"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.
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.
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