Highest Sanctuary

Stair to nowhereMy husband napped; I had worn him out from shopping on the steep Tennessee streets.  So, I wandered around the grounds of our hotel; the grand old lady is named after the town, “The Gatlinburg Inn.”

She is an immense, quaint log hotel with foundations of stone ~ the last of her ilk.  She, once a diamond gem set in the middle of the lush green Smokey Mountains, now is mellow and cozy in her old age.  Walking along her narrow halls  ~ on old~time patterned carpet is hushed.  Opening the door to our room, we entered a time of comfort encased in maple wood.  Consequently, peace seeped through our senses as whiffs of aging paneling stirred heartwarming memories.  Scenic views, framed in a wall of glass, drew our eyes toward the handiwork of the Artist, Creator.  He provided this welcome sanctuary for relief from the ‘busyness” of mind, body, and spirits.

I however, being “curious,” (alas, I reflect every aspect of the word’s meaning) found myself roaming a remote area at the rear of the grounds.  I rounded an old creek stone corner on the back side of the building; it was tightly embracing the lower level.  I was out of sight in a moment; however, my eyes began playing tricks on me.  I seemed to step through a cool, moist ripple of air into another world; suddenly I was on a path winding around a multitude of rose bushes and down the sloping emerald lawn.  It eventually led to well-worn stone steps in the hillside, on my left in the distance beyond, almost out of sight, I saw another set of stone steps leading below to nowhere.  Naturally, I was drawn to the place, and found a weathered plaque at the top of an old rose bed (the rock border along the edge was still visible) dedicating it to the original owner’s husband.  The aura I sensed and the emotion I felt in this place of consecration further caused me to realize I was standing in someone’s sanctuary.  I breathed in the mountain air and exhaled a thanksgiving prayer as I pondered the situation.

The frost had not bitten hard enough to change drastically the tint and hue of the leaves; as the evening mist began to gather in the dips and hollows of the surrounding ridges, the visage appeared as that of spring time.  The hope, promise, and allure of the “undiscovered” that I often experience in that particular season fell on me.  It led me to another type of exploration.  I hurried to our room so I could ponder the word “sanctuary”.  It is so filled with meaning; it is warm, promising, multifaceted, “natural, earthly, and spiritual.”  Each word has a core of foundational truth; my sanctuary is Jesus, His Holy Spirit, and Father-God Almighty, the holy Trinity ~ highest sanctuary!  Will you explore with me?

Sanctuary: where God’s presence lives and who God is.

In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us.  I’m sure nothing can separate us from God’s love ~ not life or death, nor angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not the powers above or powers below.  Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 37-39 (CEV)

Run to me for protection.” Isaiah 8:14 (CEV)

Sheltered in a sanctuary, in a hiding place,
Standing in God’s presence, shadowed by His grace,
Rest and peace rush through me, at His knee I bow
Trust and faith are honored by His holy vow.

(My interpretation of the verse in Isaiah and all scripture I have read.)

Sanctuary: in its “natural” sense, for me, means “it can be found in nature or in an attitude.”  It describes peace, serenity, and the rest we experience when we enjoy, with our senses, the beauty of the Lord’s creation.  For me it was found in my recent mountain trip.  Often it exists for fleeting moments or when we reflect on times of being refreshed by His beautiful nature.  It calls for a time of being “aware” in the hustle and bustle of busy lives.  We celebrate our gratitude in wonder and awe for sanctuaries God created for our blessing, and the pleasure our enjoyment gives Him.  A paradox: God and I together in a sanctuary He created, and even so, He is the sanctuary!

I think Isaiah expressed very well the concept of sanctuary of rest and refreshment found in creation as he worshiped the Creator:

Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower ~ Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color.  Mountain glories of Lebanon ~ a gift.  Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon ~ gifts.  God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. God awesome, God majestic. Isaiah 35:1-2 The Message (MSG)

Earthly” sanctuary speaks to me of home, family, shelter, a haven in the storm.  Thus, it is a place of refuge, and shelter where love, appreciation, and strength grow, if God’s will is embedded in the foundation.  Likewise, Godly family and friends provide protection for our hearts in this gruff and cruel world.  Because of their prayers and support, we thrive and are safe. This is evidence of another indescribable blessing from a loving heavenly Father. He gave us the earthly gift of “others” who provide sanctuary as well as experiencing it with us.  May I sing a chorus of the Scriptures? Sing along ~ use your own tune…

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24(ESV)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Psalms 133:1 (ESV)

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13 (ESV)

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:10 (ESV)

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Galatians 6:10 (ESV)

And for the grand finale”

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (ESV)

These scriptures speak of God~given and much needed sanctuary of family and friends.  Did a song find your heart?

Spiritual” sanctuary, of course, encompasses the entirety of the above, plus so much more; the times of “turmoil or joy” where, when, and how we experience the presence of God.

Once more, in my thoughts, I find myself in standing on the slanted back lawn of our vacation inn; the narrow street below hidden by a tangle of trees and the curvature of the yard.  I can see beyond and through the thinning leaves of trees; the little river running and tumbling with the force of many waters gathered in its headlong rush down the mountain.  It swiftly consumes the surface rocks and overruns the stony bed in which it tosses and turns.  While reflecting on the “diamond-like” sparkles of the water, I found in that moment of time, a longing, a prayer answered, for I was also “consumed,” by water; the Living water, the presence of the Lord, and I pondered…

I thought of tall vaulted ceilings, velvet padded pews, graveled paths, an arched door, a wood stove in the corner, benches, air conditioned comfort ~ the different aspects of the structures of sanctuaries, a physical building, dedicated to God’s glory and worship.  Many are magnificent; however, as many, or more are humble.  Places where His children gather in prayer, and are free as Christ’s family to learn, worship, and praise.  Spiritual things occur here, not only personally but corporately.  The Church is a place of spiritual safety where the priorities are God, and the great gift of his Son ~ our salvation, not us.  Places where we are drawn by His spirit, set aside; where we reflect our spiritual need to gather and experience the saving grace of His presence.

He saves, He provides, and He abides.  He is salvation; He is a hiding place, and He is alive.  My soul is held safe by Jesus, and my heart is moored to the altar of trust.  My spirit finds relief and help as each morning I find refuge in the scriptures and in deep personal times of prayers.  I take shelter in His promises; He is the presence that guides me through the day, as well as my destination.  He causes the ripples of life to gain my attention, and then He is the calm that soothes the storms.  He is the shadow that protects from the harshness of life; He covers my body, mind, and soul.  He is strength; He is the constant rock I lean on.  Always, He is my port of safety ~ my haven.

He is the natural sanctuary, the one who is peace and refreshment for His children.  I sense His presence in the artistry of this world, in the wind that cleanses and scatters, in the darkness where trust grows, in the mundane times when He becomes the color brushed into my day.

He is my earthly sanctuary, blessing me with love, and security found in family and friends.  He is the hug of a friend, the encouraging words of one who is aware.  He is the kiss of a beloved one.

He is my spiritual sanctuary, where my spirit meets His spirit and I hide in the shelter of His wings; He is shelter.  His word is my harbor of true guidance; He is truth.  His love is my harbor of need answered; He is love.  His gift of eternal salvation is my harbor of forever; He is my harbor.

I will be with you wherever you are, so you can worship me.
Ezekiel 11:16b (CEV)

Once long ago, as spoken of in the Old Testament, the sanctuary was an earthly dwelling place for God to visit with His children. “I want them to build a special place, where I can live among my people.” Exodus 25:8a (CEV)  Jesus came; our sanctuary, for a while He lived and walked among men; He now lives in the hearts of men.  The one who answers our need is as close as our breath, and rides along the rhythm of our reality.

Lord God of the ages; You are my Sanctuary.

Will I, in turn, be a sanctuary for You?  A place where You dwell?

You surely know your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives.  The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God.  You are no longer your own.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (CEV)

Dear friends God is so good.  So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing.  That is the most sensible way to serve God. Romans 12:1-2 (CEV)

Let my words and my thoughts be pleasing to you, Lord, because you are my rock and my protector. Psalms 19:14 (CEV)

Lord, let my answer be a living, thriving, and vibrant yes!

Forever sanctuary, one day! ~

God’s home is now with his people.  He will live with them and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people.  He will wipe all the tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering crying, or pain.  These things of the past are gone forever. 
Revelation 21:3-4 (CEV)

Total Sanctuary ~ AMEN!

Photo ~ Rhea B. Riddle copyright 2014

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