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September 2020 Member Letter

September 10, 2020

Dear Brethren,

We are definitely in the final countdown leading up to the Feast of Tabernacles. By now many of you have viewed my sermon “This Is Not Your Father’s Feast.” My goal was to answer questions about this year’s Feast, which will be different from previous years. This will be my final member letter before the Feast of Tabernacles, which begins at sunset on Friday, Oct. 2.

I am convinced that the difficulties, the restrictions and the pandemic will not prevent us from having a most meaningful Feast. This year we will all be tested on the spiritual meaning of the Feast as never before. I don’t recall any Feast in my 58 years of attendance that had so many physical challenges. But when there are physical challenges that threaten us, we must be even more diligent to make sure we do not forget what is most important: the spiritual.

While I am confident there will be plenty of fellowshipping at the Feast, I also believe it will be muted a bit from past years. The pandemic has forced us to think about the people we are around, whether in a grocery store, a restaurant or on the street. We have been told that the COVID-19 virus is everywhere, and it is highly contagious. I am sure there is some truth to that, but should fear of a virus stand in the way of our observance of the Feast? I am not advocating recklessness, but I am advocating we make sure that the spiritual aspects of the Feast are not overlooked because of physical challenges. Pandemic or no pandemic, this will still be the Feast!

When I speak of the spiritual meaning of the festivals, I am not ignoring the physical as though it is unimportant. We wash feet and partake of bread and wine on Passover in order to focus on the spiritual meaning of these symbols. We remove leavening before the Days of Unleavened Bread so that we can focus on removing sin from our lives. We fast on the Day of Atonement to remind us of the reconciliation that will take place when Satan and his demons are removed from the scene. From these examples, we see that the physical helps us focus on the spiritual.

It was in 1945, exactly 75 years ago, that 45 members of the Radio Church of God in Eugene, Oregon, left their homes for the first time to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. After 75 years of observing the Feast in this manner, God’s people will find this year to be different. There are valid reasons for that—health, age, concern about being in a group, the inability to travel, and so on. Based on our two rounds of registration, it appears approximately 85 percent of our U.S. Church membership will be at one of our Feast sites. Outside the U.S, we know that many will be forbidden to hold in-person services—most of Latin America, Asia and the Philippines, to name a few.

Whether or not we travel to a site this year, the spiritual meaning of the Feast has not changed. Since the founding of the Church on the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31, the greatest threat has been that of drifting away. Generally, we continue to observe the physical—after all, it is fun. But after doing something year after year for decades, we may begin to lose sight of the spiritual meaning behind what we are doing.

This year because of the physical limitations that are being forced upon us, my concern is that we not lose sight of the spiritual, by allowing ourselves to be distracted. I believe it is important that we answer three questions as we approach the Feast of Tabernacles 2020:

1. How do we understand the symbolism of the upcoming holy days—Trumpets, Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day?
  • Trumpets celebrates the return of Jesus Christ to this earth with the blowing of trumpets. The seventh trumpet announces Christ becoming “King of kings” and “Lord of lords” and the resurrection of the saints (Revelation 11:15; 17:14; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
  • The Day of Atonement celebrates the putting away of Satan and his demons for 1,000 years, opening to humanity the opportunity for reconciliation with God. This is when Jesus Christ sets His hand to save the world (Revelation 20:1-4).
  • The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ on this earth. The Bible speaks of a battle at the beginning of the Millennium and one at the end. But during that 1,000-year reign, we will enjoy peace, prosperity and happiness such as the world has never seen before (Revelation 5:10; 20:4).
  • The Eighth Day, or Last Great Day, is the time of final judgment. All those who lived and died without an understanding of the true God will be given the opportunity to do so after a second resurrection, which follows on the heels of the Millennium. Those who have already been judged based on their knowledge of God in this lifetime will be sent to destruction in the lake of fire. This is the prelude to a new heaven and a new earth and the coming down from heaven of God the Father (Revelation 20:12-14).
2. What should our priorities be during the Feast?
  • Since the Millennium will be a time when a new government, the government of God, will rule, we should conduct ourselves during the Feast as though we were under that government now. In fact, we should be under that government now! This year it will be difficult to ignore the political upheaval that exists in the U.S. and around the world. But the New Testament scriptures are clear. We are ambassadors for Christ, and our citizenship (politeuma, or politics) is from heaven. We should pray for our nation and its leaders, but to get involved in the political system of this society would be a serious mistake that would lead to disappointment and frustration. It would distract us from our real purpose in life and the meaning of the Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:20; Philippians 3:20).
    • We have seven days to practice living as we will in the Millennium, followed by a separate festival, the eighth day or Last Great Day, which pictures the time of final judgment. As saints, we must show deference to one another, we must love one another, we must be with one another, and we must thank God every day for one another. The phrase “one another” occurs about 100 times in the New Testament, describing the relationship that should exist among brethren.
  • Even though some will be unable to travel to a Feast site or attend in-person services this year, God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God must still be the focus of our lives. Life is too short to waste time focusing on what is fleeting. The Feast is forward-looking for us, and we must focus on the spiritual priorities that God gave us when He called us out of this world.
3. Are we prepared for spiritual growth during this Feast?
  • Time is short. Life is short. No matter where you will be keeping the Feast this year—at home or in a temporary dwelling—this Feast will fly by, and without a commitment to spiritual growth, we may miss out on something that will never be back again—the Feast of Tabernacles 2020.
  • This year is unique in so many ways. I believe that when we observe the Feast next year, 2021, we won’t have to contend with a virus. But, I can assure you, there will be other obstacles. There always are. After all we have been through this year, will we learn lessons that will help us in preparing for the time ahead? If nothing else, this year should have taught us the importance of our spiritual priorities.

Let me conclude as I did in my sermon, by quoting Romans 13:11-14. In these verses the apostle Paul gives us good advice about “knowing the time” in which we live.

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

A commitment to Christianity, to worshipping the true God (not the fake substitute recognized by the world), and to keeping the commanded festivals, times of holy convocations, is unusual in our world today. We have a daily challenge of living up to the example of Jesus Christ. If we focus on these things, understanding the deep meaning behind the Feast of Tabernacles, it will, once again, be the best Feast ever, even in the midst of a pandemic!

Sincerely, your brother in Christ,

Jim Franks

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