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There Goes My Study With Santa Claus

“Oh yes, the notorious beard issue!” says a correspondent.

All that I will say on this is that the last meeting was enough to end my study with Santa Claus. He had been making such good progress. I had finally gotten him to stop disrupting meetings with a “HO HO HO!” whenever the speaker made even the lamest of jokes. He had stopped pronouncing the elders “bad” when they asked him and me to take his outbursts to the back room. He had even said he was giving up the extreme sports stunt he pulls every late December, out of regard for appreciating the gift of life.

It wasn’t the full beard the fellow had at the beginning that stumbled him. Nor was it the shaven-off beard that he had at baptism. It was the half-beard that he had at his study, thus indicating progress.

Sigh...and he was a good study. His wife always served the most delicious cookies.

 

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Thoughts Gleaned from the Midweek Meeting of September 23-29, 2019

One young woman at the congregation meeting last night identified with the “missing drachma” parable of Jesus, saying: “When I put my hand in my back pocket and find some money there....Whoa! it is a big deal!” (“Betty Davis style” is how Bob Dylan said it.) I must admit that it inspired me to do the same, slipping a dollar into my back pocket, pulling it out and exclaiming: “Whoa! Look at this!”

It was this illustration at Luke 15 that got her going: “What woman who has ten drachma coins, if she loses one of the drachmas, does not light a lamp and sweep her house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma coin that I had lost.’”

There is a not-so-hidden rebuke in Jesus’ words summarizing a similar parable: “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous ones who have no need of repentance.”​ Well, they did—have need of repentance that is. Otherwise they would have been out searching for the missing sheep themselves:

“What man among you with 100 sheep, on losing one of them, will not leave the 99 behind in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he gets home, he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”​

The context was that of the Pharisees sneering at the common people that they should have been tending to, even employing the pejorative term “amhaarets”—“people of the dirt.” Straying a little off-topic, but still fair game, the conductor of that Bible-study portion explored how you wouldn’t want to come across that way in your own ministry:

Bible principles are good and with them people mess up their lives much less than they would otherwise. Sometimes it works at the other end, and they succeed much more than they would otherwise. It depends upon one’s starting point. At any rate, come across someone in the ministry with a host of problems, and realize it could well be you in the absence of Bible principles—I mean, it is no basis for ever feeling superior, as those Pharisees did without even mastering the godly ways.

Again, not part of this particular study, but certainly in the same vein, was Jesus’ rebuke to those same religious leaders on another occasion: “But when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they began saying to his disciples: “Does he eat with tax collectors* and sinners?”  On hearing this, Jesus said to them: “Those who are strong do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”

Sometimes those who dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses try to paint it that they have a higher proportion of ones mentally ill. I have no idea whether this is true or not, for mental illness defines the times that we live in, but I don’t even kick back at this anymore. Instead, I say that, if true, it is exactly what one would expect. I quote Jesus’ words that he came to call, not on those who do not need a physician, but on those who do. “Spiritually sick” is what he is talking about, but if spiritually sick, then maybe emotionally or mentally sick as well—sickness tends to overflow its banks. The people you have to wonder about, in my view, are not those who experience emotional difficulties in the face of the present world, but those who do not—those who sail past atrocities on every side and remain undisturbed.

The two Bible chapters up for review in that mid-week meeting were Hebrews 12 and 13. Discipline was a theme, in view of 12:7. “You need to endure as part of your discipline,” the verse says. There was a video of a circuit overseer taking counsel from his wife as discipline. He was upset over someone he thought had treated him badly, and his wife said: “Well, that’s because he is a yo-yo. But so are you. Get over it.” [precise words mine, not hers] He told of how he had received a letter from the branch telling how he had botched something or other, and he counted that, too, as discipline. Sometimes we get counseled over various things.

Still, the overall sense of Hebrews 12:7 is that even if no one ever says a word to you about anything, simply to pursue the Christian course in a world that either wants to change that course or have nothing to do with it is a “discipline.” The lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses might be described as ones of delayed gratification; they go light or even abstain from certain aspects of life that they would otherwise engage in for the sake of laying hold to a greater prize. That takes self-discipline. Delayed gratification is usually seen as a responsible thing, even by Witness opposers, just not in this case.

That just pursuing the Christian course in the face of an indifferent or even hostile world is in itself a form of discipline is plain from surrounding verses, as well as the overall context of the Book of Hebrews itself. Those members of the Jerusalem congregation were tiring of holding the line. They “ought to be teachers in view of the time but they again need someone to teach [them] from the beginning the elementary things.” (5:12) Hopefully, they would be encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding them—not to mention Christ’s own example, so as to “not get tired and give up.” (12:1-3)

“In your struggle against that sin, you have never yet resisted to the point of having your blood shed.  And you have entirely forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, nor give up when you are corrected by him;  for those whom Jehovah loves he disciplines, in fact, he scourges everyone whom he receives as a son.” You need to endure as part of your discipline. God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  But if you have not all shared in receiving this discipline, you are really illegitimate children, and not sons. Furthermore, our human fathers used to discipline us, and we gave them respect. Should we not more readily submit ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time according to what seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit so that we may partake of his holiness.  True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but it is painful; yet afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen the hands that hang down and the feeble knees.” (12:4-12)

Don’t be a lout and don’t miss the point of God’s undeserved kindness [“grace,” many transactions say, but the New World Translation says “undeserved kindness,” since the former term just conveys to the modern man that God is not clumsy and doesn’t topple over things]: “Carefully watch that no one fails to obtain the undeserved kindness of God, so that no poisonous root springs up to cause trouble and many are defiled by it; and watch that among you there is no one who is sexually immoral nor anyone who does not appreciate sacred things, like Eʹsau, who gave up his rights as firstborn in exchange for one meal. (12:15-16)

He is shaking the very heaven and the earth. He is not shaking the congregation directly, but it is sure to feel the aftershocks—hence the heightened need for the discipline of endurance: “Now the expression “yet once more” indicates the removal of the things that are shaken, things that have been made, in order that the things not shaken may remain.  Therefore, seeing that we are to receive a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to receive undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably offer God sacred service with godly fear and awe.  (12:27-28)

(thoughts gleaned from the midweek meeting of September 23-29, 2019)

*Tax collectors were the lowest of the low in popular esteem back then because they were not unknown to shake people down for, not just the required tax, but whatever they could get in addition.

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“YOU read it and decide if it was a "quid pro quo" conversation, worthy of bringing down a U.S. President.

It is a reference to the transcript of a call from the U.S. president to the Ukrainian president. It dominates the news on this 26th day of September, 2019. It contains the raw material that may lead to impeachment—such is the talk of the day.

“YOU read it and decide if it was a "quid pro quo" conversation, worthy of bringing down a U.S. President,” comes the challenge from someone (not me) with an opinion. 

Some do. Some don’t.

I think the key point to take away from this is that, not only can people not agree on what to do in light of the facts, but they cannot even agree on what the facts are.

Pew Research puts it this way: 

“Nearly eight-in-ten Americans say that when it comes to important issues facing the country, most Republican and Democratic voters not only disagree over plans and policies, but also cannot agree on basic facts.

The Bible puts it this way:

But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal,  having no natural affection, not open to any agreement,slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness,  betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God,  having an appearance of godliness but provingfalse to its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

The same circumstance of being at loggerheads over basic reality is seen in any number of  areas today—in what is science and what is not, and how much it should be relied upon, for example. It is seen in disputes over the basic mores of human nature—of what makes people tick—is another example. It argues poorly for those who think humans are going to ultimately triumph with their “critical thinking.” They can’t even agree on what reality is.

However, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not from us,” says 2 Corinthians 4:7.

The “treasure” is the Christian ministry, irrelevant for this discussion. But the “earthen vessels” are us, so that the “earthen” quality that would sabotage the ministry were it not for reliance upon God also sabotages human ability to solve and even to properly assess problems. 

This is so even when we are at our sharpest, and yet we are seldom at our sharpest. Generally we are distracted with 100 distractions—some having to do with responsibilities of life and some having to do with where we go when we are not grappling with the responsibilities of life. Few on break use their mental powers to evaluate the problems of the day. They watch TV instead. During commercials, they find something on Twitter that agrees with what the already think and they retweet it.

There is nothing easier than to mislead “earthen vessels.” There is nothing more foolish than the “earthen vessels” thinking that they can overcome their “earthenness” or triumph irrespective of God.

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Putin to Restore Religious Freedom to Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses Before the End of 2020?

It was said on another forum—and was to be on the basis of pure political expediency. Could it be?

Two recent developments have occasioned specific rebukes from the U.S. State Department. 

1) the sentencing of 6 Witnesses to jail terms of 2-3 years.

2) the torture of at least 7 in Surgut, which Russian authorities at first denied but ultimately said proved necessary because the Witnesses resisted with martial arts techniques.

Of course, every other faith is kept track of as well—it is not just Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still, a State Department release of last year specifically mentioned just two groups. 1) Muslims, and  2) Jehovah’s Witnesses. The rest were all lumped into a single third category: 3) Others.

Of course, Trump might always consult with his son-in-law who can recall to him his dealings with the Witnesses from whom he purchased Bethel buildings—that they were people with whom “a handshake deal meant something.” He lavished praise on them in that video that JW.org took down as the Presidential campaign got underway, presumably so that no one would not attempt to portray Witnesses as part of Trump’s election machine—they are serious about neutrality over there.

The (relatively) optimistic prediction may well be right, but I am not holding my breath. The two Presidents did want to get along, but I am not sure that the moment has not passed. Any overtures between them have been soundly scuttled by the American media. It is even as though when the kings of the north and south indicate that they would like to agree, outside forces intervene to make sure that they cannot, as though to to enforce the current understanding of Daniel’s prophesy that the two will hate each other’s guts right down to the end.

It is also possible that Trump senses in his meeting on religious freedom an opportunity to defuse accusations that he is anti-Muslim. It is Muslims who are under attack today, probably more so than Christian groups, and probably spurred on by the perception of how readily a certain strain of that belief goes on to embrace violence. Who can say what Trump is up to? To say he is a bull in a china shop, one must accept the premise that the status quo among world and national leaders is a “china shop.” But he might well be likened to a junkyard dog in a junkyard. Who can say where he goes next?

At any rate, he sidesteps an agenda of climate change policy and hosts his own religious freedom meeting instead. Religious freedom is embedded in the U.S. Constitution, primarily the Bill of Rights. Climate change is not, and Trump plainly doesn’t trust it, viewing it as a mostly concocted wedge to drive socialism more firmly into the world fabric. Instead, he goes to country after country, as though Capitalist-Man wearing a cape, to cut deals. He reverses decades of policy that holds that making disadvantageous deals trade-wise will trigger political change, as newly monied populaces rise to overthrow the tyrannical governments that rule them, like a worldwide “Arab spring.” There is not much evidence that it works that way. It certainly didn’t with the Arab spring, and China is doubling down on its willingness to oppress, even in the face of material prosperity.

So will the (relatively) optimistic prophesy come true, that Putin will reverse JW persecution by year’s end? He points out that: “Neither care about Jehovah's Witnesses, specifically, but they both care about political optics, and pragmatically, about fairness.”

I agree that they are both pragmatic. But Trump is firmly resisted. And Putin may be as well. The New York Times speculated that he may not be so firmly in control as is assumed, partly because after he says: Why are we persecuting  Jehovah’s Witnesses? This must be looked into! the persecution does nothing but intensify. Even as the JW ban was under consideration, one pundit asked: Why would they do it? There was no question that they could, but why would they? They do nothing but make themselves ludicrous and thug-like on the world stage. But it has been “pedal to the medal” since. The succeeding act was to rule the New World Translation as extremist—not a Bible at all—and thus paint themselves before all as breathtakingly ignorant, since anyone with even a modicum of scholarship knows that it is.

The anti-religion campaign has only intensified. Deprived of the New World Translation, Jehovah’s Witnesses there resort to any translation. So courts have found that some verses even there are actually “extremist,” as happened with Psalm 37:29. In doing so they have bought into the thinking of the BITE model promoted by “anti-cultists” in the West. Such has become the wisdom that carries the day in Russia, however stretched the idea might be. It’s founder, Stephen Hassan, has just written a book about Trump: “The Cult of Trump—a Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control.”

When you think that half the country has fallen under cult influence, it is evidence, in my view, that you have drunk too much of the Kool-Aid yourself. It is also evidence that the entire BITE anti-cult movement is little more than a political movement. It is little more than a tool of the left. It is the new culture of victimization elevated to sainthood. Now, Mr. Hassan is a former “Moonie”—a group that is commonly regarded as a cult in both the new and the old sense of the word. Whether it is or not is for other people to judge. One way to apprise his present work is to judge it an effort to atone for his prior work—not just to atone, but to save face. “How could he have been stupid enough to join the Moonies?” is a question that many will ask. Of course, few are wont to admit that they could be stupid—hence the emotional appeal of a mindset that holds that even brilliant people can be misled by “cult” techniques—we are all that vulnerable. Having established the concept, it is then extended to the point at which half the country is deluded.

Experience is counted as a plus in some areas and roundly derided as making for bias in others. If I write a book about the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia (which I have), the fact that I am a Witness makes me incapable of accurately relating events in the eyes of many. But it doesn’t happen with him. He is hoisted upon the shoulders of others and paraded around because his thinking better accords with the irreligious humanistic thinking of the day.

At any rate, this anti-cult advocacy has been allowed to define Russia’s response to any religion not on the “approved list”—which in the Christian category, there is only one: the Russian Orthodox Church. One would think that the idiocy of declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist would collapse eventually under its own weight, but it may not—again, because it fits in with the humanistic thinking of the day. It is not so much “mind control” that these anti-cultists are concerned about; it is mind-control that is not theirs. “At one time [Christians] walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” Paul says at Ephesians 2:2. Yes, the prevalent thinking of today surrounds us like air and has the same “authority.” Buck it at your own social and reputational peril.

Here is a Russian Orthodox priest who air-bombs a certain city with holy water as a strategy to combat the “heavy drinking and fornication” that, in his opinion, afflicts the population there. This action is not viewed as extremist. The peaceful preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who manage within their ranks to avoid both heavy drinking and fornication, is extremist, however. One wonders if the word will not shatter someday at the stresses placed upon it.

Tying in a thread from yesterday about the Florida school shootings, I pointed out that two possible courses of actions were proposed, though neither agreed to because the inability to yield is the lifeblood of this system of things, though Witnesses have learned to do it without fuss: either outlaw rapid-fire guns or allow armed veterans and/or teachers to patrol the halls. Neither of those two courses, were they to be found in Russia, would be viewed as extremist. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who circumvent the entire problem by living now the standards that they see prevailing in the new system—they categorically renounce violence—are.

It is this world that is extremist, and not the Witnesses at all. However, this world has the upper hand at the moment, so expect similar atrocities of reason to prevail. Once in a while a bone is tossed our way. One Witness got out of pre-trail lockup when a judge ruled that the prior judge had shown prejudicial bias. She had rebuked the Witness with: “You are not a prisoner of conscience and you have nothing to do with the first Christians. You should not speculate on this...” He is and he does, and the second judge ruled that she had been out of line to muzzle the thought.

 

 
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Is it Climate Change or a Massive Scam? Either Way, it Suggests a Presentation.

“Hundreds of thousands of kids marching the streets. Terrorized due to climate change OR terrorized at a massive scam. It is nuts either way. It is child abuse from the older generation either way.”

It is a presentation that I have been playing around with lately. Make the observation, and the scripture you offer to read is Revelation 11:18:

But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, and the appointed time came for the dead to be judged and to reward your slaves the prophets and the holy ones and those fearing your name, the small and the great, and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”

It is a tricky verse to read. All you are really looking at is the phrase at the end, that God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” Just paraphrase the lead-in: “It’s of future times. It’s what God plans to do. Some of it takes a bit of explaining, but not that last phrase.

The beauty of the presentation is that you do not have to take a stand on whether is there is global warming or not. People will argue to the end of time about which truth is really truth. That is what people are good at—arguing. You don’t have to go there.

Anytime I read a verse, I explain afterwards in a sentence or two why I read it. It’s rather easy to point to the householders fine home (assuming that it is) and say: “What would you do if you had tenants ruining it? Would you bulldoze the home? Or would you toss the people?”

Ex-Witnesses who really really oppose the preaching work will—I’ve never heard anyone else take this position—assert that what Jehovah’s Witnesses should do is stop just quoting Revelation 11:18 and roll up their sleeves so as to do something now to fix things. Don’t let them get away with it. What are they smoking? Do they think that JWs would weigh in as a united block, tipping the balance in their favor? They would fracture into the two opposing poles, the same as everyone else—climate change advocates versus scam perpetrators—and they would just cancel each other out. Tell the grumbler that since he thinks he is so smart and his ex-brothers are so stupid, that they would probably weigh in mostly on the side opposite his and he would just be shooting himself in the foot. He doesn’t want them to fix anything. He just wants them shedding their unity, joining the fray, and forgetting the ministry.

The climate-change fight illustrates one of the reasons that most who become Witnesses do so in the first place. This world faces any number of paralyzing concerns, and in the face of them it is just that—paralyzed. It is the inevitable upshot of humans trying to rule themselves. Each one has a different idea. No one will yield to another. The children pay the heaviest price of man’s inability to govern. Witnesses have little trouble buying into the premise that God alone, earth and humankind’s Creator, has the wisdom to know just how things ought to be governed.

Someone likened reading the Drudge Report to reading the Book of Revelation. Every new outrageous thing is an endorsement of Ecclesiastes 8:9–“man has dominated man to his injury.” Every new outrageous thing is an endorsement of Jeremiah 10:23–“To earthling man his way does not belong; it doesn’t not belong to man who is walking even to direct his own step). Every new outrageous thing rings out as though a prophesy. Each item is an indictment of what unchecked human wisdom produces.

Will the voice of the children be the ones to decide the future? Or do they simply become the pawns of cynical adults pursuing their own causes? What truly would be the “power of the children” would be if they boycotted school and did not return until there was a resolution—either that climate change was real, necessitating such-an-such policies, or that it was a scam with the goal of promoting political policies, necessitating discarding those policies. Otherwise, it is just a day off school, which many kids will choose for exactly that reason.

A boycott of school would have had even more relevance after the Florida high school shootings in which 17 died and another 17 were injured. There were students saying at the time that they would boycott school. That course does not seem unreasonable to me if adults cannot take action to guarantee that school will not become a shooting gallery with themselves as targets. Instead, “responsible” adults funneled their outrage, fear, and energy into some silly one-day gathering in Washington that provided headlines but was otherwise forgotten the next day.

What if they had boycotted school and not come back until their safety could be assured—is it too much to ask that children should feel safe in school? Two possible courses of action presented themselves at the time. Eliminate guns, at least the rapid fire ones, or arm teachers and/or sentries—there are veterans who would count it a privilege to guard the next generation. That kind of boycott might solve the problem.

Except we all know that it wouldn’t. Even in the most life or death scenario, even in the scenario where backs are to the wall, it will make no difference. Opposing factions will not agree. They never do. Again, it is a large part of why people become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place: humans don’t have the wisdom to govern themselves. God does. He created us and the planet. How could he not?

Having razor sharp minds trained at the university or anywhere else is only part of the equation, and it is not the most significant part. If agreement cannot be reached, the razor-sharpness goes to naught. It even becomes a liability, since, in frustration at not being able to persuade the other side, its proponents resort to extreme tactics. Education that does not include the ability to agree is ineffectual education that barely merits the term. It is rather like a team with a formidable offense but absolutely no defense—what good is it? It is another reason that people become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their formal education may not be as high, but as they take their cue from godly thinking and not that of humans, they can run circles around their “smarter” counterparts because they are able to agree. They are able to cooperate, they know how to yield, and they can coordinate action.

 

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The New Covenant vs Old, as Explained in the Letter to the Hebrews

Few things aggravate like being in service and the householder tells you how you can’t earn salvation through good works. Say: “Well, the good works can’t hurt, can they?” Let him try to assert that they do. If they get truly condescending, sloughing you on the basis that they’re Christian (as though you are not), I have even been known to say: “Only a Christian would do what I am doing. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you are not doing it yourself.” Watch that smug smile fade. I mean, it is fine to decline conversation—more people do than don’t—just not on that basis.

It’s a little dicey. Use it very sparingly, only when richly deserved, and probably not even then, for it is not exactly an example of turning the other cheek. Duh. Every Witness knows that they are not earning anything in their house-to-house ministry. But it is like the mirror that you put under the nose of someone lying prostrate. If that mirror doesn’t fog up, I don’t care how many people tell me that the person is alive—he’s dead. It is the same way with faith.

Besides, it is been there/done that as regards trying to earn life. That is what the Mosaic Law was all about. “You must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions; anyone who does so will live by means of them,” said God of that Law. (Leviticus 18:5.) You could even say that God had set them up for failure, since it was not possible for imperfect persons to keep that perfect law, and he knew it. Of course, you don’t say it, because the purpose of that Law was to direct them to something better—that they would not have seen the need for before. It was setting them up for the real life. That’s what Paul means about the Law being a tutor:

“However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law...looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed.  Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ,that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.” - (Galatians 3:23-25)

As they trod a path back and forth to offer up sacrifices for their sins, it would occur to a remnant of them that something more permanent would be nice. They couldn’t earn life by following Law. They were flawed. It was beyond them. What they needed was forgiveness for sin, not a just a continual reminder of them via their price tag. As to being “guarded under law,” the Law gave them plenty to do and kept them off the streets where they might get into mischief with the rowdy neighbors.

And so there is the New Covenant, to replace the old Law Covenant [Old and New Testaments, in most Bibles] The old covenant is between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, and inaugurated through the sacrificial blood of animals. The new is between God and spiritual Israel, mediated by the Son, and inaugurated through his own shed blood. The name “Israel’ is even retained—only the identity of those who occupy the slot has changed—those who “contend with God,” as the name means.. It is now “the Israel of God,” (Galatians 6:16) since “not all who descend from Israel are really ‘Israel.’” (Romans 9:6)

Paul waits until he writes to Christians in Jerusalem [Letter to the Hebrews] before he draws all the parallels. They were at “ground zero.” They were in the host city. Three pilgrimages took place there each year—there occasions when the magnificent temple and even the entire city would be abuzz. Meanwhile, the Christians there were meeting in private homes, not the big glorious temple. Did they suffer an inferiority complex?

If you had been a believer anywhere else, you would not have had that contrast for someone to rub into your face, but in Jerusalem you did have it. It took its toll. After a furious spurt of early activity, the ministry of those Christians had cooled off. “For although by now you should be teachers, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have gone back to needing milk, not solid food,” the apostle writes at Hebrews 5:12.

They are in some spiritual danger. If you don’t keep forward motion on the bicycle, you fall off. “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God...so that none of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin. For we actually become partakers of the Christ only if we hold firmly down to the end the confidence we had at the beginning.” (3:12-14)

Paul draws upon their knowledge of mutual history. Sure, God, led the forefathers out of Egypt, he says, but he afterwards cast off those “testing” him, those “provoking” him, those “always going astray” despite their having seen his works for 40 years—those who gave in to “lack of faith” and became “disobedient.” (3:7-19)

He ups the ante significantly when he speaks of those who accept, but then reject, the free gift: “For as regards those who were once enlightened and who have tasted the heavenly free gift and who have become partakers of holy spirit  and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but have fallen away, it is impossible to revive them again to repentance, because they nail the Son of God to the stake again for themselves and expose him to public shame.” (6:4-6)

Not to worry, though. He is talking tough, but it isn’t to them: “But in your case, beloved ones, we are convinced of better things, things related to salvation, even though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name by ministering and continuing to minister to the holy ones.” (6:9-10)

He just hopes that they will pick up the slack: “But we desire each one of you to show the same industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:11-12)

He helps them as he points out that the fantastic temple and the high holidays are not the real thing—they are things that go hand in hand with the Law that has become “obsolete,” is “growing old,” and is, in fact, close to “vanishing away”—which it did, just a few years later when Romans destroyed that temple in 70 C.E. It never had been the real thing. It had been the pattern of the real thing.

These “men [the Jewish priests] who offer the gifts according to the Law—[they] are offering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.” Those Christians in Jerusalem had the real thing—big temple notwithstanding. Even “Moses, when about to construct the tent, was given the divine command....‘See that you make all things after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.’” (8:4-5)

They had the New Covenant, not the Old. Paul refers to how it was foretold through Jeremiah (31: 31-34): “Look! The days are coming,’ says Jehovah, ‘when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.... I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I will write them....And they will no longer teach each one his fellow citizen and each one his brother, saying: “Know Jehovah!”...I will be merciful toward their unrighteous deeds, and I will no longer call their sins to mind.’” (8:8-12)

 

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Still More Games

 

 

My brother was due for his bi-weekly Scrabble drubbing, but last night it had to be postponed. After the game he tried to follow me out to the car in order to rub in his 80 point win, but his big head got stuck in the doorway.

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Midway through the game, my brother poured concrete on the board, eliminating use of the upper left half. I began to think I had been overconfident and I untied the hand behind my back, but he eaked out an 80 point win anyway. What a miserable Scrabble game!

The game had started so well. I had pulled the dictionary off the shelf to help my brother in case he wanted to cheat and look up some words. As long as I had it in my hand, I checked on the spelling and the existence of another word. Discovering I had a green light, I had jumped to a 4 point lead!

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I forgot my clandestine sneak-a-peak pocket dictionary and I knew my brother would take advantage of that oversight to cheat. During the game I scrabbled, but he unfairly disallowed it because it was spelled wrong.

After my brother beat me two times by 80 points, I said NO MORE!! He beat me by only 60 points last night. It is getting awfully hard to put lipstick on this pig. (When he bent over to tie his shoe, his extra stash of Scrabble letters fell from his pocket, the big cheater.)

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I used my blank to #Scrabble by making “berriet” but my brother screamed that there was no such word!

Check it, I told him. “And if you don’t find it, try ‘berries.’”

The big baby.

I won, but it was not easy. He’s very good.

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I Scrabbled to make “longers,” but my brother challenged it: “Use it in a sentence!” he taunted.

“I see some longers,” I said. (the big baby)

I made other cool words, too, and he STILL beat me: 379 to 351.

He is very good. (and he cheats)

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When I used my blank to scrabble by making “toggues,” my brother howled that toggues was not a word. So I told him it was really “toggles.” After the game I asked if he would mind posing by the board and looking real sad, but he was not cooperative.

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.............

My brother drew a low letter through cheating to have the first turn. But the baby only scored 10 points with ‘oy.’ I got 40 with ‘jar’ but he whined that I had blocked up the board. Just because no one can play does not mean the board is blocked up. He always was a crybaby.

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.........

Can you believe that my brother challenged “ai?” It’s a 3-toed sloth! Duh.

And if there can be one, there can also be many—to reach the triple word score, which I did my next turn.

He had started by dishonestly scrabbling with “weaning” but later I did the same with “panamas” and beat the cheater by 50 points.

He got so mad he almost ran over a pack of ais backing out the drive.

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It’s unbelievable! My brother—the cheater—scrabbled on his first turn: “pointer” to open a 40 pt lead! I closed the gap and regained the lead. HE DID IT AGAIN with “jockies.” I never liked him. Even my wife who has been known to take his side said that was unfair! But if you take away the 100 “bonus points” that he claimed (is that really a rule or did he just make it up?) then glorious victory is mine!

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Wandering N.Y. Route 80–The Prettiest Drive

The traveler just arrived at the whistle stop town asked what folks were like there. The geezer just sitting around responded by asking what they had been like where he had come from. “Aw, they were just great people! Friendly, warm, helpful,” the visitor replied. “I think you’re going to find people here are pretty much the same,” said the old guy.

Another visitor arrived on the next train and asked the same question—what were folks like here? As before, the geezer countered—what had they been like there? “Miserable. Just plain ugly. Backbiting. Hard to get along with.” “You know,” the geezer said, “I think you’re going to find folks here are pretty much the same.”

To set the story up—the moral of which is that people are to a large degree what you focus upon—the circuit overseer had prefaced a history of the locomotives. In the early days, they had to stop every 100 miles or so in order to refuel with wood for the tender and water to make steam. So towns sprung up about that distance apart.

It is true of many transportation modes. The Erie Canal, connecting Buffalo to Albany, triggered quick growth to several former villages in between, most notably, Rochester and Syracuse. Buffalo—at one time the third most populous city in the country—became so because it was chosen as the western terminal. Had the competing village of Black Rock won out instead, nobody would have heard of Buffalo.

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The New York State Thruway, its first section completed in 1954, connects these cities as well, though it skirts well south of Rochester. I can, as a boy, recall politicians of that town grumbling that, whereas Syracuse had five exits on the Thruway, Rochester had only two, and—well—it just wasn’t right. This was partly remedied with 490W extending from the city 20 miles to the west to connect to the big road, but even so, three is not five, and the more exits there are, the easier it is for commerce to take place.

The tolls on the mighty road were meant to be temporary, but the politicians got used to them, and they will no doubt exist until Armageddon. “Worth every penny!” I tell the toll-collector, which they always appreciate, though one in Geneva said: “It is not!” It appears that he will soon be out of a job, because the plan now is for cameras to scan license plates and access tolls with no human interaction at all, and the governor is making everyone in the state switch (for $25) to a new design of plate easily read.

Prior to the Thruway, U.S. route 20 was the primary east-west corridor in New York State. This road scoots well to the south of the Thruway cities, and connects ones that have not grown so quickly, or have even shrunk at being ignored by the big road—places like Lancaster, Geneva, Canandaigua, Auburn, Morrisville, Waterville, and Sharon Springs. It is the road we used to take, prior to the toll road, when visiting the region north of Poughkeepsie where my Dad’s people owned a dairy farm—years after everyone left their agrarian roots, we still referred to family reunions as “going down to the farm.”

Then there is N.Y Route 5, another east-west corridor, and this one does link—like the Thruway—the big cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany, plus a new assortment of smaller towns. The big names I well remember as highway markers along the never-ending drive to and from the reunions, occasions for my young siblings and I to whine from the back of the station wagon: “How soon till we are there?” until my fed-up dad would again holler: “If you kids don’t stop crying back there, I’ll stop this car and give you something to cry about!” I thought that he was being mean then. I did not think of him then as a sage prophet for latter times, for sometimes that is exactly the answer that must be given.

All of these routes—from canal to Thruway to highway—are means of going in a straight line, from point A to B, or A to C via B, or A to D—and so forth. You take them if you want to get somewhere. But if you don’t care about getting somewhere—if you just want to meander, you take N.Y. Route 80, which runs from Lords Corners to Tully to Georgetown to Smyrna to Sherburne to New Berlin to Cooperstown to Nelliston. Never heard of these towns, you say? No, you haven’t—except for maybe Cooperstown because the baseball museum is there.

Why would anyone want to connect these towns with a N.Y numbered route? Your guess is as good as mine. These are not straight line towns. They are more like connect-the-dot towns. The route follows various waterways and stage coach turnpikes of long ago. As the crow flies, the east and west terminals are only about 80 miles apart, but the roadway must be at least twice that.

At times, it seems that the locals have stretched pretty hard to find history where perhaps not much of it actually occurred. Such is the case with a marker for the Beaver Meadow Hotel, which “provided an overnight rest stop for guests passing through the area” in its day. I mean, didn’t all hotels do that? But this is not a New York State marker, even though that is what it looks like. The state stopped funding markers in 1939, and it is left to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to detail and commemorate community history of rural America. All is forgiven. It’s a good idea for a volunteer organization to recall what went down in this tiny locality or that, even if it would be silly for the state itself to do so. This also explained for me why so many New York historical signs—gold print on blue—are in deplorable shape. They don’t do that anymore, and it is left to someone else to notice and pick up the slack.

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Route 80 also takes you through Smyrna, New York, and that’s hardly nothing, is it? That is the town you must go through (unless you go the back way) to reach Wolf Mountain, where “Wolfman” and myself enjoyed a fine visit not too long ago. And at Rogers Environmental Education Center, not too far to the east, I learned through a series of posters that New York has a state bird (the bluebird, though it should be a robin—nobody ever sees bluebirds around here), a state flower, a state fish, a state insect, a state mammal, a state tree, and a state reptile. And no, the state snake is NOT that politician you don’t like. Nor is he any lawyer. Don’t even go there.

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Come to think of it, I have never actually driven the entire roadway, just different segments of it at different times. I think that I have never driven through the mightiest stops on the route, such as New Berlin, population 2700. It doesn’t mean that I won’t someday, but always there are bigger fish—though not the state fish—to fry. But what I have driven confirms what some touristy website stated—that it is among the prettiest drives in the state—winding through lush hills and picturesque villages. It is one for someone who is in no hurry to get anywhere.

 

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When Someone Says: “I Have My Own Religion.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they engage in their ministry, sometimes make uncomfortable people who don’t really care about spiritual things but somewhere in the back of their head is a nagging thought that they should.

And we make uncomfortable those who assume that we are there to change their religion—the religion has not put them on equal footing to discuss intelligently the Bible—they know almost nothing about it. This is a circumstance very strange, when you think about it, since most of them simply assume that the Book provides their faith’s underpinning. What a shocker for some when they discover that it is not so.

With some, judging from their quick response, this discomfort is nearly to the point of panic—just like an ordinary joe might panic at the thought of an encounter with the time-share salesperson. “I have my own religion, and I am very happy with it,” they hastily say.

”Well, I’m not going to ask you to change it, and if I do you can say ‘no’” is my reply. “It’s just conversation.” 

I mean, they may not want to converse—more don’t than do— and if they don’t, that is fine, but I hate it to be for that reason.

One conversation with a college student was interesting enough that I proposed coming back. “To what end?” he said. Nobody had ever replied to me that way before. So I told him my ideal scenario—that over the course of 100 weeks, I would call back 100 times for 100 conversations—during which he would learn the Bible from front to back, and I would learn some things, too—and on visit #100 I would ask him if he wanted to become a Jehovah’s Witness like me and then he could say “no.” Once again, it’s just conversation.

I even asked him to play along on a practice session. I would ask him to become a Jehovah’s Witness, and he was to say “no.” He agreed to this.

”Would you like to become a Jehovah’s Witness like me?” I said. “No,” he replied. “See?” I said. “It’s easy. In the meantime you will learn the Bible and then you can better decide what you think about it”

This is called the Dickens approach and it is suggested by the ending of “Tale of Two Cities.” In that ending Sidney Carton visits Charles Darney, a prisoner in the Bastille being held for execution, during time of the French Revolution. He has repented of his profligate life and has determined to smuggle this better man out. Of course, he can only do this if he takes his place and tricks the guards—it has already been noted in the novel that he remarkably resembles the man in physical appearance. One by one he suggests to Darnay exchanging articles of clothing. Each time Darnay protests—he has no idea what Carton is up to. “What do you think you’re doing?” he objects. “Do you think you can break me out? It’s not possible to escape from here.”

Each time Carton answers: “Did I say anything about escape? Wait until I mention escape and then say “no.” In this way he persuades the man to swap clothes, as though to humor him, though he knows not why.

A strict application of the Dickens method in field service necessitates saying: “Did I say anything about you changing your religion? Wait until I ask you to do that and then say “no.” I have done this, but it’s a little easier to phrase it as I did initially: “Well, I’m not going to ask you to change your religion, and if I do you can say ‘no.’” It comes across as less of a rebuke.

It is important that your householder has not actually read “Tale of Two Cities,” for if he has, he may recall that after the clothing exchange is completed, Carton chloroform’s Darnay, calls the guard to report that his visiting friend has fainted, overcome by emotion, and requests that he be carried out to the waiting carriage. If the householder points out that development, tell him that you do not intend to copy that part of the ending—strictly speaking, that would require you to take his place and become a Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu, and to assume his car and house payment, which may be substantial—not to mention live with his family, who may not be model. Besides, your own wife will throw a fit.

It is a favorite book of mine. Ruse completed, Carton later takes his place in the guillotine lineup. He is giving his life in behalf of his friend, and several times Jesus’ words are quoted as inspiration: “No man has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) Just before him in line is a scared 12-year old girl. She is willing to die for her country if it has been decreed that she must, but she cannot understand just how she could actually have become such a threat to it. Her eyes widen as she discovers that her companion is not actually Darnay, but is someone giving his life for that man. Carton offers to hold her hand, and thereby she finds the courage to face the terrible blade.

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Give My Badge to Anton

“You have been recognized as one of Anton Chivchalov’s top fans. Get your badge now,” Facebook told me.

What in the world is this?

Searching out the answer, I found: “Displaying your top fan badge publicly helps you stand out to Anton Chivchalov Blog and others. For example, people will see the badge when you comment on posts by Anton Chivchalov Blog.”

Oh, for crying out loud! Give the badge to him, if there are any badges to be given. I am indebted to him. I’m not about to wow him or anyone else with my “badge.” He is the one who is aggregating all reports of Jehovah’s Witness persecution in Russia, building an unequaled historical record of the dark days.

He keeps that light burning, and it cannot be easy for him because the subject is both depressing and endlessly repetitive. He assembles the raw data. He tracks each individual, and doesn’t just summarize events from time to time, as I and some others do.

He is not even rewarded with “likes.” I mean, when he posts that some ordinary joe in Russia is assaulted and detained for reading the Bible, his property confiscated, do you respond with a like? Anything that you do say quickly becomes old, because the next day he posts another few examples.

Sometimes he gets a like, though. Like when he posts the photo of Dennis Christensen immersed in the letters he gets from around the world, thanking the senders, displaying pictures that the children have made, assuring all that they need not worry about writing in Russian or even Danish, for he speaks English. That one is easy to like.

Anton, too, speaks English. And Russian. And probably some other languages. He is “bringing his gift to the altar,” keeping his finger on the pulse. Give my badge to him.

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