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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 6

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Lesson 6 in my study with my Jehovah’s Witness friend “Craig,” using the book Enjoy Life Forever! was “How Did Life Begin?” This was a lesson that I mostly agreed with, so again I had an opportunity for a friendly visit.

But wait a minute, there was another man there! Craig had invited another JW to meet with us, which was a surprise to me. Actually, it was no surprise. I suspected he would eventually bring in one or more of his elders to check me out. They do that. They want to see if the recruit is “rightly disposed” to learning truth from them (aka “honest-hearted” or “worthy.”) That phrase “rightly disposed” comes from their translation of Acts 13:48, where other translations say something like “those who were appointed” to eternal life. It goes with their recent heightened rhetoric to not have any conversations with “opposers” or “apostates,” but only talk with those who are open to their message.

So I figured the visiting elder would be judging me to determine whether or not I was worth Craig’s time, or if I had another agenda. (The fact is, I do have another agenda, but I do also want to be ongoing friends with JW’s, and I am always open to learning from them, at least learning about what they believe and teach, even if I don’t plan on converting. I wouldn’t cut off an atheist, or give up on a pagan, or even abandon a fake “Christian.” Would they give up on Saul, before he became Paul?) Of course I was nervous. After we were introduced, I asked the brother if he was an elder. He admitted he was. Oh boy, here we go. Lord, help me speak the truth but remain in good standing.

It turns out, our conversation went very well. We went through the lesson, and I made comments that only commended what the lesson was teaching. I talked about intelligent design, and creation ex nihilo, and missing links. We went through the lesson in a friendly way, and were all smiling at the end.

Things got a little more controversial in the next lesson, the following week. Stay tuned!

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Types of Questions to Ask Jehovah’s Witnesses: Factual Questions

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In this series of blog posts, I’m sharing some special categories of questions that can enable us to have longer conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses. These days their heightened rhetoric about avoiding all conversations with “apostates” and “opposers” causes them to shut down quickly. My goal is to prolong the conversation, and ideally even leave on a friendly note, without them shutting down at all. I have found that certain types of questions help to keep them engaged.

You’ve probably heard of “open” questions requiring more interactive answers, versus “closed” questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” This practice is similar, where we’re trying to use types of questions that avoid triggering the JW to react instinctively (even subconsciously), and pique their interest and encourage them to keep engaged.

My first category of questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses is what I call Factual Questions. These are questions that essentially ask for verification of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine. This appeals to their desire to share their beliefs, to speak with authority, and to be the teacher. The simplest form of this question would be “Do JW’s believe x?” Some examples of these questions are:

“I have heard that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe x. Is that true?”

“I read on the internet that Watchtower teaches that something significant happened in 1914. Is that true?”

“I think I saw a video where JWs are now saying that one generation is actually two overlapping generations. Am I right? How does that work?”

“Someone told me that you have a two-class system of believers. That can’t be right, can it?”

“Is it true that Watchtower teaches that they are the only ones in the whole world who speak for God today?”

When we ask this type of question, we need to be prepared to listen. And we need to be prepared to refrain from interrupting with our witty attacks on their doctrine. We think their beliefs are ridiculous, but we can’t say that outright–they wouldn’t receive it. What we’re trying to do is get them to explain their doctrine, so they hear themselves saying it, and so they begin to hear how ridiculous it sounds to an outsider. Do not interrupt, except to ask for further clarification. Like this:

“So what you’re saying is, the two generations make up one generation? That sounds strange to me, like one plus one equals one. Am I missing something? Help me to understand.”

Then, let them talk again, uninterrupted. Once they finish, then you can offer to show them, not that they’re wrong (even though that’s true), but show them something in the Bible that conflicts with what they shared. Like this:

“Have you seen in the Bible where it says what a generation really is?” (See Job 42:16 for the answer; do the math to get approximately 35 years.)

Once you have shared what the Bible says to be true, you can ask what they think about it; but if they’re at that awkward place where they’re giving non-answers, or repeating themselves, or changing the subject, let it go. Leave it there. You have shared God’s Word, and it will accomplish what God sends it to do (Isaiah 55:11). Allow them to change the subject. Give them an out. Go back to friendly-talk. Once you share God’s word, your mindset should be, “I’m just going to leave that right there.” If you want to say something about it, the best thing to say is, “It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?” Then move on. Let them think about it on their own. Pray that God would bring the scripture back to their mind later that day (and believe that He will). Let them be uncomfortable with it. A far stronger seed has been planted than any logical argument, no matter how clever and brilliant.

I’m so excited to share three more upcoming blog posts about types of questions to ask JW’s. The next one has to do with the very foundation of their whole world. Yes, it’s that big. And no, it’s not Jehovah.

 

 

 

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Keeping Jehovah’s Witnesses Engaged in Conversation Without Shutting Down

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Perhaps you have experienced this: You’re talking with a Jehovah’s Witness, and it’s going great; the two of you are all smiles, sunshine, and rainbows as you talk about the Bible together. Then, you bring up a scripture verse, or pose a thought-provoking question, and suddenly your JW friend transforms like Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. They might say something like “This conversation is over,” or “I don’t think you’re being sincere;” or they might just shut down and clam up, avoiding eye contact, hoping you will leave or melt into the sidewalk.

“What happened?” you wonder. “I just wanted to get him to think.”

Well, therein lies the problem. Now more than ever, JW’s are being taught not to think. The heightened rhetoric these days warn them against “independent thinking” and any (really, literally any) discussion with “apostates” or “opposers.”

It’s not your JW friend’s fault. I blame the governing body [governing bully; snicker]. Your friend is acting out of fear. They’re afraid of being led astray from “the truth,” afraid of displeasing Jehovah, afraid of getting in trouble with their elders, afraid that you might be right and their whole reality might come crashing down and there’s no truth out there at all and then how could they live with that? Can you imagine your fear if you found out that your whole context of existence is just a matrix-like illusion? You can’t blame them for resisting any threat to their virtual reality, and consequently treating you like a leprous killer bent on attacking them.

So how can you avoid that turning point, where they turn into either a hissing, arch-backed wildcat, or a glassy-eyed zombie?

I’m learning how to keep them alive and engaged with me. It’s been a long, slow learning curve. I’m hoping I can speed up your learning process with the following tips. I’ll use examples from my recent visit to the city (San Francisco), where I talked with four sets of JW’s standing beside their propaganda–oops, I mean literature carts.

First, endear them. Don’t approach them with guns blazing. I guarantee that opening with “Hey! Your organization is protecting pedophiles!” will result in immediate shutdown. Yes, there’s a time and place to talk with them about their child abuse problem. But not yet. For now, engage them in small-talk. Laugh with them. Enjoy being with them. They are nice people. Deluded, but nice. During my recent visit to the city, I chatted with the cart JW’s about our home towns, their commute into the city, their congregations, the weirdness of San Fran, and various other neutral topics.

Second, inoculate them against their allergic reaction to your message. Or put another way, set them up for receptivity to the real truth (as opposed to their artificial “truth”). I did that several ways with my JW acquaintances:

  1. Be a Berean. Give the example of the Bereans (from Acts 17), who questioned what the apostles (the “governing body” of that time) presented to them, checking it themselves against scripture. Say, “I want to be like the Bereans, so I ask a lot of questions.”
  2. Be childlike. “Your book, What the Bible Really Teaches, has a picture of a child, and describes how a child will ask a question again and again, annoying the grown-ups, until they get a reasonable answer. I’m like that child, so I might annoy you with my questions.”
  3. Be a tattle-tale. “I asked an elder about this, and he got mad at me, like I shouldn’t be asking questions, or he thought I was trying to rock the boat or something, but really I just wanted to know the answer to this. What do you think of this verse [or question, or concern, or practice, or doctrine]?”
  4. Share your genuine concern. If they see your shocked reaction to a JW doctrine, or your grief, or burden, or genuine concern, they are more likely to listen and respond, rather than shutting down. “I love my JW friends, and it grieves me that they’re being denied so many kingdom benefits [aka promises], that Watchtower teaches are only for the anointed 144,000. I’m in deep prayer for you guys. It grieves my heart.”
  5. Play them against each other. I talked with two women, one a senior adult, the other a young adult. The older lady mentioned “good news,” so I used that springboard to talk about the biblical “good news,” or gospel, as preached by Jesus and Paul. She was patronizing with me, wanting me to only listen and learn from her. When I tried to bring up scriptures that disagreed with what she was saying, she would object that I was “getting ahead of the truth” (that is, the canned lesson she was presenting). She literally WOULD NOT LOOK at First Corinthians 15:1-11 or Mark 1:14-15, which spell out the good news of the Bible (rather than the “good news” of the Watchtower). Suppressing my frustration, I turned to the younger woman and said, “You can understand what I’m trying to say, right?” She smiled and replied, “Yes, I see what you’re saying.” I hope my message was getting through to her, but I’m not sure. But regardless, it lightened the mood and enabled us all to get along better. And I think that younger lady saw how pushy and manipulative older lady was being.
  6. Appeal to their spiritual longings. Jehovah has “put eternity in their hearts,” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Somewhere in their deepest, primal part of their being, they long to have Jesus as their mediator, and be in the New Covenant, and have the heavenly hope, and live in the freedom that salvation by grace (not works) provides, and have the assurance of eternal life, and be adopted as sons and daughters of Jehovah. I see it in their eyes–they desperately want these things! And yet the governing bully withholds these blessings from them. It’s frustrating and maddening to me, but we can use that to appeal to their hearts. “Have you read about the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31? [I read it aloud to them.] Don’t you want to be in on that? It’s fantastic!” I also love talking about having Jesus as our mediator. (See my previous post about the Mediator here.)
  7. Appeal to their own literature. “I’ve been reading at jw.org, and found something that I find very disturbing. Did you know that Watchtower teaches that Jesus is mediator for only the anointed 144,000, and not for the rest of the believers? I read it in the Insight book, under M for mediator. Can you bring that up on your tablet?” They can’t argue with their own literature, but they sure do some mental gymnastics trying to explain it away. I like to say very little, and just let them wrestle with it, and try to talk their way through it. I had two JW’s commit to researching it on their own, and I believe they will. They seemed sincere, rather than making empty promises. And I prayed that they will not be able to forget. Which brings me to:

Third, pray for them. Pray before approaching them, during your conversation with them, and after leaving them. This actually does as much or more for my attitude and demeanor than theirs. I’ve mentioned before that sometimes God’s Holy Spirit prompts me to shut up, rather than adding that one last dig that I think will be so great. Ask God to continue working on their hearts and set them free. That’s what it’s all about after all; not my winning of an argument.

Prior to using these strategies, I would usually have only about a minute to talk with a JW before they shut down. Now, during this last visit to the city, I carried on conversations lasting from 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes. That’s more time for God to work on their hearts by his Holy Spirit. My new goal is to engage with JW’s for as long as I can, and depart on good terms. I left each of my four couples without them being antagonistic or emotionally absent. That’s a win!

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Public Prayer Strategy at Jehovah’s Witnesses Carts

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From Pixabay.com

I have a new strategy I’m wanting to try when interacting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses at their literature carts. I’ve been thinking and praying about this because of my recent frustration with trying to hold a conversation of any length before they shut down on me. If you’ve tried to talk with JW’s recently, you’ve likely noticed that they shut down on you faster than ever before. In the past, they used to be willing to interact, dialogue, debate, and discuss. No longer. They have been receiving an increased amount of rhetoric in their kingdom hall talks and convention talks about not engaging in ANY discussions with apostates and opposers. They are being instructed to NOT talk with you. At all. None. Zero. Zip. Once they label you as an opposer, they clam up and avoid eye contact. You’ve seen it. You know what I mean. They suddenly say, “I’m not going to argue with you.” Then you get the silent treatment. Frustrating.

There are usually symptoms leading up to the shutdown. If they say one or more of the following, you know it’s coming:

“You can find all the answers you need at our website, jw dot borg.”

“Why are you asking that question?”

“Are you honestly seeking answers, or are you just wanting to start an argument?”

“I’m not sure you’re being sincere in your questioning.”

“Where is this question coming from?”

“Have you been reading apostate books/websites/sources?”

“Would you like to have someone pay you a personal visit to answer your questions?”

There may be a few more telling statements or questions that I’m not thinking of right now. And there are more variations of these. At their heart is a questioning of your motives, and a judging of your heart attitudes. Yes, it’s wrong, but it’s what they’re being trained to do. We can’t get around that. So what can we do? How can we keep the dialogue alive, without them shutting down?

My hope is that the other posts on this blog will provide you with some good tools to do just that. But I have a new idea. Tell me what you think of this.

What if I were to talk with the cart people just long enough to learn their names and begin to share truth with them; then when I sense they’re about to shut down, I could go to my knees and begin to pray out loud to Jehovah. I would tell Jehovah about my burden for my new friends, and how my heart is grieved for them. I would talk with God about all the blessings and kingdom privileges that are being denied the JW’s, as they teach that they are only for the anointed class (the 144,000). I would mention many of the promises in prayer, including being anointed by the holy spirit, being adopted as sons of Jehovah, being kings and priests, being in the new covenant, being citizens of the kingdom, and having Jesus as their mediator.

I would pray about their lack of assurance of eternal life, and Jehovah’s promise of assurance at First John 5:1.

Essentially I would be talking with Jehovah about all the things I want to say to my JW friends. What could they do? How could they object? I would be exercising my right to my religious practice of prayer in a public place, just like they are exercising their right to publicly stand beside their literature cart. I think the worst case would be that they would pack up and leave, but I could follow them, still praying out loud. I would be persistent, without crossing over into harassment.

What do you think of this possible approach? I’m thinking of trying this out soon. I’m wondering if it would be an effective way to plant seeds. It would also give them an “out,” since they would be listening to my words, while being obedient to the governing bully by not engaging me in conversation.

Give me your opinions, please, and if anyone has done this or something similar, please let us know in the comments. Thank you!

UPDATE: I visited the city (San Francisco) since writing the above, and talked with four JW parties at their literature carts, but did not get the opportunity to try the pbulic prayer strategy. The good news is, the opportunity did not present itself, because none of them shut down on me! See my more recent post for an account of my experience.

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It’s Official. I’m an Opposer.

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From Pixabay

It’s official. I have been labeled, categorized, and marked as an “opposer.” I might as well have it printed on a t-shirt.

My first clue was when the elders at the local congregation in my town confronted me as I was about to enter the kingdom hall last time I visited. (See my account of that experience here.) But it was all confirmed as I prepared to attend the most recent convention with my friend Mark. I called and asked Mark whether we should go together. He was enthusiastic about the idea, but hesitant to have me join him in the carpool in which he would be riding. When I pressed him about it, he admitted that he was afraid that I would “say things that would weaken the faith of some of the weaker brothers and sisters.” This statement was out of character for Mark, and I could tell he was not comfortable saying those words to me. It was as if he were saying to me words that were not his own. I asked Mark where this was coming from. He admitted that the warning had come from his elders.

Naturally, we talked about how I’m not about weakening anybody’s faith, and quite the contrary, I’m about strengthening their faith in Jehovah, Jesus, and the Bible. He understood and admitted that he knew I wasn’t in the business of weakening others’ faith. Then, as we talked some more, things that he shared with me got really interesting.

Mark said that things that I had discussed with JW’s at their carts got back to the elders in Mark’s congregation.

What? Come again? Conversations I had with JW’s at the carts in the city (San Francisco), got back to the elders of the congregation in a small town in the Napa Valley, about 70 miles away? Can someone please say “Big Brother is watching you”? Oh, and there’s more. Word is, I was attempting to give the cart people my own literature. Oh, horror! Apostate literature! (Their paranoia rears its mole-like head.) The truth is, what I was trying to show them was their own literature, specifically my printout of the article on the subject of “Mediator” in their Insight book, which I downloaded from their own website, jw.org. Apostate literature? Shaking my evangelical head.

Let me just pause and say that I love my JW friend Mark. He knows that their accusations are outrageous, and he wants to continue to meet with me. We talked about how I like talking with atheists and others who challenge my faith, causing me to research and become stronger in what I believe. He likewise appreciates my questions and challenges to him. He’s “old school” JW, from back when they relished discussing, debating, and dialoguing with evangelical Christians. That’s no longer the case for most almost all current JW’s. Recent rhetoric is warning them not to talk at all with apostates and opposers. No dialogue. None. At. All. We have a gag order out on us.

So where does that leave me and Mark? Is my time of opportunity over? Far from it. I drove myself to the convention, intending to find Mark there and sit with him. We did not find each other, but we were able to talk quite a lot on the phone the next day.  And we’re planning on getting together soon. Take that, Pharisees.

I plan on continuing my visits to the local kingdom halls, until they threaten to call the police on me (which is funny, since they’re so anti-military and anti-police). If and when that happens, maybe I’ll stand on the sidewalk holding signs with scripture verses on them. Maybe. I don’t know.

Additionally, I’ll always take advantage of opportunities where JW’s don’t know of my “opposer” status. Jehovah will provide opportunities for ministry, regardless of any human labeling, judgment, and other efforts. The one thing they can’t control is the sovereign work of God!

Your and my identity are wrapped up in our status as children adopted by Jehovah, not by how anyone might attempt to categorize us. Keep doing the ministry God has called you to do!

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Keeping Friendships with Jehovah’s Witness Alive

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This is the challenge: Keeping friendships with Jehovah’s Witnesses alive. It should be your number one goal.

Yes, above winning an argument, or insisting on your “rights,” or getting your brilliant point expressed, or pointing out the logical absurdity of a JW teaching or practice, or even sharing the gospel.

What? More important than sharing the gospel? Well, I didn’t say that we shouldn’t share the gospel. In fact, sharing the good news of Jesus should be a priority. But keeping the friendship alive needs to be THE priority. Why? Because:

  1. Our friendship with them is tenuous, and likely limited in terms of length. At some point they may begin to avoid us, either because of their discomfort with the truth, their fear of “apostates” and “opposers”, or because of a directive by their elders. I had this happen with my friend Aaron, who used a number of excuses to explain his not returning my calls and texts. When I called one of his bluffs and asked “Is that the real reason you can’t meet?” he changed the subject. I replied with “Okay, I love you.” Once we hung up, I haven’t heard from him since. It goes to show that we have a limited time window to influence our JW friends and relatives.
  2. They are not likely to hear or receive the truth of the gospel until they trust you as a friend, and that takes time. It took years for my old friend Mark to realize that I valued my friendship with him unconditionally, whether he left the Watchtower or not, and so he could also value our friendship, even though he knows I’m an active challenger to his faith system.
  3. Being their friend will blow their minds. Yes it will! Why? Two reasons: (a) They don’t experience real friendships within their congregation. (Okay, there will be exceptions to this, but it is difficult to be real with someone who is obligated to turn you in when you have doubts or question the governing bully.) And (b) they don’t think it’s possible for someone within “Christendom” to care about them and be a real friend to them. As I recently learned from a missionary reaching out to Europeans who are jaded against Christians, we need to provide to lost people “good experiences with Christians.” It’s their first step toward being open to the truth of the gospel.

So do all you can to keep the friendship alive, no matter how tenuous it is. Go out of your way to help Jehovah’s Witnesses, or to do little acts of kindness that say “I was thinking of you.” Help unclog a drain. Give a plate of cookies (try to pick the ones that don’t look too Christmas-y). Provide a ride to the airport. Love-bomb them, but in a way that is far more genuine than their phony conditional expressions of love. In short, care. Show them the fruit of the Spirit, so they will want to become grafted into Jesus the vine.

Pray for me as I seek to develop additional friendships with JW’s. My last two visits to the local kingdom hall had me talking with “Jim” and his son “Alton.” I think we’re hitting it off pretty well. I’m hoping we can meet off-campus sometime. May Jehovah provide to you the spirit of Jesus as you share with your JW friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

 

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Preparing Jehovah’s Witnesses to Listen, a New Strategy, Tested in Real Life

Anyone attempting to reach Jehovah’s Witnesses lately have likely noticed their recent attitude change, where they have moved away from a willingness to talk, discuss, and debate, to where they quickly employ discussion-enders, either referring you to their website, or saying something like, “I’m not going to argue with you.” As I have discussed in two previous posts, their new practice is due to (1) their recent training, where they are strictly warned to not to engage in any form of dialogue with apostates or opposers, and (2) the convenience of the jw.org website, where JW’s glibly refer people they would rather not interact with. Their thoughts (I imagine) as they talk with you are as follows:

Oh-oh, He asked me about something I can’t explain. This must be one of those evil, deceptive, satanic opposers we have been warned about. I must not talk with them. Good thing we have the website to refer them to, so I can save face and dismiss him in a polite fashion.

One of the challenges I have faced is that they are partly right that I have been a bit deceptive. Not in an evil, satanic way; just in clever ways. (I fancy myself to be like Nathan the prophet, telling King David a story, then lowering the boom with “You are the man.”) But in their mind, their thinking is “Why should I trust anything this guys says to me, if he’s using trickery to get me to think about something?” Hmm. Good point. Of course we could turn that argument around, talking about the multiple instances of deception on the part of the Watchtower and its governing bully. But that would hardly be productive, would it?

Instead, I have sought new, more up-front and honest ways to discuss things with my JW friends and acquaintances. Take a look at my descriptions of my new strategy in my two previous posts here and here.

So this past Saturday I got an opportunity to go live with my new strategy. Two JW’s came to my door, and we introduced ourselves to each other. I’ll call them Ken and Allen. I asked, “Are you the Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Of course they answered that yes, they were. “Oh good, I love you guys,” I replied. As they awkwardly acknowledged my gushing about them, I added, “Yes I love you guys, and I’m so deeply concerned about you. I’ve been in some deep prayer for my JW friends and acquaintances. I’m just so heavily burdened for you, because I love you so much.”

They politely skirted around that issue by showing me the brochure “Good News From God.” I discussed it a little with them for a few minutes, but then I went back to my agenda. “My big concern for you and my other JW friends is that you’re being denied a number of kingdom privileges, including being adopted as Jehovah’s sons, and having Jesus as your mediator, and being in the new covenant, and quite a few others also.”

Allen responded that I may have misunderstood about the mediator, which allowed me to explain that my JW friends and I had looked up the topic of “mediator” in the Insight book, where it states clearly the Watchtower teaching that Jesus is the mediator for only the anointed 144,000 believers. From there we talked about several topics, including adoption as sons, the JW gospel versus Paul’s gospel, and others. At no time did either Ken or Allen “shut down” or accuse me of being argumentative. We remained friendly and interactive throughout. I described my experiences with other JWs’ reactions to learning that Jesus was not their mediator, and returned again to sharing my burden and concern for them, expressing my desire that my JW friends would be able to experience these privileges as I have. We ended on their offering to return and discuss things more with me, which I encouraged.

My hope and prayer is that God, by his Holy Spirit, will protect us; that Ken and Allen won’t be stopped by others who know about me, and that they will return next week or sometime soon. Ken and Allen are from a different congregation than the one I occasionally attend, but it’s here in the same town. Hopefully one congregation won’t rat me out to the other. If you’re reading this soon after it was written, I desire your prayer. Thank you!

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