Prepare for next year's Feast!

John Plunkett

November 28, 2015

The king is dead!...  Long live the king!

This was a curious saying that the nobles of England cried immediately upon the death of any one of their monarchs. 

Sometimes those nobles sincerely mourned the death of the deceased king.  Sometimes they did not!  But they always looked forward with optimism to the reign of the new monarch, with the hope that he or she would learn from the good and the bad examples of the old.

In these days and weeks immediately following the Fall Feast days, we in God's church can utter a similar cry:

The Feast is over!... Prepare for the Feast!

Or more accurately this year: The Feast of 2015 is over!... Let us prepare for the Feast of 2016!

The purpose of this sermon is to encourage you all to be preparing – both physically and spiritually – for next year's Feast – being armed with the experiences of this year's Feast which has just finished.

Yes, starting right now!  It's never too early! 

As we go along, I would like to expand on a couple of the points, because I am not just addressing this message to our local brethren who kept the 2015 Feast with us here on Vancouver Island; but to any and all brethren who might happen to be listening to our services over the Internet, either via our live streaming today or at any time in the future via the links on our web-site.

Don't Murmur!

My first suggestion is this: Please don't murmur!

This first sub-topic is one that we think of more often immediately following the spring holy days – after the Feast of Unleavened Bread when we sometimes examine the murmuring attitudes of the Israelites – even after God had brought them out of Egypt by means of some of the most marvellous miracles ever.  

But I believe that we in God’s church need to consider it now, after the Fall Feasts.  There is never a time limit on us learning some positive lessons from the bad, murmuring examples of the Israelites.  In this regard, let's read just one of the many "murmuring" scriptures:

Exodus 16:8:
And Moses said, "This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD hears your murmurings which you murmur against Him: and what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD."

With this scripture in mind, here are a few questions for us all to consider:

• Was this Feast of 2015 your "best Feast ever"?

• If not, why not?

• What was the problem?

• Or, if there was more than one problem, what were the problems (plural)?

• What were some of the areas that you would like to see improved next year?

Please think about these questions seriously; but please don't murmur about them! 

Murmuring among one another gets us absolutely nowhere.  In fact, as we see from the Israelites’ examples, it is very detrimental.  In their case, it even became hazardous to their health! 

Rather, as doers of God's Word (James 1:22-23), we should resolve to do something – something positive – yes, even about any negative experiences that we might have encountered!

First and foremost, of course, we should take it God.  We should pray about any problems that we might have experienced.  We should pray that God would take any negative, murmuring, complaining attitudes out of us, and help us to replace them with positive, constructive suggestions.  

Please ask yourself these additional questions: 

1. What could I have done to have made this year's Feast better?

2. What can I do to make next year's Feast even better?

Here is one small thing we can all do.  Please take the time now – during the next day or two – to sit down with pencil and paper and write down what, in your opinion, was bad about this year's Feast.  We don’t like dwelling on the negative, of course; but what was it that made it less than perfect?  Here are a few examples:

Once you've made your list, write down what, in your opinion, could be done to correct or improve any of those situations that were applicable in your case.
But don't stop there!  Send your positive suggestions – not just a negative list of complaints – to those who are in positions to be able to help correct any problems in the future. 

For those of you who attend with one of the larger church groups, this would normally be your local pastor or your festival coordinator.  If they're doing their jobs properly, they will consider your positive input and will deal with it themselves, or they will, if necessary, forward it to the appropriate department heads.

Where does the LORD place His Name?

Again, perhaps you didn't really like the Feast-site itself.  Maybe you didn't like it at all! 

If this is the case, although I am, of course, unable to speak for all of the various Church of God groups, I am sure that most of their leaders and festival coordinators are constantly striving to choose their Feast-sites according to God's will; also that they are praying that their choices of Feast locations are in accordance with where God chooses and wishes to place His name.

I would like to go into this a little.  Do you ever wonder how we get the Feast-sites that we have?  Have you ever wondered who comes up with them or if they are really where God places His name?

Here are a few of the scriptures that deal with this and are the source scriptures of the Church of God's teaching on it:

Deuteronomy 12:
5:  But unto the place
{please notice the singular noun here} which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come...
11:  Then there shall be a place
{singular} which the LORD your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there; there shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow unto the LORD.

Deuteronomy 14:
23:  And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
24:  And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set His name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you: 
25:  Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose:
26:  And you shall bestow that money for whatsoever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household.

Deuteronomy 16:11:
And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD your God has chosen to place His name there.

Deuteronomy 26:2:
That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the LORD your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose to place His name there.

I wanted to bring out all of those verses about God placing His name, because the grammar in all of those verses implies that, originally, in the days of the ancient Israelites, for any given Feast, Holy Day or weekly Sabbath, there was only one place in which God placed His name.

During the Israelites' wilderness wanderings, that place was where the tent-tabernacle of God – His temporary dwelling on earth – came to rest – by His will and command. 

And when the right time came in the autumn of the year, the place (singular) where the tent-tabernacle came to rest was where the Feast was to be kept.

From the consecration of Solomon’s temple in approximately 964 BC until the destruction of Herod's temple in 70 AD, that one place was at Jerusalem.

But please notice that, initially, Jerusalem was not specified by the LORD – nor by Moses – as the only place that the Feast was ever to be kept. 

Prior to their entry into the Promised Land, the Israelites had no access to Jerusalem; but kept the weekly and annual Sabbaths where the LORD chose to call a timely halt for His portable tabernacle – His house on earth – and for His people.

Even after their entry into the Promised Land, after the enlarging of Israel’s borders (Exodus 34:24; Deuteronomy 12:20), and right up unto this very day, there were many Israelites (in what is commonly called "the Diaspora" today) who were – and still are – totally unable to get to Jerusalem to keep God's Holy Days.  But God's people today need not feel guilty that most of us are not keeping God's Feasts at Jerusalem.

We need to keep in mind that, since the close of the Sinai Covenant era, the sad remnant of the ruin of the Jerusalem temple is no longer to be considered as the true House of God. 

Neither is Jerusalem itself to be considered as "the Holy City" anymore.  Nor is it likely to be so again until the last days.  If you do a study on this, you will find that the last time the term “the Holy City” was used was in Matthew 27:53 and that it was not used again until the prophecies of the end-times in Revelation 11:2. 

But in our modern day, with brethren geographically scattered all around the world and organizationally scattered amongst various Church of God groups, the vast majority of us – hopefully all of us – are earnestly desiring to keep God's Feasts every year in the right way, at the right time and in the right place. 

Logically, God would make accommodation in His Word for His people to be able to keep His Feasts within reasonable travelling distances from their homes.  And for those who, due to health restrictions, or other major factors, may not be able to travel at all, God has even given provision to keep His Feasts "within their gates."  Let's go back to Deuteronomy 12 and take a look at this:

Deuteronomy 12:20a:
When the LORD your God shall enlarge your border, as He has promised you...

This enlarging of the Israelites' border appears to be referring to the post-biblical time when the scattered children of Israel occupied and colonized the modern-Israelitish nations of their inheritance.  Still referring to their Holy Day feasting and perhaps specifically to the Feast of Tabernacles:

20b: ... And you shall say, "I will eat flesh," because your soul longs to eat flesh; you may eat flesh, whatsoever your soul lusts after.
21:  If the place which the LORD your God has chosen to put His name there be too far from you, then you shall kill of your herd
{e.g. beef or steak} and of your flock {e.g. lamb}, which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates whatsoever your soul lusts after.

It would make good sense that God would make such an allowance, because right up until our modern times with our access to fast air travel, there was very little opportunity for our Israelite forefathers to have been able to travel all the way from the new homes of their inheritance (e.g. the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australasia, western Europe, etc.) to Jerusalem to keep His Feasts.

In God's church today, it is to be hoped that the leaders and festival coordinators of most Church of God groups are constantly considering a variety of relatively acceptable and mutually convenient locations as Feast-sites; and that they are seeking God's will as to where He wishes to place His name.

In the case of our little group for Feast 2015, I believe that the many blessings God poured out on us in Parksville indicate that that our choice of venue was in accordance with His choice of where He wanted to place His name for us. 

But again, if you didn't like your Feast 2015 location, wherever that might have been, please send your input to your pastor or your festival advisor.  And again, please send positive, constructive input; not just "I don't like that location!"

Wherever the Feast is in next year – wherever God chooses to place His name for your Church of God group, please resolve to do your level best to be there! 

Please also remember that the physical location is very secondary to the spiritual inspiration of God upon his Feast spokesmen.

Keeping in mind that young families, disabled brethren and seniors might have specific preferences and even requirements, please beware of attending a Feast site just for its physical attractions. 

If you're at the stage, as most of us "long-timers" are, that you need a Feast diet of strong spiritual meat, why would you attend a Feast-site if you know that the spiritual food there is likely to be spiritual Pablum?  

Practice Friendliness

If you had a less than perfect Feast this year, was it perhaps because:

•  You did not make any new friends?

•  You did not meet any "new" people?

•  There were no "new" people there to meet?

I would venture to say that, in many or even most cases, there were, in fact, "new" people to meet.  New to us, anyway!  Even in our little Feast group here on Vancouver Island, we had "new people" with us who most of us had not met before.  And of course, all of our local members certainly made them very welcome.  

So perhaps the real problem lies elsewhere.  Were you, perhaps, excessively tied to your own family and relatives?  Or perhaps to the same old group of friends?  Or do you perhaps consider yourself shy?

I'm not inferring this to anyone, of course.  I'm just saying, "If the cap fits, wear it!"  If any of these factors applies to you, then this is all the more reason for you to prepare for Feast 2016 by practicing being friendly during the coming year.  

How can we do this?  It is quite simple really; but it does require a little effort.

Proverbs 18:24:
A man who has friends must himself be friendly… 

Despite many different translations and renditions of this verse, the concept implied in the "old" King James Version is a valid one: If you want friends, you must show yourself to be friendly!  You must make efforts to be friendly!

So how can we practice friendliness?  We can all practice being friendly and outgoing at church services each Sabbath, especially when we have visitors from other areas.  Whenever you meet someone new, simply stick out your hand, give him or her a firm handshake, and say words to the effect of "Hello, my name is Fred Bloggs and I live in Nanaimo, BC.  You might follow up your initial greeting with phrases such as: Do you have children/grandchildren?  What do you do for a living?  Where do you work?  Most people love these kinds of questions – especially those who have been retired for a long time!

We can also practice friendliness at work, in the grocery store, in the bank, and so many other places in our everyday lives where and when we have contact with others – yes, even with people who are not members of God's true church.  Please never forget that all of those people out there that we meet every day, the vast majority of them, are future sons and daughters of God – future brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; and that they are our future brothers and sisters too!
And again, to repeat: Were you perhaps excessively tied to your own circle of friends or family during this past Feast to the extent, perhaps that such restriction prevented you from meeting new people? 

We all need to learn to take time to get closer to our spiritual brothers and sisters, even if it means spending a little less time with our long-time friends and physical families.  Here is Jesus’ example on this point:

Matthew 12:
46:  While He yet talked to the people, behold, His mother and His brothers stood outside, desiring to speak with Him.
47:  Then one said unto Him, "Behold, your mother and your brothers stand outside, desiring to speak with you."
48:  But He answered and said unto him that told Him, "Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?
49:  And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, "Behold my mother and my brothers!
50:  For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."

This, of course, does not mean that we are to ignore our physical family members at the Feast.  The Feast of Tabernacles certainly is a great opportunity for spending quality time with our physical family members, and our close friends too – especially those who we may not be able to see as frequently as we would like to throughout the rest of the year. 

Also, we can be sure that Jesus loved His physical mother and brothers dearly.  We know this for sure by how He ensured that His mother Mary was looked after following His departure from this earth (John 19:25-27). 

Nevertheless, His Father's will was His top priority, and the time that He spent with His spiritual family was a big part of that priority.

Prepare your Children

Let’s move on to another recommendation: Prepare your children. 

Looking back at this Feast of 2015, in my humble opinion, I would say that this was probably the best Feast that we have attended for many years as regards the behaviour of our young people, specifically during services.  Even though we didn’t have any babies or very young children with us this year, there was generally less disruptive noise, fewer trips in and out of the meeting room, and that kind of thing.

I want to say to our young people who were with us that it was great to see you respectfully standing for the opening and closing prayers and participating in the hymn-singing.  It is all about respect for God the Father and Jesus Christ.  I want to give that accolade to our young people; but also to the parents who make it happen.  Let me say to the parents who were at our local Feast-site with your children: I believe that you are doing a great job of supervising your children and that your efforts do not go unnoticed.  I want you to know that because all of these little things put together make services much more comfortable for everybody in attendance.  So again, I want to thank you for that. 

Still, having said this, I know that all of our listeners and readers out there were not at our local Feast-site in Parksville and I am not reluctant to make a recommendation in this regard for ongoing preparation throughout the year, perhaps especially because so many of our brethren meet together for regular weekly Sabbath services in a living room environment, so that when you go into a "more formal" Feast environment it is great for you to have prepared your children for that. 

Proverbs 22:6:
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. 

One Feast-relevant message parents can glean from this little proverb is that the effort that you parents spend in preparation of your children in the months prior to next year's Feast will reap benefits that will extend, not only into next year's Feast of Tabernacles; but even way beyond that, on into your child's adult life, and even much further on – into eternity!

Again, I take my hat off to you parents and to our young people, to whom I would like to address this next question:

What was Jesus’ youthful example?  I'm sure that you are all aware of it:

Luke 2:
41:  Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
42:  And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the Feast.
43:  And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it.
44:  But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
45:  And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
46:  And it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
47: And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
48:  And when they saw Him, they were amazed: and His mother said unto Him, "Son, why have you thus dealt with us?  Behold, your father
{step-father, of course} and I have sought you sorrowing.
49:  And He said unto them, "How is it that you sought me?  Did you not know that I must be about my
{true} Father’s business?

Yes, of course, Jesus was a very special twelve-year old; but make no mistake, Jesus of Nazareth was never a nerd, a geek or a sissy!  There are many scriptural examples that prove this to be true.

Also, although we all know very well that none of us are ever going to attain to His height of spirituality (certainly not in this life), still, just as we adults are to be emulating Jesus’ adult examples, so we should be training our children to be emulating His youthful examples.  

It is not just when we attend church services; but also in our everyday life.  And again, it is all about respect for God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Money Matters

If you really want to be with your spiritual brothers and sisters next year at one of the locations where God chooses to place His name, you need to start immediately to save some funds to cover the expenses that are sure to be incurred.

The program that we believe God has given us for that is what we call "festival tithe" or "second tithe." 

We find God's commands to save our festival tithe in the same area of His Word that we find His commands to keep His Feasts.  The scriptures covering this necessity are so familiar that we should not even need to turn to them; but let's read just one:

Deuteronomy 14:
22:  You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year.
23:  And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
24:  And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set His name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you:
25:  Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose:
26:  And you shall bestow that money for whatsoever your soul lusts after, for oxen
{e.g. beef or steak}, or for sheep {e.g. lamb}, or for wine, or for strong drink {e.g. beer, whiskey, etc.}, or for whatsoever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household.

I have heard people opine that, because of the mention of corn, wine and oil, these scriptures only apply to farmers; but not to city-dwellers, which most of us are. Not to factory, office or shop workers, etc.

We know that God wants us all to attend His Feast of Tabernacles; but if we were to follow this same line of skewed logic, would this not then mean that God only requires farmers to attend His Feasts and His Holy Days?  And not the rest of us? 

We know of the importance of being at the Feast.  If it is humanly possible for us to attend the Feast of Tabernacles, it is very important that we should be there:

Zechariah 14:
16:  And it shall come to pass, that everyone that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
17:  And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.
18:  And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the Lord will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
19:  This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

There are, of course, valid reasons in our day and age where there are people who are unable to attend a Feast site.  But in that day, in the Millennium, every able-bodied person will be required to keep God's Feast of Tabernacles.  So why would it be any different for God's obedient spiritual Israelites in our day?

God's festivals and His Festival Tithe system are inseparable.  As the old Doris Day song tells us: "You can't have one without the other!"

Looking back to my pre-retirement days, there were times when the amount of our festival tithe was insufficient to cover our Feast expenses.  We had to do quite a bit of "stick-handling" in order to supplement our festival tithe with additional funds.  If you have similar restrictions, it does take a bit of advance thought and planning.  But considering the priority that God places on our attendance at His Feasts, if necessary, we should be willing to forego certain luxury or unnecessary expenditures during the rest of the year so that we can put those funds towards our Feast expenses.  

Again, my family and I have "been there and done that"!  A little tip that Trish and I have found useful in the past to bolster our festival tithe funds is to put aside a days’ worth of our regular budgeted grocery money towards each day that we expect to be away for the Feast. 

God wants us to be there.  He wants us all to be there next year if it is humanly possible.

So, let us prepare – both physically and spiritually – for next year's Feast – being armed with the experiences of this past year's Feast.

The Feast is over!     Prepare for the Feast!