The Stranger on Siesta Keys

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area. This was last night’s sunset on Siesta Keys.

A chance encounter or divine appointment? You be the Judge.

Yesterday morning I woke up on my day off. Not sure how I wanted to spend it, I went ahead and delivered some baptismal robes to a nearby church, who needed them for Sabbath. When I stopped   by my church to pick them up, my pastor reminded me it was my day off, and I should not be working. I promised him I would take the day off as soon as I delivered the robes.

My friend Adam, who I often hang out with on Thursday nights, told me he would be busy, so I thought this may be a good time to take a long day trip somewhere. I thought about St. Augustine, and a couple other places, but decided on Siesta Keys in Sarasota where I have not been in a while. My plan was to spend some time reading in God’s Word, prayer time, and sunset pictures. As I got ready to leave home, something told me to take my Bible. I thought I don’t need to take that along, I have it on my cell phone.  Still something said, no, take a regular Bible. So I did. I also grabbed the book “Bible Studies Made Easy” and thought maybe I will give it to the waitress wherever I eat.

I got to Siesta Keys early afternoon and went to an Italian place near the beach, that I have enjoyed many times before. After I left, I scolded myself for forgetting to give the waitress the book. I stopped at a park bench near the beach and spent some time reading, as I am now in Revelations, after reading through the entire Bible. I read Chapters 8-12, which gave me plenty to pray and mediate on, as I walked and prayed down the beach. I must have walked 4 miles. As I got back to my starting point, where I had parked, I felt very tired, and reminded myself that the Tampa Bay Rays had a divisional game tonight on TV. Maybe I should go home and watch it. Something said to stay and take sunset pictures as I had planned. I told myself, I already have hundreds of sunset pictures, and nobody really cares to see anymore. They all look the same. Still something inside me said, just stay with the original plan. Lay down on this park bench and rest a while, until the sun starts setting, then take pictures.

As I’m lying there, an older man comes up and starts talking to me. I turn to him, and he then realizes I am not who he thought I was. He became embarrassed and apologized. I told him it was no big deal. I sat up and he started talking to me. First he talked about his bicycle. I told him I hope the streets in Sarasota are more bike friendly than Tampa. He told me his bike was all he had to get around on. I told him I am often on my bike too. I wanted to identify with him the best I could. He glanced at my Bible and asked if I was a pastor. I could have said yes, since I am both a lay pastor and Bible Worker, but that really had nothing to do with why I had my Bible with me. I had my Bible with me because I am a Christian. I replied, “I am a Christian.” He then started opening up about his service in Vietnam, and his discharge. All the terrible things he saw over there, and he was specific. I know a lot of people claim to be vets, but a lot of people really are vets too. He told me how he has given up trying to overcome beer and cigars. I told him the same God who delivered him from Vietnam could also deliver him from those enemies too. He told me how when he returned nobody thanked him for fighting for his country. He told me how he likes to take trash bags and clean up the beach. I asked him if the beach could clean itself up. Of course he said no. I told him likewise, we can’t clean ourselves up either. Only God can. He was troubled, thinking God had given up on him, so I shared with him the gospel presentation. I shared with him the story of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 and how in John 3, Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He said there was so much about life he did not understand. I told him he did not have to understand.  Just as the Israelites looked at the pole when bitten by a serpent, likewise when that old serpent the devil bites you, just look at the cross and you will be healed.

He told me his name was Frank, and  asked for prayer and I prayed with him. He took my hand and as I prayed his hand trembled as he cried. After our prayer I remembered the Bible study book I had failed to give the waitress. I gave it to him with my church contact info. I invited him to a church in his area. He told me he was homeless and had no address. He told me he likes it that way.  I made sure he knew how to get a hold of me.  I assured him God still loves him and has a plan for his life. God has not given up. He told me how glad he was that he met me. I felt he was sincere. He never asked me for money or anything. He even offered to pay for the book. I think the only things he wanted from me was hope.  As we talked, and he rambled after our prayer, I started thinking, if  Adam was not busy tonight I would have been hanging out with him instead. If I had not brought my Bible this man never would have asked or opened up about His need for Christ. If I had given the waitress my study book I would have had nothing to give this man. If I had gone back home to watch the baseball game, which I really felt like doing, I would not have been resting on this park bench when the man found me. And seriously, I had no clue why I was just resting on a park bench instead of driving on home to see the game, until now. I also smiled as I remembered my pastor telling me to take the day off. Seems like when I woke up this morning, wondering what to do, God already had a plan.

I saw the sun starting to set and told the gentleman, I wanted to take some sunset pictures. Also I felt as our conversation was now rambling, that my mission was over. I wanted to leave him with the impression of my mission and not our rambling. He very politely told me to go take my pictures and told me how happy he was to meet me, and thanked me over and over for the Bible study book. I reminded him how to contact me. I left to take pictures. As I was taking pictures, thinking about my encounter, I realized I had made a big mistake! After the sun was down, I went back looking for the man. I could not find him, but I did find his bike tied to the same tree. I grabbed a pen and paper from my car and left a note tied to his handlebar. The note read, “Thank you Frank, for serving in Vietnam. –William”

Acts 4-5; A Warning Against Hypocrisy

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Acts of the Apostles Chapter 7

While Ananias and Sapphira practiced hypocrisy by claiming to be more giving than they were, many were sacrificing dearly for the sake of the gospel.

As the disciples proclaimed the truths of the gospel in Jerusalem, God bore witness to their word, and a multitude believed. Many of these early believers were immediately cut off from family and friends by the zealous bigotry of the Jews, and it was necessary to provide them with food and shelter.  {AA 70.1}
     The record declares, “Neither was there any among them that lacked,” and it tells how the need was filled. Those among the believers who had money and possessions cheerfully sacrificed them to meet the emergency. Selling their houses or their lands, they brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet, “and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”  {AA 70.2} 
     This liberality on the part of the believers was the result of the outpouring of the Spirit. The converts to the gospel were “of one heart and of one soul.” One common interest controlled them–the success of the mission entrusted to 
 them; and covetousness had no place in their lives. Their love for their brethren and the cause they had espoused, was greater than their love of money and possessions. Their works testified that they accounted the souls of men of higher value then earthly wealth.  {AA 70.3} 
     Thus it will ever be when the Spirit of God takes possession of the life. Those whose hearts are filled with the love of Christ, will follow the example of Him who for our sake became poor, that through His poverty we might be made rich. Money, time, influence–all the gifts they have received from God’s hand, they will value only as a means of advancing the work of the gospel. Thus it was in the early church; and when in the church of today it is seen that by the power of the Spirit the members have taken their affections from the things of the world, and that they are willing to make sacrifices in order that their fellow men may hear the gospel, the truths proclaimed will have a powerful influence upon the hearers. {AA 71.1}

I am currently working on my sixth year as a Bible Worker/Lay Pastor for the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

It has been a sacred honor and privilege to serve my Lord, His church, and community. Being in the ministry as a Bible Worker, one thing is certain. Most churches will not support a full time Bible Worker for six years! Maybe a year or two, but not six years and not full time. In Texas I was fortunate to have three churches, sometimes four, support me part time for almost five years. I want to thank my pastor, and the whole Tampa First Church family for willfully putting up with me for six years. I know it has taken a lot of sacrificial giving not just for a while but systematically for six years to put a full time Bible worker into our church and community. I pray that you are as glad to have me as I am to have you. I realize also that my church has not been sacrificing and giving just to see me write this. They have given from the heart because they love Jesus and they love the souls of our community and want to see them saved. When I got real sick last fall I saw that many of you were concerned, not for me alone but for the sake of the gospel in our community. It was a sobering experience for me. Thank you not only for loving and supporting me, but even more so for loving Jesus and the world He died to save!

I would like to dedicate this song, “Thank you”, by Ray Boltz, to my Tampa First Church family and all those who support the gospel work all over the world! Thank You!