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, 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. If 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 want the Millennium to not 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 in a musty-smelling community room? 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, condescending looks, 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 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.

Now, sing it with me!
Blessed and happy is the man.......

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


Anonymous said...

The Wander says..

Well...you did it...finally said my thoughts and I am a cogwa. Another round for...where's YOUR family? You're here alone? Well..they don't believe like you...so..why WOULD they want to come? The "alone" and "third wheel" is old hat now and I just don't want to do that anymore. And..I am worn out of the friction and the marriages that I really have no idea why they should be together...oh...the drama. What's that show...the wanderer in the middle? And, the guilt and wondering if I really will be cursed or something for not going to a distant site or to another cog site. And yes, I have bought the dinners and ...for me...it was the biggest treat...because..I like the gift idea...so much fun to surprise them and also helps some to save$$. Maybe it's just me....

xHWA said...

Buying dinners is great. I agree. Such a fulfilling feeling. I'm glad you got to experience that.
What my wife and I would do is randomly pick an older person or couple at a restaurant and we would pay their bill in secret. That way no one knew who did it. We never got the accolades in front of the church, but we got something better.
I feel that giving is the primary way that God in our hearts is expressed. When I read James 2: 14-17, I see charity. You did well, Wanderer. Your faith expressed itself in works of charity, and you got to see how great a feeling that is. That's what it's about.

I am sorry that your overall experience at the FOT fell so far short of the ideal. You are not the only one.

Anonymous said...

The Wander says

Thank you and I hope you will be "awarded openly"...sounds like fun too. However, one thing that has always puzzled me was this..How does COGWA or any other COGs know a site is chosen by God? What about splinter sites? But, don't they all really believe the same regarding feasts etc? Very puzzling to me. I was going to go to a "non-COGWA" location with it being closer and mentioned it and...you would think I stole something from my mother...I'm a "rebel" now...hmmm.
..thought I was just asking about.
And...I have never had the "Feast fever" thing...maybe I'm missing something.

Thank you for your insight

xHWA said...

Thank you, Wanderer.

Recognizing the place where the Lord places His name always puzzled me too. How did they know where the Lord placed His name? And why was it always in a hotel with group discounts near a go kart track?

If you can be a "rebel" by going to a different site, then what does that say about their methods of choosing sites? Not good.

Until one day I read all of Deuteronomy 16. Turns out we have to travel more than just one time each year. That same theme appears elsewhere (Exo 23 & Exo 34). Then I learned that this is what the Jews believed all along. Then I learned that this is something Herbert Armstrong tried to implement, but he "changed the law" because it cost too much. But no man can change the law, by necessity or otherwise ("not one jot or one tittle...").
Turns out we weren't observing most of the law. And since we weren't keeping it, then by necessity we were violating it.

So I turned to understanding where the Bible says the Lord places His name. That was only one place - the Tabernacle. This is where God meets men. It dawned on me, it's not Jerusalem that's important, it's the Temple, because that's where the Tabernacle of God is. And where is the temple today? That's when I had my answers.

I documented my thoughts a few years ago on this. I invite you to read them if you want to:
Three Times In the Year - part 1
Three Times In the Year - part 2