The Resurrection and the Presence of God

Shields Home 019

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Several years ago I was flying from Fort Worth Texas to g home to Tulsa Oklahoma for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a short flight and I was on what was called a commuter plane. Upon landing, instead of pulling up  to the terminal like the big jets, we were let out on the tarmac. I went up the stairs into the terminal and saw my family staring out the window looking for my plane, which they thought would pull all the way up to the terminal. This was well before 9-11 when family and friends could greet you right at the gate.

Since they were still looking out the window I and did not know I was already there I decided to play a joke on them. I found a newspaper and went to sit down beside them. I listened as mom said, “Is that William’s plane landing now?” Dad replied, “No. That is an American Airlines plane. He is coming in on Delta.” My two year old niece, Hannah was the first to notice me. She was very intelligent, even back then, because instead of saying anything, she just smiled at me with a huge smile, and twinkle in her little eyes as though she understood the joke and was playing along too. She knew I was near, though the grown-ups were clueless of my presence.

Finally I realized the rest of my family was not as adept as my two-year old niece, so I finally put my paper down and turned to my sister sitting next to me. “Ma’am, will you please tell me what time it is?” She glanced at her watch and then glanced back at me in shock. “He’s here!” she exclaimed. The whole family was shocked to find that I was sitting with them while they were still expecting me to come. The other day I mentioned this to my mother who remembered how startling it was to find I was with them while they thought I was far off.

For years now I have been using this experience as an illustration when preaching about the resurrection of Jesus. Mary stood at the tomb and in her grief was unaware of Jesus’ presence.

 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). John 20:15-16 NLT

In her grief, Mary did not recognize the presence of Jesus, but He was still there just the same. On that beautiful day Mary was not the only person mistaking His presence and identity. Later in the same day Jesus is walking down a road that led to Emmaus. Luke fills us in.

As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  But God kept them from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.  Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

“What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.  But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report.  They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:13-27

For years I have been using this passage when studying about the Scriptures, on how Jesus could have just opened their eyes and showed them his nail sacred hands and said, “Look it’s me!” But He did not do this. Instead of going by sight, He wanted them going by the Scriptures. So instead of opening their physical eyes it was their spiritual eyes, their hearts that He opened. Seeing will never become believing, until you can finally see it with your heart and not just your eyes. So today, Jesus does not want us putting our faith in feelings or in signs and wonders. He wants us to put our faith in the Scriptures.

I realized last Sabbath though, that while having this understanding of the above passage, there was more. While listening to our associate pastor, Claudette Aleman, speak last Sabbath she read,

“As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  But God kept them from recognizing him.”

Then she asked the question, “Have you ever gone through a hard time in your life, only to find that Jesus was with you and you did not know it?”

Again I was reminded, just like Mary, these two men were grieving, and Jesus came near and joined them, but they did not perceive that it was Jesus who was with them.

Friend, you may be going through a hard time right now and wonder where God is. I promise you He is with you. I know this because the Scriptures, which Jesus saw as more valid than sight say so.

Even when I walk   through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Psalms 23:4 NLT

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. Isaiah 43:2

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20 NLT

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”Hebrews 13:5 NLT

Today we have Facebook, text messaging and even Skype to keep us close to each other, but even better than that Paul tells us in Acts 17:27,

“He [God] is not far from any one of us.”

Today when I go through a dark valley and don’t necessarily feel God’s presence, I just open the eyes of my heart, my childlike heart, and smile at God with a twinkle in the eyes of my childlike faith. He smiles back at me. The grown- up skeptics may be clueless of His presence. My little niece was not imagining things when she saw me, though no one else could. I know my childlike heart is not imagining things when it sees God. We smile at each other. I know He is near.

Glimpses of Our God; God as Artist

This week’s SS lesson portrays God as an Artist in various ways.  Once while taking a walk near my apartment in Benbrook, Texas I saw a patch of Bluebonnets along with some Indian Paintbrushes. Unfortunately someone had mixed a little garbage in with the beautiful flowers. Still, I thought to myself, even in a world marred by sin, God still preserves His beauty amongst all the litter and garbage. “The whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

As beautiful as a sunset on the sea may be, God is just too glorious and beautiful for that one scene to express His majestic splendor. Same with an enormous snow capped mountain, or valley filled with Bluebonnets and Indian Paint Brushes.

Please allow me to share just a morsel of the beauty I have captured with my camera over the last few years.

^This picture was taken last week near the Skyway Bridge near St.Petersburg, Florida. I had hoped to catch a cruise ship sailing under the bridge, but God blessed me with this scene instead.

This was taken at St, Pete Beach around 2007. I love the sunsets on the beach. As the sun sets on the beach, an erie calm and mysterious quietness seems to settle on everyone as they watch the spectacular sunset. Most people want a clear sky to watch the sunset, but often the couds reflect some interesting colors, adding to the beauty. Sunsets are my favorite photo subjects, but I have learned to take pictrures of other things too, after friends back home have asked me, “Are sunset pictures the only thing you can take pictures of?”

I took this pictue at Pine Lake Retreat, In north central Florida, back in 2007. I took several pictures for a friend back in Texas who loves horses. I call this picture, “More Than Friends.” God can express the beauty of love through animals as well as people.

In 2006 I went on a mission trip to Peru where I was a part of a large team holding meetings all over Chiclayo. All together we had over a thousand baptisms. Later we toured Machu Picchu. This is a picture I took from the bus as we were still climbing the mountain.  Every part of the world has its own beauty. Again, God is too great of an artist to be able to portray His greatness in one scene or one work of art.

God’s best artwork is with His people. While we are still in Peru, I want you to meet Juan Carlos and his family. Juan, seated on your right, was 18 years old in this picture. He had cancer, to which he had already lost one leg. Still, once hearing about our meetings, He walked, on crutches and one leg, over a mile each way to get to the meetings we were having. I might add these roads were full of pot holes and probably not the easiest to maneuver with crutches. He gave his heart to Jesus and was baptized before dying shortly after we left. I can’t wait to see Juan again in heaven! Juan and all the people we met in Peru were beautiful people. The people in the church were amazing! When we arrived from the bus to our Hotel, we were greeted my several Pathfinders welcoming us on a school night. I knew they did not have much, and I offered one who could speak English, money so they could go out and get some ice cream, but she said they did not want money for ice cream, they were just very excited we were in their city to tell people about Jesus. What really impressed me was that after flying from the United States to Peru, the same church, or Body of Christ, that bid us farewell from Florida, was there to welcome us when we got to Peru. God is everywhere! No matter where you go God is already there waiting on you! I thought the people in America were wonderful, but just like God has His beauty in nature all around the world, He also has his beautiful people all over the world. When I came to Peru I did not meet any strangers, only hundreds of friends I just hadn’t met yet!

Back in Florida now, God has created some beautiful Jacaranda trees. Mostly seen in Central and South America, but a few are found in South Tampa.

I took this picture recently at a friend’s house where I have had a few Bible studies. God’s artwork is seen in both the catepilar and butterfly, illustrating God’s artistic nature in re-creating us and making us all new creatures.

At my friend’s home, I also found this female cardinal guarding her nest.

I found the father not far away. I think cardinals are one of the most beauitful birds God has made, even though I don’t appreciate what they did to my Texas Team in the world series last year!

Even though I have shown my friends back home, that I can take pictures of more than just sunsets, still they are my favorite artwork of God. This was taken last Christmas season at Marco Island.

Key West Christmas season before last.

Naples

St. Pete

St. Pete

Clearwater, Florida