Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Phoebe - A Noteworthy Woman

She was a woman of noteworthy character. She had a servant’s heart. She was commended by the apostle Paul himself. Her name was Phoebe. Although Phoebe is mentioned only once in the Bible, that one reference to her reveals much concerning her character. As we examine why she was such a noteworthy woman, let us learn from her example, that we, too, might be noteworthy women.

In Romans 16:1-2, at the beginning of Paul’s list of greetings to the believers in Rome he writes the following, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” Let us take a closer look at what Paul has to say concerning Phoebe.

The first thing that Paul mentions concerning Phoebe is that she is “our sister.” This is significant, for it denotes that Phoebe was a fellow believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The term “brothers” was often used by Paul and also other New Testament writers to signify that they were talking to fellow Christians. Phoebe’s belief contained two key elements. First of all, she believed that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who came to die and to rise again in order to take away the sins of the world. Secondly, she believed that He had done it for her sake and that by accepting His free gift of salvation, she had received eternal life. This belief is foundational. Anything else that is told about Phoebe is significant only because of this one key fact that she was “our sister.” Without Phoebe’s faith any of her actions would have been worthless. Thus, as we look at Phoebe and seek to follow her example, the first question we must answer concerns our faith.

In continuing his commentary on Phoebe, Paul states that she “is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” Phoebe’s reputation was one of service. Let us look deeper into what exactly this service entailed. First of all, the word “servant” in the Greek is diakonos. This word, which can be descriptive of either a man or a woman, is the word from which we derive our English word “deacon.” Whether or not Phoebe actually held a church office within the church at Cenchrea, is debatable. However, the key point is that Phoebe was characterized by her heart for service. In this capacity of service, it is clear that Phoebe did occupy some sort of position (whether formal or informal) within the church at Cenchrea and that she quite possibly was at least a lay teacher to the women within her realm of influence.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Look at Adoption in the New Testament

The word "adoption" is only used five times in the New Testament, none of which occur in the Gospels. It occurs in English translations in connection with the word son. In the Greek the word for son does not appear because it is already included in the form and in the force of the word. The etymology of the word is thought to have arisen from two Greek words meaning "son" and "placement" being placed together. The only other word in the New Testament that is related to adoption is used in Acts 7:21 to describe the act of Pharaoh’s daughter adopting Moses as her son.

Paul is the only New Testament writer to use this word. In his writings he uses it in the epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, and the Ephesians, whose recipients were predominantly believers with a Roman background. This is significant since the sense of adoption was generally unknown to the Jewish mind. Although Moses (Exodus 2:10), Genubath (1 Kings 11:10), and Esther (Esther 2:7, 15) are described as having been adopted, these adoptions all took place in cultures outside of the Jewish culture.

In ancient Greece and Rome, however, the action of adoption was a legal action commonly practiced. It involved a ceremony, which took place in front of witnesses in the common square of the city. Legally it was an act in which someone who was not a child was declared to be the child of the person doing the adopting. In many cases it was a way of providing for an heir for the family when there was no heir present. Drawing on this picture, Paul uses the word in the New Testament to describe the position of New Testament believers in relation to God.

However, adoption also carries with it a reference to God’s choosing of Israel to be His people (Romans 9:4) and also a promise of the future culmination of the position when Christ returns (Romans 8:23).

For the believer this truth taught in the New Testament by Paul indicates that the believer has full standing before God. God has adopted him in an act, which was determined and predestined before the beginning of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). By this act of adoption God has freed the believer from both the bondage of sin (Romans 8:15) and the bondage of the law (Galatians 4:5). Therefore the believer can boldly approach God, his “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). This gives the believer not only a confidence before God, but also a reassurance of God’s love towards him. God’s act of adoption was an act of choice and love. This position of being adopted also carries with it the assurance that the believer is secure in God’s household. No one is able to change that status; it is secure and unshaken.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

SGI 2014

The beginning of the month, I had the opportunity to travel to the Detroit area to attend the Student Global Impact conference. This year's theme was "To live is Christ, to die is gain", taken from Philippians 1:21.

Below are some of my notes from the first general session. The speaker was Dr. Dave Doran, pastor at Inter-City Baptist Church. He spoke from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

Some questions we must ask ourselves:
How do we live in the world while not becoming like it?
What does it look like to be a follower of Christ and yet not conforming to the world even though we are still here.
How do you remain redemptively in contact without being assimilated into the lifestyle of those who do not follow Christ.
How do you live in your culture without compromising the gospel?

As we seek to evaluate what being a follower of Christ looks like, we need to remember that the same principles are valid globally, but the application will vary by culture.

A God-honoring response to a cultural issue is based upon the advancement and truth of the gospel. Make sure the offense (to someone else) is over the gospel, not over something else.
Be controlled by the advance and truth of the gospel. Our actions need to result in the glory of God. Part of following Christ means serving as Christ served.

We need to avoid both isolation and assimilation. The gospel needs to come into the daily choices we make.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Reading and Writing Goals 2014

This past year I had two reading and writing goals.
- Writing: the 500 Words a Day Challenge
2013 was my second year participating in this challenge. I had enjoyed it in 2012 and was looking forward to trying it again in 2013.
- Reading: read a total of 52 books

How did I do?
- Writing: I fell just short of my goal for the 500 Words a Day Challenge (about 3500 words short for the entire year). Most of this writing was for the classes I teach and for translation freelance projects. However, I'm still pleased with how much I wrote.
- Reading: I nailed my reading goal and went far beyond it. I read a total of 84 books in 2013 (that number surprised even me).
Some of my favorite reads of this year included a re-reading of all the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib books by Maud Hart Lovelace and a new-to-me mystery, Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.

What's up for this year?
- Writing: I'm planning on continuing the 500 Words a Day Challenge. It worked well for me last year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with this goal this year.
- Reading: My plan is to read a total of 75 books this year. This number is higher than what I set for last year. However, since I actually read more than 75 books in 2013, I think reading this much in 2014 should be attainable.

How about you? Any reading or writing goals for 2014?

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Look at Liberty in the New Testament

The word "liberty" is only used eleven times in the New Testament, none of which occur in the Gospels. It occurs most often in connection with the words serve or servant.

The discussion concerning Christian liberty falls into two categories:
1) liberty from the bondage of sin and
2) liberty from the demands of the law given in the Old Testament to the Israelites.
Paul addresses the liberty from the bondage of sin that is experienced by the Christian in 2 Corinthians 3:17 and Romans 8:21. 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us that this liberty can only be experienced by means of the Holy Spirit. While this liberty can be realized to a certain extent during this life, Romans 8:21 talks of the glory to come in heaven when the Christian will be completely free from all trappings of sin and will experience the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” In coming out from under the rule of sin, the Christian has come under a new rule under Jesus Christ. James calls that rule “the law of liberty” (James 1:25; 2:12), referring to the fact that it is this new rule that has freed the Christian from his bondage to sin. Those who do not want to surrender themselves to this “law of liberty,” fail to see the liberty it brings and offer a false liberty. It is against this false liberty that Peter warns, stating “while they promise . . . liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (II Peter 2:19).

The other aspect of liberty is liberty from the demands of the law that was given to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Both Paul and Peter address this liberty in their writings. Paul warns the Galatian believers to “stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1; see also Galatians 2:4). This freedom from the law extends to those laws set forth concerning meat offered to idols (I Corinthians 10:29). However, as the Christian recognizes his freedom, he is exhorted to not use his liberty in such a manner as to offend a fellow believer. Rather, he is to use his liberty to serve his brother (Galatians 5:13; I Peter 2:16).

The Christian has been freed from his bondage to sin and an obligation to the law. However, he must keep in mind that he has been freed to be a slave. He has been freed to serve Jesus Christ and to serve his fellow believers. It is a liberty of relinquishing all personal opinions, rights, and preferences.

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