This was my 54th Feast of Tabernacles and my wife Carol’s 56th. It is most unlikely that we will experience even half that many again in this physical life, and while we must be careful not to plan our lives around speculative dates for Christ’s return, it is difficult to imagine this world seeing anywhere near another half-century.
Carol and I were privileged to observe the Day of Atonement in the Philippines. This was our first visit to the country that is home to our third-largest region of the Work, exceeded only by the United States and Canada. We were very warmly welcomed, with many members staying around to fellowship after services, even though the day did not call for snacks! The members there were truly a delight to meet.
We spent the first half of the Feast in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand with about 100 members, most of whom were from New Zealand. It was encouraging to see the growth there since our first visit 22 years ago. We spent the second half and Last Great Day in Nelson Bay, Australia and, again, it was encouraging to see so many new people who have come along in the last two decades. We were enthusiastically and warmly welcomed at both sites and appreciated the many encouraging words of support.
We attended services in Sydney following the Feast, before heading down to Adelaide to see our regional office and meet some of the staff. The Asian Pacific region is in good shape at the moment, but it faces the same challenge we have everywhere, an aging ministry. We lost several ministers to death, retirement or transferring out of the area this past year. The small Bible Education Centre that Mr. Bruce Tyler instituted, in which students take Living University classes online, has provided several younger men to fill the gaps. Paul and Lisa Kearns and Tony and Faith Lehman are among our graduates and are doing a fine job in New Zealand, and Joseph and Janice Gonzales have returned to the Philippines to oversee the office there. These younger men and women are getting the job done and are loved and respected by the members.
No matter where we go, members ask what new initiatives we are working on. I find this encouraging, as it shows that our members realize we have a Work to do. They are not like those individuals who proclaim the Work was finished by Mr. Herbert Armstrong. The majority of those we met on this trip have come into the Church of God since the death of Mr. Armstrong. One of those, Mr. Paul Kearns, was not even born until after Mr. Armstrong’s death, and he now serves full-time in the ministry!
Psalm 133:1 tells us, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” This is a fitting description of what we encountered in our travels among God’s people, and I trust you found the same to be true wherever you traveled over the Festival period. But this is not the world to which we’ve returned. At the time of this writing, Australia is spending more than $95 million (in U.S. dollars) on a non-binding referendum in an attempt to trivialize and pervert the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. We heard numerous reports from our members of intimidation to cast a “yes” opinion for same-sex marriage. Some businesses display “yes” posters and make it clear that they expect their employees to fall in line. Government buildings, which one would expect to be neutral, display the rainbow flag, making it obvious which side they support. To be sure, there are vocal critics on the “no” side, but “yes” has the support of the media, academia, many businesses, most celebrities, and even the national football team.
Truly, this generation has no respect for God or His instructions found in the Bible. “There is no fear of God before his eyes” (Psalm 36:1); and “The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts” (Psalm 10:4). Even in the unlikely event that these misbegotten efforts fail, same-sex marriage will eventually prevail in Australia, just as it has in the other Israelite nations. It is only a matter of time. The god of this world and his invisible spirit influence will make sure of that! Is it any wonder that parts of Australia are in severe drought, and some farmers, seeing no hope for the future, have committed suicide?
And in California, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a bill allowing people who consider themselves as transgender to identify as having a “non-binary” gender on state identification documents such as driver licenses. It might be a stretch to blame the fires that have destroyed 6,000 homes and killed nearly 50 people on a single piece of legislation, but it is evident God is withdrawing His blessings from the “Golden State” and from the Israelite nations as a whole for disregarding His ways.
Many members of the Church sense that time is closing in on us and that real persecution is just around the corner. We are losing our freedom of speech, which is so essential to the preaching of the true Gospel and proclaiming the Ezekiel warning. A cadre of people—small, percentage-wise, but very vocal—have taken over our governments, educational institutions and the media as a whole, and people who lack a godly moral foundation are going right along with it. So, while the Feast of Tabernacles was an oasis of peace, love and harmony, we must not be lulled into a lukewarm Laodicean attitude. We may be surprised. It may take longer than we expect before man’s Babylonish system comes crashing down, but collapse is on the way.
Then, the reality pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles will be here. At that time, all nations will be commanded to come up (i.e., send representatives) to Jerusalem to learn of God’s master plan. It is evident from Zechariah 14:16–19 that Jesus Christ will accept no excuses for failing to do so. This should be a lesson for all of us that we must take these holy convocations seriously and prepare each year to observe them. I hope all of you will be doing so. We have the better part of six months from the Feast of Tabernacles until Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread to ensure time off from work.
The First Day of Unleavened Bread 2018 falls on a weekly Sabbath, so most who work daylight hours have to take off only the last Day of Unleavened Bread, which falls on a Friday. You should have plenty of time to work out arrangements to have that day off. The Festivals that fall later in the year will require more time off, but most members have little trouble arranging that, if they plan early and work with their employers. It should go without saying that the better employee you are year round, the more inclined your employer will be to meet your needs. And the same may be said for students who must miss classes. We know that there are exceptions, but most employees and students will do just fine with a bit of hard work and planning.
Another way to prepare for the Festivals and Holy Days is by preparing according to God’s financial instructions. Deuteronomy 14:22–26 explains how each of us are to set aside a tithe for these special days. (See Mr. Dexter Wakefield’s article in this issue for more on this topic.) This is a well-ingrained habit for most members, but there are those who think they have a better way. Some wait until the Feast and use their last paycheck. Others go to the Feast on credit cards that they know will take months to pay off. Others try to save a Festival tithe, but end up “borrowing” from it for various emergencies. This should not be the case.
Brethren, we understand that many struggle financially, but as one minister put it, “How can you be blessed if you are under a curse?” For the scripture asks and explains: “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’” And God’s answer? “In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation” (Malachi 3:8–9).
When God tells us to do something and we don’t do it, how can He then bless us? We have all learned from experience that it works out better when we obey God! Please examine yourself in this regard. Obey His commands and then claim His promises: “‘And try [KJV: prove] Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (v. 10).
One has to wonder: How many more Feasts will there be before the seventh trumpet sounds and Christ returns? May we all prepare to rehearse God’s great plan of salvation for mankind next year and for as many years as need be until we are changed into spirit-born sons and daughters of God! May we all be busy, diligently fulfilling our calling!