Upcoming Memorial of Jesus’ Death

On Tuesday April 11, 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses will memorialize the anniversary of Jesus’ death in a public meeting, as they do annually every spring. I attend every year, enjoying the opportunities it provides to talk with JW’s after the meeting. This year I’m trying to decide what approach I will use as my “talking point” with them. In the past, the invitation they hand out during their campaign leading up to the date, lent itself conveniently to very specific talking points. This year’s invite (available at jw.org) seems rather generic, offering little from which to launch a conversation. The theme is the promise of a coming time of “peace, health, and prosperity” during the millennial kingdom, somewhat “off topic” from the death of Christ. Last year (or the year before, I can’t remember) the invitation talked about the thief who was crucified next to Jesus, which provided a natural talking point. (Specifically, how do they explain Jesus’ promise that the thief would be “with me.”) So this year, I’m not sure what my approach will be.

One possibility, a tried and true one, would be to ask “If the anointed 144,000 believers are the only ones who are in the new covenant, then what covenant are the great crowd believers in?”

Another approach would be to say, “I noticed the speaker ended his prayer ‘in the name of Jesus.’ If Jesus is the mediator for only the anointed 144,000, then what business do we great crowd believers have praying in Jesus’ name?”

A third possibility, and the one I’m leaning toward, is to simply ask “If we’re here to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ as Jesus said, then why did nobody here ‘do this,’ that is, why did nobody (or very few) eat the bread and drink the wine?”

Although I do like to have a plan ahead of time, my actual practice will be (as it always is) to base my talking points on two things: something that is mentioned in the public talk, and/or something that the Holy Spirit leads me to bring up in the moment. It’s much more important that I follow God’s leading than my own pre-planned agenda. But, there are times when I sense no specific leading, so having a planned fallback topic is always a good thing.

Please pray for me and others who will be attending the upcoming memorial, and using it as an opportunity to influence JW’s toward saving faith (trust) in Jesus, rather than trusting in the WT Org and their own works.

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Soul Survivor

For quite some time I thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses believed in soul sleep. I was wrong. They believe in soul death.

Seventh-day Adventists, who share a common historic trunk with Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe in soul sleep, that the person upon death is essentially in a coma, unaware of anything until the time of the future kingdom, when they will be revived and will remember nothing about the time when they “slept.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when we die, the person ceases to exist. Not only are they unaware of things occurring between present death and future resurrection, but there is literally no “they” in existence to be aware of anything. God keeps exhaustive data about the person in his memory, but the actual person does not exist. At all. Did your grandma die? She does not now exist. God remembers everything about her, but right now you have no grandma.

How do we talk with JW’s about this? We could go to verses of scripture (and there are plenty) to counter their doctrine. And that’s a good practice. But I prefer another way. It goes something like this:

Me: “Hey, JW friend, I was looking at the recent updated version of What Does the Bible Really Teach, and I was surprised that they didn’t correct the mistake in there.”

JW: “Um, what mistake? What are you referring to?”

Me: “You must know about it. It’s an obvious mistake that anyone would notice.”

JW: “Hmmm. What page is it on?”

Me: “Page 42. It says about Jesus, that Jehovah ‘transferred the life of his firstborn Son from heaven to the womb of a Jewish virgin named Mary.'” See the mistake?

JW: “No, what mistake?”

Me: “Watchtower teaches that when we die, we cease to exist, and that the life force is just energy like electricity, and is not part of the person who died.”

JW: “Yeah, so?”

Me: “So it says here that the “life” of Michael was transferred to Jesus. What part of Michael is the “life” of Michael that could be transferred to Jesus?”

JW: “Um, I don’t know. Maybe Michael’s “life” and “life force” are not the same thing.”

Me: “I wondered that too. So I looked up in the Insight book, in the section about Jesus, and it clarifies there that it’s the “life force” that is transferred. But that has to be a mistake, because the life force is not part of the person, is it?”

JW: “Well, something was transferred from Michael to Jesus.”

Me: “So that’s my question. What was transferred? It can’t be the life force, because if you or I died, we cease to exist, and the life force is not part of us that can be transferred to anybody else, right?”

JW: “Oh, I know. It was Michael’s memories that were transferred to Jesus.”

Me: “So it should say in the Bible Teach book that the memories were transferred, not the life or life force. So there’s a mistake in the Bible Teach book. Do you think we should let someone know about that, so they can get it corrected in the next edition?”

JW: “Um, I don’t know. Who would I tell?”

Me: “Maybe headquarters, or local elders, or circuit overseers; I don’t know. I thought you would know. How do you report errors that need to be corrected? What’s the usual procedure?”

JW: “I’ve never found any to report.”

Me: “Oh, so this is the first error you have ever noticed? I don’t think you have been examining very closely what is set before you, like the Bereans did.”

JW: “Hmmm.”

Me: “Do you want to research that some more, and get back to me on it?”

JW: “Yeah, okay.”

It may seem like a little thing to us that one of the JW publications would have an error in it, but to a JW, it is a huge thing. This could the be the very first chink in the armor of Watchtower authority for a JW. After sharing this, pray for them, that it will continue to bother them.

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A Trinity By Any Other Name

In this post I’m detouring from my normal practice of recording recent experiences so that we can pause and consider the doctrine of the trinity. How do you discuss this subject with a Jehovah’s Witness and make any sort of headway, rather than spinning out in a swirling eddy of Watchtower indoctrination? It’s tricky, but it can be done.

First, lower your expectations. Don’t count on convincing your JW friend of the truth of the trinity doctrine any time soon. He has experienced a lifetime, or at least some years, of constant (probably weekly at least) indoctrination against the trinity. Plan on sowing a small seed or two, with the intent of getting him/her to think outside of their automatic dialogues and role plays from their training.

Second, thought-provoking mini-statements rather than lectures or arguments. Get him or her to interact with something in scripture that they have never noticed before, or a line of reasoning that they have never considered.

Here’s a sample dialog, which is really a composite of a number of conversations that I have had with my JW friends.

JW: “The word trinity is not found anywhere in scripture.”

Me: “That’s right, just like the words Governing Body, Theocratic, Circuit Overseer, Pioneer, Publisher, and Kingdom Hall. But you believe that those things are scriptural, don’t you?”

JW: “Yes, even though those words aren’t in scripture, the Bible teaches those concepts.”

Me: “I know that you believe that the Bible teaches those concepts, even though the specific word is not used. In the same way, I believe that the Bible teaches the concept of the trinity, even though the specific word is not used. Actually, I don’t like the word trinity.”

JW: “You don’t?”

Me: “No, I don’t.”

JW: “But you said you believe in the trinity.”

Me: “Yes, but I don’t think that’s the best word to describe the concept that I believe is taught in scripture. The word trinity makes it sound like we believe that there are three gods.”

JW: “But you do believe that there are three gods.”

Me: “No, I don’t. I believe that there’s only one God, but that he manifests himself in three distinct persons. And I think that a better word to express that scriptural concept would be the word tri-unity, rather than trinity.”

JW: “But that’s crazy. How can you believe in three persons, isn’t that just the same as believing in three gods?”

Me: “Well, let me ask you this. Jesus died, and was resurrected, and went back to heaven. So who is he now in heaven, Jesus or Michael?”

JW: “Both. he has two names. Many people go by two different names.”

Me: “So is Jesus-Michael a human now, or an angel now?”

JW: “He’s Michael the Archangel.”

Me: “So he’s no longer a human, he’s just Michael. Jesus died, so he ceased to exist, according to Watchtower. He’s just Michael the angel now. There is no Jesus any more.”

JW: “No, he’s still Jesus, but he’s also Michael. Michael has the memories of Jesus too.”

Me: “So it sounds to me like you believe that he’s two kinds of persons, an angelic person, and a human person, existing as one being.”

JW: “Um . . . ”

Me: “So I take that one step further, from a bi-unity to a tri-unity, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all together one God, existing in three persons.”

From there your friend will either interact with that subject some more, or will change the subject slightly or completely. But you have given them food for thought. Pray that they will think about it later that day or evening, and that Holy Spirit will not allow them to get away from it. You have led them down two paths they have never explored before: (1) The legitimacy of using non-biblical terms for biblical concepts, and (2) The legitimacy of a single being existing with more than one manifested nature, or types of persons. You have given your friend something to think about and interact with mentally rather than just thoughtlessly taking in doctrine. And that’s good for them, and good for your relationship with them.

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Debate or Discuss, That Is the Question

Mark and I finally met again after too long a time. As we approached one of our favorite meeting places, a local restaurant, he expressed his concern that we not get into a big debate, since the waitstaff know him by name. I told him that I agreed, and understood his concern about not offending those around us who might be listening. While I fully agreed with this new policy of ours, I wondered how we would be able to have any kind of meaningful conversation. “Lord, what am I supposed to do now?” I prayed.

We began talking about our lives, including his work and mine, his home projects and mine, and finally our spiritual lives. He mentioned to me (as he has before) that one of his favorite verses is Matthew 24:45, the one about the faithful and wise servant, or as the New World Translation says it, “the faithful and discreet slave,” whom the Watchtower claims is a prophecy fulfilled by the Governing Body in the last days. Struck with an idea, I asked him about his door-to-door ministry involvement. “Are you doing much of that?” I asked. He confessed that he hadn’t been active in the formal ministry effort, saying that he didn’t feel prepared to do an adequate job of it, but that he was doing some “informal” ministry, meaning that he made efforts to talk to people at the grocery store, or wherever else he encountered others.

“So you’re making efforts to bring spiritual food to people?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“You’re endeavoring to bring spiritual food to people at the proper time.”

“Yes, I am,” he said.

“I believe that you’re honestly trying to be a good servant, and not like the wicked servant in the parable. You’re not trying to coerce people into living by your rules, like the Pharisees. You’re trying to be more like the faithful and discreet slave, bringing spiritual food to people at the proper time, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I think your motives are good, like the faithful and discreet slave. The more we share with people directly from scripture, the more we’re being the faithful slave, and not the wicked slave.”

It took a while, but by now he was beginning to see my point. So now that he was making the logical connections, I began to explain my view in more detail.

“This parable is found among other parables. They’re all about being ready, being prepared, and being faithful. The prophecy that Jesus gave was that he would return. But the parables are what Jesus used to challenge us all, about what we would do about the prophecy. We need to be faithful, like the faithful and discreet slave, and not be wicked, like the wicked slave.” I spent some time explaining my view with more depth, all the while calmly discussing with him our spiritual lives and experiences. While I was challenging the Watchtower interpretation of the parable in Matthew, we did not get into a heavy debate about it. I laid out my view, but never attacked the Watchtower interpretation directly.

Here’s the great part: The whole time we were discussing the parable and our lives, we both had smiles on our faces. We truly enjoyed our conversation together. And the people around us (both fellow diners and waitstaff) thought nothing of our meeting, other than we were two friends enjoying each other’s company. When we left, we agreed to not wait so long to meet again.

Please continue to pray for me and Mark, and our ongoing relationship.

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They’re Playing Our Song

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Several months ago, I attended the weeknight classes at the local kingdom hall. One of the songs that the congregation sang together was “A Special Possession,” song number 147. It’s not in Sing to Jehovah, because it’s one of the “new songs” that (I’m assuming) will be in the next revision of the songbook. Here are the words to the song (which you can also download at jw.org):

Verse 1:

God has a new creation, His spirit anointed sons.

He has bought them from mankind; His approval they’ve won. 

Chorus:

A special possession, They’re a people for your name.

They love you. They praise you. As one they declare abroad your fame.

Verse 2:

They are a holy nation, who handle the truth aright.

God has called them from darkness to his wonderful light.

Verse 3:

Faithful to their commission, they gather the other sheep.

To the Lamb they are loyal. His commandments they keep.

As the congregation began to sing this, I was appalled. How bizarre is it to sing about Gods people in the third person? “They love you, they praise you.” What are the members of the great crowd, chopped liver? If we’re part of the great crowd, can we not praise and love Jehovah? Why can’t we sing these words to Jehovah?

Well, that is just what I did. Usually I don’t sing along with the congregational songs. I just can’t do it, usually because I don’t agree with what the words say, and even when I occasionally agree with part of a song, the music is so dreary that I just can’t bring myself to join in. And singing the song would feel like a tacit endorsement on my part of what’s being taught in the songs and in the talks. So I usually stand quietly and politely during the singing. But this time I sang along with the song, but with a difference. Everywhere that the lyrics said “they” or similar, I substituted in the word “we”. So I sang “We love you, we praise you,” etc. And I did so loud enough that those around me heard.

Several nearby members of the congregation looked at me quizzically, but that’s all the reaction I got. I was hoping someone would ask me about it after the lessons, but they seemingly forgot about it. I prayed that they would remember the weird guy who sang the songs funny, and that it would bother them enough for them to look at the lyrics again and consider the truth of what I was singing. I may never know in this life if and how it affected anyone. But it was, I believe, a Holy Spirit directed action on my part.

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The Local Jehovah’s Witnesses Still Like Me

Just the other day I attended a weeknight meeting at the local kingdom hall, something that I try to do about once a month. Other than attending my friend Aaron’s wedding, this was my second meeting I have attended since one that didn’t go so well (see my past post about the donkey). It has been my relief that the members and elders still seem to like me! I feared that they would shut things down, refusing to speak with me, since they figured I was intending to stir up trouble, raising doubts in the minds of the congregation members. (My real purpose is always to share the good news of Jehovah’s many blessings and privileges available to all who believe, as found in scripture. If doing that causes doubts about the human Watchtower organization and its Governing Bully, then so be it.) Apparently my good behavior (only talking with people about surface subjects or vague generalities) has gained their approval, or at least, tolerance of me for now.

While I was there, I reconnected with Aaron, expressing my desire to begin a Bible study with him again. I even suggested we use one of the Watchtower publications. I also mentioned that it would be okay with me whether it was with just him alone, or with one of the elders. (Actually, one of the other elders, since Aaron is an elder now.) Here’s the good part: Aaron told me that his best evenings to meet are Thursday or Friday. It’s very encouraging to me that he said that. If he were reluctant to meet, or had been instructed to not meet with me, he would have given polite lip-service to the idea of meeting, but with no intention of following through with the plans. His suggestion of possible times tells me that our meeting together is a distinct possibility; even a likelihood. It means his mind was thinking ahead to the planning stages. I can’t wait to  meet and talk with him, and possibly with another of the elders!

I’m also eager to meet with my friend Mark again, hopefully sometime soon. Please pray for my friends Mark and Aaron, and for others that may join in with us.

 

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A Jehovah’s Witness Wedding

This last weekend I attended the wedding of Aaron, one of my Jehovah’s Witness friends. He got married to Alicia, whom I hardly know because I met her just once and only briefly. She seems very nice though. She’s from one of the other congregations that (I think) meets in the same building. So Aaron recently became an elder, and has now married a fellow JW. He’s following all the proper procedure for a JW in good standing.

The wedding was nice enough, and with a few JW quirks, but nothing extreme. Anyone attending from any sort of Christian church would not have found it uncomfortable. The talk given by the officiant, one of the other local elders, was instructive to the couple regarding their proper roles of headship and submission. I imagine the message was meant for all who were listening as well, but it was less preachy than the funeral I attended in the past.

Things that struck me as strange were so subtle that they would likely not be noticed by anyone else. There were a number of traditions that come from “Christendom,” that conglomerate of worldly churches, controlled by Satan and considered to be the modern-day Babylon. The procession in and out of the sanctuary, bridesmaids and groomsmen, the giving of rings, and the wedding dress, all have origins in either apostate Christendom or paganism. All these things go unnoticed by both JW’s and visiting Christians; unnoticed by the JW’s because these things are not pointed out to them. They are only told about a selective list of pagan-originated things, such as holidays, birthdays, raising glasses in a toast, pews, and hymns. And the wedding customs are unnoticed by visitors, because they are unaware of the JW’s legalistic rules, and consider these things to be normal parts of a wedding service.

I brought a gift, and asked several people where gifts could be put, and they all told me that there would be a place for them at the reception. But did anyone invite me to the reception? No. Granted, I only had a last-minute, verbal invitation from Aaron to the wedding itself, so I didn’t feel like I could just show up at the reception without an invitation. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, that they had a head count for food preparation and/or seating, so I was not hurt or offended that no one said “Y’all come.” And I wasn’t trying to hint or manipulate an invitation. It would have been nice, though, and if I were getting married, and a seeker came to my wedding, I would enthusiastically invite him to the reception. I would give up my plate of food to draw him closer to Jesus. Oh, well. Their missed opportunity.

I do think that they’re over the love-bombing stage with me. Some might be a little afraid of me, as in, “There’s that troublemaker. He asks too many questions.” I think I have healed that breach with several of them though, by just talking with them in a friendly way about life in general, refraining from “sharing my own opinions” about doctrinal issues. I’m hoping that the relationship building will result in a Bible study with one or more of the members of the congregation. And hopefully Aaron will be one of those. He left for his honeymoon, so I’ll try to catch him when he’s back, next time I’m at the Kingdom Hall. Until then, God bless the newly married couple!

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