Let Us Go Up To the Mountain of the Lord: Preparing Our Hearts For God's Festivals

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Let Us Go Up To the Mountain of the Lord

Preparing Our Hearts For God's Festivals

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Let Us Go Up To the Mountain of the Lord: Preparing Our Hearts For God's Festivals

MP4 Video - 720p (959.41 MB)
MP3 Audio (27.1 MB)

Four of the seven holy days of God are before us. It is an intensive period of worship with deep meaning. How should we prepare our hearts to experience what God wants to teach us during this period? We will look at several keys to preparing to "go up" into God's presence.


[Darris McNeely] Okay. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to our Wednesday night Beyond Today Bible study here at the home office of the United Church of God. We are beginning, restarting these Bible studies after a summer break. It's been a busy summer for so many of us, and you included, but this will be the first of two Bible studies that we have before the break for the fall Holy Days. I'll do this one tonight. Steve Myers will do one in two weeks from tonight, and then we'll have a break again and pick up again after the Holy Days and the Feast of Tabernacles.

So again, welcome to all of you and welcome to those of you that are online. See, we're actually using one of our brand new cameras here tonight. So I forgot to put my makeup on so it's going to show even all the other irregularities that I have in ultra high definition 4K. So anyway, I hope they can handle it up on the cyber cast.

I'll ask God's blessing, if you all just remain seated, and bow your heads, please. Our Father, our great God, we bow before You this evening and are grateful for the opportunity that we have here together as friends and family to have a Bible study here tonight. We ask for Your blessing upon it. Help us, Father, to understand, and to hear with open hearts and open minds. Guide us, Father, by Your Spirit to look at Your Word and aspects of the upcoming festivals in a way that we perhaps have not seen before as we begin to prepare ourselves for that period of time. So I thank You for Your Word, for Your calling. I thank You for this opportunity tonight. Be with us and we ask it all and commit it into Your hands. We pray in Christ's name, amen.

It's hard to believe that the Holy Days are almost upon us. If you've been looking out, you have begun to get a bit of a glimpse at the seasons. The season is beginning to change. The days are a bit shorter. And I can tell already that the shadows are a bit different so fall will be here soon. This weekend is Labor Day, September starts on Friday, and school's back in session. So things are changing, and it's time to begin looking toward the Holy Days. This study and the next one are planned to be two particular studies to help us all focus our minds and particularly our hearts upon the Holy Days and to prepare to keep them.

I had the extra opportunity last night and talking online with a group of our new pastors in the Church, new hires, and trainees, about parts of what I'm going to talk about tonight, but more oriented toward them as pastors and helping them to prepare their congregations for the upcoming Holy Days. So this is kind of my second run through on parts of what I'm going to talk about here tonight. So I hope that you will be helped to get your mind ready for the Feast.

Every year when I start thinking about it, and of course, by now most have made their plans as to where they will go, and we know the dates and everything else for the Feast of Tabernacles. But before that, we have the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. But I was counting up, this year will be the 55th Feast of Tabernacles that I have kept. I think for my wife, then that will be 54 for her. So we've kept a few, all right? And I don't know if anybody in this room has kept any more than that. I knew you would have raised your hand right there.

So there's one person that's got me beat here in the room here tonight, but I know I'm not the longest lived in that regard in the Church. But anything over 50 is pretty good and a long period of time. I was thinking about all the different ways in which I've kept the Feast and how I've kept it. I have kept the Feast as a pre-teen. I've kept the Feast as a teenager. I've kept it as a single young adult. I've kept it as a married individual, with my wife Debbie. I've kept it most of these years as a minister and participating in it as a minister.

I have gone to the Feast of Tabernacles at many different locations. I've camped, I have been rained on and been completely soaked and washed out in a in a tent, keeping the Feast in a camp ground. I've actually stayed in what amounted to not much more than a metal shed that you might have in your backyard to store implements and your lawnmower and your tractors. I've kept the Feast in that type of situation. I've stayed in a dormitory with a lot of other students, shared a communal bathroom down at the end of the hall in what was a former Olympic Village in Squaw Valley, California. I've stayed in a mildewed lower level motel room in Missouri that nobody should have stayed in. So I've kept the Feast in that type of accommodation.

I have been in average hotel rooms with ocean views, river views, parking lot views. I have been in above-average hotel rooms as well. I've been in a few very nice hotel rooms and nice condos. I've killed scorpions in my location at the Feast of Tabernacles. I've actually, one time, captured a bat that came into where we were staying. So I've captured bats, killed scorpions. I have fought cockroaches in Florida and beat them back. I've had the best Feast ever and I've actually had the worst Feast ever a time or two as well. I've had all kinds of experiences and everything in between during this period of time.

And even though the, you know, we've been blessed with health and the ability of 55 straight, and at least in my life, I've always been able to attend the Feast and go to a location that has been designated by the Church. So what I would like to do is I look at that, and look back over my different experiences. Today I would like to pass on a few points to help us to prepare ourselves to go up to keep the Feast. There is a very often a… that phrase that is used in Scripture about going up to keep the Feast that you will find as it talks about going to, usually, Jerusalem to keep the Feast.

And when you read in the Bible geographically about any character— Christ or the apostle Paul going up to Jerusalem, literally, that's what they did because Jerusalem was in the high point of the mountains of Judah. And then you literally ascended on your travels to Jerusalem. Now in the days when there was a temple in Jerusalem, and the pilgrimage Feasts three times, three times or seasons in the year during which the Feasts were kept, people literally went up to Jerusalem and it was a journey.

It was, in those days, in the ancient world, not an air conditioned, nice, comfortable ride in a car. It was either walking or on a mule or in a caravan. And it involved dusty trails. It involved not the nice accommodations with the pull-off rest areas that we have for a hot cup of coffee in Starbucks or a stop at McDonald's or anything like that. It was rather rustic, primitive by our standards perhaps.

People would go in packs. They would go probably in groups from a village, by families, to go up to keep the Feast. And there's a very strong indication from portions even of the Psalms that are called the Psalms of Ascent, meaning to go up, that as they went and went up to Jerusalem, there were certain psalms in the Bible that we can pretty well figure may have been Psalms that accompanied them either as they would sing them on their way to the festivals. And some of those psalms are a part of the Scriptures. And even as you really dig into that as a separate study, you gain a bit of understanding as well about what it means to be a pilgrim, journeying to not only the Feast but a pilgrim on the journey of life toward God's Kingdom.

The added understanding that we have in the Church of God today that the Festivals point to us ultimately to not only Jesus Christ and His work but as we go to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, we know that we are going to picture the Kingdom of God on this earth, that 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ. And so, some of those Psalms and scriptures help us to understand some of the things that we face along that journey as pilgrims to the Feast. So it's a pilgrimage, and it's a travel and it's a journey to do so.

When we look in the Scriptures, we see that this was not something that was hidden. You look actually in Luke 2, you see that there's just a very brief mention during the boyhood of Jesus Christ. We find that Christ Himself went up to keep the Feast in Luke 2:41 Luke 2:41Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
American King James Version×
, where Luke's account here is the only one of the Gospels that gives us this little window of a look into this part of the life, the early life of Jesus. It says, "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover." Now again, this refers to this one, the pilgrims and people went up, again, at Pentecost, and they would go up for the fall Feast as well.

So in verse 42, it says that "When He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the Feast." And this is, of course, where He was left behind in the temple for three days before His parents realized that He was missing, which is an interesting story in itself, and they went back and found Him in the temple reasoning with the teachers there in the temple. But Christ went up and He went up to keep the Feast in Jerusalem as well.

So it is something that in other places that we will find this as well. When we turn back to Isaiah 2 are the very well-known millennial Psalm, millennial passages of scripture out of Isaiah 2, we find as it points to the future the same phrasing here that ties us into what people did then, really what we do today, and what nations will do in the future. In Isaiah 2:2 Isaiah 2:2And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
American King James Version×
it says, "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.” It will go and flow to the place where God has placed His Kingdom or His center of His reign in His rule at that time.

“Many shall come and say," in verse 3. “'Come let us go up to the mountain… to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion should go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords in the plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; and a nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

Very well-known millennial reference and prophecy of what will take place after Christ's return. But again, nations then will go up to Jerusalem at that time. But that is in the future. It will probably… I'm sure this verse will be read many more times by various men who will be speaking in the future days to prepare and even to explain things about the Feast of Tabernacles. But let's go back to where we are today. And here we are in 2017. You're preparing for the Feast. And you've already probably done some numbers, run some numbers in your head as to how many this might be for you.

This one is in front of us, and by the grace of God, we're able to keep another Feast, another year it has rolled around. And as we prepare to do so, I think that it is important that ample time be taken to make our hearts right and ready before God. As I was explaining to some of our pastors last night in this class, that this is a very, very important responsibility to help prepare our members in so many different ways to keep the Feast and our congregations, not only as we go up, but for those who don't go up, for those that are not able for health, age and other reasons to not attend, but that we prepare ourselves in a sense as a family, to observe the Feast and to do it in a way that God says to do it.

And so, what I have prepared tonight are three, what I call three essential elements to having the best Feast ever, okay? We're going to talk about three elements to keep the best Feast ever. And this is really my distillation and my own thinking of what I see from scriptures, and from my own experience. And I hope that it will mirror what you've learned as you kept the Feast and as you look and think back on where you've been, what you've done, the exotic locales, the not so exotic locales. The good Feasts, the best Feasts, the mediocre Feasts, the troubled Feasts maybe or maybe even some of the broken Feasts where you may have not been able to attend full time or a family emergency took you home. My father died while I was at the Feast one year. I remember that it was on the morning of the Eighth Day when he died. And so, we finished out the day and then went back to the funeral for my father. But things happen. Life goes on even while we're keeping the Feast.

But let's begin. Let's turn, if you all, back to Deuteronomy 12. I want to look at some of these key scriptures back here that give us within the law, the prescription for the Feast of Tabernacles especially, and we will look at this as primarily the Feast, but keep in mind we're talking about Trumpets and Atonement, the Eighth Day as well. But the Feast, this is kind of what is focused on in some of these scriptures. And whether we are keeping those days here locally in our… for the Holy Days, or the regional locations for the Feast, these elements I think will help us.

In Deuteronomy 12:5 Deuteronomy 12:5But to the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even to his habitation shall you seek, and thither you shall come:
American King James Version×
, in verse 4 it says, "You should not worship the Lord your God with such things," and some of the wooden images and idols that verse 3 talks about. But in verse 5, "But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go." And so, at this point in the retelling of the Law, there's a lot of different things that are woven together in a few middle passages here in Deuteronomy that really speak to coming before God on the occasions that He has outlined as His Holy Festivals, "where He placed His name, there," it says, "you will go."

Verse 6 talks about bringing offerings, bringing your tithes, three valid offerings and the various forms of those that were to be brought, explicitly talking here about an agrarian type society with the herds and flocks. But it says in verse 7, "There you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all that you have put your hand to, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you." And then dropping down to verse 12, a bit of a repetition, "You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, and your male and female servants, and the Levite that is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you." And then it continues on to talk about this in the aspects here.

So we gather here that we are to go where God has placed His name and where His place is in the early days of the monarchy and of the Nation of Israel, with the loosely confederated tribes. That place was a place called Shiloh. Later, under King David, he established his capital in Jerusalem. He moved the tabernacle up to Jerusalem and then wanted to build a temple that was not allowed. Solomon then had to build the temple, but that became the center of government, religion, worship for the people of Israel, and in Jerusalem, around that temple, that became, that fulfilled where this was.

Now today in the Church we don't have a temple, we don't have a nation that represents God's people. We are a church, we have a ministry and not a priesthood, and we understand how we apply what we find here in the Law, under a different covenant, how we apply that under what we will call the New Covenant, but a different relationship with God in a spiritual church. We have adapted so many aspects of this in our keeping of the word of God today in the Church. All right, I think we all understand that.

The place where God has placed His name can vary according to demographics in the Church, geographic situations, and just plain what might be available. Okay? If a hurricane comes along and wipes out a Feast site in early September, God's name might get moved someplace else, as it has happened in the past. Or from one year to the next, for various reasons, it will change, but the Church makes the decision. Even how we keep the Feast, with the form of services, and the traditions that represent how we keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the Church of God today, we've adapted from what we see in Scripture. And we have to understand all of that as we seek to obey God's word and apply that to a modern 20th-century setting, all right?

You do know that going to a nice high-rise condo in Panama City Beach with sugar-fine sand out your front door was not how they kept it back here in these days. You do know that, okay? I just want to make sure everybody understands that, all right? And that's fine. I'm glad we do that, but there's a bit of a difference, and that's okay. It is okay. But we had to read the word of God and then adapt it into the 20th century. I think God has blessed that— I know God has blessed that as we go through the years.

So here's a few verses in Deuteronomy. In Leviticus 23, where all of the Holy Days are mentioned, we find the statement that we often focus on, but we should not forget. Leviticus 23, and where it says in verse 2, “God said to Moses, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “The Feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My Feasts.”'" And then He begins to talk about the Sabbath and then all of the Holy Days, which are listed here in chapter 23. But a key here at the beginning, He says, "These are the Feasts of the Lord. They are My Feasts."

Again, a reiteration in a different form of what we what we read back there. These are Feasts unto God. In Isaiah 25, let's go back to Isaiah 25 very quickly. Just look again at a passage that points again to a millennial setting for what has to be understood as the fall Feast. Leviticus… or Isaiah 25, one of my favorite passages overall about talking about this time to come, beginning in verse 6, Isaiah writes, "In this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, well-refined wines on the lees. He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over the nations," that will be actually done with the events of the Day of Atonement. "He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from faces; and the rebuke of His people He will take away from all of the earth; for the Lord has spoken."

And then in verse 9, "It will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’" So the focus is put on God. And this, brethren, is my first element to understand how to have the best Feast, all right? That first element is God. God has to be… it's God's Feast. We come before God to rejoice. Nations will come to know God. When that veil of deception is lifted off of them, they will come to know God and declare Him to be their way and their path to salvation. And all of that, we learn as we keep all of the Holy Days. But it is first and foremost God's Feast.

And that is actually the first, and perhaps foremost, but out of, as we look at the scriptures, God's at the center of it. We go to the Feast because God tells us to go. We go to the Feast because they're God's Feasts. We go to worship God. We go to rejoice before God. We go to learn more things about God. We go to reflect more on what God is doing and how He's working in our life at any particular time. If God is not why we go to the Feast, then something is missing, to begin with. No matter where we decide to go, no matter who we may be rooming with, or living with it, if we're single or running around with, or what our traveling group might be, or again where, if it's not because of God, then something is missing.

Now, I say this because obviously, this comes right out of Scripture. God has to be at the very center of the worship. It's His name that is there, not ours. It's not yours. It's His place and it's His Holy Festival. I've had some of my less than best Feasts at very nice exotic places, all right? I've had many of my best Feasts at places that are, in terms of a geographic spot, they weren't the beach, they weren't the mountains, they weren't, you know, some choice spot that would be on the cover of Travel + Leisure magazine or the Condé Nast Traveler necessarily, or touted by a travel agent as, you know, the hot place for this season.

I would… you know, I've had… actually, we've kept some very nice Feasts just across the river here in Northern Kentucky a few years ago, all right? I've even gone to Dayton, Ohio and had a good Feast of Tabernacles. Anybody here ever go to Dayton for the Feast? Some of you did. We used to call Dayton a “Resort Feast,” did you know that? Did you know that? It is the Feast of last resort. We smiled when we said that, too. But we had some very, very enjoyable times and very good memories looking back. And as I, over the years, as I combed through all of these experiences, I've come to realize that if God's not there, we're missing something. We're missing something.

Sometimes I hear comments today as we… you know, the talk might be, well, you know, there's some… the latest and greatest, best exotic new site that we could come up with from year to year, okay? And that becomes a place where we get into a herd mentality and we travel in packs at times, and you can go to some of these spots, and you're going to run into the same people from other parts of the world literally. It's just what it is, and that's good because I mean, if you make friendships and all. But I will say I've heard comments that I've listened to the first things and I thought to myself, "Really? That's, you know, that's why you're going, because of where it is?"

You know, if we ever find our… I mean I'll just put that out, first of all, to think about. If you ever find yourself focusing too much on the physical location, it might be a sign that there's something… maybe something wrong in terms of why we are going. The Feast is about God and we go to learn about God. And we go to learn something new every year about what God may be working, and telling us and wanting us to know in our own life at this particular point in time, wherever we may be. So the first number one spot is God.

Let's go back to some of these scriptures, and to see what we can come up with for the second essential element of the Feast. Let's go back to Deuteronomy 12. In Deuteronomy 12:18 Deuteronomy 12:18But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God shall choose, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates: and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you put your hands to.
American King James Version×
. I didn't read this when we were there, but let's read it right now and just see what God's says here in the instruction as you go there and you take your tithes. And verse 17 talks about the tithe of your grain, wine, and oil, and your flock. And there in Deuteronomy 12:18 Deuteronomy 12:18But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God shall choose, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates: and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you put your hands to.
American King James Version×
, it says, "You must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God chooses, you, your son, and your daughter, your male servant, and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all to which you put your hands."

And so, here He mentions the various elements of, if you would, those that you're traveling to the Feast with. In the pilgrimage times, these would be people that you would be traveling with and would go with you. If you look at Deuteronomy 14:29 Deuteronomy 14:29And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
American King James Version×
, to just to break into the thought of this… as the teaching connects to the tithing principle and how it is to be used, and those that are involved in verse 29, "And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand what you do."

That word "stranger" right there in verse 29 is interesting to focus on for a moment because within ancient Israel, as the law defined a stranger, there were different types of strangers. When you read it, when you read the word "stranger" in the law, in the Old Testament, substitute the word "immigrant" to get an understanding of what we're really talking about, and from our own 21st-century perspective. God is saying that you will take care of the immigrant, okay?

Now, biblically, there were different classifications of immigrants that were to be treated within the nation of Israel. There were some who came and were only there kind of transient. They were, you know, maybe a temporary visa type situation, but they didn't really assimilate and they were okay, allowed, but they were one category. There were others who assimilated.

Ruth was a stranger, the Moabites, all right? She said, "My God will be… your God will be my God, your people will be my people." That's an immigrant who studies to become a citizen. After a number of years stands before a judge and takes the oath of allegiance to the United States of America, as we do it today. That was a stranger as well. Then there were strangers who didn't give up their previous citizenship, but they went along and got along, and they were also a different class within the group. And so, even as it came to keeping the Festivals, God allowed for and said, "You take care of those people. You provide for them."

And this is what He's talking about. Now on Deuteronomy 16:13 Deuteronomy 16:13You shall observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that you have gathered in your corn and your wine:
American King James Version×
, He's talking about the Feast of Tabernacles again, and what is to be done. In verse 14, it says, "You will rejoice in your Feast, you and your son and your daughter,” so a family affair, “your male servant, your female servant,” and these were people that were a part of the family as well, even though they were in servitude. Again, you know, I take danger into my hands at this point. But in the Bible, when it talks about servants, you know what the word really was talking about? Slave. All right? I know that because of recent events, that, boy, you don't want to go there with some people for fear of being misunderstood.

But it's a fact of life in the ancient world, and it wasn't just black on white. It was white on white, black on black in the world of that day, and it was much different than our modern perception of slavery. Neither were good nor according to God's perfect purpose and plan, but at least God gave regulations among the Israelites as to how you dealt with that class of people that were a reality. And here, we find them even involved in keeping the Festivals. You will take them. They were a part of your responsibility.

So let's see, where am I here “…the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, the widow, that are within your gates. And then you will go seven days to keep the sacred Feast to the Lord your God…” So here is the second element. What do you think that second element is? Anybody have a guess? What's the second element that is spoken of here that is critically essential to the Holy Days and to the F estival?

Man: Delight for others, not just yourself.

Pastor: I'm looking for one word. What is it?

Man: Charity?

Pastor: No, that's not it.

Woman: Inclusion?

Pastor: Inclusion? Yeah. We've got God.

Pastor: How about people? Now you fellowship with people, you include people. It's God's Feasts, and all these scriptures are talking about that. But people, your family, your servants, the Levite, the ministry, in this case, strangers, the widow, the fatherless, those that are dispossessed among within you. It's all about them as well. Think about this. Think about this. We're going if it's 300 people or 3,000 people. Most of our sites are less than a thousand, except the places probably like Panama City, which usually runs over a thousand in our… the way we are today. Here in Cincinnati, this year we'll have 300 plus. But 500 and 700, in some locations 800 or 900. But we go… And it is about people. What God is telling us in these scriptures is that the Feast is about Him, so it's about God. And we do it with people.

And we have to take care of these people. We have to be aware of one another, not only to the point of getting to know one another, fellowshipping with one another, but also making sure that their experience is good as well. You know, in the United Church of God, out here on our… well, we don't have it out here in the building, but it's on a mission statement, actually it's on that display that we put into the lobby out here, but we do have built into our mission as a church that we are to care for our disciples, not only make disciples but care for our disciples, okay? So we place great emphasis in the United Church of God about caring for our people, in so many different ways: education programs, services, providing ministry.

As we go to the Feast and we focus on this, we see that this is hardwired into how God wants all of us to look at the Festivals, which means that when it comes down to us going to the Feast, let's face the big reality that we have because of our aging demographic within the Church today. And we do make provision that we seek to… for people who cannot go to the Feast. And that's unfortunately, again, because of the times, people are getting older and more and more people every year can look at our attendance figures, and they'll float a little bit on Holy Days and at the Feast of Tabernacles, and we can account that, you know, we could add, you know, several hundred, maybe several thousand people to the attendance figures, that would bring us up closer to our overall church membership role that we would know about because people are not able to go to the Feast and they're at home.

And as we think about that in our congregations, we encourage our pastors and leaders to make sure that people who are not able to go up to the Feast are remembered. Really, that's what is implied when God says, "You take care of these others." Remember them, don't forget them." Take them with you as you can. But if they can't go, then you provide for them. And each year, we tend to add another element of care, in so many ways, to try to make sure everybody is caught in the good safety net of care. We do webcast, services from certain locations at our Feast sites so that people at home can tune in on the internet and keep the Feast. That way, at least be connected to a sermon every day.

In the past, we would provide, and still do, sermon DVDs where people who may not be able to access the internet, can at least listen to a sermon as well via a DVD. Beyond that, we always encourage, and I will put that out here for us to understand tonight, that we make phone calls back to people. We write people who are not able to attend. And when I was pastoring in Indiana, we would always make sure that we have the addresses of everybody not able to attend the Feast, distributed to people so that they could write cards back. And many people would do that so that people were continually getting daily cards from people from various locations, greeting them and just letting them know that they're not forgotten. That's extremely important. Extremely important.

Emails, text messages, phone calls. Communication is… the cost of communication has come down to where so much of that is possible now, but it just needs to be done. And many congregations will make up baskets of food, and fruit, and everything and give to people who are not able to attend as well. And those are very much appreciated. I know because, in recent years, my wife's mother, my mother-in-law, and my step-father-in-law have not been able to attend the Feast for at least three or four years because of age and health.

And those phone calls, those cards from their own friends in the Church where they are, and those baskets of food items that some have, with great care, put together and provided for them, really helped to make their time at home more of a Feast, special. And even in so many… in their area and others as well, these people will get together on a Holy Day and try to have a meal together as well. But to the degree, we who are more fortunate got the health care and the means can help do that. We all have to do it and should do it. It is part of caring for our disciples. Those of us that are able then to go to a site must also extend of ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and perhaps the level of people that we find ourselves maybe always with, whether it's family or a group of friends.

Recently, we had the results of the member survey distributed to the council of elders in the administration. And the survey comments that come back cover a number of aspects of the Church. But one of them is the Feast, the Festivals. And one comment that was brought out was made by someone who left the comment who was speaking about, again, the quality of the Festival experience, and one comment made was that a person at the Feast just did not… felt lonely. He didn't feel included while they were at the Feast.

And there are people that are single, who are introverted, and other matters that are in that, and to the degree we have the sensitivity to reach out, to get acquainted, to include where possible at a table, at a senior's meal, or a singles activity, or some other occasion to dine out so that they don't have to go back day after day by themselves to an empty hotel room. We can then help that person have a better quality of experience at the Feast of Tabernacles, which is what we should be doing because this is what the scriptures are telling us, that we are to care for one another. The Feast is about people.

When I think back over my years, the worst Feast that I ever had was at a Florida site, you know, the much touted Florida… great Florida site. This was back… it wasn’t in Panama City so don't think I'm down on Panama City. But it was 12,000, 13,000 people there, all right? Do you ever feel lonely in a crowd? Because it was in St. Petersburg, everybody was scattered, and there were a lot of other factors in our family going on at that particular year.

But to meet anybody, it was just, you know, in other words, if you didn't come wired into a group or something, it just almost didn't happen, unless you're an exceptional person, and I guess I wasn't exceptional. But it just turned out to be one of those years where I cannot remember a conversation with anybody beyond an immediate peer minister that I may have had to work with to produce something for the Feast that year. And it was, just to say, it wasn't our best Feast ever that year. We kept the Feast, but it wasn't the best Feast ever. But then on other occasions, I still remember conversations with people, faces, situations that you come up with that are so critically important.

So make sure that we go out of our way. And let's all make it a part of our approach to the Feast this year to try to think more about the people because God does. And He's saying that these two elements are really important elements to the Feast. And if we make sure that we understand that, God will put us into people's paths, He will put people into our paths. It may take nothing more than a smile, a good morning, cup of coffee, how you doing, whatever it might be, and something can spark and a relationship can develop, and more good can be done than you can imagine. I've been shocked when people come back to me later, and I think… well, I was just trying to be nice, or I wasn't actually doing anything out of the ordinary, but it made an impact on them, they remembered it. So keep that in mind, God and people.

Now let's go to the third element here. Let's go back to Deuteronomy 12, and we'll read this verse again, verse 7, "There you shall eat before the Lord your God,” what's the third element? Food. Great. You guys are getting sharp here tonight. Food. It's baked in, literally baked into the entire recipe for the Feast of tabernacles.

Look at it here, look at the third, chapter 14 again, beginning of verse 24, "If the journey is too long, so if you're not able to carry the tithe, or at the place where your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, and the Lord has blessed you, you should exchange your tithe for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which God chooses. And you shall spend the money for whatever your heart desires: oxen, sheep, wine, or similar drink,” I love the King James Version. The King James says, "strong drink." They watered it down here in the New King James to "similar drink." But, you know, that's what it says, “…for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household."

But rejoicing before God with you and the household includes food. Now food is… sometimes it's not always an appreciated aspect from a biblical point of view as we look at the Bible, in terms of our…

defining our worship of God, and understanding food and how God uses it in so many different ways throughout the Bible to talk about our relationship with Him, our relationship with one another. I mean, Abraham, what did Abraham do when God showed up at his tent in the heat of the day?

Man: He killed a calf.

Pastor: Yeah, he went out and killed a calf and they had a roast. They had steak. And they had a meal. Abraham communed with God over food. That's what the whole temple service was really about, you brought an offering and you would stay and you would eat a portion of that offering with a Levite and the priests of the temple as part of the offering, which was a part, which was a form of the worship of God in that way.

Christ broke bread with His disciples. He performed miracles with wine, with bread. So much of the teachings of the Gospels and Christ's life was around a home, communal food setting. Throughout the Bible, food in right proportions, clean food, the right ways is part of the story of God, of God with man and man with God and between ourselves. And here when we come to the Holy Days, He talks about this. And what do we…you know, it's the Feast of Tabernacles, it's the Feast of Trumpets. We call it The Day of Atonement, not so much the Feast of Atonement, it's a Feast of a different form spiritually. But food is so much a part of this.

And what we do at the Feast days with communal meals, group meals, individual meals is meant to be used in a way to rejoice before God. And when we share our means with people, it's remarkable, the memories that are developed, and the spiritual lessons that that are made and given to us about that. It's God, people, and food. And when you get these right, this is my point, I guess, in bringing it out this way here tonight, when we get those things right and prioritized, it doesn't matter where we go for the Feast. It really doesn't. The exotic sites are nice, and I've been to them, I hope to go to a few more before I take up the rocking chair.

This year, our exotic site is Holiday Inn Eastgate, right over here in Cincinnati, Ohio. That's going to be about as exotic as we get this year, for reasons that we chose and we're very happy with that, looking forward to it. It is, for some of you here, in the room here, it will be your site as well. As I've said, we've kept two here, two other Feasts in northern Kentucky, in the Cincinnati area. They were great. We're looking forward to this one, and we hope that our family can come together. Debbie's family can come down and make it. We're keeping our fingers crossed. It's a day by day situation. We probably won't know until the day they're supposed to leave whether they will come or not. But we hope to kind of serve them, give them a Feast that they've not been able to have for a number of years. And regardless, it will be a good Feast. I'm convinced of that.

But when we get these in our priority, then whether we're going off to an international site or to, you know, something smaller and less exotic in the United States, we will be… it will be the best Feast. And God will speak to you through sermons, through messages, through conversations. You will learn. You will grow. You will come away having grown spiritually, which is the most important part. Too much of this, and we'll grow physically.

These verses that I just read to you, when I was a kid coming into the Church and, you know, learning about what is this Feast of Tabernacles thing and, you know, the emphasis that was put on various things… it was always very instructive. But, you know, I got exposed to not only God's Festivals and the plan of God, but locations that I never thought I'd ever go to, and people that I would never have met. And even on, you know, just the plain physical level, I've had all kinds of meals at the Feasts.

One of my most memorable was in East Texas. We were keeping the Feast at Big Sandy and a group of… we were a part of a group invited by this one local Texan to go to some hole in the wall restaurant in Kilgore, Texas for white beans, cornbread and raw onion. And we all got herded into this back room of a… you know, it's not… you know, it wasn't anything fancy and we had a big luncheon there. And of course, I grew up on that food anyway, but that was the Feast luncheon that day. It was great. It was great. I remember it to this day, you know, big thick slices of Texas onion and cornbread and white beans. I learned how to appreciate a good steak. I've had to grow through the years, I like to tell this story. I'll tell it to you here tonight, I won't tell it anywhere else probably this year, but…

It was in those years as well that I… you know, it says, "whatever your heart desires." When I was 16 one year, my heart desired a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, all for me. And so, my best buddy and I, we holed up in a motel room, watching the World Series baseball game that year, eating ourselves sick on Kentucky Fried Chicken. But I satisfied my heart's desire that day. It wasn't necessarily my stomach's desire when it was all over, but… And again, looking at it, sorting it all through, it's the people and the locations that I associate with whatever the food was that is the most memorable.

Probably the most unique meal I ever had was in Kenya. It was five years ago, we went to Kenya. And we went to three different sites that they were holding the Feast at in Kenya that year. And we wound up on the Eighth Day at this one… the last night we were at, and they had saved their best goats for that day. And that morning, those goats were alive, okay? By the time we got there, they were hanging in the kitchen, and they were being cut up. And I remember being given a little quick tour, and we peeked into the kitchen and there were some people back there, cutting this goat as it was hanging from the kitchen, and throwing the pieces of it into a galvanized wash tub, okay?

And I'm looking at that, and I'm thinking, well, if they were going to cook that, that was… that was a big treat. And so, we had 2 services, baptized 17 people in between services in a big, oversized pond with cattle going all around as we’re out there baptizing people, and we don't know… you know why the cattle were in there, and it wasn't to get baptized. And that was a memorable time. But after… I spoke twice that day after the Last Day, and the sun was getting close to sundown and we wanted to get… the Westerners, we wanted to get back to our hotel room because you don't want to be on a road in Kenya after dark, whether you're Kenyan or American, you just don't want to be there.

And so, the last thing that the elder gave to me was a plastic grocery bag full of goat, goat meat, that they charcoal-roasted, black, the goat meat. And we ate that that night, that was our meal that night, and we sat around in our hotel room, the group I was… that we were all traveling with, eating that. And we look back now and it was unique. That's all I can say. It was unique. And we rejoiced. So you think about your experiences and your years.

Every year, I try to read through the book of Ecclesiastes at this time of year to help frame my mind with the Holy Days. In the Jewish tradition, they would… that was one book read at this time of year. And it fits the theme of the fall Festivals, especially the Feast of Tabernacles. Solomon is a bit melancholy. He is a bit… some say negative. I say I think he's realistic about life, as you weave your way through that narrative of Ecclesiastes. But it helps me to connect to the season, to even the changing of the seasons, and the autumn year, and certainly to the meaning of the Feast days.

The Jews have an interesting tradition as well during this time of year. We don't do this because it's not scriptural, but it's part of Jewish tradition and they have a lot of traditions. But this one I was reading about was quite interesting. They count back from the Day of Atonement, all right? And when we say Atonement is right here. They count back 40 days and they number… and they call those days Elul Tishri in the Jewish tongue and tradition. This 40-day period leading up to an ending, the 40 days end on Atonement, all right? They call Elul Tishri, and it's a day of…or it's a period, 40 days in their tradition, of introspection, examining themselves. We do a lot of that and we tend to focus on that as we prepare for the Passover every year. But this is what they do. They actually, the 10 days between Trumpets and Atonement, that final 10 days of this 40-day period, they call the Days of Awe.

And that to me, that's a very interesting study in itself as to why they do that and how they do that, but it's interesting. I've read about it and studied into it. And I don't personally necessarily do… We are already into this… we are already into this 40 days right now leading up to Atonement. But it's a period of introspection, as they look at it in their tradition. And to the degree that we prepare our hearts to go up to the…to keep the festivals, we too are, in a sense, preparing ourselves, examining our lives, looking at what we have learned during the past year of what has happened.

And for all of us, we could list, in our own personal private lives, events of our past 12 months, and maybe draw some themes, draw some lessons. And again, if we're focusing upon God and what He's doing with us in our lives, we probably will begin to gain some deeper insight into what… how God is working with us at this particular time of life and this year. And it can help us then to prepare for the coming days. So ask yourselves why you go up to keep the Feast, and ask yourself if your heart, your mind, your spirit, is prepared, and being prepared in the right way as you think about this.

There's a lot of physical preparation that we make for all the Holy Days and especially for the fall Holy Days coming, beginning with Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles, and then the Eighth Day. But when you look at all these scriptures, keep in mind that it's God, it's people, it's the rejoicing with the food. These are the elements that God gives us out of His word to think about, and to make sure that they are the focus of what we are involved with during this period of time. And they will help us make a Feast that is hopefully a very profitable Feast for us in our lives at this time to draw us closer to God.

So I hope this little study tonight has put some ideas into your mind and into your heart in your preparation. In two weeks, Steve Myers will then be conducting another study along this line of some aspect of preparation for the Holy Days. So enjoy your evening, be safe as you travel home. And I will say good night to all of you at this time.


  • LarryKo
    Mr. McNeely, Great bible study. Really liked the KFC and the goat. My takeaway, on any Feast Day, it is God’s Feast, involve other people and enjoy the food. except on the Day of Atonement. And be content with whatever site you are celebrating God’s Feast.
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