Monthly Archives: July 2013

Equipped to Witness ~ Acts 14:21-28

Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. ~ Acts 14:21b-22

As Paul and Barnabas’ visit to Lystra concluded, we are told how some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came and won the crowd over against Paul. They stoned Paul and, thinking him dead, dragged him out of the city. Interestingly, “after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” (14:20) God still had work for Paul to do.

The visit to Derbe is mentioned only in verse 21. Then Paul and Barnabas backtrack through the cities they have visited, including Lystra, Iconium and Antioch where Paul had been stoned (Lystra) and where Paul and Barnabas had been persecuted. The purpose of the return visits was to “strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith” (v22). They appointed elders for the churches and then returned to Antioch where they “reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” (v 27)

Witnessing with Fortitude

Witnessing with Fortitude (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

The church is about winning people to Christ; but it is primarily about strengthening, nurturing, and encouraging those who already believe. God works through the church to equip us believers for Kingdom work; to go out into the world as the Holy Spirit would guide us and allow God to work through us to win the lost to Christ. The church is not premised on “If we build it the unsaved will come,” paraphrasing a line from the movie Field of Dreams. Rather, the church is premised on God’s desire that modern-day apostles go forth from the church to seek and save the lost according to His will.

We modern-day apostles can learn much from Paul and Barnabas. Their message hit home with people; it hit home so strongly that many persecuted them for their determination to stand firmly upon God’s Word. Faced with such severe persecution, they did not give up; they pressed on. This was not of their own accord, but of the Holy Spirit. Paul later wrote these words in his letter to the Romans:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. ~ Romans 4:3-5

When we speak God’s Truth and face persecution because of it, we must rejoice. God is using us. What an honor and privilege that is!

Ponder this: I must stand firm on God’s Word. When am I most tempted to weaken?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, help me to press on in the face of persecution according to Your good and perfect will. Let me be Your minister of the Gospel and let me be a productive and useful member of Your church. In Jesus’ name – AMEN.

Calling Out False Gods ~ Acts 14:8-20

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. ~ Acts 14:11-12

Paul and Barnabas continued to Lystra and preached there. As in previous stops, their words and miraculous acts were well received and many came to faith. Here, however, some of the people believed that Paul and Barnabas were human manifestations of the gods Zeus and Hermes and sought to offer sacrifices to them to which they replied “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.” (14:15, italics added for emphasis)

We need more witnesses today like Paul and Barnabas: witnesses who speak honestly about the worldly things in which we humans are quick to place our faith and trust; witnesses who preach the Gospel boldly and truthfully while giving praise and glory to the One True God. There are many false gods around today. They come in many forms with many names, and many people stand on those falsehoods as if their very lives depend upon them. You know what? Their lives are at stake. If we believers are not honest with them concerning matters of eternity, who will be?

The chorus of a popular hymn comes to mind:

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

Ponder this: I have Good News to share! With whom would God have me share it?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, this world is filled with things that can so easily distract us from the Gospel. In many cases, these things take Your rightful place in our lives. I want to live for You. Guard and protect me from such temptation, Lord, and help me to speak the Truth in honesty out of love for those who so desperately need to hear it. In Jesus’ name. AMEN

Guide Me, Holy Spirit! ~ Acts 14:1-7

But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders ~ Acts 14:2-3

Directional Signs

Directional Signs (Photo credit: Mykl Roventine)

The pattern of the establishment Jews persecuting believers continues as Paul and Barnabas share the Gospel at Iconium. Here, so many Jews and Gentiles respond that the Jews who refuse to believe begin to “poison the minds” of the Gentiles thus dividing the city. Guided by the Holy Spirit, with their words backed up by signs and wonders, the apostles preach on as more and more people come to faith. Perhaps feeling a bit desperate, a plot is launched to have Paul and Barnabas stoned. They learn of the plot, so they left to preach elsewhere.

Notice the work of the Holy Spirit? Paul and Barnabas are guided to a destination, given powerful words supported by signs and wonders, warned of a plot against their lives, and guided to leave. Through all of that, many Jews and Gentiles come to faith in Jesus Christ. We see no signs of fear on the part of the apostles, although they would have had good reason to be afraid for their lives. Trusting completely in God, they press on.

When we honor God by doing His will in our lives, the Holy Spirit will guide us as well. He will give us a path, He will bless our actions, and He will protect us. A favorite promise from God through the prophet Isaiah comes to mind:

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~ Isaiah 30:20-21

We must seek His voice. He will show us the way He wants us to go, and in seeking and doing His will we will be blessed indeed.

Ponder this: Am I doing what God wants me to do?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, gift me with the Holy Spirit and give me the desire and courage to seek and follow Your will. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

O’Malley’s! ~ Hollywood, Florida

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

I bet most frequent travelers have one or two destinations that harbor special memories. Here is the story of one of mine.

In 1989 my cousin and I took a weekend Bahamas cruise aboard Carnival’s M/S Fantasy. Just placed into service, this was her second voyage so everything aboard was squeaky clean and brand-new. The real adventure began, however, after disembarking back in Miami. We were off the ship by 9:00 that morning. Given that our flights home didn’t leave Miami International Airport until 7:00 that evening we had a full day to explore the greater Miami area. With a whole day to kill, we decided to rent a car and explore the boulevard Jimmy Buffett made famous: Florida A1A.

Florida A1A

With the aid of our AVIS rental map, we easily found A1A and headed north towards Fort Lauderdale. We were in search of the idyllic beachside pub to catch some sun, enjoy some people watching, and enjoy a few adult beverages. Around midday, we happened upon O’Malley’s on the beach in Hollywood, Florida.

Ocean Pub 101, fka O'Malley's Ocean Pub - Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

Ocean Pub 101, fka O’Malley’s Ocean Pub – Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

For a couple of single guys in their late 20’s, O’Malleys fit the bill. Situated along a busy pedestrian walkway alongside the beach, O’Malley’s offered cheap cold beer, a nice variety of pub fare, great people watching, and friendly patrons. We befriended a group of tourists at the next table and the afternoon flew by quickly. Conscious of our 7:00 departures, I asked our server what time we would have to leave O’Malley’s to get to the airport in time. “Oh, it’s only a 25 minute drive. Leave here by 5:30 and you should be fine!”

Pedestrian walkway outside Ocean Pub 101, Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

Pedestrian walkway outside Ocean Pub 101, Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

A couple of beers later and we were at the brink of 5:30. I asked our server if there was a quicker route to the airport than A1A. She assured me that there was, and began giving directions. Head west on Florida 820, then north on I-95…. “North? Isn’t Miami to the south?” I asked. You’re going to Miami? With traffic it will take you at least an hour to get to Miami airport. I thought you were flying out of Fort Lauderdale. You’d better hit the road!” Thankfully the traffic cooperated and we arrived at Miami International Airport just in time to catch our flights home.

I love this bar, It’s my kind of place.
Just walkin’ through the front door puts a big smile on my face.
It ain’t too far, come as you are.
Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar ~ Toby Keith “I Love This Bar”

As simple and ordinary as it was, that afternoon at O’Malley’s remains one of the highlights of my travel career. I have been fortunate enough to return to South Florida on business many times since then. Each time, I make a point to revisit my favorite beachside pub, and each time I have an incredible experience. Last night the pattern continued.

View from my perch at Ocean Pub 101, Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

View from my perch at Ocean Pub 101, Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

Now called Ocean Pub 101, the pub formerly known as O’Malley’s is under new ownership. Upon arrival just before 5:00 I took a corner seat at the bar – the perfect spot from which to see all of the televisions and watch the people come and go. Unbeknownst to be as I sat down, the president of the condo association in the building adjacent to the pub was seated at the corner with me. I told him about how my cousin and I had happened upon O’Malley’s 20-some-odd years ago and how I keep coming back when I’m in the area. He introduced me to another condo resident seated beside him and a couple from Toronto who are time-share owners visiting the area on three-week holiday. We talked about how the area, and O’Malley’s in particular, has changed over the years. Under new ownership the pub has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts, “he hired kitchen help; we hired a chef,” he said. I thoroughly enjoyed my fish & chips dinner. The couple from Toronto said they have never visited Texas, but after regaling them with stories about my favorite Texas city, they said they would seek out a timeshare trade in San Antonio for their next holiday. Before I knew it my watch said 7:30. Time to hit the road.

And now I must confess, I could use some rest. I can’t run at this pace very long.Yes, it’s quite insane, I think it hurts my brain. But it cleans me out and then I can go on. Yes, it cleans me out and then I can go on. 

~ Jimmy Buffett “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season”

So what is it about O’Malley’s that keeps me coming back? Why is this pub any more special to me than similar venues I have visited all over the country? I ponder these questions after each visit, and I’ve decided it’s the people. There is no pretentiousness here. The staff and patrons are consistently friendly and approachable. They’re in shorts and t-shirts; many are fresh off the beach in bathing suit covers. They lead ordinary lives, and for many of them, O’Malley’s is their social gathering place. They welcome new blood and easily engage in conversation. Succinctly stated, I have always felt welcome here.

Hollywood Beach, outside of Ocean Pub 101, Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

Hollywood Beach, outside of Ocean Pub 101, Hollywood, FL ~ July 24, 2013

As I write this, my mind recalls many of the faces I’ve met here over the years. Many are blurred by the passage of time and names completely escape me. I have a smile on my face as I remember these good times and great people. We humans are meant to be relational; we’re intended to engage one another as we walk through this life together. I’m thankful for O’Malley’s, the people I’ve met there, and the good times I’ve had over the years. Oh, I know. It’s not O’Malley’s any longer; it’s Ocean Pub 101. They can call it what they like. I’ll be back.

Joy in Persecution ~ Acts 13:13-52

But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. ~ Acts 13:50

The Apostles preaching the Gospel

The Apostles preaching the Gospel (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Paul and Barnabas continue on their journey and the Holy Spirit leads them to Antioch. Here, Paul is invited to speak in the synagogue on the Sabbath, a common event (inviting a guest rabbi to speak) in those days. Paul beautifully presents the Gospel, and the response was so great that he was invited to speak the following week. This time, almost the entire town showed up, both Jews and Gentiles. Upon seeing the positive response from the crowd, the Jewish leaders became jealous and reprimanded Paul for his message. Sound familiar? Paul boldly tells them “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:46-47). Upon hearing this, the Gentiles were filled with joy and “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (13:48b).

Throughout the book of Acts, we see this pattern: As the Gospel spreads through Jewish and Gentile populations, persecution almost always follows. You see, the Gospel rightfully shifts the focus of the believer from the supposed greatness of human leaders to the power and might of Almighty God. In this passage, the Jewish leaders succumb to the siren call of their egos to the point of stirring up persecution against the very men they had invited to speak! As a result, many come to faith as the apostles are expelled from the region.

Even today we see this phenomenon. Believers who speak God’s Truth in America are often called unthinking, narrow-minded, old fashioned, and many other derogatory names – by believers and non-believers alike. In many parts of the world, Christians bold enough to share the Gospel are persecuted to the point of death. We humans want to be in charge, we want power and position; we want to be subordinate to nobody. When our testimony yields such persecution we should take heart and rejoice, just as the apostles did. For such persecution means our witness is having impact on our world. And with that, we should be encouraged and press on towards the goal of sharing the Gospel with all who so desperately need to hear it.

Ponder this: Have I ever been persecuted for sharing the Gospel? What is my response?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, strengthen me to share your Word with this dying world. Help me to rejoice and take encouragement when persecution comes my way. May I always serve You first. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Beware the False Prophet ~ Acts 13:4-12

Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” ~ Acts 13:9-10

Barnabas and Saul, now called Paul, are on the island of Cyprus. As they are sharing the Gospel with the proconsul, his attendant speaks in opposition to them in an attempt to keep the proconsul from turning in faith to Christ. The Scripture tells us that the attendant was a sorcerer and a false prophet. While we are not told what he said, his words must have been turning the proconsul’s head, because Paul finally addresses the attendant directly. Not only does Paul call him out, but filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul says in verse 11, “Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” The attendant is blinded, and the proconsul comes to faith.

Misleading Road Sign

Misleading Road Sign (Photo credit: pursuethepassion)

The world is full of false prophets. Some actively speak against Christ, and such false prophets are easy to identify. But the false prophets that concern me most are those that twist God’s Word in misleading ways while cloaked in an appearance of Christianity. These are oftentimes not so easy to identify, and therefore present a great danger. Their objective is not to preach the Truth; their objective is to make us feel good, to build numbers of followers by telling people what they want to hear. They seek human acceptance as they attempt to conform Christian doctrine politically and socially while demeaning Christians who insist on adhering to the Truth revealed by God in His Word. Paul warns us of this in his second letter to Timothy: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3) Paul was absolutely right; that time is here.

We must guard ourselves against such falsehoods. How do we do that? I believe there are four important things each Christian should do: (1) Be in the Word daily – we must build our understanding of God’s Truth to better equip us to discern Truth from falsehood; (2) Be in prayer daily – seek God’s guidance as we read and study His Word and pray for His church and our fellow Christians; (3) Seek and actively participate in a church in which the preaching and teaching are firmly rooted in God’s Word – not in popular thought; (4) Seek fellowship with firmly planted believers.

Ponder this: How many Christians have been led astray by modern day false prophets? What would God have me do when such falsehoods are presented as truth?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, I lift up your church and all who proclaim You as Lord and Savior. May all who preach and teach do so only on the basis of Your Word. Grant me the gift of discernment, that I would know the Truth and follow it as I reject false teachings. In Jesus’ name. AMEN

Available? ~ Acts 13:1-3

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. ~ Acts 13:3

My wife and me!

Selfie pic: My wife and me!

For any relationship to work, we must be available to the one with whom we seek the relationship. This applies to all relationships in life; my relationship with my wife, with my kids, with my friends – if I am not available to them or them to me, a relationship cannot happen.

The same is true with my relationship with God. If I am not available to Him, then the relationship will not grow. I will not learn, nor will I mature in my faith. But also, I will not serve Him because I am not available to hear and heed His call.

The first three verses of Acts chapter 13 show us what it looks like to completely avail ourselves to God’s calling. The prophets and teachers at the church at Antioch were together, worshipping the Lord and fasting. Their focus was solely on God, and because of that they were able to hear the Holy Spirit’s calling when it came. Barnabas and Saul were to leave and go preach on the island of Cyprus. The group prayed together, laid their hands upon Barnabas and Saul, and the two departed.

I see a sense of purpose here, a sense of knowing God’s will and following it completely. What if they hadn’t been available? What if they had been drinking in a bar or working overtime? What if they had decided they were too busy or too tired to join together in Christian fellowship? What if they had been watching some mindless TV show with a glass of wine in their hand? Would they have heard God’s calling?

Bible Study 2

Bible Study 2 (Photo credit: DrGBB)

These questions, of course, are not about Barnabas and Saul. They are about me. And what I realize so clearly is that, although I like to think I am available to God, I’m often not. I must be more regular and deliberate in worship. I must be more regular and attentive to reading and studying God’s Word. I must seek like-minded believers with whom I can spend time in fellowship, Bible study and prayer. I must watch less mindless TV and drink less wine and instead focus more on God’s Word. I must be completely available to Him so that I can heed His call when I hear His voice.

Ponder this: What distracts me from fully knowing God’s purpose for my life? Are there life changes I need to make in order to be fully available to Him?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for the sweet nectar of conviction. Reform me, Lord and help me to be more conscientious with how I spend my time. Help me to be more available to You. In Jesus’ name – AMEN.

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