“He’s dead! He’s dead!” exclaimed the courier from Rome as he walked toward us.
I stopped working and stood up. The other tent makers did the same. “Who’s dead?” I asked.
“Paul’s dead,” said the courier, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “He was beheaded in Rome about a month ago.”
Even though I knew the Apostle Paul’s ministry would eventually have a sad ending, the news stunned me. O Lord, why? I thought.
I turned away from the group, not wanting to talk about the apostle at that moment. It was just too painful. I walked down to the Aegean Sea and sat on a rock, hoping to sort out my emotions and thoughts. There, I looked back over my years with Paul.
The first time that I met Paul, I was not impressed. His stature was puny, only 4 feet 6 inches tall and 120 pounds in weight, and his public speaking skills were limited when compared to Apollos and the other orators. Yes, he was brilliant and could write, but these were facts that I learned later and did not figure into my first impressions of him.
Yet, there was something about Paul which drew me to him. Maybe, it was his fiery passion for the gospel or his fierce boldness or his love for the church. I can’t put my finger on it, but anyway, I joined up with Paul and traveled along with him as his aide.
On our first journey to Rome, we ended up swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Somehow, the Roman soldiers did not execute us and we were able to swim ashore to Malta. We eventually arrived in Rome.
Next, I spent two years, waiting for Paul while he was under arrest. When we finally resumed traveling again, everything became a blur of afflictions, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, and hunger.
Then, the fire in Rome changed everything for us Christians, from bad to worse. Believers were blamed for the fire and Paul became a marked man. Nero sent soldiers to hunt him down in Asia.
The stress wore me down. I couldn’t take it any longer.
“Paul, I didn’t join your ministry to be killed by Roman soldiers,” I said on the day of my departure. “I’m going to Thessalonica, start a business, maybe marry a young woman, and start a family. I haven’t really enjoyed life yet.”
Paul was disappointed, but what could he do? I fled on a boat.
It had been almost two years since I last saw Paul and now he was dead. My mind wandered here and there as the blue waves splashed against the rock I sat on.
Did I make the right decision when I left the Apostle Paul? I wondered. And how will I be remembered by future Christians?
For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…(2 Timothy 4: 9)
Demas’ decision has earned him a shameful legacy in the Bible for all to read. But still, before we are too hard on Demas, we should consider how we might have dealt with an apostle like Paul.
What are the Biblical requirements for being a prophet? Or an evangelist? Or a pastor? Or a teacher?
Actually, outside of being called by the Lord, there are no biblical mandates which have to be met for a believer to become any of these callings. None. Zilch. Nada. Zero.
Now, this does not mean that these callings are imparted without some degree of preparation, but that is strictly the Lord’s decision on what the preparation program will be. He’s the Boss and He doesn’t confer with men or groups about His preparation plans.
For instance, when the Lord called me, I didn’t rush off to confer with a pastor or a group. But rather, I just walked in my calling and used the gifts which came with the calling.
And of course, I made mistakes – lots of them. But my mistakes did not negate the calling on my life. So, I repented often, learned about my calling, and kept on walking in it.
Then, when the Lord called me to be a teacher, I followed the same course. I walked in my calling and began teaching. Period.
Okay, all of that is fine and dandy for the callings of prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher, but what about apostles?
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9: 1)
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:12)
If you check Christian internet websites, you will notice a glut of people who claim to be apostles. It’s almost as if the calling is as common as pennies. They’re all over the place. So, do we just take a person’s word that he (or she) is an apostle and then submit to him? Take a look at what Jesus said:
I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false. (Revelations 2:2)
Someone’s apostolic title is not enough to prove the validity of his or her calling. The true apostle must also have had a visitation with Jesus and he (or she) must have signs, wonders, and miracles which glorify the Lord.
Anything less than these biblical mandates causes the supposed apostle to fail the test.
And guess what? We believers are the ones who must check the apostles out.
In 2007, I had a weird dream in which I saw a bunch of five bananas. Four of the bananas in the bunch were rotten and one was perfect. End of dream.
I told Carol about the dream, but even with her help, I had no clue what the dream was about.
As with all of my dreams, I wrote it down in a notebook so I could review it sometime in the future.
Afterward, I walked into the kitchen to make myself breakfast. I poured cereal into a bowl and grabbed what looked like a perfect banana. As I peeled it, I was surprised to learn the fruit was rotten. Not one portion of it was fit to eat. I tossed it into the trash can.
Next, I grabbed another banana and began peeling it. Surprise! Surprise! It, too, was rotten. Then, I grabbed a third and a fourth one. Nothing was eatable on the rotten bananas. The trash can looked like a compost bin.
Finally, there was only one banana left in the bowl. I picked it up and checked it over. Just like the others, there were no marks on the peel. It looked perfect from the outside.
What do I have to lose? I thought.
I peeled it. And in fact, it was perfect in every possible way, not one bruise on it.
As I stood there looking at the banana, the Holy Spirit spoke to me heart: “The first four callings have been restored to the Church and are mostly rotten. The fifth calling is now ready. It will be perfect.”
The Holy Spirit was referring to the five-fold callings –
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11)
But even more, I felt the Holy Spirit was especially referring to the end-time apostles when he mentioned the fifth calling’s perfection.
The rottenness of the first four callings – teachers, pastors, evangelists, and prophets – is due mainly to the traditional church system rather than to the personal character traits of the people in these callings. The traditional church system has shoved these four callings into a box and sculpted each of them by its traditions and hierarchy. All handled in a nice, neat, and tidy fashion.
The end-time apostles are not coming to fit into the traditional church system’s mold, but instead, they’re coming with sticks of dynamite to blow it apart.
A year after my salvation, I had breakfast once a week with three or four Christian men. We fellowshiped, prayed for each other, and usually one gave a short teaching.
The only teaching that I can remember from those breakfasts was given by a young man who stated, “Our heavenly Father is a good God.”
As he said the words, a revelation exploded within me: “Of course, that has to be true because my own earthly father is a great dad. So, my heavenly Father has to be a good God.”
This simple revelation has remained with me for more than thirty-three years. It has comforted me in my worst times, just knowing that God is a good God and that He absolutely loves me.
Over the years, I have been with many different groups and befriended many Christians. All have mouthed the words, “God is a good God,” but sadly, I have met very few believers who really, really believe that God is a good God.
It’s not that the believers did not love God because they did. It’s just that the believers did not have the child-like abandon of knowing that the Father loved them and was cheering for them on their good days, as well as their bad days.
Most believed that they had to perform at a certain, but undefined, high holy level so that the Father would love them. They did not see themselves as little children and God as a loving Father who absolutely loved and doted upon them, even when they made mistakes.
Some of these believers had less than perfect earthly fathers, and a few were even abused by their dads. And to be honest, this may hinder a person’s revelation of God being a good God, but at the same time, God is able to give anyone a revelation of His love and goodness. We just need to ask and keep asking until we receive this revelation.
But most (98%) of these believers, who had difficulty believing God was a good God, had Christian leaders over them who did not reflect the Father-Heart of God to them.
For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4: 15)
Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. (2 Corinthians 12: 14)
Because the traditional church system is set up with a definite separation between the clergy and the laity, most church leaders look at church members as a means for advancing their own personal visions. After all, their personal visions came from God, right? And the laity has been the traditional money-source for hundreds of years, so why change?
The end-time apostles are willing to spend themselves for other believers.
Close your eyes and visualize what you think an apostle should look and act like. Do you see him or her like a classy CEO of a corporation, barking orders to underlings? Or like a authoritative general? Or like a prestigious national leader?
We probably all have opinions about apostles. Some of our beliefs will be based on our cultures and some on our church traditions or teachings.
But how did Paul visualize his calling of apostle?
For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and men. (1 Corinthians 4: 9 ASV)
…we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. (1 Corinthians 4: 13 NASB)
Not exactly what you had in mind, right? But consider this: our English translations paint a much rosier picture of the apostle than what Paul really visualized when he wrote these verses in his original Greek writings.
Paul actually saw the apostle as a person who was considered by the world as the lowest and worst possible criminal, much like an Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin or a brutal serial killer. A person who the world would not have one drop of pity or empathy for at all.
And if possible, the world would capture the apostle and place him at the end of long procession that would pass by crowds who would taunt, spit on, throw rocks at, dump refuse on, and whatever to belittle the apostle. Why? Because the apostle, in the judgment of the world, deserved this abuse because of his calling.
The long procession would eventually parade itself into an arena where the apostle’s death would be the main attraction for the world’s spectators – and also for angels.
The apostle’s death, as visualized by Paul, would not be a beheading or a firing squad or a hanging. No, those types of executions would be much too civilized for a culprit as evil as the apostle. Instead, wild animals, such as lions and tigers, would be sent into the arena to tear and rip apart the apostle. All the while, the world would be looking on and enjoying the bloody spectacle.
Okay, get the picture?
Now, how would you feel about having an apostle, like the one Paul visualized, come to your church? Would it bother you that the world, maybe your friends, relatives and neighbors, would think of him as an evil criminal? Would you like being linked to his name and assumed to be just as guilty as the apostle because of your association to him?
“Been there! Done that! Bought the tee-shirt!” should be the slogan printed on shirts worn by apostles.
Because the phrase aptly describes the apostles’ journeys into their callings and throughout the length of their callings.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4)
As a young Christian, I remember another believer saying to me in a hushed, reverent whisper, “You know, that person is called to be an apostle.”
How awesome! I thought at the time.
To be honest, I was flabbergasted at how glamorous the word apostle sounded to my ears. It seemed to be the height of the Christian pyramid. The top hierarchal rung. The creme de la creme of callings.
Of course, I was naive and had no understanding of callings at all, and especially that of an apostle. But since then, I’ve studied and learned a few things.
You see, the apostle is specifically prepared and trained ahead of time by the Lord to help the Body of Christ journey through treacherous, tough times before they take place.
How does the Lord prepare His servants – the apostles?
If your guess is that the training is carried out in nicely lit, air-conditioned rooms while sitting comfortably on soft cushions and listening to qualified lecturers at an ivy-towered university overlooking a quaint village, then I have bad news for you. You’re wrong!
For each apprentice apostle candidate, the Lord has specially designed circumstances which will simulate the treacherous, tough times which awaits the Body sometime in the future. These circumstances come filled to the brim with frustration, stress, and humiliation.
The apostle candidates are sort of like dirty clothes shoved into a gigantic automatic washer, going through one desperate, ruinous cycle after another. The candidates’ heads are held under the water most of the time, with a few short breathing breaks in between dunks.
All of this continues until they are finally rinsed and brought out to dry. This may take years, but along the way, many will drop out of the program to sit on the sidelines.
Now, while this divinely orchestrated training is happening, the rest of the Body of Christ looks on and scratches their heads. “What’s wrong with those losers? Why don’t they get with the program? They don’t seem to have a clue about faith,” they murmur to each other.
But when the treacherous, tough times hit a nation, it will be these losers – the apprentice candidates – who will step forth as apostles and confidently proclaim: “I know that our God will bring us through these bad times. Just follow me because I have discovered the correct path for us to walk on.”
(Continued in Part 7)