Smaller & Smaller

Presently, I am upstairs in my Father in law’s study on this overcast, November day in Dallas, Texas. I am listening to joyous sounds and the laughter of family and friends that create such a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Cousins telling big tales, aunties cooing over the little ones, sisters excitedly planning weddings, dishes clanging in the kitchen, enticing smells deliciously rising upward and, as always, that age old question, “When does the football game start?” On this Thanksgiving day I am truly blessed and extremely thankful to be surrounded with so much love. I am sure my Father in law, George is looking on as well, from heaven with a nod of approval. We miss you and love you George. And as for you my friend, thank you for taking time from your busy life to share in the thoughts of a simple but blessed man. I hope you may find encouragement in a word or two and I pray Our Heavenly Father’s very best for you and your family.

Recently, I have been interested in the conversion the Apostle Paul experienced. It was such a radical change that many were skeptical, but those closest to him could not deny the difference. Sounds familiar! Uncomfortably, I believe I might have experienced some of that skepticism. Saul, the devout man he was, actually encountered the Lord Jesus Christ face to face and because of this encounter he never returned to his previous way of life. Paul wrote, “God rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son…” As evidenced in his letters, Paul seemed completely confident in who he was and in the purpose which God had called him. In the majority of his letters Paul introduces himself as an apostle of Christ by the Lord’s doing. Sadly, my western mindset tells me an apostle carries a semblance of importance and authority but Paul’s definition was much different. He continually defined himself as the least of these and a bond servant to Christ. Quite the dichotomy, wouldn’t you agree? Throughout the Bible we see many of our heroes underwent a name change expressing their true character as God sees them. Our potential in Christ is so much greater than the mirror our imperfect soul reflects. However, Jesus says, to those who overcome, I will give you a new name.

To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Rev. 2:17)

My own quest and desire for a name change set me on a journey to find and understand Paul’s new name and how he fully embraced it. I found the name “Saul” means “desired”or “ask for.” However the new name “Paul”, appropriately means “small”or “humble.” I always wondered if his name change came at his conversion or somewhere in the journey. Upon investigation, just as I suspected, it was in the journey. The final use of the name “Saul” was all the way over in chapter thirteen of Acts.

But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him. (Acts 13:9)

Surprisingly, I was caught off guard at what I discovered by digging a little deeper into the scripture. According to the definitive notes in my Bible, the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” literally means “having just been filled.” Paul’s name change, the context of this chapter, and then being sent on mission shortly after seems to support something very different and wonderful had indeed happened. Was that truly the moment the Apostle Paul was actually filled, completely consumed, inhabited, overtaken, possessed by the Holy Spirt? A sign post for us is found towards the beginning of the chapter.

While we were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit…(Acts 13:2-4)

Being curious, I searched out the timeline on this. Saul’s encounter with Jesus took place in the year 34 AD, found in Acts 9. However, Paul’s first missionary journey, Acts 13, took place in the year 48 AD. Wow! That’s fourteen years later! Through trials and experience, I have learned it takes time to solidify a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I personally, have found no substitute for dedicating a tremendous amount of time to actually know and establish an honest and genuine relationship with those close to us, whether in our natural lives or in the realm of Christ. In short, there are no short cuts and that is the reason it is so important to set aside time each day to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Lord. Praying, studying, listening, learning, meditating, worshipping are all acquired disciplines as a Christ follower. These require effort on our part and grace on His. That is how we grow and mature in Christ. The mystery I’ve discovered through pursuing these disciplines is, I end up with more questions than answers! God just keeps getting bigger and bigger, while like Paul, I become smaller and smaller. The true treasure can be found in the questions. Questions like: Has sin lost it’s hold on me?  Am I growing daily in Christ?  Am I an overcomer?  Am I a light shining in the darkness?  Do I love well?  What is my new name? I must have a thousand questions. I am sure you have many of your own questions too, so I’ll leave you to them. Wrestle well my friend. Embrace each day as a gift. Enjoy the journey. You are a unique expression of God’s love. No one is like you. You are an original and we need you. Without you there are stones missing on the wall! Wherever you are in the world, please know…you are loved and cherished!

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! Happy Thanksgiving Y’all!

…Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

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Humble Apostleship

“It is not this way among you…”

So, you want to be an apostle? In our culture titles usually signify accomplishments or achievements through many years of dedication, sacrifice and perseverance. Doctors, judges, politicians and military rank are a few that come to mind. In our Christian culture today we often deem apostles as great leaders of churches or church movements around the world. Some religious sects believe there were only the original apostles in Jesus day and after they died there were no more. On the other hand, many self appointed apostles will shake your hand and give you a card that says “Apostle So and So” as they proceed to tell all kinds of stories that seem to insinuate how important they are. God bless them.
The dictionary defines apostle as “sent one.” It is my understanding that in the Roman conquest to acquire and rule the land, they found it necessary to assimilate the conquered people into the Roman culture. A means of maintaining order and control was changing the heathens mindset so they would totally adapt into the Roman culture. It reminds me of what the Babylon King did with Daniel and the boys. Everything needed to change, so the Roman authorities appointed officials and sent them throughout the conquered regions to establish the rule and reign of Rome. This was the root of the word “apostle,” the very word Jesus strategically used to describe the ones He chose to usher in a Kingdom culture on the earth. In writing to Corinth, the Apostle Paul gives us a clear path to identify true apostles.

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
(1 Corinthians 4:9-13)

If you are interested in becoming an apostle, I’ve extracted a set of job qualifications as follows:

1. Have you been put on display by God as men condemned to die?
2. Have you become a spectacle to the world, men and angels?
3. Are you a fool for Christ?
4. Are you weak?
5. Are you without honor?
6. Are you hungry and thirsty?
7. Are you poorly clothed?
8. Are you roughly treated?
9. Are you homeless?
10. Do you work extremely hard with your own hands?
11. Do you bless when you are criticized and abused?
12. Do you keep on going in spite of persecution?
13. Do you try to reconcile with the ones that lie about you?
14. Have you become as worthless scum of the world?

Pretty tough qualifications, wouldn’t you agree? For me, this brings to light scriptures like, “I’ve been crucified with Christ,” “Pick up your cross daily,” “Count the cost.” Being an apostle is definitely not as glamorous as some pretend it to be. Glorified “titles” seem to create a false identity that thrive on the accolades of men but miss the grace of God. However, a truly surrendered life receives praise from God. (Vs.5)  Now, if you skip down to verse 16, Paul writes:  “Therefore, I exhort you, be imitators of me.”

Wait! What???  That’s asking a lot Mr. Paul!

Jesus said it best as He gathered the ones He called apostles and related to them their true purpose and destiny.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Just my opinion, but probably most true apostles are hidden. They probably avoid the lime light and would never consider taking on a title. Probably, these who quietly serve would not even consider themselves to be apostles. To love and to serve is in the fiber of their being and they do it naturally and genuinely. They expect nothing in return. Quietly and effectively the culture changes.

So shall it be. Peace to you.