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An Habakkuk Presentation

That day the stock market plunged 1000 points in an hour, only to regain all but 300 at day's end, you could make mention of it in your ministry. But you could only do it for a short time. People's memories are short. After a few days, most crises are swept off center stage by a new crisis. But then you can simply substitute the new calamity in your remarks.

You don't harp on these things, of course, as if the purpose of your visit is to rub people's noses in disaster. After introducing myself and anyone I might be with, it usually went well to mention a "backdrop of anxiety" that most are aware of.  Even if our own immediate home and family circumstances are just fine (an important possibility to acknowledge when working among the la-de-da homes) there's always an oil spill somewhere, or an economy collapsing, or population rioting - all of which make people uneasy about the future. "You like to think, if only for the sake of the children and grandchildren, that you'll pass the world on to them in better shape than you found it - are they really asking too much to expect that of us? But these days people aren't too sure that's going to happen. Any thoughts on that yourself?"

I worked with this presentation for awhile. Not word for word, of course, but as if speaking from an outline, playing with the general themes. Tweaking it to fit the individual. If speaking to someone young, for instance, you might set them up as the recipient of the passed on world, rather than the one who passes it. It's a bit of a challenge, the door-to-door ministry. You strive to register signs, words, or impressions of the householder so as to mold a sensible response. You never know who you'll be speaking with or what their demeanor may be. Calling without appointment adds another degree of challenge; if your householder is any sort of productive person, invariably you'll be interrupting something. Not to mention that the last thing your person expected was to be confronted with a door-to-door minister. So your best chance is to be relaxed, friendly, non-threatening, and coherent.

It's usually good to weave a scripture into whatever presentation you're giving. Lately, I've been using Hab 3:17-18:

Although [the] fig tree itself may not blossom, and there may be no yield on the vines; the work of [the] olive tree may actually turn out a failure, and the terraces themselves may actually produce no food; [the] flock may actually be severed from [the] pen, and there may be no herd in the enclosures;

Yet, as for me, I will exult in Jehovah himself; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.

pointing out that Habakkuk's response (vs 18) isn't really what one would expect from the conditions he'd expect him to complain and whine. It's the more human response; most people would do that. We're told that Diagoras, the world's first atheist, went that course after "an [unspecified] incident that happened against him went unpunished by the gods." So did Habakkuk know something that Diagoras didn't? It's a good lead-in for a subject like "Why Has God Permit Suffering," chapter 11 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach.

Transitioning into your scripture isn't so hard as you might think, but you don't want to be clumsy about it. You don't ask, for example, "is it okay if I read a scripture?" Of course it isn't; the very question indicates you think it is a big deal...a major escalation. Who's not going to balk at that?  Instead, ask yourself why should it surprise anyone if a minister of the Bible wants to read a scripture? Would you be shocked if a mechanic pulled out a wrench? You'd be disappointed if he didn't.

And you might think that when inviting your householder to comment on world conditions, he has to give the "right" answer, such as "everything's going to hell in a handbasket," and if he doesn't, you're stymied. Instead, your person may say something like "the world is what we make it," or "I guess we just have to be optimistic," or even "seems to me that things are getting better." It doesn't matter. Acknowledge whatever comment he makes, and then say "the reason I bring it up is because...." and go into Habukkuk. Plenty of people give the "wrong" answer, yet become real attentive when you reach the scripture. You can't expect people to pour out their hearts speaking to a complete stranger. Even when people think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, they're not likely to say it to you...for fear you'll perceive them a crybaby. No, "we have to just carry on best we can regardless of what comes down the pipe," they may reason. In fact, they're only listening to you with half an ear, anyway. They're also thinking "who is this guy? What does he want? Religion? Right here at my door? Isn't that a little strange?" So just go to your verse with a "the reason I bring it up is because...." You can use it regardless of what the householder says, unless he hurls epithets at you.

And somewhere along the line, it's good to add a "let me get your thoughts on this, and then I'll be on my probably have things to do." Your householder's likely worried that you mean to stay all have to defuse that concern (and then stick to your promise). I've had people raise questions or bring in other matters, and I'll remind them how I said I was going to just be a few minutes, but now they've brought up this or that concern.....if we go that way, I'll say, it's on their dime, not mine.

Now, if you're transitioning into an offer of the Bible Teach book, why not describe how we use it as an outline for a Bible study program? An hour a week, a week or two per chapter, at a time and place of the householder's choosing, and in six months they'll have a working knowledge of the entire Bible. Hand the book to them with table of contents opened...."do any of these chapters strike you as interesting?" Frequently they'll latch onto an entirely different subject, one more attuned to their needs. I had one college kid recently who chose to confide, at this point, that his sister had died as an infant...and why would God do that? It had always bothered him.

That happens a lot. While you're rattling on, people 'take your measure' and may conclude you're someone with whom they can discuss spiritual concerns, same way businesspeople used to conclude Mac was someone with whom they could speak; after all, there's not many people with whom you can do that. After that, they'll bring up all kinds of things, and that's what you respond to, setting aside your prepared remarks (which calls for a certain nimbleness). Starting at whatever point most suits the householder, I like to offer to show how we use the book as a study guide. And by the way, why offer to study the Bible with them then and there? Offer to show how we study the Bible; it's the same thing, and sounds a lot less time-consuming.

Most often, even when their interest is genuinely piqued, they'll pass. They'll want to look it over, think about it, make sure they're not being hoodwinked somehow. After all, they were doing other things before you ambled along out of nowhere to offer them a Bible study. All of that's okay. Frankly, if I see persons unknown walking up my driveway, my first instinct  - and often my 2nd, 3rd and 4th instinct - is to get rid of them! Offer to stop again when they've had some time to think it over. And then, at least monthly, you can drop by with the latest copy of the magazines. This way no one ever thinks that your purpose is to distribute magazines; rather the magazines are a means of keeping spiritual things on the radar until interest and circumstances lend themselves to a more substantial Bible study.

It works for me. In time, it will grow stale - funny how presentations do that - or I'll grow bored with it and devise something new, maybe to come back to it later. It won't work in every part of the world, probably; it's tailored to those in my neck of the woods. And it's tailored to my personality, which isn't (thank God, you may say) the same as yours.

Reflecting on whatever good experiences one might find in the ministry, a Witness of Jehovah might recall the verse immediately following Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:

Now when Jesus finished these sayings, the effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.   (Matt 7:28-29)

The 'authority' (in your case) comes from putting the scriptures together, fitting the pieces so that anyone can see, not only do they make sense, but they address the deepest questions of life. The contrast could not be greater from instruction of "their scribes," who quoted each other, and who taught an elaborate structure of doctrine and tradition to the point where the original thoughts of God all but vanished.


Tom Irregardless and Me                   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Isn't That His Job?

Here in the West, people expect God to be Santa Claus, and take him severely to task if he fails to perform. No matter what course they pursue, even when ill thought out, even when self-centered, God ought to pour out the blessings. Isn't that his job?
Habakkuk, listing calamities of his day, confounds these type of folks, because his response is not one they can figure out:
Although [the] fig tree itself may not blossom, and there may be no yield on the vines; the work of [the] olive tree may actually turn out a failure, and the terraces themselves may actually produce no food; [the] flock may actually be severed from [the] pen, and there may be no herd in the enclosures....
Yet as for me, I will exult in Jehovah himself; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.  (Hab 3:17-18)
....which is not a response one might expect. Instead, you'd not be surprised if his faith was shaken by such circumstances, even to the point of lodging complaint. Why doesn't God fix things?
Indeed, the 22nd Century Grouser-Waffler Bible Translation in Today's English renders these verses quite differently:
No figs on the fig trees, No grapes on the vine. No olives on the olive trees. The harvest sucks. Even the sheep are  gone, for crying out loud, killed or run off. And where is God for all of this? A  fat lot of good faith does. I'm outta here!
This modern version, which hasn't been released yet, has captured the spirit of the times. One must bring it up to date, of course, plugging in contemporary concerns for those ancient ones - crashing economies, environmental disasters, spread of terror, and so forth – but the conclusion that God has vanished, or that he never was in the first place, is increasingly popular. At any rate, it's a far cry from Habakkuk's response to the trouble of his time: as for me, I will exult in Jehovah himself; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. 

Any discussion as to why God allows suffering, why he doesn't fix it NOW, must necessarily link to Adam and Eve, and link to them rather substantially. They simply are that key of a foundation block. And so you have to overcome the "we are wise and learned adults, far too clever to be sold Adam and Eve. What's next, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?" syndrome.
But you can acknowledge that most folks consider this allegory, and move on. Few people in the West consider these verses literal; you don't have to rub their noses in it. Better to simply focus upon the insight one can glean from them. Let people draw their own conclusions afterward. For the Adam and Eve and Garden of Eden account, brief as it is, highlights how earthwide conditions might have turned out differently. It  highlights God's original intent:
God blessed them [the first humans] and God said to them: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it. (Gen 1:28)
The very name Eden means pleasure; garden of Eden becomes (when translated into Greek, as in the Septuagint) paradise of pleasure, and “subduing the earth” is code for spreading those conditions earth wide. Had humans, starting with the first pair, remained content to live under God’s direction, life today would be a far cry from what it is today. But almost from the beginning, they balked.
Consider Genesis chapter 3:
[1] Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden? [2] At this the woman said to the serpent: “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. [3] But as for [eating] of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘you must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it that you do not die.’” [4] At this the serpent said to the woman: “you positively will not die. [5] For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.” [6] Consequently the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon.
Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the "knowing good and bad" of verse five to be a matter of declaring independence. "You don’t need God telling you what is good and what is bad. You can decide such things yourself and thus be “like God.” The serpent even portrays God as having selfish motive, as if trying to stifle the first couple….a sure way to engender discontent. The ploy was successful. Those first humans chose a course of independence, with far-ranging consequences that have cascaded to our day.
After a lengthy time interval, allowed by God, so that all can see the end course of a world run independent of him, he purposes to bring it again under his oversight. This is what Daniel refers to at Dan 2:44
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite...
One can only benefit from knowing the reason God permits suffering, as outlined above. In a letter to American colleague Asa Gray, Charles Darwin stated: ….I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I should wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world.
Had he known the Bible’s answer regarding misery and suffering, it may be that he, and other active minds of his day, might have put a different spin on discoveries of rocks, fossils, and finches. 


Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

At My Age I Shouldn't Have to Prove Anything to Anyone

All Pop wants is to cross the border for a few hours to visit a relative. You wouldn't think that's asking too much. But it is.
A distant cousin lives in a St Catherine nursing home, just across the Canadian border. We run up to visit her once a year or so – my brother, Pop, and myself. A driver's license and birth certificate has always sufficed for crossing the border. (or rather, for return crossing, back into the U.S.) But, as of last June, only an “enhanced” license will do – that or a passport. With only minor fuss, my brother and I obtained ours, but no such luck for Pop. State (and perhaps Federal) clerks looked askance at his out-of-state birth certificate from the 1920's – it's old and crumbly – you have to handle it as if it were an ancient Bible manuscript. it a certificate or just a 'notice'? And....does it have a raised seal or is it just a flat one? Go get another one, they tell him.
But record-keeping in New Jersey wasn't so hot 90 years ago, and the department has changed hands or moved any number of times since. They don't seem able to come up with anything to readily satisfy New York. Yes, for a certain fee and substantial inconvenience, if Pop can dig up some old coot whose been around forever, who knows him from long ago, and who can testify that, yes – Pop is indeed a person, he was born here, he is a citizen, and if you can get that person to testify to that effect before a notary, then the wheels of progress can slowly move ahead once more. But the old coots are dead, or far away and long forgotten. The guys Pop hangs with now, bowling and golfing buddies, for the most part, don't go back that far. They can testify he throws a good strike ball, but not much else.
Pop's been on the phone with a series of persons, but he gets frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy he must plow through, and he gives them a piece of his mind. (no doubt ringing alarm bells everywhere) “I've had a driver's license for 70 years,” he grouses. “I fought in the world war. At my age, I shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone.”

'Why don't you take charge yourself, Sheepandgoats?' one might ask. 'Why don't you help him out?' Yeah, well, maybe that will happen. But it's not so easy as it sounds, for Pop is quite competent. He takes pride in being self-sufficient, and doesn't like to be helped....might not accepting help imply he is helpless? Besides, would I do any better? I've had my own struggles with (local) bureaucracy, untangling an ancient web regarding property rights, which also entailed tracking down old coots who could remember how things used to be, parading them to the bank notary public, hiring a lawyer (who opined that submitted documents had only to “weigh enough”) and persuading certain other interested parties that there was nothing more to be done till the gods of real estate had spoken.
Moreover, I've had my own border trouble. It happened some months after 911, as Mrs Sheepandgoats and I were driving home from Quebec City. Rounding the final bend on Rt 137, a long long line at the NY-Canadian border came into view - endless cars waiting for customs. 'Rats!' muttered I to my wife, and then 'well, as long as I have to sit here, I'll read the newsmagazine in the car trunk.' But as I opened the trunk I noticed all eyes in the control booths ahead were upon me. 'Sheepandgoats, you idiot!' Now they think I'm hiding drugs – they'll tear the car apart!

So I waited my forty five minutes, and when it came my turn, the first words from the officer's mouth were: “what were you doing in your trunk?” Getting something to read, I said, adding I instantly knew it was a mistake and they'd all be thinking I was hiding drugs. “Drugs, hell!” the fellow snapped back. “One wrong move and you would have been shot!” That's how it was after 911. They were edgy there at the border, cautious, supposing I might emerge from the trunk with a machine gun.

Now, we don't complain, mind you. Well....Pop does a's more evidence that 'the world has gone to hell in a handbasket,' he grumbles. But I know it's all a consequence of terror and the “war on terror.” People die or are maimed all the time through terror, so it's hardly sporting to gripe over a just a bit of inconvenience, even though we live in America, are all spoiled, and have long taken our “rights” for granted. One must keep things in perspective. Still, when Tom Whitepebble was a boy in Niagara Falls, NY, he'd routinely walk across the bridge to Canada and back, after a day of fun at the falls, and nobody asked him anything. Nobody had to see any papers at all.
I write this just after police have arrested some fellow who'd hoped to blow up Times-Square with a car bomb. It might have been a much bigger story, complete with dead bodies and burning buildings – T-S is always mobbed with people - had not his crude bomb fizzled. Such events are routine in the world but (so far) relatively rare in the U.S. Who of my generation would ever have imagined it would come to this, that killing civilians indiscriminately would come into vogue, and even strapping on bombs and delighting to die if only you can take out a dozen or two with you. Tell really don't think it's not evidence that “in the last days” people will be “fierce,” and without “natural affection?”  (2 Tim 3:3)  And did the July Watchtower really say that the recent upsurge in graphic movie, TV, game and media violence might be a satanic ploy, stoking people up for fratricidal warfare?

It steadily escalates. In Russia, “two female suicide bombers killed at least 38 people on packed Moscow metro trains on Monday, stirring fears of a broader campaign in Russia's heartland by Islamists from the North Caucasus,” says the March 29th Washington Post. They call these female bombers “black widows,” and they've struck many times, with great loss of life. They've generally lost all their menfolk to war and all their womenfolk have been raped. They're pretty much crazed, without any social net to fall back into, and it's a sinch to recruit them for suicide missions. The Post names a certain Chechen “warlord” who, a decade ago, “pioneered” the use of women to strike civilian targets. And why? Reprisals for the 1940s transportation of Chechens to Central Asia, with enormous loss of life, by dictator Josef Stalin. [70 years ago!] In recent decades, Islamist militants have joined the fray, giving it new import.

Now, horrible as such grievances are, in past decades people weathered equal atrocities without suffering destruction of their natural affection for humankind. It often broke them, it often broke faith in God, it often left them with hatred for the perpetrators, but not for humankind in general. Jews and other emerged from WWII concentration camps, for example, without dedicating their future lives to revenge, or at least revenge against non-involved persons. A century before that, blacks in this country similarly emerged from brutalizing slavery without goals of hatred and vengeance to all. But times are different today. People are surrounded by hate, and when they escape from one hate-filled situation, they simply enter another one. There is no respite. There is no consolation. It ought to be quite clear that this world produces and promises to produce no end of persons like the Chechen black widows, so increasing violence seems absolutely assured, until God brings about an end to the entire system of things, a forerunner to ushering in his own kingdom.

Under such circumstances, one doesn't gripe about inconveniences at the border. It's more or less to be expected.


Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'