Living Church of God brethren observed the 2023 Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day at 89 sites in 49 countries. From Mr. Weston’s Opening Night message, reminding us that we are learning the fear of God, to his Last Great Day message proclaiming that the masses of deceived mankind will awaken to have their first real opportunity to learn God’s way of peace, we all rejoiced at God’s “master plan” of salvation for all of humanity. An inspiring Behind the Work video gave us the blessing of learning more about our brethren in South and Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.
What an amazing calling God has given us to train to be kings, priests, and judges for His coming kingdom and to assist Him now by helping to fulfill His “great commission.” I was personally moved to see, at the two Feast sites my wife and I attended—Branson and Lake of the Ozarks in the United States state of Missouri—how brethren generously served and loved one another as sons and daughters of the ever-living God, preparing to become eternal members of God’s royal family.
The Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day that we observed from September 29–October 7 should have been a spiritual highlight of our year. But will we take advantage of our experiences to help us grow spiritually over the next few months leading up to the Passover in April of 2024?
Most of us are familiar with the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” We even have it in The Living Church of God Bible Hymnal. Indeed, we must keep moving onward—forward in faith—toward the Kingdom of God. In this article, we will briefly consider seven keys to spiritual growth that can help us stay focused and maturing spiritually in the months ahead. These are basic points, but if we reflect on them deeply, we will be laying a foundation for growth.
Review Your Notes
When you are a student in a classroom, you know that it is important to take notes so you can study the material again and again after the class is done. You want to internalize what you’ve been taught so it becomes a part of you and changes you for the better.
Your Feast notes should help to remind you that the time is soon coming when the desert will blossom like the rose (Isaiah 35:1). As Christians today, we are preparing to become the firstfruits who will play a part in fulfilling that prophecy. Reviewing your Feast notes can keep you motivated and inspired about your future.
We are training to become kings and priests in tomorrow’s world. Priests in ancient Israel had many responsibilities, including that of teaching the people. We as the resurrected firstfruits will have that responsibility in the Kingdom of God. Almost certainly you heard someone during the Feast quote these important words from the prophet Isaiah: “And though the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, but your eyes shall see your teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:20–21).
That’s a reference to our role as teachers in the Millennium, after we have been resurrected and have become members of the Family of God. The resurrected Jesus, too, taught His followers when He appeared to them in physical form. He even ate the fish and honey they gave Him (Luke 24:42–43). We will be teaching people who literally see and hear us as we guide them. Will they take literal notes at times? Very possibly. We look forward to the time when God’s way of life will be restored all over the earth, “and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20–21). We will be helping to restore the truth, the true way of life and government of God. At the Feast, God, through His ministers, has given us tremendous instruction to both inspire and prepare us for our coming roles.
Years ago, I taught classes at Ambassador College, and even as a teacher I would review my notes so I would be prepared to teach. Your sermon notes are not just a routine; they are a tool to help you prepare for your future.
I know some of you, for various reasons, find it difficult to take notes. People do have different learning styles, and physical limitations may get in the way of taking thorough notes. Some brethren like to write down all the Bible verse references from a sermon, so they can go back and do their own Bible study that helps them remember what they heard. Others take detailed notes that are more like transcriptions. And don’t forget that we have a great blessing in having many sermons available on CD or DVD or on the Church website. If you didn’t take Feast notes, you may want to go online and listen to the Feast sermons at Members.LCG.org.
Keep on Learning
Reviewing our notes helps us keep fresh the memory of what we learned in the past. But we must keep on learning—growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. To prepare to teach, we must never stop learning. In one of the first Bible Studies I ever heard Mr. Herbert Armstrong give, back in the Shakespeare Club building in Pasadena, he told us that we needed to learn the following scripture: “Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day” (Psalm 25:4–5).
At the Feast, we learned much about how to walk on God’s paths, in His truth. And that learning should continue. “Wise people store up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction” (Proverbs 10:14). Are we continuing to store up knowledge? How well do we know our Bible?
Decades ago, first-graders at the Church’s Imperial Schools were taught to memorize more than a dozen short passages of Scripture, and to recite the Old Testament and New Testament books in order. They also had to learn the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and to recite the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17). It may sound almost impossible to us today, but first-graders were taught to memorize Psalms 1, 23, and 100; Matthew 6:9–14; 2 Timothy 3:15; Proverbs 3:1–35 (broken into four parts for easier recall); Matthew 5:1–20 (broken into two parts); and 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 (broken into two parts).
How many of us could benefit from going back to the first grade? Most of us can do much more than we think we can. The three basic principles of memorization are repetition, association, and impression. The goal of memorization isn’t to accomplish something and forget it later; the idea is to internalize what we memorize, so that we never forget.
So, I encourage you to learn a psalm or two. Learn the books of the Bible. Review the Tomorrow’s World Bible Study Course, and consider taking advantage of the resources available through Living Education, online at LCGEducation.org as well as in person in Charlotte, as appropriate. If you are a teen thinking about preparing for adult life, you might want to talk to your parents and your minister about the ways Living Education can help you grow.
Set Meaningful Goals
You may want to set a goal of learning one of the psalms before next year’s fall Festivals. We have our small and manageable goals, and they all should serve to help us attain our greatest goals. What is the greatest goal? The Feast of Tabernacles pictures the coming Kingdom of God, and our focus should be on preparing to serve in that Kingdom. How do we do that? “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
We should reject goals that would draw us away from God, and set goals that draw us closer to Him. How do we seek God’s righteousness? All of God’s commandments are righteousness (Psalm 119:172). As Mr. Weston has reminded us on many occasions, our world is sliding further and further toward a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet we must live in that world, without being of that world.
You may want to set a goal of pursuing a career, or of learning how to manage a household. Some of our brethren earn technical certificates, or two- or four-year college degrees, or even advanced degrees in specialized fields. But be sure that you are seeking a godly goal; before you commit to engaging with the world’s ideas of truth, be sure you are deeply grounded in God’s truth. You may want to seek the advice of others with more experience before you set your educational goals.
Other goals, too, may be worthwhile, even if they seem difficult to achieve. You might want to make a plan to pay off a credit card debt in a year’s time. You might want to get a certification in first aid, or CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), or as a lifeguard. There are even babysitting certifications available for teenagers who want to increase their knowledge and skill in that helpful service.
Other goals can be more personal. Perhaps you have a habit or a weakness you are trying to overcome. Set a goal of overcoming that problem within a realistic but challenging period of time. Use all the tools available to help you overcome. Those tools may involve specific actions appropriate to your problem, but do not neglect the fundamental spiritual tools of prayer, Bible study, meditation, and fasting. Beseech God, call on Him for help, and resolve to accept the help that only He can provide. And do not hesitate to call on God’s ministers for their spiritual help. Resolve to overcome your problem, or at least make tangible progress, by next year’s Feast of Tabernacles.
Broaden Your Horizons
At the Feast, we experienced one of Jesus’ key sayings; “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Simply by attending the Feast, we are broadening our horizons, meeting new people, seeing new sights, and experiencing different historical and cultural features of the places where we gather. Many of us look forward to each January-February Living Church News, with reports and photos from Feast sites around the globe. Even if our circumstances don’t let us travel internationally, we can get a glimpse of what life is like for our overseas brethren. For young people, the Church offers Living Youth Programs activities, which can broaden their horizons each summer at Teen and Preteen Camps, and Adventure Camps for those who seek greater challenges and opportunities to grow.
Broadening our horizons is an important part of gaining a “big picture” perspective on our life and purpose. We don’t want to be like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus hoping to receive eternal life. Jesus told him to give up his possessions, because he was more attached to his things than to God’s righteousness. God doesn’t require all of us to do what Jesus asked of that young ruler, but He does expect us to be generous toward others and to put Him first, above our possessions. I hope that most of us at the Feast took advantage of opportunities to give of ourselves and our resources, to help others have a truly happy Feast.
As we broaden our horizons, we should come to understand that happiness itself is not a goal we should set for ourselves. As noted Jewish author Dennis Prager wrote in a Reader’s Digest article some years ago, one secret to happiness is realizing that “happiness is a by-product of something else. The most obvious sources are those pursuits that give our lives purpose—anything from studying insects to playing baseball. The more passions we have, the more happiness we are likely to experience” (June 1998, p. 99).
If we are broadening our horizons—setting goals, continuing to learn, grounding ourselves in the truth God is giving to us through His word and His ministry—happiness should come naturally. We should remember these words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)—or, as James Moffat’s translation puts it, “To give is happier than to get.”
Let Your Light Shine
Some of you may know that lighthouses have long been a special interest of mine. In my office I have a tapestry of a Thomas Kincade painting of a lighthouse, on which there is a scripture: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Christ expects each of us, like lighthouses, to radiate His light to others. We read, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).
It’s not that we go out of our way to show off to the world. We simply practice God’s way of life, which shows the world an example they just don’t see elsewhere. Every year, our Church Administration Department receives reports from hotels and convention facilities telling us that our brethren have been some of the kindest and most helpful, cooperative guests they’ve ever had—and we should keep up that example through the rest of the year. “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9–10). We should not grow weary practicing God’s way, as God’s commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). So, between now and next year’s Passover, be sure to keep your light shining toward your brethren and all those around you.
We should all be familiar with Jesus’ exhortation that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). And again, in Revelation, we read Jesus’ promise: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10). We must “keep on keeping on,” knowing that God will give us the protection we need if we stay close to Him.
At the Passover next year, we will in a formal way renew our commitment to our Savior. Notice that we don’t renew the covenant that we’ve already established, but we do—and must—renew our commitment, our desire, our energy to persevere, and our acceptance of His sacrifice to pay for our sins. True perseverance is an active process, not just passive tolerance of what befalls us. Paul urged the young evangelist Timothy, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6–7).
Are you stirring up the Holy Spirit that God gave to you when hands were laid on you at baptism? Are you living each day with a spirit of “Thy Kingdom come”? As Mr. Weston has reminded us, we don’t want to make the mistake of “setting dates” of when we believe Christ will return. I personally don’t believe we will have to wait any more than 15 years or so, but that’s just my belief.
And we know the attitude we must have, as shown by John at the end of the book of Revelation: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20–21). We don’t set dates, but we should be praying for our Savior to return soon. When we look at the world around us, we see that each day without God’s kingdom is a day of mankind coming closer and closer to extinction. Our world needs the Kingdom of God. And for every one of us, individually, the Kingdom may come after our next breath. We may die at any time, and if we have put off our efforts to overcome, or have allowed ourselves to fall into practicing sin, we may lose most of our reward—or, if we are sinning in heartfelt rebellion against God, we may be resurrected not into the Kingdom of God, but to the Lake of Fire.
Why do we persevere? Not just for our own salvation, but because God is preparing us to help repair our broken world when Christ returns to set up His kingdom here on planet Earth.
Support God’s Work
The Work of God’s Church today is helping to prepare our world for that glorious time pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles. We know our mission, as Christ described it: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Though they won’t be converted in large numbers in this age, the nations and their peoples will be put on notice, receiving a powerful witness. And we should seek to have the sense of purpose Jesus exemplified when He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).
We are called to be future leaders. But, to be good leaders, we must first be good followers who both know God’s truth and willingly follow Jesus Christ. Paul told the brethren to follow, or imitate, him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Christ is the Head of the body, and the Church is that body (1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:4). The head knows the body, and the body knows the head. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). If we are following our Savior, we know that He knows us intimately, and we hear Him through the inspired words of Scripture, as well as through the leadership He has placed in His Church. Some in and around God’s Church have “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3). But God’s people know their Shepherd, who told us:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:1–5).
There are thieves and robbers who seek to deceive and distract God’s people, but those who persevere in the truth will recognize them and stay faithful to their Shepherd, and they will imitate and follow His human servants as they follow that Shepherd. When Mr. Herbert Armstrong was the human leader of the Church, the first item I read in every Plain Truth issue was his Editorial. I hope that when you receive each Tomorrow’s World magazine and Living Church News you are reading not just Mr. Weston’s articles but also his “Personal” and “Dear Brethren” messages. As Christians, we are developing in ourselves the character and mind of God, and we should want to know the “mind of the Church” in what God is inspiring Mr. Weston to share with us.
Onward to Passover
What will you remember most about the 2023 Feast of Tabernacles? What inspiring vision of the coming Kingdom will motivate you to grow spiritually in the next few months? This year was my sixty-third Feast of Tabernacles and was my wife Kathryn’s sixty-sixth—and every year we have found something new to appreciate about God’s ways and how He is working in our lives and the lives of our brethren. Whatever may be the standout lessons and memories of your Feast, I pray that you will remain mindful of the messages you heard at the Feast—that you retain the vision that was shared, heed the warnings that were given, and put into practice the teachings that were imparted.
We are preparing for a great day, not that far off, when, the kingdoms of this world will “become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). So, let’s look forward in faith as we move onward from the Feast!