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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 9

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“Draw Close to God Through Prayer,” that is the title of Lesson 9 in the Jehovah’s Witness study, Enjoy Life Forever! My JW friend “Craig” and I have been meeting (online) weekly, working our way through the publication.

This week we were joined by yet another of his elders, this one being “Kirk,” a man that I already know. He and I have chatted together several times, both at the kingdom hall, and in his van when he gave my other JW friend “Mark” and I a ride to one of the assemblies. Kirk is a very friendly guy, so I was hoping that the friendliness would continue.

One of the men began by asking me whether I ever pray, and if so when? I told them that I often pray while walking or driving. Kirk quipped that I shouldn’t close my eyes while driving, and we all had a good laugh.

When we got to point #3, “How does God answer our prayers?” I noticed that the article mentioned the Bible as God’s primary means of answering prayer. I asked the men whether they thought that Jehovah ever speaks to us directly in prayer to provide an answer. They looked puzzled, so I gave an example, telling them that there was a time when I was providing advice to a friend. I told them about how I distinctly got the direct impression from God that I needed to stop talking (“shut up” was the exact wording), and just listen and be a friend instead of making my next (very profound) point. Kirk asked whether it was a voice I had heard, and I assured him that no, it was just an inner impression in my own thoughts, but that I was distinctly aware that the message was coming from God. They seemed okay with that. I suspect that they haven’t really thought whether this would be a valid experience; it’s just foreign to them, because they are indoctrinated to think that Jehovah only speaks through the Bible and the Watchtower literature and leaders. Being the control freaks that they are, the governing bully would never encourage any kind of hearing directly from God. They’re basically cessationists, teaching that the spiritual gifts are no longer valid for these days.

I mostly agreed with sections 4-6, but added my own insights that would I thought would be outside of the JW box. Regarding their illustration of members of two competing armies praying for the Lord’s favor, I agreed with the absurdity of that situation, but added that I believed that members of both sides could pray for God’s justice to be done, and for love, healing, and restoration to win. When Philippians 4 was quoted, I expounded on the “peace that surpasses understanding.” I talked about some things that seem irrational to us are actually “trans-rational,” that is, they are beyond our understanding, and that God can give us peace that seems to make no sense. My JW friends are not likely to have experienced an encounter with a Christian who already has what they’re selling.

Craig, Kirk, and I had a really good meeting. As far as I can tell, Kirk still considers me a possible recruit (which they call “rightly disposed” or “right-hearted” or “worthy” one). I just noticed that there are 60 lessons in this series. Yikes! Who will tire of it first, them or me? Seriously though, I’m just wondering how long they’re willing to work with me before giving up. I already feel like it’s been longer than normal, based on stories I read online. Craig started with the 4-lesson brochure of the same title–that’s probably the standard for how long they use to determine whether the candidate is “rightly disposed.” I may have already set a record! Nine lessons going on ten! We will see how the tenth goes. Pray for God to keep the relationship alive so I can continue to influence them with the real truth as found in the Bible.

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Recent Jehovah’s Witness Convention: My Observations

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JW Convention at Sacramento. I took this pic myself.

Recently I attended the Jehovah’s Witness convention in Sacramento, CA, with my long-time JW friend “Mark.” Here are my observations.

We only attended one day, Saturday. Even though the convention was for three days, one day is all I can stand, because it’s so excruciatingly boring. (More on that later.) Mark would have gladly attended all three days with me, even though he had already been to all three days last month, during the time assigned to his congregation. Talking with others around us, I could tell that some were less enthusiastic than Mark. Yes, they expressed their delight to be there, that they love convention, etc., but I could read between the lines and see the tell-tale facial expressions. Three days of sitting through talking heads is uncomfortable and wearing, and I got the impression that they felt they had served their time. Mark is a unique individual, more enthusiastic than other JW’s about the teaching, and less enthusiastic than his fellow JW’s about the door-to-door work. He’s more of a thinker, less of a preacher, and therefore more willing to sit through a 3-day convention twice.

They’re using increasingly more video presentations. When I first started attending conventions with Mark, they had live dramas. Those are gone. Now it’s all video, and fairly well-produced videos. The acting is not the best, but the production quality is very good. I’m thinking they’re laying out some big money to a video production company, because I can’t imagine them having the creativity or skills to produce videos of such quality. It seemed like every talk had an accompanying video, and the screen graphics between segments were pretty dynamic too.

There were two talks that were simulcast from the international convention in Arizona. One of the speakers simulcast was Samuel Herd, a member of the governing body. Stand back, here comes a prediction! I predict that within 5 years, the conventions will be simulcast events, with all JW’s worldwide hearing the same talks broadcast from one location. It would save venue costs; they could use their existing kingdom halls and assembly halls rather than renting arenas. I see it coming–consider it a prophecy!

In spite of the new video technology, the day was still boring! They just can’t help it. I find myself comparing the JW convention with the Promise Keepers men’s conferences of old. (Not so old to me; old to anyone under 30.) They were similarly a day filled with speakers, but they broke up the day with some pretty great worship times. And the teaching was so much more interesting (aka not boring), because it was accompanied by the presence of the Holy Spirit and the freedom and encouragement of God’s grace, unlike the discouraging Watchtower system of works. (The difference is like that between outward behavior modification versus behavioral change from within.)

I experienced something strange, which I hadn’t felt before at the 4 or 5 other conventions I have attended. During the morning sessions, I felt a headache coming on, which grew and persisted. When we broke for lunch, I ate and walked around, and felt just fine, so I chalked it up to needing food and water. But then when the afternoon sessions began, the headache returned. I sat a lot with my head in one hand, massaging my skull for relief. I thought my seat-neighbors would wonder what was up with me, but looking around, I saw a number of them fighting sleep, so they probably thought I was doing the same. Once the day was over and we stood up to get ready to leave, my head instantly felt better. So I wonder what was going on. Was I feeling a demonic presence, or is their teaching just personally toxic to me? I don’t know, but I’m concerned about going to convention again. I would be willing to attend again only for the time spent with Mark and others that I meet. I’ll have to come up with a battle plan for the headaches, arming myself with prayer, aspirin, and perhaps a cold compress.

It seems like the Watchtower has given up on specific date-setting, which is a good thing. They probably want to avoid looking foolish to outsiders, and don’t want any more negative PR since their recent bad publicity regarding child abuse. At one point one of the speakers, I think it was brother Herd, said “We’re living at the end of this system of things.” That was as specific as it got. It sounds wild to an outsider, but the JW attendees didn’t bat an eye; I think it’s part of their everyday language. I really think some of them didn’t even notice the statement. I let out an audible “Wow,” but not too loudly.

Hypocrisy abounded in the teaching talks and videos. One example: One talk was titled “Love your neighbor as yourself,” where the admonition was given to “not give up on people easily.” The example given was James the brother of Jesus, who at one time thought Jesus was out of his mind (Matthew 22:39), but later became a disciple of Jesus and led a congregation (First Corinthians 15:7). It was implied that it took several years for James to come around. In practice, however, my experience is having JW’s give up talking with me within about 5 minutes, judging me to not be one of “those rightly disposed for salvation.” Another example was a video where a son tells his father he doesn’t want to go to meetings. The son says “they’re boring.” Dad asks, “Who says they’re boring? Your friends?” The son looks sheepish, and all is resolved when Dad tells the son to get ready for meeting, and they’ll talk about it more afterwards. I wanted to scream. First of all, what friends? JW kids are not allowed to have friends outside the JW bubble. Second, Dad didn’t even consider the possibility that the son was telling the truth, that the meetings were actually boring for him. No, that couldn’t be. And third, what would they discuss later? I imagine that to be a one-way monologue, with Dad directing the conversation, leading the son to agree to the JW mindset that the org is like heaven on earth, even though deep down the son might believe otherwise. The son is essentially trapped into a cognitive dissonance that will maintain the outward appearance of contentment, while his resentment, like an ignored cancer, grows under the surface. When that teenager turns 18, he will be faced with the decision between continuing to play the JW game, or be true to himself and leave his family, who will then shun him as if he were dead. At least if he does decide to leave, he can then meet some actual friends.

I’ve stated before what I say when JW’s ask me whether I’m enjoying the convention. My response is always, “I’m really glad I came.” And it’s true, in spite of my apparent allergic reaction to it, my boredom, and my outrage at their outrageous statements. I am always glad to attend, not because of the convention itself, but for the valuable time spent with Mark and with those that I meet at the convention. Mark and I had an hour each way in the car, and several hours during dinner before heading home. Priceless, and well worth enduring the torture that is the Jehovah’s Witness convention.

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Top Ten Topics to Discuss With Jehovah’s Witnesses: #4

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Actual Photos of Members of the JW governing body. (From Pixabay)

My next favorite topic to discuss with Jehovah’s Witnesses is the “faithful and discreet slave,” (aka “faithful and wise servant” in just about every translation other than the New World Translation). This phrase found in Matthew 24:45 is interpreted prophetically by the Watchtower organization to refer to someone in the last days who would have the sole authority to interpret the Bible, providing spiritual food to Jehovah’s people. In answer to “Who then is the faithful and discreet slave,” since 2014 the Watchtower literature claims it is the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Prior to that, since the late 1800’s, the phrase had been attributed to individuals or large groups of anointed believers, depending on what part of their history is being considered.) The problem with their fanciful interpretation is that the passage of scripture is not a prophecy, but a parable. Here’s the conversation I had recently with a young man at one of the JW carts.

JW: When interpreting scripture, you have to take into account the context.

Me: Yes, that’s vital. And it seems that recently the Watchtower is doing that more, except for certain passages.

JW: Like which passages?

Me: Like the one about the “faithful and discreet slave.”

JW: Yes, from Matthew 24:45.

Me: Yeah, you know that’s a parable, not a prophecy, right? It’s in a group of parables, all of them about all believers being alert and ready for Jesus’ return. That’s the context.

JW: Yes, but it has a second meaning too.

Me: There’s a second meaning?

JW: Yes.

Me: You mean, for the first meaning, the context is important, but then there’s a second meaning, where you ignore the context? Is that what you’re saying?

JW: (Laughs uncomfortably.)

Me: And why don’t any of the other parables in the context have a second meaning?

JW: (Laughs again.)

Hopefully this made my JW friend think. We went on to talk about several other things, some of them doctrinal, others just friendly talk about life in general. We left on very good, friendly terms. I’m praying that my cart friend will remember what we talked about, and that it’s the beginning (or ongoing process) of his escape from the Watchtower.

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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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Attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall Meeting

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All seats filled? Never seen that.

Recently there have been a number of signs indicating to me that I have been “blacklisted” by the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. It began with one of the local elders questioning my motivations for engaging the JW’s in conversations. (See my accounts of encounters with him here and here and here.) Next, when I attempted numerous times to schedule Bible studies with my friend Aaron, he continually offered lame excuses as to why he couldn’t meet with me. When I asked him in a phone conversation what the real reason was, he avoided the question and said he had to go. Finally, I had a good visit at my front door with two new JW’s, who promised to return the next week, but they haven’t shown up since. I think someone got to them.

So I approached the kingdom hall last night with concern that I would be shunned, ignored, avoided, and otherwise given the cold shoulder. But far from it! Everyone was very friendly and willing to talk. I discussed nothing doctrinal, limiting my conversations to friendly talk about work, remembering peoples’ names, health, weather; essentially anything except what really matters. That was difficult. I was itching to share with my JW friends what they have been missing out on–scads of kingdom privileges and benefits that they’re being denied by the governing bully. (For a partial list of some of those benefits, see just about any of my previous posts.) But I held my tongue, knowing that keeping the relationships alive is, at this point, vital. If I’m labeled as an “opposer” or antagonistic, every one of them will avoid any kind of conversation with me. Any kind. At all. Today I’m rejoicing that the “cutting off” hasn’t happened.

The one elder, whom I will call “Carl,” (even though I’m tempted to label him “my nemesis”), did not interact with me. Neither did I pursue any conversation with him. We greeted each other with smiles and “hello,” but that’s all. I know that he was eavesdropping on a couple of my conversations with others, but otherwise he just left me alone. Having confidence in the Lord that I was His ambassador, I felt no fear of the man Carl, or anybody else. I knew that I was representing Jesus, even though I was only engaged in small talk. Relationships were being nurtured, and at least for now, I’m still seen as an interested Bible student.

Some observations about the meeting itself, which I believe indicate some recent trends:

(1) There were a number of slanderous statements aimed at “Christiandom,” that they provide no training to their people, that they don’t know anything about the Bible, that they have nothing to offer, that they blame Jehovah for disasters, etc. Broad, sweeping generalizations.

(2) I noticed several references to “upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty” or its opposite, “profaning God’s name.” Obedience to the org is equated with upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty, bringing the humble individual into a drama of cosmic proportions. The members of Christiandom are depicted as only capable of profaning Jehovah’s name, disobeying his laws and sullying his reputation. In a previous post I mentioned the revival of an old doctrine known as “The vindication of God’s sovereignty,” and I predicted increasing references to it. (See that post here.) And thus it has begun, becoming part of the “theocratic language” (JW-speak) of the rank-and-file members. Get ready to hear more and more references to it, both in the JW publications and videos, and by individual members.

 

(3) One of the Bible studies this time around was about Ezekiel’s temple, found in the Bible beginning at Ezekiel 40. Now, I must confess that this is one of the most perplexing passages of scripture for me, and, I believe, for all Christians. If you take the description of Zeke’s temple literally, then where and when does this temple exist? And why? If it’s in the future, what would be the necessity of animal sacrifices again? If you tend to spiritualize or take the passage symbolically, what is it symbolic of? And what do you do with all the details? In the past the problem tended to be “solved” using elaborate typology, which is a can of very subjective worms, easily corrupted by personal theological or prophetic preferences. Anyway, it seems that Watchtower is interpreting the vision as symbolic of present kingdom realities, which puts them dangerously close to the fanciful interpretations they recently warned about in their literature (see Watchtower, study edition, March 2015, “This Is the Way You Approved”).

Oh, my, this post is a rambling one. Well, it just shows how my mind was working during the meeting. If you’re a Christian attempting to reach JW’s, God bless you. And of you’re a JW researching the real Truth, God bless you, from your friend #undercoverjw.

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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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Is Attendance Down at the Jehovah’s Witnesses Conventions?

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JW Convention, Cow Palace, 2017

Is Convention Attendance Down?

On a recent Saturday I attended part of the 2017 convention entitled “Don’t Give Up!” My intention was to attend the full day, like I usually do, but circumstances made me arrive at lunchtime and leave before the sessions of the day were over. Here are some of my experiences and thoughts from the day.

I wondered whether attendance would be down as others have been reporting. I believe it was down a little, but not greatly. It seemed there were more gaps between people than there had been in my past experiences. Take a look at the pic above and compare it with my pic from last year, below. It’s difficult to discern any difference from my blurry pics, but my experience was that there were slightly fewer people this year.

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JW Convention, Cow Palace, 2016

 

A Conversation

Upon arriving at lunchtime, I met my friend Mark, and we and walked out to Marla’s car (the sister he had ridden with), where we all ate together, enjoying the cool, sunny day outside of the Cow Palace (San Francisco). Because I have been recently experiencing less willingness on the part of JW’s to interact in any meaningful way (see my previous post, Preparing Jehovah’s Witnesses to Listen – A New Strategy), I used my new approach with Marla. She began asking me about whether I liked reading the Bible, and what translation I used. I could tell where she was going, but I didn’t let on. I told her I liked New American Standard and New International Version, and that I have them side-by-side in columns in my Bible app. To my surprise, she said she liked the NIV too. But then, sure enough, she began claiming the superiority of the New World Translation, because of its inclusion of “Jehovah” for God’s name, where others have substituted in the title “LORD.” I told her that I also liked a version that used the name “Yahweh” in the Old Testament, and explained that it was more accurate to the original language than the name “Jehovah” which was not invented until the 14th century.

Before that point could loom and spoil our relationship, I expressed my joy at being able to join with Jesus in calling God “Father,” and even something like “Dad” according to Romans 8. I was going to be kind and not drop the bomb that Watchtower teaches that adoption as sons (according to Romans 8) is only for the anointed 144,000, but then Marla did it herself. (She knows her doctrine better than most JW’s.) My cheerful response was: “Oh, I believe I have been adopted as Jehovah’s son, and when that happens, we’re free to address him as Jehovah, Yahweh, Father, Dad, or any of his other names. It’s fantastic!”

Then I changed the subject, mentioning the great weather Jehovah had provided for us that day. And we remained friends, chatting all the way back into the arena! (Actually, Marla did most of the chatting, which was essentially “humble-bragging” about the Jehovah’s Witness organization.)

Comments on One of the Talks

One of the most bizarre talks, in my opinion, was one among the four in the symposium “Imitate Those Who Have Endured,” specifically the talk on Jephthah’s Daughter (Judges 11:36-40). If you read Judges 11, it says that Jephthah (foolishly) vowed to offer as a burnt offering “whoever comes out of the door of my house.” The speaker then went on to assume that Jephthah’s daughter was not killed by her father, but lived the rest of her days a virgin in the temple, perhaps playing a part in raising Samuel. He (and I assume the Watchtower leaders) completely overlook that the Bible says that Jephthah “carried out the vow he had made regarding her.” The NWT even gives a biased translation of verse 40, saying that “from year to year, the young women of Israel would go to give commendation to the daughter of Jephʹthah,” in contrast to all other translations which say something like “each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate (or lament) the daughter of Jephthah.” I was amazed at the Watchtower’s sanitizating of the biblical story, and wondered what was their motive for doing so. I would appreciate your thoughts and insights about this in the comment section below. Yes, you, whether you’re a Jehovah’s Witness in good standing, faded, disfellowshipped, or a non-JW (or some other category I haven’t thought of). Remain anonymous if you need to. Jehovah loves you, and wants to adopt you as his son or daughter! (Read Romans 8.)

 

 

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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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