Friday, October 24, 2014

Confusing the Covenants

Some say, “I don’t need Herbert Armstrong. I’ve proven things for myself.” I hear you. But did you really? How did you, when your studies are in the church he started, using material he authored, with conclusions he passed down?
Before you appeal to me that it isn’t that simple, I want you to know that I get it. I was in the Church of God, too, for most of my life. I propose it’s even more complicated than you may realize. I thought I had proven things for myself, too. But had I? How did I, when my studies were in the church he started, using material he authored, with conclusions he passed down? When I challenged myself, that's when I realized I hadn't truly proven anything at all.

To "prove", one must honestly look at the evidence against one's own position. Otherwise it's just propaganda. Your minister isn't going to do that for you. There are aspects of this discussion that are most definitely not in the interest of the COG leadership to promote, aspects which you may not have investigated or considered as part of your studies. If you will stay with me, we’ll see one of those today.

But talking about how complicated the matter is would be the opposite of where I want to take this article. It’s really quite simple when you think about it. So let's focus on what's simple. Today, I would like to talk about covenants.

Why covenants? Because I think you will find that the topic of covenants is absolutely key to any discussion that starts with the phrase “God tells us to…”. No such thing should ever come out of our mouths unless we understand the nature of covenants, especially the Biblical covenants.

Bible Covenants

What is a covenant? It is a contract, a binding agreement. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a covenant holds a deeper quality to it than just that. There is a spiritual element to a covenant which mere contracts lack. God is present in a covenant; God is a party to it and active participant in it. I could agree to pay you to mow my lawn, but is God in that agreement? Only in an academic sense. I could agree to marry you, but is God in that agreement? Absolutely, yes.

In the Old Testament several covenants have been identified. Marriage is a covenant in which God is present. God made a covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, and others. God also made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and this is commonly referred to as the “Old Covenant”. The Old Covenant is one of the two “Great Covenants” of the Christian Bible; the “New Covenant” being the other.

Some people have only ever heard of the two Great Covenants, but as I pointed out there are others.
The covenant God made with Noah, called the Noachide Covenant, for example is seen by the Jews as containing the minimum necessary requirements of righteousness for a Gentile. The requirements for Gentile Christians in Acts 15: 20 and Acts 21: 25 come straight from the Noahide covenant. We are not bound to this covenant, but these were listed because these would be the minimum requirements for a Gentile in the eyes of the Jews of that time, and would allow the Jewish converts and Gentile converts to come together in peace without undue offense. It was a matter of avoiding undue offense, not reintroducing an terminated contract.
The covenant God made with Abraham is another example. This was a very one-sided covenant. God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s seed. God swore this oath upon His own name and did everything required. All Abraham had to do was believe. His faith was counted to him as righteousness. He took God on His word and his life reflected that (after some fits and starts). We learn from Paul that this promised seed was Jesus of Nazareth. Since the covenant needed to be transferred, an outward sign was stipulated - circumcision. The covenant was transferred to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son, Jacob, and so forth. We are not bound to this covenant. The terms were fulfilled in Jesus. But it can be transferred to us in a way. We can inherit the promise made to Abraham by becoming one with Jesus through faith.

So we’ve seen basically what a covenant is and we’ve seen some examples. Let us now ask – what is the nature of covenants?

The Nature of Covenants

I am not going to get in-depth here. We're keeping it simple today. But I want to explore three things which are key to covenants.

> A covenant needs at least two participants (eg. God and David).

The participants - which in legalese are called “parties” - in a covenant are key. If you are party to a covenant then its terms are legally binding on you, but if you are not party to a covenant then its terms have no legal binding on you. A total stranger cannot enter into an agreement to purchase an automobile and then expect me to be bound by the terms of their agreement. The citizens of the United States of America, while in the United States, are not bound by laws passed in Canada. We simply aren't party to the agreement.

> A covenant needs to have terms (eg. laws and blessings and cursings).

Terms are that which is promised and expected in the covenant. For example, if you keep the laws then I will bless you. Or for another example, if you give to me your lawnmower then I will pay to you so much money for it. The covenant must state what terms are expected from all parties. If it’s not stated, then it cannot be expected (unless it's clearly implied). But if it is stated, then it must be performed as stated.

If the parties do not perform those terms, then they are in breach of the contract. Covenants can include terms for breach, called penalties. For example, if you do not keep the laws then I will curse you. Or for another example, if you do not pay your bills on time then you will be charged a late fee.

The terms of a covenant do not transfer to other covenants. The terms of a covenant are exclusive to that covenant. It is not correct that terms transfer to other covenants automatically unless otherwise stated. No. Terms do not transfer at all unless otherwise stated. Can you imagine taking out a life insurance policy and being forced into coverage that isn’t in your agreement simply because those are the terms that another policy had? I’m fairly sure you would feel robbed if that happened. And rightfully so.

> A covenant needs to have some description of termination (eg. the death of a spouse).

Termination is when a covenant is satisfied and ends. Once the termination point is reached, the covenant dissolves. There is no covenant any longer after termination, and no one is bound by a covenant that doesn’t exist.
Termination of a covenant can be by fulfillment of its terms. For example, if you make all of your mortgage payments to the bank, then they will sign over the deed to your house to you at the termination of the contract. Termination of a covenant can be time-specific. For example, “so long as you both shall live”. Death is a well-known termination limit for covenants in the Bible (see Romans 7: 1-4 or I Corinthians 7: 39).
When a person dies, the covenants they entered into and the terms of those covenants have no further hold. Spouses are bound by their marriage covenant so long as they both live. If one spouse dies then the covenant terminates, and the other is free to enter into a new covenant or not. But if they do, then they are not at all obligated or expected to operate as if they were still in the previous marriage. That would be absurd.

Covenants are obviously more complicated matters than just this, but this is about all we need for our purposes here.
Let us turn our attention now and see how these things apply to Old Covenant.

Who are the parties of the Old Covenant?

The Old Covenant is a covenant agreement between God and the Israelites alone.

(DEU. 5: 2-3) 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.

The Old Covenant began at Sinai when Moses received Ten Commandments from God and all Israel agreed to keep the law (EXO. 24: 3-8). It was then sealed in the blood of animals. There was a stipulation that the covenant also included the descendants of Israel (DEU. 29: 14).
Gentiles were excluded from that Covenant (EPH. 2: 11-13). The Jews were separate, set apart, a special people, peculiar. Mixing between Jew and Gentile was strictly forbidden by law (ACT. 10: 28). If a Gentile wished to participate in the Old Covenant, then they had to become a member of the nation of Israel through marriage or circumcision. For example, Exodus 12: 43-49 specifically forbade Gentiles from participating in Passover unless they agreed to become an Israelite. If those terms were to continue on into the New Covenant, then the Gentiles are still forbidden to participate in Passover. But if they don't continue on, then the Gentiles are under no obligation to participate. Pay close attention to Acts 15 and Acts 21. The Apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit declared that the Old Covenant law did not apply to Gentiles in the New Covenant (and this is about the law - see Acts 15: 5). In fact, let's look at Acts 21.

(ACT. 21: 20-21, 25) 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law ; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.

What James and the Jewish converts in Jerusalem were concerned about was that Paul was teaching the Jews not to observe the law. None of them expected the Gentiles to keep the law. That had already been decided against decades before, as recorded in Acts 15. James comes straight out and says as much, plainly.
The law didn't apply to Gentiles in the Old Covenant, and it doesn't apply to Gentiles in the New Covenant. We simply aren't party to that covenant!

Because of this, many have invented elaborate scenarios to paint us all as physical descendants of Israel, and thus get us into the Covenant through a “back door” so to speak.
A very popular “back door” is called British-Israelism, or Anglo-Israelism, which states that many are physically descended from the mythical “lost ten tribes of Israel” without their knowledge - and it is absolutely false. Not only is the genesis of this theory known and it is proven to be a farce, but the pseudo-history it is based on is a sham (for more, we recommend "A Foundation of Sand part XI" on Silenced.co). In addition, modern DNA testing has put a definite end to all possibility of the theory being valid (for more, we recommend dnarefutesbi.com).
There are also some who twist Paul’s words from places like Galatians 3: 7, claiming that all Christians are “Spiritual Israel” (a phrase not found in the Bible), and therefore the Old Covenant pertains to us. But this is also false. If all Christians are “Spiritual Israel” then it is only the New Covenant that makes them so. Once the move to the Old Covenant begins, they cease being "Spiritual Israel". This thinking defeats itself.

There are countless others ways that people dream up to circumvent the simplicity of the situation. I couldn't possibly go over them all here. AsBereansDid has articles covering many of them.

So, we see the parties of the Old Covenant were God and those who were physically Israelites only.

If you are not an Israelite by verifiable descent, then there is nothing in the Old Covenant that is binding on you. You are simply not a party to this covenant.  If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Am I physically an Israelite?” If the answer is ‘no’, then nothing in the Old Covenant is binding on you. In fact, the covenant itself excludes you from it.

What were the terms of the Old Covenant?

The terms of the Old Covenant was the law, and its physical blessings for obedience and physical cursings for disobedience. But the foundation of the terms of the Old Covenant was the Ten Commandments.

(EXO. 34: 28) So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
(DEU. 4: 13) So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.
(DEU. 5: 1-21) … 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. 4 The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. 5 I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said… [lists the Ten Commandments].
(DEU. 9: 9) When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water.
(DEU. 9: 11) And it came to pass, at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.
(DEU. 9: 15) So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands.

The Jews have identified a list of 613 in total laws covering all aspects of Jewish life. Violate any law of the Covenant, even a little, and you’ve breeched the Covenant.

(JAS. 2: 10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

One cannot stumble in any point of the whole body of law. Any stumble is a breach.
The terms cannot be divided up so that some can be ejected and others kept. Because there is only one covenant and it cannot be divided up, the terms of the covenant cannot be divided up. One cannot keep parts of the law, ignore other parts of the law, and excuse away parts of the law, yet claim that to be keeping the law. That's not keeping the law; that's violating it! That is what it means to be in breach. To keep it all and stumble in any point is to violate the covenant just as much as anyone who doesn’t keep any of it. There are no degrees of violation.
And what does one receive for a breach? Not a blessing for keeping 40% of the law, nor a throne for the hearty attempt and good intentions, but a penalty (DEU. 27: 26; GAL. 3: 10)!

So, we see that the Ten Commandments and all of the rest of the law are a single indivisible unit which are the terms of the Old Covenant. It's an all or nothing proposal. These terms of the Old Covenant do not automatically pass forward into the completely separate New Covenant, or any other covenant for that matter. No covenant behaves that way. In the COG we were always told that the law passed forward into the New Covenant unless otherwise stated, therefore Gentiles had to keep the holy days and etc. That is the opposite of how covenants work. It is a clear violation of reality to assume that any term arbitrarily passes from one covenant to another. 

If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Is this expressly a term of the New Covenant to which I am a party?” If the answer is ‘no’ then this thing is not binding on you. It is simply not a term of your covenant.

What is the termination of the Old Covenant?

Death is the termination of the Old Covenant. And the Old Covenant has been terminated.

(HEB. 8: 13) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

How can we say that the Old Covenant was terminated? It was ended when God became incarnate in order to suffer death. God experienced death. Since God was the main party to the Old Covenant, His death terminated that Covenant for all involved. If His death did not terminate the Covenant, then He is not our High Priest, the Gentiles are not cleansed, there is no uniting of Jew and Gentile, and the Church cannot be the Bride of Christ who is still legally married to Israel. 
He will never die again, so there can be no similar termination of the New Covenant.

Let’s take a look at Romans 7: 1-4 and notice some things.

(ROM. 7: 1-6) 1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.  5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Paul is using marriage as an analogy to the Old Covenant and its laws. Just as when a husband dies and the wife is freed, when we die we are freed. What Paul is saying is that we die with Christ through baptism. We are delivered from the law because the covenant dissolves. When we die with Him, any hold the Old Covenant may have had on us is terminated, and the law - which are the terms of the Covenant – is no longer binding on us. It is impossible.

God died and we die. The Covenant is doubly terminated. Terminated on both sides.

If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Is this covenant even binding anymore?” If the answer is ‘no’ then the answer is no. Christ died and you died with Him in baptism. The Old Covenant is abrogated. It’s terminated. It has vanished.

Paul Contrasts The Two Great Covenants

Now that we have seen some basics which are necessary to understand to whom God was speaking in the Old Covenant, and why it is not true that the law carries forward into the New Covenant unless otherwise stated, and that the Old Covenant has vanished away, I feel it is a disservice to leave Galatians 4: 21-31 out of this post.

(GAL. 4: 21-31) 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?
22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
27 For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.”
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

So many people search for ways to carry forward the Covenant from Sinai. Beloved of God, this is not proper. Do you not hear the law? Cast out the covenant from Sinai! This is the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Apostle Paul. If you cast out the Covenant, then you cast out the terms of the covenant. This is simply how covenants work.

I know someone out there is thinking, "But we see the Apostles keeping the law in the New Covenant period." Yes. They were Jews. Jews were once party to the Old Covenant. The law had become part of their national identity. For 1,400+ years, Israel had done these things. One cannot expect them to simply stop one fine day; most especially not while the Temple still stood. Do you suppose James had Paul shave his had and be bathed (ACT. 21: 23-24) because it was legally mandatory? Or do you suppose Paul had Timothy circumcised (ACT. 16: 3) because he was commanded by law? There is apparently nothing wrong with Jews continuing on with these things as customs. Adding Gentiles into the mix is where the ground gives way.
Someone else is thinking, "But Paul said 'Let us keep the Feast' to the Gentiles." Yes. But there is more than one way to understand this statement. The COG interpretation doesn't have a lock on the meaning. Please see this article "Were Gentiles In Corinth Observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread?"

There are several differences between the Old and the New Covenants. AsBereansDid has a few articles dealing with this. Try our article "Old Covenant vs New Covenant". Perhaps we will have more like this in the future. The topic is very important. I also suggest you check out our FAQ page in the section "Covenants" for some wonderful and quick examples.

Conclusion

Covenants can really be boiled down to three main components: who is a party to the covenant, what are the terms, and how is it terminated. The only parties to the Old Covenant were God and the physical Israelites. The terms of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments, and 600+ other laws - all gone when the Covenant was terminated. The termination of the Old Covenant was Jesus' death. We die with Him in baptism, so it terminates for our part as well. Any possible legal hold the law might have on us is gone.

Now, does that mean there is nothing for us in the Old Covenant? Of course not! 
Even though we are not party to the terms of the abrogated Old Covenant, we have much to learn from it (I COR. 10: 11; II TIM. 3: 6). We do not need to be bound to the shadows in order to grasp the reality which cast the shadow - Jesus Christ. We do not need to sacrifice a lamb, smear its blood on our doorposts, and roast it with horseradish in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We don't need to avoid leaven in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed toWe don't need to sacrifice a goat and sprinkle blood on the alter in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We don't need to travel to Jerusalem nor build a succot from Palestinian flora in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. And we don't need to sit idle one day each week in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We do not need the anti-type (eg. physical rest on a week day) in order to possess the fulfillment which is pointed to (eg. true Spiritual rest in Jesus Christ who gives us rest).
The people who have the symbolism do not necessarily have the Spiritual reality, and the people who have the Spiritual reality do not necessarily have the symbolism. The people who do have the Spiritual reality can still benefit from understanding the symbolism - but the symbolism is simply not mandatory once the Spiritual reality has come (I COR. 3: 10). They are not mandatory because the terms of that abrogated Covenant do not apply.


Too many people read through the Old Testament but forget all about these points. They conclude “God tells us to…” when God told us "no such thing" (ACT. 21: 25). They see "keep My commandments" and start looking in the Old Covenant for those commandments - which is entirely the wrong place to start looking! The New Covenant, the valid covenant, has its own terms to keep (JON. 13: 34-35, 15: 17; I JON. 3: 23, 4: 21; II JON. 1: 5-6; ROM. 13: 8-10; GAL. 5: 14; EPH. 5: 2; COL. 3: 14; I TIM. 1: 5; JAS. 2: 8). Look there.

See, the matter is not all that complicated at heart. The truth is, people have gotten their covenants conflated. Confusion of the covenants is one of the most fundamental mistakes that we at AsBereansDid have identified that leads people into Old Covenant legalism. It prevents well-intentioned people from simply stepping into the New Covenant.

So I ask again, did you prove it to yourself? Did  you really? Or could there be a critical detail or three that you may have overlooked?



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Walk in the Light

Hi. It's me again. By now you're home from the Feast of Tabernacles. I truly hope you had a great time. I invite you to mull over your Feast experiences, sermons and interactions in light of what I have to say here. What, you thought I was done with the shadows of Colossians 2 just because the Holy Days are over? Nope, sorry. But this is the last one. 

So why on earth did I write all this? Because I wanted to ruin your Feast? To judge you for fasting on the Day of Atonement? No. Not at all. No one here at As Bereans Did is judging you. We know you are trying to obey God the best way you know how.  I wrote this series on the Holy Days because I want something better for you, and God does, too.

Better than what? Better than staying for a week in an exotic location with a wallet full of disposable income? Yeah, I know. It's a hard sell, especially right now. One of my Church of God pastors used to make fun of people who called "law-keeping" a burden. He'd mock them, talking about the prime steaks and fine wine he consumed at the Feast. "Pile it on, God!" he would say. 

It's tough to explain to you how "law-keeping" could be a burden, because the COGs have weeded out so many of the requirements of the Sinai Covenant that don't seem important to us, or aren't practical in modern application. We've whittled down the "law of God" into something that's almost attainable. In doing so, we've put new wine in old wineskins, ending up with a system that neither meets the requirements for righteousness under the Sinai Covenant nor accepts the freedom and grace available to us under the New Covenant. 

The Apostle Paul cautioned the brethren at Galatia against putting themselves in this same position. Though the false teachers in Galatia were different from those at Colossae, Scripture indicates that both groups pressured Gentile believers to adopt tenets of the Sinai Covenant. Paul warned them that if they became circumcised in an effort to attain righteousness, Christ's sacrifice would be of no value to them, and they would be obligated to obey the whole Sinai Covenant (Galatians 5:2-3). And that those who fail to keep the whole law would be cursed (Galatians 3:10). Though these two passages don't specifically say the law Paul references is the Sinai Covenant, Galatians 4:21-5:1 does, without question. The COGs might play word games with Galatians 4:10 about days, months and seasons, but they have a harder time explaining away these verses: 

"Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar - for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children - but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all." Galatians 4:21-26.

"Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.' So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." Galatians 4:28-5:1. 

Those under the Sinai Covenant were in bondage, Paul said. He would know. He had been a Pharisee's Pharisee. The law was his life. He knew the Sinai Covenant was a package deal that man had no authority to alter or edit. If you break one part of it, you were guilty of breaking the whole thing, according to James 2:10. And keeping the whole covenant was a burden. Daily sacrifices. Your family's animals - your livelihood and food source - being killed to make restitution for sins. Vigilance about not mixing the fabrics in your clothing and the seeds in your vineyard. Rules about nocturnal emissions. Rules about what to do if your ox got loose and hurt someone. Rules about marrying your brother's wife if he died. The list goes on. And on. And on. And on. 

Similarly, Peter wasn't talking about practices the Pharisees added to the law when he talked about the yoke he and his ancestors couldn't bear (Acts 15:10). Why would early church leaders even entertain the thought of enforcing the Pharisees' codes after hearing Jesus rebuke them at every turn? Neither was he just talking about circumcision. Remember, circumcision was never just about circumcision - it was the gateway to keeping the Sinai Covenant. Peter was circumcised and it seems he was doing just fine in life. No, Peter was referring to the Sinai Covenant. Israel couldn't keep it, not in a way that pleased God, not in a way that made a hill of beans difference where their righteousness and eternal destiny were concerned. Man's righteousness is indeed filthy rags to God. 

The biggest burden the Sinai Covenant placed on Israel was bearing the cost of their own sin. The economic toll of sacrificing animals your family needed for food was hard enough, but the emotional burden must have been even heavier. Constantly falling in and out of God's favor. Having God's checklist for national righteousness but not being able to keep it. Wanting to do right, falling short and knowing your destiny (and that of your countrymen) likely hung in the balance. Every day, every sacrifice, every dead animal, every spilling of blood reminding them that the wages of their sin was death. Now THAT'S a burden. And COG beliefs about sin and righteousness are not so different today. Only now, they use terms like "ongoing justification" to describe this same exercise in legalistic futility. The Holy Days were inextricably tied to sacrifice and maintaining righteousness. Consider the Holy of Holies, mercy seat, blood sacrifices and other rituals. More importantly, remember that you were CUT OFF from Israel if you didn't celebrate the festivals (see Exodus 12:15). Tell me, is it any different in the COGs today? Try to opt out of a Holy Day and let me know how it goes. Will your pastor or your brethren remind you that keeping the Holy Days, among other physical practices, factor into your righteousness? Your salvation? 

In Luke 18:10-14, we see that the Pharisee's physical efforts gave him a false sense of security. I believe many in the COGs do the same thing today. Doing so can foster a checklist mentality, which can leads to self-righteousness and a dangerous tendency toward self-reliance. In Hebrews 10, we see that the sacrifices, rituals and laws of the Sinai Covenant could never save people. They were powerless to remove sin. It's not that the laws themselves were wrong. They were good, and given by a holy God. There wasn't something wrong with the law, there's something wrong with US. The law never had any power to change  sinful hearts (Galatians 3:21). Israel couldn't obey perfectly, or even close to perfectly, which was what was required under that system. Do you think that's asking too much? Well, would the Father have accepted Jesus' sacrifice if He had sinned even once? Why would the expectation be any different for us today? Because we have the Holy Spirit, right? Well, even with the Holy Spirit, we will never achieve perfect righteousness in this life. Remember Paul's laments about wrestling with sin in Romans 7:7-25? If Paul couldn't do it, what chance do we stand? 

Knowing this, God gave Israel the Sinai Covenant to show them what they lacked. To show mankind what we all lack. And to teach us that our only hope is to place our full faith in Jesus for salvation. Once we do that, it is "our reasonable service" to devote our lives to obeying Jesus in gratitude for the gift of eternal life (Romans 12:1). But His yoke is easy, and His burden light.

Be honest. Even the watered-down COG version of righteousness can be burdensome. 
Especially in the modern state of the COGs. Picking up the pieces of your relationships, rocked by the latest split. They're happening more frequently with each passing year. Driving an hour and a half every Sabbath to meet with the "true brethren" who emerged on your side in the latest split. Ignoring lifelong friends who now fellowship with those Laodiceans only 10 minutes from your home. Angry debates over proper Sabbath-keeping. Gossip, whispering and backbiting among the splinters. Turning down your dream job because it isn't compatible with the Sabbath. Passing up career opportunities because extended time off for the Feast isn't plausible. Straining family relationships over birthday parties, Friday night activities and holiday gatherings. In extreme cases, shunning even COG family members when your church leadership tells you to cut them off. And I haven't even gotten into the emotional burden of wondering whether your record of obedience and repentance are good enough to keep you out of the Lake of Fire. I know it's there. I felt that burden, and many of you do, too. You've told me so. If this is what God requires of us for salvation, then it's worth it. Anything is. We know that if we don't love Jesus more than our family, we aren't really following Him. He predicted His would turn family members against one another. So if this is what God expects of us, then it's worth it. But if it isn't, well, then, that might be different story. 

Now that you're home, consider your experience at the Feast. In the moment, the physical excesses often lead us to overlook the festival's spiritual hollowness. If you truly felt spiritually nourished, then great! But if you noticed an emptiness, you're not alone, even though it may feel that way. There isn't something wrong with you. There's something wrong with the festivals. Something - or maybe I should say someone - is missing from today's COGs. 

If my children know their grandfather is on the way over, they might watch the sidewalk eagerly for a glimpse of his shadow coming toward the door. But once they see grandpa, they run to him and hug him. They focus their attention on his voice, his stories, his gifts. They don't keep watching the shadow. It was meant to be the same way for us, God's children. When we focus the majority of our time and effort on rituals like the Holy Days instead of on our Savior, we are embracing the shadow instead of the substance. We need to keep our eyes and attention on Jesus. When we fail to do so, we will sink into the depths below, just like Peter when he tried to walk upon the sea. 

Jesus is God. He created you. He suffered and died for you. He is deserving of your worship now, not just in the Kingdom. Consider Revelation 4:8, where we see mysterious creatures singing praises to Christ in heaven. If they sing His praises, how much more should we, the redeemed? I know, in the COGs we are not comfortable with all this Protestant "Jesus" stuff.  We believe our relationship is with the Father. Perhaps unintentionally, we have relegated Jesus to the gate code we punch in to get our prayers accepted. We usually keep Him high on our closet shelf and pull Him down around Passover and the Feast of Trumpets. But John 8:19 tells us that if we don't know Jesus, we don't know the Father, either. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. The Light of the world, and the light we are supposed to reflect. If you are part of the Bride, Jesus wants a relationship with you now. This is not an arranged marriage, and trust me, on the wedding day, you don't want to hear the words "I never knew you." 

From the time sin entered the garden, God has always promised man something better coming over the horizon. The first Messianic hints appear in Genesis 3:15, when God mentions a Seed that will bruise Satan's head. God promised Abraham that the entire world would be blessed through one of his descendants - Jesus. The Sinai Covenant contained even more hints about a coming Savior. These shadows were good, because they came from God, but they were still incomplete. Once the true Light comes, the darkness flees; there are no shadows (James 1:17).  Stop pouring new wine into old wineskins. Stop peering at the New Covenant from the shade of Sinai. Cast out the bondwoman and her son - the Sinai Covenant and the spiritual and emotional bondage it produces. The everlasting covenant in Jesus' blood (Hebrews 13:20) has better promises (Hebrews 8:6), blessings God wants for you, for a more abundant life. Trade the burdens of Sinai for the light yoke of Jesus.  First Thessalonians 5:5 tells us that we do not belong in the darkness. Come out of the shadows into the light of the Lord. It's time to walk as children of light.

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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
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Friday, October 10, 2014

Seven Tips for Having the Best Feast Ever!

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." - Colossians 4:6

Today, I'd like to take a break from my series on the shadows of Colossians 2 to talk about seven practical ways you can help make sure this year's Feast is the best Feast ever. Why seven? Hasn't every other sermon you've heard this week had seven points? 

Now wait a second, you're thinking. Aren't you the lady who's been telling me for a month that the festivals were created to lead the Israelites to Christ? And that they're completely unnecessary today?

Well, yeah. But that doesn't mean I want you to be miserable. Plus, you're already there. And furthermore, there's no wrong day of the year to worship God.

So anyway, today I want to talk about grace - free, unmerited favor. If you subscribe to Church of God theology, there's almost no better time to discuss grace. You're at the Feast of Tabernacles, which you believe celebrates the time when Jesus has returned and God's Kingdom has come to earth. You are at the Feast today, physically, and will be in the Kingdom, in the future, by God's grace.

Now wait just a minute, Martha, you say. I worked hard to make sure I got to the Feast this year. I faithfully saved my tithe. I waited until the approved festival housing registration hour in my time zone. I submitted my time off request. I checked my tires. I packed. I drove here. I got to the hall early enough to reserve a good seat. I'm here because I deserve it.

Right. Just like you deserve to be in God's Kingdom because you tithed, kept the Holy Days, didn't eat in restaurants on the Sabbath and refrained from committing murder. In other words, you've earned it. Thank you. You've demonstrated the point I've been making all summer.

Wait, that's not what I meant, you say.

I know, you think that you don't believe you are saved by righteous works. You think you believe that nothing aside from Jesus Christ's sacrifice can reconcile man to God.

Well, which time? Yes, your ministers teach that nothing can wipe out your past sin other than Jesus' sacrifice. But most of them say that, going forward, it's up to you. Sure, you can "use" the tool of the Holy Spirit. But each time you sin and repent, you must be reconciled again to God. You sin, you fall from grace. You repent, you are restored. You sin again, you repent. Again. And again. And again. For 50 years or more. Hope you got them all. Repented of each and every one. Heck, even realized you committed each one of them. And I haven't even mentioned overcoming those sinful behaviors. So what percentage of recognition, repentance and overcoming do you need to achieve? Ninety-eight percent? Maybe it's 84. Sixty percent? Whatever it is, if you don't hit it, you risk eternal condemnation. Think God doesn't expect you to be perfect? Then tell me which of God's laws it's okay to break. You do believe that your salvation depends on your works. Just not the first time around.

Now that we've cleared that up, please tell me what you meant, and what you think you deserve.

(Crickets chirping)

While I'm waiting, I might as well pull out my soapbox. I think much of the splintering, bickering and judging going on in the COGs today is a fruit of their faulty beliefs about justification. Since the COGs explicitly state that our righteous works factor into our salvation, it sets us up for failure. If our salvation depends on our actions, then we'd better get EVERYTHING right. Proper Sabbath observance. Getting the count right for Pentecost. Tracking down kosher marshmallows. Deep down, we don't really believe we need to get every point of obedience perfect; root out every sin in order to make it into the Kingdom. But since we're kind of hazy on what counts, or what percentage of our sin we need to overcome, we make an issue of practically everything. And when others disagree with our assessment, or just fall short, it's our duty to educate them. After all, THEIR ETERNAL WELL BEING MAY BE AT STAKE!!!

That's the noblest possibility, anyway. There's also the chance that we are falling into the mentality that it's JUST NOT FAIR for them to not do their duty when we are working so hard to do ours. We are doing what we're supposed to, so our spouse, minister, brethren and child must, too! Showing grace, giving leeway and turning the other cheek are nice ideas, but they just aren't a priority in a works-based salvation model. We pay lip service to these concepts, but consider the way nearly EVERY COG controversy, EVERY split, EVERY point of disagreement is handled in the 700-plus WCG splinters that we have today.

At the Feast, I've seen some wonderful examples of Christian love. I saw thoughtful people who tucked away trinkets to brighten random children's day, and people who picked up the tab for elderly couples. I saw generous hearts who packed their luggage full of shoes for destitute Caribbean children. I also saw fundraisers where spite over an inter-COG dispute raised far more money than did concern over the destitute Africans involved (everybody remember the infamous UCG-COGWA LifeNets cow debacle?)

So how does salvation factor into all this? A proper understanding of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone gives us the freedom to accept the fact that we can never measure up, and the permission to allow others not to measure up, either. We are all sinners and will miss the mark in some way until the day that we die. Extending grace is amazingly freeing, and being on the receiving end is humbling and a catalyst for bridge building in relationships.

Ok, I'm putting my soapbox away now. Got your answer yet? That's what I thought. So now that we've established you're there by God's grace, let's talk about showing that grace to others.

By now, you're several days into the Feast. You're probably getting a little tired, arriving at services later. That hotel room might be feeling a little cramped. You're not sleeping well in a strange bed, and you didn't consider the sunrise when you booked that oceanfront room. You have heartburn from too many heavy meals. I'll pass right over the topic of hangovers. Suffice it to say, your fuse might be a little short. And you're probably not the only one. That's why now, more than ever, you need to show your family and brethren grace.

Let's now consider some scriptures that, when heeded, can help you have the best Feast ever.

1. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'let me remove the speck from your eye,' and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:1-5

Dear New Moon contingent, calendars and postponement contingent, anti-restaurants-on-the-Sabbath contingent, top-down-government contingent, anti-potentially-unclean-Dorito-cheese-powder contingent, anti-immunization contingent and any other polarizing faction: it's not your job to tell everyone why they're wrong. I have another passage for you - Romans 14:4-6. You have no right to judge another of God's servant. You're not even arguing whether the Sabbath should be kept, as those Paul seems to address in this passage. You're arguing application. Be convinced in your own mind and keep it between you and God.

Maybe you're still stuck on Matthew 7 and thinking, ok, I'll just get this tree trunk out and then educate my brother. I have news for you. You are never going to get the whole log out of your eye. Maybe your weak point is outbursts of wrath. Maybe you spend inordinate chunks of your Sabbath surfing Facebook (we can all see who's logged in, you know). Maybe, just maybe, pride and self-righteousness are your downfall. Be careful with the standards you use to judge others. Better yet, don't judge others and leave it up to God.

2. "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." - Matthew 5:39

You probably won't encounter someone at the Feast who's evil, or someone who literally slaps you. But there likely will be verbal slaps and slights. There is no law that requires you to respond in kind. In fact, the same passage indicates those who show mercy will be treated with mercy. Jesus Himself tells you to go out of your way to respond gently. I know, it's hard. There are many times I wish I could find a caveat to get out of it. I never have. So do it.

3. "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body."  -Ephesians 5:22-23

I know this isn't a popular scripture among many women. But I can say it, because I am one. Ladies, don't buck your husbands here at the Feast. It's a sin, and if that's not enough, it doesn't help you, your family or anyone around you. Don't create unnecessary tension or make drama that's already there worse. If something is important to him, and there's no reason not to do it, just do it! If he's crabby or snaps at you, don't return tit for tat. Chances are good you are not acting like the angel Gabriel yourself, and I'm sure you would prefer for your husband to turn the other cheek rather than extract an eye. You are much more likely to win him with humility than trying to force him to admit he's wrong. Nothing makes a guy exude love and gentleness than accusing him of not showing you the love and gentleness you're due.

Ok, guys, now it's your turn.

4. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her." - Ephesians 5:25

Just as Christ loved the church. Christ died for the church. I'm not advocating literal death, here, but it won't kill you to take the cranky baby a few services so your wife can hear the sermon. Or take the kids for ice cream and give her some peace. Passing up the golf course for the third time in a week is rarely lethal. And when she's being totally emotional and irrational, reminding her of her duty to submit isn't going to bring her to her senses. Besides, has everything you've done this week been perfectly logical and rational? Or demonstrated sacrificial love on par with Jesus? That's what I thought. Cut her some slack.

5. "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." - Ephesians 6:4

The Feast can be a blast for kids, but it can be a tough time, too. Sure, there's toys, candy and more fun than they've had all year. But they have to sit quietly through two hours of services to get there. Every day. That's like a month in kid years. And you keep them up late most nights to pack in all that excitement. It's just not fair to kids to expect silence and Christ-like behavior from kids at the Feast. Don't beat them. Give them a fighting chance. In the Old Testament, the commanded assemblies were on the first and last days, not every day. 

And babies - that's a whole 'nother discussion. Expecting a baby or toddler to stay quietly on a blanket for hours is not reasonable. Infants cry. Babies crawl. Toddlers explore. That's how God made them. That's their job. You know, it's debatable whether the youngest Israelites even went to the Feast in the Old Testament, considering the command was for "all the males" to assemble. Let's face it, you're not feeling awesome by this point in the Feast. Your kids are no different from you, except they have fewer social graces and verbal filters. If you want them to be in the small minority of COG youth who remain in "The Church," make this family time enjoyable, not miserable.

6. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." - Matthew 5:9

Expect that there will be disappointments and conflict at the Feast. Between families, between brethren, maybe between you and the hotel clerk, or the waitress who tells you the restaurant is out of beef ribs. You have a choice. Be a peacemaker. Because that's what your Savior told you to do. If that doesn't motivate you, at least remember the locals know the name of your splinter. Bring glory to God. Don't bring shame. 

7. "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things." - Philippians 4:8

I can recall a few Feasts where friends literally met me at the check-in desk complaining. Their issues usually were valid, but it was no way to start the week. Some people, in the COGs or out, are not happy unless they're complaining. And once things start down that road, they don't usually get better. Loud neighbors. Early morning construction. Lousy maid service. Bad weather. Crazy brethren. Nonsensical sermons. Yeah, I know it stinks when things don't go right. This is supposed to be the high point of your year. But being negative won't fix anything. And it ruins things for everyone around you.

Instead of letting things snowball out of control, focus on the positive. I mean, you believe you're picturing the millennium, when you'll be putting the earth back together after World War III. Since you'll no longer have a physical body, you won't be hampered by the tangible inconveniences. But the disastrous state of the planet would make even the most third world Feast site look like Disneyland. So you might as well get in the habit now - focus on what's true, what's good, what's lovely, what's worthy of praise.

I really do hope you have a great Feast. I hope that as much goes your way as possible. But if your happiness depends on everyone and everything living up to your expectations, you are setting yourself up for failure. I should know, because I've been there. Embracing grace was the best thing that ever happened to my personal relationships. My vacations. My every day life.

I'm not entitled to have things go my way or to have people treat me fairly. There is only one thing I am entitled to, and that's condemnation for my sin. Praise be to Jesus, who laid down His life to spare me from God's wrath. Belief in salvation by grace through faith in Him alone gives me freedom. No, not the freedom to behave any way I want. That's a COG straw man argument, and it's totally false. Grace gives me the freedom to have peace even though I know I will never measure up. The freedom to try again each day to deeply trust Jesus and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. How will we be acting if we are led by the Holy Spirit within us? Because it is my joy to do so, not because I'm worried that I earned a trip to the Lake of Fire yesterday. And with it comes the freedom to allow others not to measure up, to lift them up even when they let me down, and to work together with them for God's glory.

Grace is the key to the abundant life God wants for you. And it just might be the key to having the best Feast ever.  

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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Trouble With Tabernacles

Happy Feast of Tabernacles to all of our readers who observe it.

I remember back when I observed the Feast of Tabernacles with my COG splinter church. “Feast Fever” indeed. The real anticipation began for me at that dinner after the Day of Atonement fast was over. You know the one I’m talking about.

You’ve just fasted for an entire day and spent your whole afternoon sitting and singing (softly). You’re exhausted, parched, and feeling sick from lack of nourishment. Your mouth feels like flypaper. A group decides to head to a restaurant after sundown and your family decides to tag along. You arrive at the restaurant just before sundown and begin the small talk to whittle away those last few minutes until the moment the sun officially sets. Somehow, proximity to food makes your symptoms a hundred times worse. As your body shuts down vital processes to preserve life you realize that you can smell with the power of a brown bear. Food five miles away cannot escape your notice. Finally the sun sets and you can drink the water – but deep inside you wonder if it’s really OK. No one wants to be the first to drink. The waitress arrives to take the drink order. Appetizers! Who has time for that? Just bring me a crust of bread or some vegetable that I would normally despise but at this moment I would gladly eat like a king’s banquet! As the beverages arrive at the table your skin begins to crawl. Why is the waitress moving so slowly? You try not to show you are famished as silently you coach from the sidelines, “Tea here; Coke there; decaffeinated coffee over there. Look alive!” Every minute spent waiting for the food to arrive is a lifetime. Your hands shaking. Your stomach grumbling audibly. Your head throbbing. Your extremities freezing. You would gladly eat the salt straight from the shaker. Finally, steaming hot food begins to arrive. Of course you ordered way too much. Of course time is moving even more slowly than ever before. Of course the waitress doesn’t have your plate! When the carnage is over, you loosen your belt and yawn as a certain longing to return to fasting overtakes you. Why did you have to eat the entire thing?
Then, as the gathering begins to disperse, the chatter begins about when everyone will be leaving and when you expect to see each other again. This is the anticipated event. An entire year of hope and expectation all culminates in this one unofficial starting whistle. What the end of dinner means is the next big event should be the leaving for the Feast site. 

Oh sweet Feast Fever, you are a cruel mistress!
The Feast of Tabernacles is a wonderful time of year. Happiness and frivolity abound! Oh let me count the ways.

There is the jealousy over the retirees who leave almost a week early. There is the mental anguish wondering if you’ll still have a job when you return. There is the piling on of homework for the children who will miss in excess of one week of school. There is the bother of leaving in the middle of a week this year. There is the using up of all of your vacation time, whereas in other years the Feast will fall just right so the weekends save you two vacation days (which are then eaten up by the spring holy days, so you’ve gained nothing). There is the stress of long-distance travel. There is the debate on whether or not to attend opening night. Look, you’re only human. You just drove or flew a great distance, you’re tired, you’re hungry, your kids are a mess, and you’re not in the mood to mingle with odd-smelling strangers. There’s the mix-up with your room at the front desk, where you come to learn that in the hotel business “reservations” aren’t actually reservations at all. There is the family two doors down who somehow crammed four people beyond legal maximum into one room – and eight times the noise. There is the information table worker who didn’t actually do any preparatory work in order to know the area and give helpful advice, and the best they can do is tell you they hear the food at the restaurant you can’t possibly justify the cost for is very good. At that price it had better be good! There is the one guy who even though you try very hard to hold a polite conversation they insist on twisting everything you say and rudely telling you how wrong you are about everything - even though you didn't actually say any of those things you are now supposedly wrong about. There is the rush to get ready and make it to services on time to get a good seat (or, as a last resort of sending someone down early and put books on the seats). There’s the singing of “Blessed and Happy Is the Man” twice every day. There is the abysmal heat which stifles your ability to think and take notes at a sermonette you don’t feel is noteworthy to begin with. There is the man giving the sermonette on prophetic minutiae who is clearly out of his mind. There is the one sermon that is the easily the best sermon of them all because it made you feel so guilty that you almost do hate yourself for your sinfulness and lack of appreciation for being called. There is the lunch at the hotel restaurant where the staff thought they could handle the rush but was clearly unprepared. There is the guessing whether or not they actually got the memo that you don’t eat pork bacon. There is the second service which you would rather do without, meanwhile you notice several people in attendance who were not there for the first service and several people who were at the first service are now absent. There is the passing of the plate – again. Why do they need to pass the plate? Didn’t they have a year to plan for this? Couldn’t they pay for it out of your regular tithes? There is the bathroom where the fathers are beating their children. There is the mother’s room where the mothers go to avoid sitting through the service …and to gossip. There is the Deacon’s wife who is judging everyone, staring down her nose with that trademark glare of superiority. There is the unbelievable boredom of the late afternoon where the morning’s activities have all ended but the evening’s activities have yet to begin. There is the game room, where four or five hoary-headed senior citizens who have known each other for sixty years sit playing bridge, as you wonder why they spent all this effort and money to travel 1,000 miles to play bridge. There is the brief and mysterious sighting of the Pastor and lead Elders whose seemingly inexhaustible source of money has allowed them to book at the best hotel and eat at the best restaurants – which things you don’t even get to know about they’re so far above your reach. There are the trips to the local entertainment sites, most of which are closed, so you pull in to the outlet mall and spend money you didn’t need to spend on things you didn’t need to have so that you can look like you saved a full ten percent of your income as second tithe to spend at the Feast when you really didn't. There is the group who can't stop talking about how fun it was to do several activities that you some day hope to win the lottery and be able to afford to witness just once before you die. There is the one person whose marriage disintegrated last year, who is here with a new love interest which makes everyone very uncomfortable, while you secretly wish it had been the other spouse that came to your Feast site. There is the couple whose marriage is disintegrating and barely a person need gossip about it since it’s right there in everyone’s face. There’s the family who clearly could not afford to attend the Feast, and probably shouldn’t have come, but they somehow seem to make it on handouts and assistance money. Half-way through the Feast they seem to disappear. There are the teens all in one row at services, passing notes and giggling and paying no attention whatsoever. There are the parties where the teens gather in secret and do what things would be better if we don’t talk about them here in polite company. There is the man who has had a little too much to drink who is speaking rudely to his family and ruining the evening for everyone. There is the sickly sensation that the Feast has only one day left. There is the one super hero who took all of the seniors out to dinner, an act you couldn’t possibly afford if you saved for two years, now everyone talks about how wonderful that person is. There’s the mass exodus after services on the Last Great Day – a holy day, where you aren’t supposed to be travelling but almost everyone does anyway. Should you stay behind as you are supposed to, there’s the onset of “I’m the last one to leave the party” depression as the hotel empties out and new guests arrive who don’t care if the bacon is pork or not. There is the wondering if you will actually be in the first resurrection because honestly there’s no sure way to tell. There is the wondering if you want to be in the first resurrection anyway because if the Millennium is really like this then you would rather just skip it. There is the return to “the world” where you almost want to kill yourself because the vacation is over, it didn’t live up to its hype (as usual), but it still beats working for a living. And then there is the bill you have to pay for going over your budget this year while you have to start saving tithes for next year.
Not to mention the sickness, the weather events, the lost luggage, the interruptions from your job trying to contact you, and other such unfortunates that rob you of time and peace.

Ahh, the halcyon days of the Feast of Tabernacles. How can I forget?

It’s not all that bad. There are some good times. I met some great people and did some seriously interesting things. I know that I would never have gone to the places or met those people had it not been for the Feast of Tabernacles.

I have to ask, though, is seeing sites of historic significance really the point of the time? Yeah, I’m very glad I did those things, but what did those things have to do with the Feast of Tabernacles? Is eating plains buffalo or fish straight out of the Gulf of Mexico really the crowning achievement I was meant to take away from all of this? Those are all things that have to do with a seriously good vacation, but not a holy time. And what did I learn about Jesus Christ from any of it?

“You are supposed to spend your money on your heart’s desire. It’s supposed to picture the Millennium.” Yes, yes. I understand that. But does it?
Is it like the Millennium? Is it really? Then why is it, in our heart of hearts, in those secret and carefully interred compartments of our souls that we don’t want to admit even to ourselves that they exist, do we not want the Millennium to be like the Feast of Tabernacles? Your secret is safe with me, but admit it – you’ve thought this before.

Is the Millennium really going to be like an alcohol-fueled consumerist extravaganza at a hotel near a go-kart park where senior citizens travel 1,000 miles to play bridge? Is the Millennium going to be a stressful, expensive, busy, ultimately unsatisfying event where the anticipation is far better than the reality? Is the Millennium going to be guilt for hiding away from sermons, beating your children for misbehaving, crowded hotel rooms, and trips to the outlet mall? Is the Millennium going to be feelings of inadequacy, or being ignored and avoided by the leadership? Is the ultimate joy of the Millennium going to be found in sites and entertainments and meals? How do spirit-beings care about trying exotic foods or seeing Mount Rushmore? How do spirit beings go on cruises or to Disney World? What souvenirs do spirit-beings take home with them?

When we really pay attention to what is written as opposed to how things are interpreted, the descriptions that the Bible contains of what we call “the Millennium” bares little resemblance if any to the Feast of Tabernacles as it is being kept in the COG groups. Not the stylized and perfected vision we all have in our minds of the way things ought to be, but the way it literally is. Is this really the best picture of paradise we could come up with? When I look at the Feast of Tabernacles, I simply do not see the resemblance. Is the best thing we can come up with really going to be "well, at least I don't keep a pagan holiday"? Is that all it boils down to? A retort based on abysmal pseudo-history? A version of a holy day is being "kept", and everyone knows it's not what the Bible says nor is it what they really want it to be, but hey .. it's eight days and Christmas is only one day! Right? I hate to say it but from what I see the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles just makes it eight times worse than Christmas. It has all the trappings of a vacation pretending to be a holy day.
Best Feast ever!

Something is all wrong.
     And deep inside you know it.

You might think that I was being disingenuous at the start of this article. You might believe that I don't actually want you to have a happy Feast of Tabernacles. Well, I was being genuine and I do want that for you. I just cannot agree that the Feast of Tabernacles is bound upon us as a law (a topic for another article), but more importantly I can't agree that the state of the Feast of Tabernacles as we see it in the COGs is going to lead anyone to that happiness.

All of the experiences I related above are real experiences that either myself or people I know have had. I had to leave quite a few out for time's sake. I'm guessing you've had them too. Or are having them right now. And you will again. (Leave us a list in the comments if you would. We would like to hear of your odd FOT experiences.) Depressing as they may be, I had to go over them to make a point. There is trouble with the Feast of Tabernacles, and that trouble needs to be admitted and then corrected.

All of these things, all of the happiness you find at the Feast, enjoy them! They are empty and temporary, like candy, but enjoy them with thanksgiving. Just don't be fooled by them. They scream Old Covenant physical happiness from physical blessings which perish in the using. They are not New Covenant eternal, lasting blessings of peace and joy through the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ. These happy things, we were taught, were supposed to be empty and temporary. We are supposed to be depressed when we get home, they said. These things were supposed to build a taste for the future. So build a taste for the future. But ask yourself some questions as you go.

Do these empty and temporary things bring relevance to me now?
Do these empty and temporary physical things have spiritual value?
Do these empty and temporary things bring the fruits of the Spirit?
Do these empty and temporary things cause joy; Godly, lasting joy?
Do these empty and temporary things teach me about my value in God's eyes?
Do these empty and temporary things teach me about how Jesus fulfills the symbolism?
Do these empty and temporary things have a place in my life simply because I believe I am keeping a law?

You say that want to be happy? I say good! But seek first the Kingdom of God now, in your heart now, in your actions now, in your attitude now. Not as a law, which you only keep because you are commanded to. Seek what is written on the heart, by love, from the presence of the Holy Spirit in you by faith in Jesus Christ. Step into the New and everlasting Covenant!

How do you seek the Kingdom of God now? By seeking the King, of course. Luke 17:20-21 says that the Kingdom of God will be within you. Some translations for a while rendered it "in your midst". There really is no functional difference between the two. Is the Kingdom in your heart, or in the hearts of you and your companions? Either way the Kingdom is within you.
His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed (JON. 6: 55). You take Him into you. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit within you (I COR. 6: 19). So take Him into you! You don't need to "go" to the Tabernacle anymore; you are the tabernacle. You are the place where the Lord places His name. So take Him into you!

Just as you were starving on the Day of Atonement, the observation of the Feast of Tabernacles in the COGs is starving. What is the trouble with the Feast of Tabernacles? The Feast of Tabernacles is starving! Just like you craved food and drink, the Feast of Tabernacles craves Jesus Christ who is food and drink indeed. Gorging on physical food or the empty and temporary calories in candy will leave you dull and nauseous, but gorging on true Spiritual food will fulfill and uplift you.

(JON. 6: 35) And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst."

He shouldn't be just on a throne somewhere far away in Heaven with the holy angels looking down at your festival site. He should be in your heart. Why is He standing outside knocking? Let Him in! Ask Him to let Himself in. Something is wrong at the Feast of Tabernacles and if you want to fix it then demand that your Feast be Christ-centered. Not the Christ in some shadowy distant future land, but Jesus Christ as He is now. Too much time is spent on prophetic speculation; it's as if the Feast is a free-for-all for sermonettes on conspiracy theories and prophetic what if's. There's no true meat there. Too much time is spent on vacationing. And that's just what the Feast is - a great vacation. There's no substance there. The substance is Christ. Too much time is spent thinking about us. Make it about Him. If no one at your Feast site will do that then do it for yourself. The shadow points to Him, the nuances of the Feast point to Him, most of the Bible is about Him - and these things at His first coming - so let the time teach you about Him. Make it all about Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
You want a happy Feast? Learn that Jesus Christ is no mere messenger boy. Learn who He is. Learn what He has done for us. Learn how the Feast shadows this. Make your Feast about Him. Focus on Him. Insist on Him. Come to Christ and be justified by faith (GAL. 3: 24). Come to the goal and the fulfillment of the law. Step fully into the New Covenant!

...And have a Happy Feast of Tabernacles.



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
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