September 2, 2021
One of the most exciting things to happen in the past two years has been our biennial International Ministerial Conference that took place here in McKinney at the Sheraton Hotel, Aug. 22-25. From the opening night barbecue dinner on Sunday to the special meeting of the international ministers on Wednesday morning, it was nonstop activity. All in all, for the two days of the full conference, we heard from 17 different speakers, each bringing a different perspective on the theme of the conference: “Spiritual Leadership in Perilous Times: Learning From the Past, Preparing for the Future.” This theme was taken from 2 Timothy 3:1. In the margin of the New King James Version of the Bible, the words times of stress are used instead of perilous times. We have indeed seen some truly stressful times in the past 18 months.
To plan for a successful conference, we must make commitments with the hotel well in advance. The conference was originally scheduled for the third week of May, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still spreading, things looked bleak in January. Nevertheless, it had been two years since our last conference, and we really didn’t want to go through another full year without a conference, so we decided to move the conference to later in the year. We couldn’t find a time in June or July because of all the youth camps. The final camp of the summer ended on Aug. 15, so we chose Aug. 22. When we set the date, we did not anticipate the Delta variant of COVID-19 and the increase in cases and deaths that arose in July and August. As a result, prior to the conference we instituted a number of COVID protocols that included testing for all attendees and more open seating in the auditorium.
Even with all our protocols we did have some confirmed cases among attendees after the conference. But none were during the conference, so it was unclear whether those who became ill after returning home contracted the virus from traveling or even from activities at home since the conference. In every case we encouraged the individuals who were showing possible symptoms to be tested and to contact everyone they were in close contact with during the conference. At this point, to our knowledge, no one who attended the conference has been seriously ill with the virus. We pray that will continue to be true even as we thank God for His protection and blessings.
With the conference behind us and the first of the final four holy days upon us, we all need to focus our attention on what these upcoming days mean for us and the entire world. The final four holy days picture a time when God will set His hand to save humanity, which is indeed good news!
In contrast, there is little that could be called “good news” in our world today. The ongoing heartache caused by the spread of COVID-19, a deadly earthquake in Haiti, and a truly botched and deadly American military operation in Afghanistan all point to a troubled and confused world. These events help us understand what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy, “But know this that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). The theme of the conference was timely—describing a chaotic and confused world, while pointing us to the only hope for mankind, God’s plan of salvation.
Sometimes it can be difficult for us to grasp the magnitude of events while we are living through them, but I believe recent events have been extremely sobering. In His Olivet Prophecy Christ instructed us to watch world events: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Are we living in the last days of mankind? For decades, actually centuries, the Church has struggled to have a clear understanding of the timing of prophetic fulfillment. We believe we understand the events, but the timing of their fulfillment has eluded us over the years.
In the 1940s and 1950s, with the development of atomic and then hydrogen bombs, the end looked imminent. The same could be said of the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. For the past 25 years, we have been watching world events with a keen eye, writing articles and preaching sermons about world conditions. Many disturbing events have occurred over the past 25 years that made us believe the end is drawing near, but the precise timing still eludes us. How long will it be until Christ returns? That is unknown, and a truly unknowable question. The key to all of this is for us to be ready when Christ does return. To know when Christ will return is of no value if we aren’t ready when He does come.
The holy days play a major role in preparing us for Christ’s return and the establishment of His Kingdom on this earth. The order of the holy days provides us with a clear description of a series of events that will culminate in the salvation of the world. World conditions will be very dark (far darker than today) when Christ appears with His armies in the sky over Jerusalem. Our goal is to be there with Him, having been resurrected (or changed) at the sound of that seventh trumpet. The world will be on the verge of self-destruction, but Christ will intervene at the last moment.
This is all pictured by the Feast of Trumpets, which we will observe on Sept. 7. Of course, the return of Christ will not immediately resolve all problems. Without the removal of Satan from the scene, chaos will still continue. Therefore, the Day of Atonement pictures the crucial fifth step in God’s plan—the removal of Satan to a place of imprisonment. After Christ returns and Satan has been put away, the millennial reign of God’s government will begin. What a wonderful world that will be—totally opposite of the world we live in today in so many ways. The Feast of Tabernacles anticipates this day—a time of great rejoicing as we learn the lessons of fearing and obeying God.
The culmination of the final four holy days is the Eighth Day, the Last Great Day, in which we are excited, and also sobered, by the reality of the final judgment. At this future time, all human beings who have ever lived will be resurrected for their time of judgment. Those who were not called in this lifetime will be resurrected to physical life to learn how to worship the true God and not the false gods of this world. This is the second resurrection and the time of the Great White Throne Judgment. The final act pictured by this holy day will be the resurrection to condemnation—the third resurrection—for those who fully understood but rejected God’s way of life (John 5:28-29).
I am sure we are all excited about this season of worship, fellowship and enjoyment as we work our way through the final steps in God’s plan of salvation. My wife and I are off to three Feast sites this year, beginning in Florida and ending in El Salvador, with Arizona in between. I hope all of you have a wonderful Feast of Tabernacles! With so much happening in the world today, I am looking forward to leaving it behind for a few days and being with the people of God for another wonderful festival season.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,