted text, a sermon on canvas”.  And, so it has been since it was first displayed.  Jesus is knocking at a door in the dark, a door all overgrown with weeds and dead flowers.  His lantern shines the light.  As he knocks, he calls out:  “Listen!  If anyone in there hears me and opens this door, I’ll come in and we’ll dine together.”  (Rev 3:20)  And remember that, in the biblical culture, dining together wasn’t about just grabbing a quick bite.  It was evidence of most intimate fellowship. Read more →

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