Whether you prefer reading the Kindle version or the paperback, Sanctuary will draw you into time-lost Shiloh. you’ll mosey alongside newcomers Theo and Liddy Phillips seeking to quietly retire near their country roots. But, God has other plans! Before they can kick back and relax on their porch, happenstance becomes God’s harbinger of past secrets, impacting their plans through unexpected providential encounters.
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So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light are darkened, and the moon and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain; on the day when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, the women who grind cease because they are few, and the ones who watch through the windows see dimly, and the doors at the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades; when one rises at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song grow faint. Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper loses its spring, and the caper berry has no effect; for man is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well; and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile.” Eccl 12:1-8 (HCSB)
Most decisions about one’s relationship with God originate during one’s childhood, before the age of accountability. An innocent time before a child leaves the safety and security of their home. This fact impacted me many years ago but also continues to serve as a primary motivation for my desire to teach and write at my stage of life.
The Bible offers a strong emphasis on the proper rearing of our children. Parents have a divine mandate passed down through the ages, generation to generation, to teach their children about God. Beyond the setting of the home, parents expose their children to a church’s children or youth ministry, even though the parents may not even attend that church?
I am not declaring that everyone who has received the biblical message taught in the church will ultimately live out all the teachings they received, all the time. Each of us must travel through various stages during our life-long journey with God. Many, if not most, mature their faith as they grow beyond mere blind acceptance to a maturing, questioning of what and why we believe about God. However, each of us experiences a desire to connect with our Creator. Hopefully, we receive our initial introduction to God during our formable youth, long before the stresses of life have choked most of our receptivity to God away from us!
It is also a fact, most teenagers, especially after they leave the house, will wander testing their abilities and understandings about life for an extended period as young adults. Many will listen to others question God’s reality and existence, and hear differing opinions about the authenticity of the biblical writings in academic circles. Freedom of thought and self-understanding are important stages in each person’s life. I believe, God allows us to challenge our faith.
For those who received a solid grounding during their youth about God, the challenges in life will draw them closer to God again, with a stronger relevant understanding and conviction than ever before. I believe, the parable of the prodigal son reveals this to be true. You see, people in pursuit of all the options life affords them, sooner or later, come to the reality that no acceptable option exists beyond our faith in God. Some may try to live in denial of God, but even in fighting against the reality of God one struggles with the origin of God’s gifts in their life.
There is no greater, more unequivocal evidence regarding God’s existence than the fact people around the world believe in God. Even scientists, doctors, engineers, architects, and philosophers admit their journeys of discovery almost always conclude with them staring at God for the answers they seek about life. From a worldview, all the religions found across our planet may never fully agree about God, but they all exist because of man’s desire to connect with and understand God.
Why is this so important? In life, times of trials and tribulation will happen that will be beyond our abilities to cope and survive. They will cause each of us to acknowledge we cannot make it without our faith in God. God allows such formidable challenges to nurture our faith in God as we grow older with God. Yes, our life-long journey with God may falter from time-to-time, but, sooner or later, most all of us return to seeking out God’s will, ways, and wisdom as the cornerstone of our life. God enjoys receiving each person who realizes that life without God risks an end whereby the laughter of children fades, the colors of the seasons fail to change, the clouds become swallowed by darkness, and the wind offers no relief at our last gasp of breath. What happens next rests with God…
Send your bread on the surface of the waters, for after many days you may find it. Give a portion to seven or even to eight, for you don’t know what disaster may happen on earth. If the clouds are full, they will pour out rain on the earth; whether a tree falls to the south or the north, the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. One who watches the wind will not sow, and the one who looks at the clouds will not reap. Just as you don’t know the path of the wind, or how bones [develop] in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you don’t know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand rest, because you don’t know which will succeed, whether one or the other, or if both of them will be equally good. Eccl 11:1-6 (HCSB)
Just as God counseled the disciples of Jesus, we too cannot stand idle waiting for what has been promised to happen someday. Just because something will happen in the future does not guarantee it will occur in the present. We must choose to live in expectation, not anticipation. We cannot forgo living in the present because of what we believe about the future. What we do in the here and now bears upon how the future unfolds. God made it very clear: He has chosen to use humankind to prepare and build his kingdom on earth until such time he unites the kingdoms of heaven and earth together. However, until then, he patiently perseveres with humanity’s capriciousness, not because of those hesitating and struggling to act as he wishes, but for those who will benefit from what will take place. God’s forbearance is for the good of all, especially those who have yet to hear and respond to ’his will, ways, and wisdom.
For those who know God but struggle in obedience to ’his will, ways, and wisdom; God disciplines those who know him, yet willfully disobey – not to punish but instruct and guide.
All will face judgment someday for how we have responded or failed to respond to God’s guidance. None of us will ever comply with his instruction entirely, yet God always works faithfully using our shortcomings to reveal his kingdom purposes. To become more obedient and responsive to his will, ways, and wisdom, we must stop anticipating the signs that will tell us his return is near. That marks all religious procrastinators who blindly seek to predict the Lord’s arrival so that they can then scurry and scramble about doing what they should have been doing all along. In the meantime, they sit, stare, and secretly hope his return stalls another day.
Those who beg the Lord’s return are tired of waiting and have feigned obedience outwardly while inwardly they struggle.
Those who have been faithful and obedient have lived in expectation, not anticipation. The faithful have chosen to live each day with a purpose, seeking to grow in obedience to God’s will, ways, and wisdom, because not only does that please God, others may be watching so that their yearning heart yearns might be filled with what we have.
Do I need to understand all the signs? No! All I need to know is God holds my future in his hands. The past is behind me and thankfully God’s forgiveness has allowed me to move beyond the past. God only holds me accountable for the choices I make in the present. If the dark clouds bring storms, so be it. Let the wind howl. I do not care from whence it came, only that I must face it. I praise God for all newborns conceived without trying to comprehend God’s miracle of creation beyond what God allows me to grasp. Daily I pray to plant a seed and do my part of witnessing its development as it prospers to the benefit of God and His Kingdom.
Am I perfect? …absolutely not! However, I am being made perfect by God’s grace. How about you?
Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net, or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time, as it suddenly falls on them. Eccl 9:11-12 (HCSB)
Why is it that good people experience tough times? Why does evil find its way to good and very talented people? What is God’s purpose for the presence of evil in everyone’s life at one time or another? What if we were able to outrun or overcome evil through own strength; be sufficiently wise enough to not stumble into evil’s trap; be rich enough to pay the ransom on our own to remove evil’s effects upon our life; be so skilled that we could out-maneuver evil’s wily schemes, would we still fall prey to the temptations that evil lays out for us in the choices we make throughout life?
It is clear, God has allowed evil to use time and opportunity for its wicked purposes to test and try the soul of man. Evil’s broad net entraps the best of man along with the least of us equally. When it is evil’s time to spring upon us, there is nothing but a our faith to deliver us from the foreboding times of tribulation that evil intends to put its through. Only an unshakable faith in God’s goodness can protect and thwart evil’s diabolical plans that can cause even the most prepared soul to stumble.
Consider the story of Job in God’s Word, he was a man who sought to please God in all he did and yet God allowed evil to have its way to test Job’s faith.
What are you unwilling to surrender that may cause your faith to falter in a time of testing and temptation? Would it be held so dear that you would risk setting your faith in God aside to protect what you claim as your own in this lifetime?
Job declared that even if evil took his life, he would never surrender his faith in God. When he sat alone and felt he had lost everything and even questioned his relationship with God, God intervened and rewarded Job; everything he had lost God replaced, plus more.
We all have a choice when evil finds it way onto our path: (1) try to fight it in our own strength, wisdom, skill, wealth and face the consequences alone; or (2) seek God’s will, ways, and wisdom and stand fast in the face of evil’s efforts, placing our faith in God’s goodness and promises. Psychologists agree, there are two innate responses when we are confronted by evil – fight or flee. But, I suggest one more, stand fast, anchored by faith. Evil desires each of us to quit the fight and admit we cannot flee what we cannot outrun or outmaneuver. At that point evil wins. The moment we choose to stand firm trusting God, evil cannot win. Enjoy the fruits of strength, wealth, wisdom and talent, but remember they are God’s gifts and are never as powerful as your faith in God when confronting evil. No one can ever be their own savior inmate fight against evil.
I increased my achievements. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself and planted every kind of fruit tree in them. I constructed reservoirs of water for myself from which to irrigate a grove of flourishing trees. I acquired male and female servants and had slaves who were born in my house. I also owned many herds of cattle and flocks, more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. I also amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I gathered male and female singers for myself, and many concubines, the delights of men. Thus, I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom also remained with me. All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles. When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun. Eccl 2:4-11 (HCSB)
Solomon offers the greatest example of when we live a self-centered, self-focused lifestyle, self-satisfaction is not possible.
When “I” dominates our thoughts and motivates our life, we are focused on pleasing ourself first and foremost. However, “I” focus leads only to futility, and in time, growing futility morphs into frustration, which ultimately develops into hate for our insatiable self. Even when all the prestige, power and pleasures of this world are available, our “I” focus can never be adequately satisfied. Why? Because, God did not create us to be selfish creatures. We were created to serve and share with those within our circle of family and friends.
The richest people in this world have repeatedly testified that when they got caught up in their growing wealth and fame, only loneliness shared that wealth and fame. Why do so many rich and famous people resort to lifestyles that are so destructive, risking all they have? Even the great Solomon discovered his insatiable desires nurtured the loneliness he found himself surrounded by – his concubines failed to satisfy his desire for true love; all his servants could not offer him true friendship; and his enumerable slaves were not a replacement for family.
There is a decision we all must make in life: a crossroads of two choices. One road offers glory, fame and fortune found through a lifetime following our own will, ways, and wisdom – much like Solomon. The other road leads to a destination that can only be discovered by faith. A faith that requires the surrender of shortsighted, selfish desires in exchange for trusting God’s will, ways, and wisdom. At the crossroads, our decision depends on whether we trust our eyes or our heart.
Solomon asked for wisdom, and God gave him his wish, but what he got was a lifetime of misery and frustration. History reveals, his selfish choices affected all the families of Israel. After his death, the clans that made up Israel split, went their own ways and never reconciled. They all entered the slippery slope on the road to destruction. Likewise, if we choose wrongly, we too can land on that same slippery slope and discover we too caused the demise of others as well. Which way is the right way? The one with a favorable destination your eyes can see, or the one with an unclear destination but your heart feels is the right choice? Choose wisely, but unselfishly. Success is never determined by the value of things we accumulate, but by the growing number of people we serve and share with in this world.
On that day his burden will fall from your shoulders, and his yoke from your neck. The yoke will be broken because of [his] fatness. Assyria has come to Aiath and has gone through Migron, storing his equipment at Michmash. They crossed over at the ford, saying, “We will spend the night at Geba.” The people of Ramah are trembling; those at Gibeah of Saul have fled! Today he will stand at Nob, shaking his fist at the mountain of Daughter Zion, the hill of Jerusalem. Look, the Lord God of Hosts will chop off the branches with terrifying power, and the tall [trees] will be cut down, the high [trees] felled. He is clearing the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majesty will fall. Isaiah 10:27-34 (HCSB)
This passage is about the historically accurate period in the history of Judah when the Assyrians had wreaked havoc on the lands of Judah and were fast approaching Zion, the mountain upon which Jerusalem rests. God had used the Assyrians to exact judgment upon the arrogance of his people who began to worship other gods and exalted themselves in their minds with allegiances of their making rather than cling to the faith in their Lord God who promised to preserve and protect them. Though a remnant survived as God promised in the lands north of Judah in Samaria – northern tribes of Israel – the threat of devastation and destruction caused fear to spread in the remaining southern tribal region in Judah. However, when their capital and sacred city of Jerusalem found itself at risk, the Lord lifted the burden his people feared. It fell upon the arrogant and prideful, disobedient Assyrians. The Lord placed himself between the Assyrians armies and the walls of Jerusalem, and he cut down the army that surrounded the city while the people trembled inside the city of Jerusalem.
God used Isaiah as his messenger to change Hezekiah’s heart back to the Lord. As a result, Jerusalem was saved from God’s wrath because their hearts recognized that the Lord was true to his word. We too should realize that in the face of the various trials, tests, and periods of tribulation we will face in life, the Lord never forsakes or leaves us. As long as we stand firm in our faith, we will witness the Lord’s loving-kindness and mercy through all of our difficult times. Our faith will break the yoke of all our burdens.
How is your faith today? Do you turn to the Lord in tough times, or do you seek to flee by your own efforts or worse yet fight against your adversaries through your own resources and short-sighted schemes that are certain to fail. How can we know what is the right thing to do? Invest daily seeking God’s will, ways, and wisdom searching God’s Word. You will undoubtedly learn how to stand firm in your faith and how to face your fears by allowing God to release the yoke of your burdens.
We all may mess up in life at one time or another and the consequences will pursue us, but those who recognize the errors of their ways and turn to the Lord will be saved. That is a promise found over and over in God’s Word.