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Apostles Today – Ephesians 4:11-16

[This sermon was preached on Sunday, April 2, 2011. This begins with an announcement which is difficult to hear, but Pastor delivers it with grace and courage.]

Please turn with me to the book of Ephesians, chapter 4. As many of you know, my week didn’t turn out exactly what I had planned. Actually, I’d planned to take my father-in-law for two days to Phoenix and see the Grand Canyon. He’s not seen it, and Buck and Joyce [Fetzer, care pastors at State College Assembly of God spend a few months each winter in Arizona] have been bugging me for years to come out and visit them when they’re out there. They’ll be back here in another week and a half or so. And so I was planning on leaving on Wednesday. I went to see the doctor on Monday and I’d been coughing up more blood recently. It used to be every few days, and now it’s every day, and they wanted to check, and he said, “I want you to get in to Hershey [Medical Center] right away. They want to see you.”

So Wednesday I went in, and if it was a major blood vessel they were going to laser it, cauterize it, burn it off, and try to stem the bleeding. But it’s not a major vessel. It’s an accumulation of very small vessels and they didn’t want to mess with it. They did a CT scan while I was there and they were thinking about maybe taking my right lung, just take it out, and that previous CT scan in December had no tumors in the left lung. Well, I got a call on Thursday and there were really no decisions to make. The tumor has been growing; now it’s sped up its growth rate, and tumors have appeared on the left side now, and the tumor is pressing against the heart. And so they’ve said, “There’s really nothing we can do,” and I appreciate my brother, Don, and my sister-in-law, Judy, and Sherri their daughter, and Mark, and Jeffrey—I guess has gone out–being here today, just to be a support. Doctors never want to give you an exact timeline but, you know, it’s limited time, according to the doctor’s report. But how many of you, your doctor has given you unlimited time? [He chuckles, then says, with his dry delivery] You know, you’re going to live for kazillions of years.

You know, it’s something when someone says you have limited time. It’s kind of a shock to us, and I think, “Why is it a shock?” I mean, billions of people have lived before us and have gone. I think the shock is that we’re designed to live forever. That was God’s design from the very beginning, with Adam and Eve, and with us. Jesus said, “If you believe in Me, you’ll live and never die” [John 11:26]. You just pass from one place to another.  So, without giving an exact timeline, put it this way. They didn’t say this but, more or less, if later this year I find myself in a group of people all robed in white, around me a big crowd, it probably won’t be at Beaver Stadium. [Penn State students enacted the first “white-out” in 2004, where all PSU students attending a certain Penn State football game were encouraged to dress in white shirts or jackets. Later all fans embraced this idea. It is effective and amazing.] [He chuckles and says] It won’t be a white-out there.

So time is always short, and we believe Jesus’s coming is soon. My, there are unusual, unprecedented things happening around the world, and things just seem to be ratcheting up more and more and more. So I’m looking forward to His coming, and it could be any day. It could be today, amen? Now, having said that, I don’t plan to take this lying down. I plan to continue to fight for healing [members of the congregation, many of whom are weeping, break into applause]. I told Dr. Devlin, the dentist, this morning, at elder prayer, I said, “One of those signs of faith, I’m going to continue to floss every day.” [Congregation laughs at this. No matter what he is facing, he is continuing on with dignity and humor.] That’s faith, right? It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. So I plan to fight for healing and not just for me, but for Janine and others [Janine is a young mother of four who is suffering from ALS]. Let’s fight. Aaaaaand, I plan to fight back. You know, it’s like, “You may think I look bad, but you haven’t seen the other guy.”

So time is short, whether it’s end times or it’s me, or it’s whatever, time is short, so in the time we have, in the weeks ahead, I’m praying about sending a few cruise missiles over to the enemy’s side. So I’m probably going to take more risks, not less, as time goes on. There’s a tendency to take less risks, and not offend anybody or upset anybody, you know, just want to be remembered well. I don’t care how you remember me. [Some people laugh and he says] Really, I don’t. I care about what Jesus says when I’m in His presence. I care about that very, very much. When I say “I don’t care,” it’d be nice [he chuckles] for my family if you remembered me well, but. . .[and he shrugs]. By the way, some of you have said, “I’ve wanted to come in and see you, but I know you’re so busy”. I’m pretty much carrying on a pretty much normal schedule. I’m working at home more than I used to, but I’m seeing people all the time, and if you want to come see me and be one of those ones who can say, “You won’t believe what he said to me,” [congregation laughs], now is the time to line up. Maybe my sister-in-law, Judy, you could be first, right? [He laughs and says] The things I always wanted to say.

Anyhow, okay, we’ve got some work to do this morning, okay? Time is short, so let’s keep going. Ephesians 4, and I was only going to preach on one verse but I’m going to, in the coming weeks, probably take longer texts, to get through what we need to get through. That means you may get a little bit more for your money. And you know, this is not the church to go to if you think your religious duty is “60 minutes, and I’m outta here.” This is the church to go to if you feel that there’s life and you want every drop that you can get before you go, you know. Amen? [Many respond with “Amen!”] Amen.

Would you stand with me please as we give honor to God’s word? Ephesians 4, halfway through the New Testament [verses 11-16]: It was He—Jesus– who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

[Prayer] Father, we thank You for the gifts that You’ve given the body for these 2000 years. We thank You for supernatural gifts of prophecy and tongues and interpretation, healing, faith and miracles, and knowledge, words of knowledge and wisdom. We thank You for gifts of service, as in Romans 12, of hospitality and giving and all the good things that You’ve sown into Your body. Today, Lord, as we look at the leadership of Your body, Lord, we pray for unity of the body of Christ, because that’s Your desire. Speak to our hearts today. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, speak to my heart, change my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen, amen. You may be seated.

Verse 11. [He pauses.] You know, when I titled the message today, it was an accurate title, because I was planning on speaking on just verse 11, and I’m thinking, “Oh man, are there apostles today? The question every teenager in America has on their mind right now.” [He chuckles] “Are there apostles and prophets today?” Not exactly [spoken in reference to the question on every teenager’s mind]. So some of you are really into this stuff and we really dig down deep, and others of you are not, but I want to show you how this is relevant to all of us today. This is what, if you ever hear the term “five-fold-gifts”, this is the verse that they are referring to, Ephesians 4:11. Now in the Greek, it could be four-fold. Many argue, with the rules of Greek grammar, that pastor and teacher is linked together, so whatever. Either four or five, whatever–apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers–God has given [these to] the body of Christ.

Some say, “Well, the Bible says that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, so we don’t need them anymore.” [See Ephesians 2:20.] Are there apostles and prophets today? I think the answer is absolutely yes, there are. Now I have been, in the last several years, consciously trying to have before you an apostle or a prophet that you can see a living example of that. Christopher Alam is an apostle; there’s no doubt about it. [Christopher Alam is a very passionate missionary to Africa and the world who has spoken several times at State College Assembly of God. More information about his ministry, Dynamis World Ministries, can be found at http://pentecostalfire.com] Through signs and wonders–born and raised a Hashemite Arab–through signs and wonders, God has been using him for 20-some years to see miracles. He has established churches, hundreds of them, many hundreds, raised up leaders. That’s what apostles do.

Most apostles we would call missionaries, so most apostles are missionaries but most missionaries are not apostles. Most missionaries are in support roles, like Rob and Ireida are in a support role. [Rob and Ireida Grabill are Pastor’s son and daughter-in-love who were serving at the time in Rajastan, India.] Even though they are in an unreached area of India, they are there to help, and to help others spread the Gospel. Michael Chowning, a few years ago, who gave us the account of a resurrection that took place in front of 1000 people when they brought—remember, in Siberia, they brought–the body, frozen body from the [he hesitates] mortuary, yeah. I wanted to say corpsuary. From the mortuary, and he prayed and that person rose from the dead. Well, he has established thousands of churches, raised up leaders, and so these are the signs of an apostle. [At the time, Michael Chowning was serving as a missionary to Siberia through Assemblies of God.]

Are there apostles in America? Probably less so than other parts of the world. Can there be an apostle where the Gospel has already been preached, because an apostle typically goes into new territory, and through signs and wonders establishes the Church there. Prophets come behind; speak into people’s lives. Evangelists then gather the harvest. Pastors and teachers then teach and establish, and hopefully reproduce so that the chain goes on. The reproduction goes on and on and on. I think one of the most famous apostles since the New Testament was Patrick of Ireland, and I’ve made reference to him before, for more than one reason. But Patrick was a slave in Ireland, and he escaped, went back to Britain, and God called him to go back to Ireland and give his life to reach the Irish people. And so, throughout history, there have been these people, and there are many of them today actually. And they don’t make a big deal about calling themselves apostles.

Now there’s two ways to deal with this whole five-fold thing. One is hierarchical, where it is a governmental structure: apostles at the top, and then prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and those who think it’s hierarchical, it’s governmental, get resentful that pastors and teachers are kind of running the show, that have so much clout in the body of Christ. I was invited to join, twice, a group called the International Coalitions of Apostles, headed by a very well-known man in the body of Christ, and I turned it down, for two reasons. Number one, I don’t think I’m an apostle. Number two, they have a hierarchical view where they want everybody on the whole planet to come under them, the whole body of Christ, and then the whole planet, and then the Millennium will be established under them. I think that’s dangerous.

And I’ve got to tell you, a lot of people who call themselves apostles, a lot of it has to do with maybe wanting significance for themselves, because they think, you know, that’s the highest title you can have, and I understand that. Everybody wants to be significant. I do. But some, I’m afraid, many of those who call themselves apostles are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and you need to beware. And I almost never say something negative about anybody’s ministry from here. There are those who do this week in and week out, and I don’t think that’s edifying, but if you have a question about somebody’s ministry, check with your pastor. My heart is not to restrain or to criticize or whatever. My heart is to protect the sheep, and there are people out there that are—I don’t know—some are delusional, but some are just con men, and they are using the name of Christ to con people, and that bothered the Apostle Paul so very, very much.

I think there are foundational apostles–the Twelve, the book of Revelation talks about them sitting on thrones [though Revelation 21:14 mentions twelve apostles of the Lamb, I think he is referring to the 24 elders who sit on thrones in Revelation 4:4], but I think there are continuing apostles. We’ll call them, there are capital-A Apostles in the early church, all of which were martyrs except one, and there’s small-a apostles. And none of them thought the title was all that much of an honor. Look at what Paul went through. Was that an honor? He was alone most of the time. His wife had either left him or died; we’re not sure. He’s shipwrecked, he’s imprisoned, he’s beaten. Where’s the honor here, you know? And yet, he was an apostle. He was called and sent. Apostle means “sent one”.

Now I read something a couple of years ago I found really interesting–the Apostle Paul said, “Here we are at the end of the procession,” [see I Corinthians 4:9] or “here we are, the scum of the earth”–that back in the day, let’s say you are a wealthy person and you have a number of servants and you want to send something or a message somewhere but you know there’s bandits. It’s a very dangerous road. Say you want to send a message to Port Matilda [a town just northwest of State College, about 10-12 miles away] back in the day, and all you have are horses and that’s it. So let’s say that road is very, very dangerous, like the road to Jericho was in Jesus’s day, very dangerous. Which servant are you going to pick? Are you going to pick your very best servant or are you going to pick your most expendable servant to go [he chuckles]? And this article made the argument that you are going to pick your most expendable one. You know, if something happens to him, hey, you’ve got another one. Now that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us or He just sees us as expendable. What it means is that we should not be haughty, arrogant, prideful, and you need to beware. People who use that term apostle about themselves, are they wealthy? Are they after money? Are they after fame? What are they after? What’s it all about? So be careful of that.

Prophets? Yes! You saw one last week. Sean [Smith, evangelist and author based in San Ramon, California preached last week; learn more about him at http://seansmithministries.com/] is a prophet, and he prophesied into individual lives or corporately, and we had the gift of prophecy in action this morning. Yes, it’s part of what God sowed into the body of Christ, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Now I sat with the leader of this big pyramid group, the ICA group here some years ago. We had lunch right here, and I said, “Instead of seeing”—because he really goes big on the verse in Corinthians that says, “First apostles, then prophets, [he repeats] first apostles”[I Corinthians 12:28]—I said, “Rather than the top of a pyramid, could we see this as dynamic, like an arrow that’s lateral and dynamic? So, new territory. First the apostles go in, then the prophets,” then what I already said to you, “evangelists, pastors and teachers.” He said, “No! It’s governmental.” And he didn’t say this but he implied that everybody needs to come under him. [Spoken sardonically] It ain’t gonna happen. [He chuckles.] I don’t know how he thinks that is ever going to happen, because he’s made some very, very unwise decisions himself that gives everybody the heebie-jeebies.

So we have these flawed human vessels being used by God. We have wolves in sheep’s clothing. We have people sincerely wanting God, wanting revival. What should we do? I think we should just keep going after God, and God will raise up people. It doesn’t matter what their titles are, so why don’t I—I hardly ever use Reverend or Doctor. Why not? I think it gets in the way, it gets in the way in so many ways. In fact, Jesus said, “Call no one father” [Matthew 23:9]. He’s talking in a spiritual sense, as a title. He also said, “Call no one rabbi, I’m your Rabbi” [Matthew 23:8]. So you know, “Pastor” is fine; that’s what I function in, or Paul is fine, whatever.

It’s all about the Gospel, so let me say this. Let’s skim through this and then we’ll have Communion. What is the purpose of all these? Well, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so anybody in ministry that makes it about them, drawing attention to them, supporting them, focusing on them, boom! There’s a disqualifier right there. Your job is not to bring people to support them; it’s for them to prepare God’s people to worship and service, so the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith. Some of these people out there, they don’t want unity. They want a following, and they want a name, and they want part of the body of Christ to follow them, for whatever reason. If anybody on this list, but particularly those who claim to be apostles and prophets, don’t have a heart for unity in the body of Christ, I wouldn’t give them the time of day, because that’s the very purpose. It says right here, so don’t just pick out a title and ignore what it says so clearly. [He quotes Ephesians 4:13 again] until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. What’s God’s desire? [He continues with verse 14] we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

You know what? When you get desperate, that’s when you are vulnerable. You know what I mean? You’ll do anything. An uncle sent me an email yesterday. Asparagus, apparently, will cure every kind of cancer. Asparagus is the answer. And you know, when you’re desperate, being desperate for God, that’s when God comes through, right? When we’ve tried everything else and He’s the only answer, that is the most likely time that He comes through. But we can focus on others, and I’ve been, I’ve gone to services where I had real question marks about the person up front, but I was desperate, desperate for God, desperate for His touch. But as your pastor, I want you to be very careful, very, very careful, and understand someone can come along and people say, “This is the one. That’s the one. Follow after them.” Let me tell you what. With me or without me, we’re not going to miss it. If there is a move of God or a revival, we’re not going to miss it. We may not be there Day One but our heart is after God. We’re not going to miss it. And what kind of revival only lasts two or three weeks anyhow? [He chuckles] What kind of revival would that be?

So just relax. Even as we fight, as we war–not in the flesh but in the Spirit–as we fight in the Spirit, we can do it with the confidence that God loves us and He’s got a plan and a purpose, and we can trust in Him because His ways are higher than ours. I said to Arline [his wife] this week–and the rest of it is rich but I can’t give it its due–I said, “I love God’s surprises, and I’m hard to surprise, but I keep trying to figure out what He’s up to.” But if I could figure it out, it wouldn’t be a surprise, right? So, I’m ready for His surprise. The Bible is full of God’s surprises, isn’t it? We’re at the very last minute. He shows up and does something really different than anyone would imagine: speaking out of a burning bush [Exodus 3]; put your hand in your coat and it’ll become leprous, and you put it back and it’s gone [Exodus 4:6-7]; throw your stick down and it becomes a serpent [Exodus 4:2-4]; and having the Son of God come and die as a criminal on a cross for our sins was what nobody expected, yet He did it for you and me, amen?

I’m going to ask those who are prepared to serve Communion if you would please come. While they’re coming, if you would bow your heads, some of you, God’s been speaking to you. Maybe last week, you heard the Gospel and you didn’t raise a hand, but this week, you said, “Lord, if there’s an opportunity for me to commit my life to You, I’ll do it this week.” Or maybe God’s just tugging on your heart. It’s not a salvation sermon I preached today, but you know, somehow the Holy Spirit has spoken to you. You know that Jesus loves you, and He wants you to be His follower. How many would raise a hand right now and say, “That’s me. I want to commit my life to Jesus today. I want to commit my life to Jesus. I came here today, not as a Jesus follower, but I want to leave as a Jesus follower.” How many would raise a hand? Is there anyone? As we go into this time of Communion, I want to give you that opportunity. [A hand goes up.] Yes, yes, yes, thank you, young man. Thank you. Are there others? [He pauses] Are there others?

[Looking at the young man, he says] I want to pray with you right now. Let’s pray together. [Prayer] Dear Jesus, thank You for going to the cross and dying for my sins. Let’s all pray together. I pray that You’ll forgive me all my sins. I will be Your follower. Come into my heart. Sit on the throne of my heart. I declare You as Lord of my life, and I will follow You all the days of my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen. Welcome to the family of God. Amen. God bless you, young man. And I would encourage you—if you are serving Communion, just wait for a second—I would encourage you, as others, to stop back at the desk, see Pastor Jake [McDonald, young adult pastor] and get that booklet and he will be able to help you, to give you guidance, or any other pastors.

We’re about to enter Communion. This is a Christian practice for 2000 years. This is an appetizer for Heaven, and we repeat the words and it’s on the table [on which the Communion trays of bread and cups are set at the front of the church], “This do in remembrance of Me.” Yes, we remember the cross. That’s the past. Yes, we acknowledge we’re the body of Christ today. We’re doing this with people all over the world. But how about Heaven? The marriage supper of the Lamb, this is an appetizer for that day. And we need to remember that Jesus is coming. I know it’s future. Have you ever had an appointment that slipped your mind, and then you remembered, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! I have an appointment at two o’clock today.” You have an appointment with eternity. You have an appointment with Jesus. You have an appointment for His return, and we need to remember that every day. That should even be in our day planner. Today may be the day. Remember Him. So you need to be a Christian believer. This is for Christians. You need to be right with God and right with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Receive the bread and the cup. Do not partake until we all receive together. God bless you. [And the service ends with Communion.]

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