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Opportunity Knocks, Then Runs Away

Have you noticed that one of my blog posts has a very long string of comments attached? See My JW Friend and I Share a Laugh to see what I’m talking about. The comment string represents an ongoing conversation between myself and a reader that went on for three months, almost to the date (12/15/16 through 3/15/17). Any reader patient enough to read through it (if you do, you’re a Bible nerd like me), would likely only see a debate between two disagreeing Bible students. And that’s certainly true. But for me the comment string represents more than just a conversation or debate. It represents a relationship; at least, that’s how I feel about it. I don’t know how my reader/comment-er thinks, but that’s my perspective. For three short months, the reader and I interacted, respectfully disagreed, debated, and discussed a number of topics. We debated about whether God’s name should be specified as Jehovah, Yahweh, or something else. We discussed the issue of Calvinism, predestination, and free will. We discussed the nature of God as ontologically stable or changeable, including whether the divine name is more properly translated “I am” or “I will be what I will be.” All those potentially volatile subjects were discussed with respect and even friendliness. At one point my reader said:

BTW, a sincere ‘thank you’ for the open discussion and allowing me to express my view on your blog. It’s refreshing!

Every day I looked forward to finding out what my reader would say in response to what I had written. I was challenged and stretched by the interaction. I was hoping that our friendship would become one lasting years.

Then suddenly, nothing. No response to my post on 3/15. Cue the sound of crickets.

I’m not angry with my reader. I’m not offended. I’m just concerned. In my mind I have considered all the possibilities I can imagine. They include:

  1. He became sick or otherwise incapacitated, or died, and so can no longer interact.
  2. His computer or internet connection gave out, and he has no access to another one any time soon.
  3. His elders found out that he was interacting with “opposers” online, and forbade him from doing so any more (assuming that he is, in fact, a Jehovah’s Witness).
  4. He himself decided to not interact with “opposers” any longer, feeling convicted by the convention talks, the literature, or some other propaganda from the Governing Bully.
  5. He became frustrated with the fact that it was looking like he wasn’t going to change my views any, and moved on to interact with others that might be more pliable. (Aka he felt he was wasting his time and effort on me. The “pearls before swine” principle.)

I sure wish I knew what really happened. For the record, I have no sense of “having won” the argument. That’s not the point, and not why I was interacting with him. I was hoping a good friend was on his way to being set free from the organization, into new life in Jesus Christ. The silence breaks my heart.

But, at the same time, I know that God was at work, and still is. The fact that he would interact with an “opposer” for three months is miraculous, and indicates that God is at work on his heart. Jesus said that “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.” I was privileged to have a 3-month window of opportunity with him. That window of time opened suddenly, and closed even more abruptly.

I’d like to ask all my readers: Whom are you trying to reach with the good news (gospel) of the free, unearned, undeserved gift of new life with Jehovah in Christ? Your window of opportunity could vanish in a blink, at any time. Make the most of the opportunity you have. Love and pray for that dear one(s).

And, dear 3-month friend, if you read this, please contact me again. I want to know how you’re doing, hoping that you have new life and freedom, and a relationship with Jehovah apart from the organization, but if not, I’m also willing (no, eager) to engage in further dialogue with you. Jesus loves you, and so do I.

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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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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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Random Observations From My Most Recent JW Convention Experience

The month of July saw a number of weekends at the Cow Palace (San Francisco) dedicated to the annual Jehovah’s Witness convention. These are 3-day conferences repeated identically, so as to accommodate a number of “circuits” or regions of JW congregations. My friend Mark and I attended this last Saturday only (not all three days). Here are some of my experiences and observations.IMG_1388

  1. The Watchtower Society is investing in some high-tech tools. There are now 2 large screens flanking the stage, rather than one as in the past. Several professionally produced videos were used to illustrate practical applications of the teachings, in contrast to the live dramas of the past. And one longer, rather well-produced video depicted a modern version of Job’s trials. (I was actually impressed with it–there was really not much to criticize.) The video was the newest “release” announced at the end of the day, another high-tech deviation from the usual book format.
  2. Despite these efforts to bring the presentations more in line with the current culture, the convention is still boring at best and annoying at worst. Simplistic and obvious lessons are presented in monotone by talking heads, and the only thing keeping me from nodding off were the occasional eye roll-prompting diatribes against apostates, “opposers,” and “christiandom.” Also, warnings against specific sins that stretch the limits of one’s suspension of disbelief. (e.g. gambling leads to greed, which was Judas’ downfall. You don’t want to become like Judas, do you? Yikes.)
  3. The music used for “worship” is exceedingly bad; dirge-like and with arrangements that just don’t work. Even I, a musical neanderthal, can recognize the awkwardness of the amateurish and clunky progressions of notes. I always think of the scene in Amadeus where Mozart improves on Salieri’s composition, saying “That doesn’t really work, does it? How about this?” (Salieri scowls like a governing body member would.)
  4. The last session was presented by (Surprise!) one of the members of the governing body, David Splane. I must acknowledge that his speaking style was good. Boring, but good. I should call it professional. Very good diction and control of his voice. I think he has had public speaking training that sets him apart from the other, more local speakers. The surprised audience gave him their undivided attention. To them I’m sure he had the very voice of Jehovah. To me, he was just a boring, out of touch guy who has the marketable still of giving a good, but less-than-dynamic presentation. Of course he announced the latest “release,” which was the video mentioned above. My friend Mark seemed disappointed that it wasn’t a book. I imagine other JW’s being relieved that it wasn’t another book that they were expected to add to their already full study schedule.
  5. Despite the numbingly boring content and presentation, I had a very enjoyable day. Not only did I have conversations with several individuals and/or couples, but I spent hours talking with my friend Mark, both in the car and at the restaurant where we stopped to eat on our way home. I must say that if I had attended a JW convention ten years ago, I would have just dismissed it as a colossal waste of time, vowing to never return. What has me so eager to return to the conventions and kingdom hall meetings are several things. First, the Holy Spirit at work in me. I have come to cherish my conversations with JW’s, whether strangers, acquaintances, or friends like Mark. I love those dear JW’s, even the grumpy ones. They’re like sheep without a loving shepherd, but with a bully pushing them around instead. Second, I love seeing God at work around me, making divine appointments happen, directing conversations, giving me words to say (or telling me when to shut up), and protecting our conversations from the bullies. And third, gaining an appreciation for the things we have in Christ that the JW’s are missing out on. A real relationship with God and Jesus. Freedom from fear, guilt, and shame. Holy Spirit guidance and power. And the realization that as flawed as your church’s services may be, they have to be light-years better than any JW meeting. Perhaps attendance at a JW meeting should be mandatory for every Christian believer, just to give them a new appreciation for their own church experiences. I highly encourage it. It’s for your own good.

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A Hymn From Christendom in July 2016 JW Broadcasting?

The July 2016 JW broadcast (found at http://www.jw.org) features a touching story about a group of Russians who, during the cold war, recorded a “song” (not a hymn, for that’s a pagan term from Christiandom) and a greeting to be played at the international convention at Yankee stadium in New York. The recording was smuggled out of Russia, through Poland, and successfully to the US to be played at the convention. Fast forward to present day, when some of the “chorus” members (not a choir, for that would be a pagan word from Christiandom) gathered to hear the recording and reminisce. It’s difficult to not be moved as they tear up while listening to the recording.

Yes, it is touching, and it should be, even for those of us who consider the Watchtower and its governing bully to be the modern-day Pharisees. Those dear people lived at the time under repression, from which they have been set free, so they are rightly emotional, and I am unashamedly empathetic, tearing up along with them.

But now I must comment on what they’re apparently singing. There’s only a couple of bars played, but it sounds familiar to me. It sounds like the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’ere the Son.” Am I right? Please give me your feedback in the comments–others more familiar with hymns will be able to identify it more accurately, I’m sure. Were hymns allowed and/or used by Jehovah’s Witnesses back in the 1950’s? Especially such a Christ-centered hymn?

Meanwhile, I find myself tearing up along with the now-senior-adults who were a part of that “chorus.” I’m tearing up partly because of their emotion, but also because they were set free from one oppressive regime only to submit themselves to another. And they’re missing out on the powerfully sweet relationship with Jesus that they were singing about all those years ago. If I’m correctly identifying the hymn, the words are:

1 Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.

2 To him shall endless prayer be made,
and praises throng to crown his head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
with every morning sacrifice.

3 People and realms of every tongue
dwell on his love with sweetest song,
and infant voices shall proclaim
their early blessings on his name.

4 Blessings abound where’er he reigns:
the prisoners leap to lose their chains,
the weary find eternal rest,
and all who suffer want are blest.

5 Let every creature rise and bring
the highest honors to our King,
angels descend with songs again,
and earth repeat the loud amen.

(Quoted from http://www.hymnary.org)

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Warning: You Might Get Kicked Out of the Kingdom Hall by a Donkey

My experience Tuesday night at the Kingdom Hall was strangely serious and hilarious at the same time. I’m still reeling from it. How do I even begin to recount the surreal event? Well, I have to try, so here goes.

Let’s begin with the letter that I sent to “The Branch” (JW headquarters). The answer came in the form of a visit by an elder (let’s call him Carl) and another JW, who failed to answer my question (see my previous post about the letter). So I wrote again, asking for an answer directly from the branch. The answer came again in the form of a visit from Carl, this time with my friend Aaron! But they came during the day, while I was at work, and my wife told them that I was planning on attending the meeting at the kingdom hall that night (Tuesday).

So I arrived at the kingdom hall about 15 minutes before the meeting time, and immediately Carl and Aaron wanted me to meet with them in the boardroom. “Uh oh,” I thought, but obligingly joined them in the boardroom. Carl explained that it was about my letters to the branch, saying that the answers would only continue to come in the form of visits by locals. THEN he dropped the bomb. He said he had noticed me sharing my opinions at the kingdom hall about a number of things, and that I seemed to have very strong opinions about certain things, especially the subject of being adopted as Jehovah’s son. “We don’t want you sharing your personal opinions in the kingdom hall,” he said. I politely defended what I had shared on the grounds that it was only what I found in scripture. We politely debated back and forth a little bit, but were interrupted by the beginning of the meeting.

The meeting included, among other tedious presentations, a “Bible Study” about Mary and Joseph’s travels both before and after the birth of Jesus. Mention was repeatedly made of the donkey that was used for Mary to ride on. Numerous comments were made by those participating in the congregation about “how difficult it must have been to ride on that donkey!” I raised my hand twice, attempting to share a comment. I was not called upon. The “Bible Study” also included mention of many apocryphal details that have been added to the story by Christiandom.

After the meeting, I met several folks, and one man asked me what I had raised my hand about. I told him that the Bible does not mention a donkey in the stories, so they may not have had that luxury, possibly making their travels even more difficult, and that I greatly admired Mary and Joseph’s dedication.

I had no idea how hard that donkey would kick.

Carl had overheard the conversation, on purpose I’m sure. He came over and asked about what I had shared. I explained again. He said that there was indeed a donkey in the account. I politely disagreed, even conceding that I could be wrong, but I hadn’t seen one in the scriptures. Carl was only able to show me mention of the donkey in the “Bible Study” literature. I asked whether that “fact” came from scripture, or was it from an apocryphal source. (Please note that I did all this with a polite, genuinely inquisitive, and not sarcastic demeanor.)

But bam! I was ushered into the boardroom again, this time with Carl, Aaron, and another elder. At first they spent some minutes searching in vain for scriptural mention of a donkey. That was the comical part. Then when they couldn’t find a donkey in the scriptures, Carl showed me (again) mention of the donkey in the “Bible Study” article. He then asked me, “Are you questioning the Faithful Slave?” I wanted to say “Duh, yeah!” But instead I asked, “Well, aren’t there corrections made, that is, adjustments whenever there’s new light?” “The light keeps getting brighter!” was Carl’s cheerful response. My response: “So do you expect there will be more adjustments in the future?” Nods all around. “So some things being taught now are incorrect, right?” Uncomfortable squirming and no real response.

Carl asked what my purpose was in coming to the Kingdom Hall. Was I there to cause doubts in the minds of the members? I countered with my wanting to be like the Bereans, comparing everything I heard with scripture, and that they must understand that it would take a long time and a lot of effort on their part to convince someone like me, who had been steeped in the the traditional doctrines of Christiandom for a long time. “You can understand that, yes?”

I could tell that they were conflicted between mistrust of me, and wanting to give me the benefit of the doubt. I agreed that in the future I would not share my opinions with the members, but would bring my questions to the three who now stood in the boardroom with me. That seemed to calm them down for now.

Many more words were said in our conversation; you’re getting the condensed version. The practical result of it all is that I’m not allowed to tell the members how excited I am to be adopted as Jehovah’s son, at least not in the Kingdom hall. Meeting one-on-one with Aaron is now disallowed. But I will be able to meet with him with an elder present. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I plan on actively pursuing that.

But the whole encounter was just so bizarre! If the governing body says that there was a donkey, then there’s no need to check the scriptural account, it must be in there somewhere, because the GB says that it’s so. I get the impression that if the GB said that Jesus had a beard, the members would automatically assume that the Bible says so. Or if the GB said that Jesus had no beard, they would consider that to be supported by scripture, even though the Bible doesn’t say one way or the other. I have heard them use the phrase “Don’t run ahead of what’s written.” Apparently that doesn’t apply to the GB, who is free to add phantom donkeys to the scriptural account.

Before I left the kingdom hall I jokingly said to my friend Aaron, “I never would have thought that a donkey would get me into so much trouble!” He awkwardly tried to assure me that I wasn’t in trouble. Hmmm. Seemed like it to me. All over an imaginary donkey.

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