|Level of excellence
OCHO RIOS, Jamaica--With high attendances of 340 on the Last Great Day and 375 on Wednesday, the largest Caribbean and Church of God International (CGI) Feast site was at Ocho Rios this year.
In spite of its relatively small size, this Feast of Tabernacles site upholds a remarkably high level of excellence for its public speaking, special music and social activities.
An unusual aspect of this Feast site concerned 127 brethren from a cruise ship joining services for one day in the middle of the week, thus raising attendance for that day over that for the last and first days, which resulted in at least 467 different visitors coming here overall.
The organized social activities included a "singles' mingle" discussion (which, surprisingly, lasted two hours) and dance, a special dinner for the local churches' leaders, a seniors' luncheon, a youth dinner, the couples' night and a youth mingle and pool party.
The annual sports-day activity involved two teams (referred to as Isaiah and Jeremiah) that divide up the local churches that make up the great majority of the members attending here.
The Jamaica night featured traditional food and music, including a particularly outstanding dance routine set to African music by a group of teenage (and slightly older) girls.
The family fun show included the (original) play or skit done every year and musical acts such as Margaret Grant's original spiritual rap song.
Apart from services, other organized activities with a clear spiritual emphasis included the Herbert W. Armstrong Memorial Speaking Contest. It offered a J$10,000 prize (about US$154) to its winner.
Featuring six men (but no women!) this year, the contest gave its entrants up to 20 minutes to argue against the immortality of the soul.
The long-reigning and undefeated champion, Sandra-Mae Robinson, graciously allowed mankind to regain the contest's trophy by opting for a well-deserved (but temporary?) retirement.
The newly crowned champion, Trevor Murphy, won primarily on the strength of his theological analysis.
Chester Coke and Solomon Bleary, who both did unusually well in analyzing biblical texts, respectively came in second and third.
The praise-and-worship and rap session on spiritual growth had its song service led by a group of women with the Spanish Town church, presently affiliated with the CGI but which has an independent origin.
Deacon Glenford Smith, in training to become an elder, led the interactive session that followed. It featured heartfelt testimonies of people who had sacrificed heavily to obey God's special revealed truths.
For example, one lady had to spend her children's textbook money to keep the Feast.
The general point was made that by sharing our testimonies we help edify each other spiritually, which wouldn't occur if out of embarrassment we kept silent about our struggles.
On the Last Great Day four people were baptized, thus continuing the local church's remarkable pattern of strong growth in recent years.
Most of the sermons and sermonettes were unusually insightful or powerfully delivered or both.
Ian Boyne, the CGI pastor in Jamaica, gave on the opening day a message warning against judging a Feast's effectiveness primarily by the criteria used to judge a vacation, such as physical facilities and sight-seeing opportunities rather than church services and spiritual pursuits.
Pastor Boyne explored the typology of the Feast as ancient Israel lived it in the wilderness. He compared it to how we dwell in temporary booths in the spiritual wilderness of the world, symbolizing God's way of protecting us there (Psalm 27:5; 31:20), and how He would also protect us in these latter years.
Deacon Smith's sermon that same day focused on how we should evaluate the level of passion we put into our spiritual lives, as evaluated by the amount of time, energy and effort, talent and skills, and money and financial resources we expend in any aspect of our lives.
On Sunday Pastor Boyne explored more the typology of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and what it means for us. We as God's people live in exile in the wilderness, a dangerous place spiritually, while seeking the Promised Land.
So do we actually live that way to fit that typology today?
He described the zeal of Jehovah's Witnesses in their spiritual activities, such as going to church three times a week and spending many hours a month publicly evangelizing.
By comparison, many in the Church of God are often slack.
In his message visiting speaker Ray Curtis noted that, since Satan has deceived the whole world, including its education and general thought processes, we Christians have to live an examined life.
Both Fentony Tracy and deacon Gilbert Bell gave unusually interesting sermonettes.
Mr. Tracy's energetically presented message focused partially on making sure fear doesn't cause us to disobey God.
For instance, Adam's fear of losing Eve likely caused him to join with His wife in eating the spiritually deadly fruit.
Adam lost his life out of fear, but Jesus gave His life out of love.
Mr. Tracy built upon Genesis 2:15's implication that Adam's placement in the Garden of Eden was like his being put into a temple, or tabernacle, and that the first man was to serve in a manner like a priest.
God came down (Genesis 3:8) to a specific place to tabernacle with mankind. So worshiping God fully correctly isn't done just at any time or place we choose.
Further, by hiding, Adam moved away from God's shelter, or God's tabernacle, in the garden.
Deacon Bell's remarkable sermonette was so strongly delivered that it brought forth what was probably the most emotionally engaged response by the listeners of any message delivered during the Feast.
The classic "call and response" pattern between preacher and congregation most fully manifested itself during this message, which included Mr. Bell's briefly singing a strong soul or blues spiritual near its start.
He noted that those ashamed to give their testimonies of spiritual struggle hurt others, for the poor need to hear them to be edified themselves.
He spoke of how hope is the anchor during the storms and waves of life's trials. Your hope should be in Jesus, not in (economic deliverance from) America. We should willingly take fire--i.e., trials--from God now to save us from the world's fire to come.
Other speakers delivered solid messages at this Feast site.
Deacon Paul O'Connor spoke of the need for balance during the Feast, including the need to balance both the vertical (man to God), or especially spiritual, and horizontal (man to man), or especially social, aspects of the Feast.
Mr. Boyne gave one message specially tailored (including by being shorter!) to the mostly independently affiliated North American cruise-ship visitors on Wednesday. It focused on the need to sacrifice individually to rebuild God's evangelistic work, in a metaphorical comparison with Nehemiah's rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls.
In spite of the inefficiencies and corruption of the old WCG, which he mentioned in some specific detail, its efforts in preaching the true gospel still reached Jamaica and changed his (and others') lives decisively.
Disappointment in ministerial leadership in the past shouldn't cause us to give up energetically preaching the gospel to the world today.
Pastor Boyne worked to break new ground in another sermon that spotlighted the positive (but normally neglected) role women played in Scripture.
The traveling CGI minister, Bill Watson, gave two well-delivered messages. One focused on warning people against apathy as prophesied end-time events draw increasingly close to us.
His Last Great Day sermon did make the point that merely enjoying ourselves in this life, by drinking, eating, listening to music, dancing, etc., isn't enough. We have to transform ourselves, for which one day we'll receive the prize of gaining glorious spirit bodies.
Mr. Ramocan passionately preached on the Last Great Day. He said that when we go back to Babylon (this world's economic and political system), we shouldn't foolishly act like Esau and sell out our spiritual birthright for some ultimately trivial means of material or sexual satisfaction.
Even though small in number, the CGI Feast site in Ocho Rios was strong in spirit, as shown by the preaching and singing. If only worldwide we could have the same level of zeal throughout all God's Feast sites as shows itself here!
Eric V. Snow, Redford, Mich.
Discussion on prophecy
PORT AUSTIN, Mich.--While our Feast size was smaller this year, it was much appreciated by all who came.
The organic produce, eggs and meat were appreciated by the brethren. The Feastgoers spent one afternoon helping with the harvest.
It would have been nice to have a videotape of John Leitch climbing to the top of an apple tree and shaking it until it looked like he and the tree would come toppling down. As it was, the only thing falling was the apples, which provided juice for the Feast.
We continued with the activities of years past: services, Bible studies, a Bible bowl, a variety show, sports, etc., but added a moderated panel discussion on prophecy.
Not all of the panelists agreed on all points of the discussion, but it was lively and appreciated by all. We are already planning a Feast for next year.
Norman Edwards, Port Austin, Mich.
RESTON, Va.--I praise the Almighty for my Feast here in northern Virginia.
As a result of a conversation with my friend Sam, I advertised with the Internet Church of God (which links to The Journal) and had people here from North Carolina and Pennsylvania and locally whom I had never met.
I am often asked: How many did you have? How many did you have?
I don't know that it is a question of how many we had but how many did we talk to and have some kind of relation with, and indeed is that really even an important numerical question?
We are first and foremost never alone but have God to talk to. Be like that guy on Fiddler on the Roof.
My Feast had for all practical things as many as I could deal with. I had just enough people, just as God gives just enough to eat, just enough gas, etc.
We had a study about the several messages of the Feast (write if interested), a message about laws and statutes and dinners together. We sat outside in Adirondack chairs and inside around the living room, where we ended the Feast by listening to a sermon by John Pinkston about the Eighth Day.
Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, you too can celebrate the Feast! I continued reading my Bible daily and praying during the Feast, which were their own special blessings! Praise Almighty God!
Rod Koozmin, Reston, Va.
Strong knowledge foundation
SAFFORD, Ariz.--Hallelujah! The body of believers grows! The Southern Arizona Torah Fellowship held its Feast site in a reserved campground at Roper State Park in Safford.
I decided to attend this site after seeing it noted in The Journal, even though I did not know anyone, and was later amazed at how God is calling people.
A few men with their families eventually left their Christian church in Safford in the 1990s after one board member questioned the church's Christmas tree.
A fellowship was later created in 2004 to unite people of like mind.
Feast attendees ranged from those with a few years of knowledge of the Torah to as much as 10 years for Kevin Coyle, who was festival coordinator and the man who questioned Christmas's origins.
The fellowship has a strong knowledge foundation. Especially noteworthy is its use of abib and the crescent sighted moon.
Although the fellowship is by a different name, the foundational beliefs are similar to the Churches of God.
Attendance peaked at 35 and averaged about 25, with a third being children. Only two men had any past associations with the Churches of God.
Temperatures were mild and warm, as can be expected in the Southwest. Interactive services were at the park shelter and included topics on the shofar, the prophetic timeline, building a sukkah and the meaning of the days.
Special activities included Hebraic dancing, a barbecue, a potluck turkey dinner with all the trimmings, a Tucson astronomy club sharing its telescopes for viewing the night sky, and a family bicycle outing to the adjoining 10,720-foot Mount Graham, where the Vatican has its own major telescope.
The sometimes-cloud-shrouded mountaintop was humorously likened to Mount Sinai.
The kids enjoyed the fellowship of others their age along with the adventures the state park offered, with wildlife, a lake, a creek and a natural hot tub.
Mike Bacon, Safford, Ariz.
ESCONDIDO, Calif.--More than 800 Feastgoers attended the Feast of Tabernacles sponsored by the United Church of God in the beautiful Performing Arts Auditorium in Escondido.
The opening message Friday evening, Oct. 7, was given by senior elder Robert Fahey of the Chicago, Ill., area. Along with Feast coordinator Robin Webber, Mr. Fahey welcomed everyone to the yearly festival.
The eight days of celebration included activities such as children's classes, young adults' Bible studies and a family fun night at Boomers!, a recreation park in Vista featuring unlimited go-karting, miniature golf, bumper boats, Lazer Tag, pizza and soft drinks.
Family day was at Felicita County Park. The event was a picnic with hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream. Park rangers took participants on nature hikes. Family members played games and fellowshipped.
On another day the teens had a beach party on the shore of the Pacific Ocean outside of Oceanside, Calif., at North Coast Village.
The Feast included a lively interactive Bible study titled "Going On to Perfection" conducted by Randy Schreiber of Phoenix, Ariz.
Senior citizens who attended the Feast in Escondido had an impressive catered luncheon in the adjacent conference building.
The 20 or so messages during the Feast included:
"Aging," by Cecil Maranville, in which he showed how temporary we are by comparing our physical life span to eternity.
"Our Days Are Numbered," accompanied by a colorful slide show of the Grand Canyon, given by James Capo of Tucson, Ariz.
Mr. Capo used a slide show of the canyon to compare the geologic layers of limestone with the "layer" of the human era in the history of the earth.
Dave Myers of Akron, Ohio, giving the Youth Day message, listing six philosophies of man that youths should avoid. He quoted 2 Corinthians 6:17, encouraging them to be different: "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord."
Jim Hopkins of Columbus, Ohio, showing the many changes man has made through inventions in the past 100 years. He ended his message by noting that no invention of mankind can compare with man's final change: becoming God.
A message about grace by Gerald Seelig of Cincinnati, Ohio, who mentioned that "our life comes from Christ living in us, which is grace."
Fred Crow, from the Escondido area, in a sermon titled "Justice" about the Great White Throne Judgment, saying the "school of God" will teach liberty and justice for all. Each person will be judged according to his spiritual works (Revelation 20:12).
"Touching on Glory," a sermon by Mr. Webber about the Gospel of John.
Mr. Webber noted that Christ said at the end of His physical life that eternal life is to know the Son and the Father, and He promised to share the glory the Father gave Him to His disciples, including us.
During one service the brethren watched a video presentation sent out by the UCG's home office featuring the founding of the nation of Australia and the establishing of the church in Australia.
Mr. Fahey gave the last message on the Last Great Day.
Many of the brethren at this Feast site said they felt the messages this year seemed to impart a deep meaning of the Feast.
The sermons stressed spiritual education, the difference between man's and God's work and our need to be close to God in our daily lives.
We had great weather, great music, great fellowship and great messages.
Ellis W. Stewart, Big Sandy, Texas.
Church Links - Addresses - Church Logos - Finances - Photos - Memorial
The Study Library - In Transition - Messages Online - Live Services
Back Issues - Subscribe - Email List - Ad Rates - Site Map
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God