I don’t know the answer, but you better believe I’ll give you my best guess, good and loud!

Would you like to hear a little story? The personal blooper I have to share is taken from my early days, when I didn’t have the facts about God q-u-i-t-e straight. You’ll see what I mean…

The context of this particular moment in my history is Sunday school. I am six. I don’t remember how closely I usually followed the Bible stories that were told my class mates and I, but I certainly was not fully focused on the topic of this lesson.

I imagine the theme must have centered around Paul or, at least, allowed for one of our teachers to take a minute to question our knowledge of the conversion of this early church-builder. His exact question was “What was Paul’s name before it was Paul.”

I remember hearing it and how I reacted to the seemingly mindless question like it was yesterday. I thought, What an odd question to ask! The only thing I could come up with was that we now knew him by only Paul because his name had been shortened by the dropping of his last name.

If the man delivering this challenging question had given us any clues about the answer before he posed this test, as became clear to him from my answer, it had obviously made no real impression. I only had eyes for the beautifully frilly socks and matching white shoes of the curly-haired brunette in my class who appeared unable to help being perfect and always so still. How I wanted to be her friend…

But, I digress. Needless to say, I was completely unprepared to respond audibly. But, as a person who never likes to be caught without a response to queries of any import, I boldly ventured forth! I quickly imagined an answer in place of the truth I could not account for; a flash of revelation made me aware that Paul’s original full name could have been none other than..

Paul Coffee!

In case some of you don’t know, he was a hockey player that I heard spoken of by my dad and brothers. Surely he had some relevance in this conversation if he was mentioned so often at home, right?

Oh, the way we thought as young-uns! As a side-note, if you don’t know anything about Paul’s name change or why it came about, you can read the account in Acts 9. Here you will find Christ staging one of His dramatic interventions into the misdirected course of a man He loved too much to let alone. I pray that as you read, the details that pertain to Paul’s identity will be shadowed by the redemptive name you see God making for Himself. I hope you will see that He is the same God who wants to bring the power of His name (His very person) into the denomination of your life as well.

Be prepared! Like He did with Paul, Christ will likely turn the life you know right now upside-down, but don’t lose heart; it will not take too long before He lets you recognize that He is actually setting you right-side-up for the first time in your life. Then, you will have every reason to thank Him!

You Want More?

This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up for you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you are familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote to you in brief.

As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourself into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is welcoming and accessible to everyone, across the board.

This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out into the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God’s is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!

My response is to get on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit — not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength — that Christ will live in you as you open the door and let him in. And I ask him that with both feet firmly planted in love, you’ll be able to take in with all the followers of Jesus, the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full tin the fullness of God.

God can do anything, you know — far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

Ephesians 3