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?”