August, 2009

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When Rhubarb Isn’t Rhubarb

Monday, August 24th, 2009

My father has a well-developed sense of humor, coupled with an unnerving ability to bring up obscure bits of trivia that sound highly implausible. Usually on the infrequent occasions when he mentions these arcane details, I question the accuracy of what he is saying, only to discover upon further investigation that he is correct. Of course, this fills him with great mirth and gives me a healthy piece of “humble pie” to eat. This occurred a few months ago concerning the word “rhubarb,” and reminded me of the importance of defining terms – particularly in connection with biblical terminology. It all started when my father referred to an argument between two men as a rhubarb. It went something like this:
Dad: “They’re having a rhubarb!”
Me: “What did you say?”
Dad: “A rhubarb. You know: a fight.”
Me: “You’re making that up! That’s 50’s slang from Beech Street. Nobody talks that way. A rhubarb is a plant.” [He grew up on Beech Street in Pottstown, PA.]
Dad: “I’m not making it up. Look it up.”
Dutifully, I opened up the electronic version of the Oxford English Dictionary and looked up “rhubarb.” To my surprise, “4. c.” says “U.S. slang. A heated dispute, a row, spec. a disturbance or argument on the field of play at a sporting (orig. Baseball) event.”i The dictionary further cites confirming evidence from The New York Herald Tribune, July 13, 1943, attributing the expression to “Red” Barber who announced baseball games for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Once more, I acknowledged my father’s astonishing mastery of verbal-historical minutiae.

The Value of Verbal Precision
The foregoing story is amusing and trivial, but it illustrates the way in which words may mean wildly diverse things to different people. The cults certainly assign alternate definitions to Bible words like “grace,” “faith,” and “salvation.” To some “faith” is trusting in the sacraments of a religious organization for entrance into heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 4:4-5 show that human effort and biblical faith are completely different. Yet billions of people worldwide trust in their religious ceremonies and good works to save themselves. Misusing Scripture is a timeworn, Satanic tactic: he successfully used it against Eve and unsuccessfully employed it against the Lord Jesus (Gen. 3:1; Matt. 4:6.) It is all too common among the world’s false religions. Therefore, believers must use the Bible carefully – properly defining our terms – in order to ensure that our hearers do not form the wrong conclusions about God and His Word.
Unfortunately, verbal miscommunication is not restricted to the non-evangelical world; believers also use words improperly and misleadingly. Take for example the simple word “change.” During the past few decades the church growth movement in the western hemisphere made that concept central to their strategy for improving local churches. It is obvious that North American churches need to change, for in many places there is less commitment to the remembrance of the Lord, prayer, sound Bible teaching, discipleship, and evangelism (to name just a few weak points.) Nevertheless, when modern Christian pundits use the word “change” they are usually speaking of external things pertaining to the meetings and activities of the local assembly. Thus, the music must be modernized, new evangelistic tools employed, buildings where the church meets improved, technology brought to the fore (do I hear PowerPoint, anyone?), etc.
The Necessity Of Biblical Change
Doubtless there is nothing inherently spiritual about following old, traditional practices out of mere habit. This author does not oppose using newer songs – if their content is sound and deeply Scriptural – to supplement the great songs of past eras which memorialize so much truth. Technology can also be helpful in putting visual aids before the audience. What is disturbing, however, is how the word “change” is seldom employed in keeping with the teaching of the Bible. That is to say, the Scriptures emphasize internal change, not mere external alteration.
When the Lord addressed seven local churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey), He repeatedly called upon some of them to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:3, 19.) With the exception of the persecuted Smyrnaens and overcoming Philadelphians, the churches were solemnly warned to change their attitudes and behavior. Likewise, Paul charged the Corinthians to change their sectarian mindset and overly tolerant treatment of blatant immorality (1 Cor. 1:10; 5:1-9.) Colossians was written to counteract false ideas of spirituality. 1 & 2 Thessalonians address false doctrine regarding the coming of the Lord. A study of Acts and the Epistles shows that the Lord is much more concerned with the spiritual health and doctrine of the church, rather than external issues. Should not the modern church seek to emulate the emphasis of the early church? The first Christians were steadfastly devoted to teaching, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42.) Their witness was powerful and pervasive throughout the first-century world. They loved the Lord and each other. When their hearts moved from the Lord to other things, He told them to repent (Rev. 2:4-5.)
Without question the contemporary western church needs widespread change: more spiritual prayer, sound Bible teaching, and unadulterated love for the Lord Jesus Christ. In many places, we must repent of legalism; in others, liberalism – both of these errors essentially being a turning away from the Lord. We must eschew materialism and use our possessions as a stewardship for our God. We must warn the lost of the judgment to come and of the mighty Savior who can save them from it. We must live for the age to come and not for this age. If we really want effective change, then we must return to our first Love and His holy Word as the central focus of our lives. May our words and lives accurately reflect the teaching of God’s Word. Joel 2:13 expresses well the need for inward rather than outward change: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”

i Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989; electronic version. Entry for “rhubarb,” 4. c

To download the article in pdf., click on this link:  when-rhubarb-isnt-rhubarb1

The Terror of Unanswered Prayer

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

“When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” Prov. 1:27-33i
Alluding to the words of Revelation 6:16, the classic hymn, “The Love of God” says: “When years of time shall pass away/and earthly thrones and kingdoms fall/when men who here refuse to pray/ on rocks and hills and mountains call/God’s love so sure shall still endure all measureless and strong…”ii This haunting stanza reminds one that a fearful day of judgment will one day overtake this planet. Disbelieving creatures, now heedless of the danger to their souls, will then cry out for mercy, but it will be too late. By contrast, believers will never come into condemnation and possess the settled assurance that God hears and answers their prayers. One must weigh the difference between the saved and the lost in regard to prayer.
Wisdom Weighs In
Proverbs frequently uses the literary device of personification (i.e. “An imaginary or ideal person conceived as representing a thing or abstraction.”)iii The book opens with Wisdom entreating “the simple” and “fools” to repent of their scornful repudiation of knowledge and glean understanding from her (Prov. 1:20-24.) Although Wisdom is an abstract concept, the One “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden,” embodies its characteristics (Col. 2:3.) Thus, in the passage Wisdom is a stand-in for the Lord’s opinion – much like Proverbs 8:12-36.
Wisdom takes umbrage with the unrighteous because “they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would none of my counsel; they despised all of my reproof” (Prov. 1:29-30.) The “fear of the Lord” is certainly a foreign concept to modern people. To acknowledge a Higher Being to whom they are beholden is odious to skeptical men and women. “Question Authority” is still the mantra of many, and they reject any notion of a God whom we need to fear. Henley’s poem may be over-quoted in Christian Apologetic literature, but the lines still record the sentiment of contemporary mankind: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”iv
Of course, the Lord is not like the pagan deities, fetishes, and demons that so often inspire terror-stricken adherents to acts of barbarism. People fear those sorts of false gods because they threaten their devotees with curses, spells, bad luck, and the like. Such caricatures of the Almighty offer nothing but craven capitulation to blind slavery. By contrast, the True and Living God inspires love, because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19; Rom. 5:8.) He also empowers us to live holy lives by His indwelling Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18, 22-23; Rom. 8.)
There is a proper “fear of the Lord,” which refers to believers’ respect for the awesome power and majesty of God. As one defines it: “Encompassing and building on attitudes of awe and reverence, it is the proper and elemental response of a person to God. This religious fear of God is a major biblical image for the believer’s faith. In fact, there are well over a hundred references to the fear of God in the positive sense of faith and obedience.”v Psalm 19:9 describes it in these words: “The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether.” The Lord is pure and just, and fearing Him does not inspire debauchery, brutality, or the other forms of wickedness that are so common in fearful pagan adoration. The biblical fear of God is closely associated with worship. As one writer puts it: “True worship is reverential fear that discourages disobedience on the one hand and encourages obedience to God on the other hand.”vi
Prayerlessness Is Next To Godlessness
The fear of the Lord is entry level truth to gathering Wisdom’s treasures. If one refuses to reverence their Maker, they will be shut out from the enlightenment that He provides to His followers. Instead of the fear of God, “…fear cometh as a storm, and your calamity cometh on as a whirlwind…distress and anguish come upon you” (Prov. 1:27.) Since they rejected Wisdom’s counsel, they are left to reap the fruit of their misguided decisions (vv. 29-31.) They refuse to pray when God offers Himself in grace, only to have their prayers go unheeded when wrath overtakes them. Speaking as Wisdom, the Lord unequivocally says: “…they call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me” (v. 28.)
What a terrible thing it is to have the Lord turn away from one’s prayer. To realize too late one’s need, and to be shut up to the bad decisions one has made. Billions will find to their cost that prayer is no vain pursuit. Rather, one who now calls on God in fear for their eternal soul and asks Him to save them based on the sacrifice and work of the Lord Jesus Christ will never be turned away (Jn. 6:37.) Seeing oneself as a hell-bound, wrath-deserving sinner, who cannot by any means save oneself, one turns in repentance and faith to the Savior, asking Him for new life and turning oneself over to Him. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13.)
On the other side of the coin, believers are assured that God hears and answers their prayers. 1 John 5:14-15 teaches the beautiful effectiveness of believing prayer according to the will of God: “And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His
will, He heareth us: and if we know that He heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him.” Thus, the early church devoted themselves to prayer and Paul asked for the intercession of believers (Acts 2:42; 1 Thes. 5:17, 25.) Contrary to the anxiety of the godless mentioned in Proverbs 1, believers enjoy God’s peace by bringing their requests and thanksgiving to Him (Phil. 4:6-7.) Christians ought to enter into this blessed access in prayer multiple times of day. Moreover, the local church prayer meetings ought to be overflowing with saints, who are passionately and freely interceding and supplicating the Lord on behalf of themselves and others. Sadly, all too often it is the few, rather than the many, who engage in this high and holy work.
i All verses in this article are taken from The American Standard Version, 1901 (ASV)
ii Frederick M. Lehman, “The Love of God”, accessed on 8/6/09 at: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/o/loveofgo.htm
iii Oxford English Dictionary, “Personification” – point “b”, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition (1989), electronic edition.
iv William Ernest Henley, “Invictus,” accessed on 8/6/09 at: http://www.constitution.org/col/invictus.htm
v vRyken, Leland ; Wilhoit, Jim ; Longman, Tremper ; Duriez, Colin ; Penney, Douglas ; Reid, Daniel G. “Fear of God,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 2000,, S. 277.
vi S.E. Porter, “Fear of God,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, ed. Ralph P. Martin & Peter H. Davids. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 2000, electronic ed.

To download in pdf., click on:  the-terror-of-unanswered-prayer5