Why Did Saul’s Name Change to Paul in the Scriptures?

If you read through the book of Acts, you’re introduced to a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 7:58, where he appears during the execution of Stephen.  In Saul’s zeal, he sought to exterminate all believers of “The Way”—that is, Christians.  “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison (Acts 8:3).

Christ transformed Saul in Acts 9, then after a number of episodes with the Apostle Peter (Acts 10-12), Saul reemerges with his friend, Barnabus, in Acts 12:25:

And Barnabus and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Soon, the church at Antioch commissioned them by the Holy Spirit, were sent off to minister to the Gentiles, to which Christ called him as well (Acts 9:15-16).

It’s in the next scene that we see an interesting verse:  “But Saul, who was also called Paul . . .” (Acts 13:9). 

I’ve heard over the years that Saul was his pre-Christian name, but Paul served as his ‘Christian’ name.  Yet, Luke (the author of Acts) used Saul’s name after his conversion—so much for that theory. 

The truth is, since Saul was a Roman citizen, he possessed a Roman name as well—Paul.  So, Paul used this name for his ministry to the Gentiles, who would receive him

So, for what it’s worth, that’s the short answer. Paul is not his ‘Christian’ name, but his Roman name. He was still ‘Saul’ when he returned to synagogue in his hometown.

When My Heart, Satan, and Christ Ask Me the Same Question: My “Conference” Before the Conference

In leading up to this conference in Trinidad and Tobago, I am having a conference of my own in my own heart and mind.  As I type this, I’m  sitting in a rather spacious area in Panda Express (I know, I know–but every time I fly, I get a craving for orange chicken and fried rice).  But it’s not just here with my belly animatedly settling my lunch. 

It happened on the plane here to Houston. 

It happened sitting at Denver International Airport. 

It happened yesterday in making my final preparations. 

In fact, it began happening as soon as I accepted the invitation to come speak.

In fact, it all comes down to one basic question–a question that, in a sense, both God and the devil and my own heart ask from significantly different angles:

“Who are you to be doing this conference?”

In my own heart, I ask, “Who are you?”  I question my own preparedness, my own qualifications, my own abilities, and how the folks will receive this rather controversial talk on the ever-popular prosperity ‘gospel.’  See?  Even me putting quotes around ‘gospel’ is provocative–how will this go over?  Oh, the issues that rattle around in the heart of man.

The devil asks, “Who are you?”  You are a sinner. So many failings.  So many things you could have done better for the Kingdom.  See?  Another missed opportunity to share the gospel.  See?  Doing 55 in a 45 mph zone.  See?  Another pastoral duty you should have attended to.  No wonder the devil is called the accuser of the saints (Revelation 12:9-10).  If I listen to him, I’d never stand behind a pulpit again–and maybe that’s His aim.  Fear, discouragement, never being good enough to call myself “Christian.”

Then Christ comes along and asks, “Who are you?”  You are my child.  I bought you and redeemed you with My own blood.  I fulfilled the law on your behalf because your righteousness was as filthy rags (Matthew 5:17; Isaiah 64:6).  I am just, but also the justifier (Romans 3:24) that took your sin not because of you, but in spite of you and because of my everlasting love for you.  You were sinking, but I set you upon the solid rock (Psalm 40:2; Matthew 7:24-27).  You are mine, and I am yours. 

It’s now fighting back tears in this Panda Express, I realize I am who I  am because Christ is who He is. 

May God give the people in Trinidad half as good a conference by His Spirit as He’s given me. 

Thank you, Lord Jesus.

How Interstate 70 in Colorado Reminds Me of My Father’s Care

As I type this, I am home about three hours after an overnight to a place in the Rockies—Glenwood Springs.  That’s hot springs, by the way.  This trip was scheduled months ago for my mother-in-law’s trip to Colorado, and also for her birthday (and a significant one at that).  Yet, due to some family matters, my mother-in-law could not come, but also my wife had to fly back to Kentucky to be with her family.  It was a no-brainer.

So, what about the trip?  I put in a call to cancel it, but my wife, mother-in-law, and four kiddos talked me out of it.

So, once church was over and our people left to their respective Labor Day weekends, we piled in the Honda, dropped off the dog at a church member’s, dropped Hannah’s bird off at another member’s and off we went.

In God’s gracious providence, I’m so glad we did.  The last few weeks have been quite frantic from a number of angles—more so than usual.  And those weeks made life at the house simply about getting things done.  “Homework done?”  “Shower done?”  “Did you brush your teeth?  All of them?”  “Done picking up your Legos?” (Hey, when there’s lots to accomplish, grammar flies out the window, right?)   Thank our Heavenly Father for a backyard and a soccer ball, else we’d be up a tree—all work and no play.

But we swam, played mini golf, at some fun cuisine, watched The Hobbit, walked around a neat little city.  What a treat!  Vacations are about being with people you’re with every day, but getting to know them all over again.  God has blessed me with four incredible children.

And the best part was yet to come.

Interstate 70 in the Rockies is a windy, up-and-down venture that would be awful if it weren’t for the majestic scenery.  Every turn brought about another wrinkle in the creative work of a God who knows beauty.

And then I began to realize something—certain turns in life over the past few weeks would certainly be ranging from pretty good to down right rough if it weren’t for the majestic providence of my caring Father.

In Romans 8:26-30, Paul writes:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[b] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We are weak.  We suffer due to the curse of sin in the world!  We all long for the redemption of our bodies, for what went wrong in the Garden by the first Adam to be remedied in that great City by the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; Revelation 21-22).  But in the meantime, God’s Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We don’t always pray rightly, but the Spirit intercedes to give us what is right according to the will of God.  Then that precious Romans 8:28 comes in—for Christians, God is working all things for our good.  Why?

Christians are called by the Spirit to salvation (John 3:3-7; John 6:60-66).  His work even before we came on the scene was to make His elect in the image of His Son!  Foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified—worked out before the foundation of the world with the end being as if it were already secured.  We may not understand this, accept this, like this, or believe this is the method, but there it is.  God is working all things for our good so that we will be conformed to the image of His Son.

Every turn on I-70 showed me more of God’s beauty.

Every turn in my Christian walk shows me more of God’s beauty.

He’s working all things for my good and His glory—not because I’m any good, but because He chose me by His grace and in spite of my sin!

Indeed!

Is Jesus Really Enough? Looking at the Promi$e$ of the Pro$perity Go$pel

Next Wednesday, I’ll be flying to Trinidad & Tobago to lead a conference on the prosperity gospel. Here’s a portion of how it will begin on Friday, September 5 at the Mt. Beulah Evangelical Baptist Church in Point Fortin, Trinidad. Please pray that the Spirit would move to help all understand the true trajectory of the gospel!

==

I’m so thankful to be with you here today. This stands as my tenth time to Trinidad and Tobago—the first in 1995-6 over a Christmas break during seminary when we spent two weeks teaching music. I then came back when I pastored Boone’s Creek Baptist Church in Lexington, KY back in 2004. Then came 2005 (construction), 2006 (leader conference), 2007 (more construction), 2009, 2011, 2012 (Pastor Roddie’s 25th), 2013 (marriage conference), and now this time—preaching and teaching on the most controversial topic thus far.

I find myself ashamed at some of the things that my country that I love has exported around the world. I turn on the television here and I see the filth of the programming you have from Hollywood—be it TV programming or movies. I feel the need to apologize to all of you, but I’m just one person.

Part of the television programming that is troublesome does not simply come from secular Hollywood. This programming comes with all the language and practices that make what they say seem very Christian—but in reality, it’s just very American, very human, but with all the earmarks of Christianity. It sounds like the gospel—but is it?

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he opens not with a word of commendation but one of exasperation.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).

Some in Galatia felt there was another ‘good news’–a better good news–than the one Paul gave them—one grounded by God’s calling “in the grace of Christ.” Was Paul being arrogant—was his gospel the only gospel? No, read this again: they were deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ. This gospel was not only given by Christ, but was certainly Christ himself (see Mark 1:1). He was sufficient and still is! They preached that there existed another legitimate way to be right with the Father and fit for heaven. These Judaizers’ ‘gospel’ was Christ-plus. In this case, it was Christ-plus-law of Moses, that is, counting on one’s own works of righteousness.

I submit to you that there moves a gospel among us that many hold dear as a way to the Father, a way that not only brings righteousness, but serves as an indicator of our righteousness and the blessings of God therein. It is a ‘gospel’ that’s a Christ-plus–but the plus is that of health, wealth, and prosperity, also known as the prosperity gospel.

The prosperity gospel says that in your obedience to him, he will bless you and favor you with good health, an abundance of finances, and prosperity here in this life. The converse follows: if you are not blessed materially, physically, and prosperously, then that means there is a lack of faith somewhere. So, you need more faith, more trust, and God will bring a corresponding blessing.

Did I say God will? Let me use another verb: God must.

The problem could be in how you think, in what you speak, or a number of other different levels.

At the core of this problem is the issue of whether Jesus–His promises, His person, His pathway–is sufficient. Is He really enough? In the biblical record, all the people of God were promised were His presence, and that he would supply their needs (spiritually and, yes, physically). But for Westerners, that’s not enough–He should supply what we want, in abundance, and in our timing. Else, God isn’t faithful. Has Christ supplied us enough? Do we see him as enough?

The Danger of Sensationalistic Preaching

Recently, I’ve grown fascinated with John Broadus, most know for being one of the founding members and later a president of my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  He’s also known for penning one of the greatest preaching manuals in our nation’s history, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (hardcover | Kindle ). 

One of the warnings he gave his students was on the danger of sensationalistic preaching, that is, preaching that strictly appeals to the emotions of the listener rather than to the mind.  Beecher Johnson, contributor to John Broadus: A Living Legacy, defines this as

… using any means to gain the ear of, or have an effect on, the audience that does not honor the sacred nature of God and the things of God or ensure singular focus on the spiritual and theological message of God in the text (216).

In the mid to late 1800’s to even now, preaching that is rooted in emotion rather than revelation of Scripture fails to honor God and will fail to change lives in any substantial way.

In that same book, Steven Lawson gives a warning to churches today:

Pressure to produce bottom-line results has led many ministries to sacrifice the centrality of biblical preaching on the altar of man-centered pragmatism.  A new way of “doing” church is emerging.  In this radical paradigmatic shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics (Famine in the Land, p. 25, quoted in A Living Legacy, p. 213). 

Pray for preachers of the gospel, that they rely on the testimony of Scripture rather that the shifting sands of sensationalism.  That’s what the world and the church most needs. 

What is the Biggest Hindrance in Prayer Life and Corporate Life?

I’m convinced convinced that one of the biggest hindrances of personal prayer life in the corporate life of the church is the religion of common sense, which is what the dictionary defines as: “good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.”  In this definition, we see the adjectives of good and sound.  So, based on common, conventional wisdom, decisions are made based on personal experience and the experiences of the collective herd.

Yet, while God certainly gives the knowledge that can fuel common sense, to be sure, God often has a way of leading that stands outside of the conventions of common sense.

Oswald Chambers puts it this way:

Faith in active opposition to common sense is mistaken enthusiasm and narrow-mindedness, and common sense in opposition to faith demonstrates a mistaken reliance on reason as the basis for truth. The life of faith brings the two of these into the proper relationship. Common sense and faith are as different from each other as the natural life is from the spiritual, and as impulsiveness is from inspiration. Nothing that Jesus Christ ever said is common sense, but is revelation sense, and is complete, whereas common sense falls short. Yet faith must be tested and tried before it becomes real in your life.

When relying on common sense, we rely less on faith in trust.  Instead of relying on what God sees, we confine ourselves to only what we can see and know and experience. Yet, all of us are touched by sin and the fall–“all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Therefore, we must pursue the glory of God in all our decisions, not operating by fear, but by faith in the promises that Christ gave His church.

Common sense is helpful.  Yet, let’s not use it in place of prayer and the pursuit of Christ and His Will.

(ADDENDUM:  After writing this post, I can across another post with some interesting memes of a ‘Common Sense Jesus.’  Thoughts?)

The Bumper Sticker Theology of Coexist: Is This Possible? Yes and No.

I see these bumper stickers proudly stuck on vehicles all across this great country of ours.  “Coexist”–a desire for tolerance of all religions in this country.  

This piece of art was designed by Piotr Mlodozeniec, whose basic coexistence design uses three symbols that stand for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Thus, each of the letters represent a different religion or philosophy:

C – The symbol of Islam

O – The peace symbol or pagan/Wiccan pentacle.

E – The male/female symbol, recognizing the equality of each.

X – The Star of David and represents Judaism.

I – The symbol for Wiccan

S – The symbol for Chinese yin-yang.

T – The cross is used to represent Christianity.

Granted, the challenge of communicating everything you wish to communicate on a 12 inch bumper sticker is asking too much.  Interpretation is in the heart of the beholder.  

But if tolerance be the issue, we certainly understand that the need for clarity of this definition.  

Does tolerating someone mean being willing to agree to disagree, all the while making the case for the veracity of their philosophy?  

Or does tolerance mean that everyone is right–even if two philosophies or religions are diametrically opposed to one another in means and ends? 

As fellow citizens of our country, and as fellow imagebearers of God (Genesis 1:26-27), I happily coexist with my neighbors who hold to different beliefs that I do.  But how I long to recapture in our society the original meaning of tolerance: sharing your views, sharing how you believe the other is right/wrong, and still being friends or at least civil to one another.  

Each of the philosophies outlined in this bumper stickers may certainly coexist, at least in a democratic society.  But to say they must coexist because each are inherently correct?  Given the differences in starting point, means to salvation, and the end results–we must remain intellectually honest and say without hesitation that this argument is weak with little foundation.

So when you see this bumper sticker, what comes across your mind?