Witnessing on the Airplane

I did not take my first commercial flight until I was in my 50's. It was very exciting. Successive flights increasingly became a pain, mostly for things having nothing to do with the plane but for the hassles in boarding. In the old days, you could pull up with 15 minutes to spare, and nobody at all wanted to strip-search you. 

Sometimes, witnessing helps pass the time. I don't always do it  but sometimes I do. Like one flight where I laid the contact card down on the armrest midflight and said to the man traveling next to me: "Everyone has a cause, and this is mine. We don't have to talk about it. We don’t have to talk about anything. On the other hand, there is time to kill, we will never meet again, and if you want to, okay."

It was a while before he said anything, and I began to figure that he would not. However, he presently opened up on the purpose of his trip and on his background. He was a microbiologist at some university in Iowa. He said he liked the power of faith, but of course, he was a scientist. We exchanged some boiler-plate remarks, and somewhere along the line, just so that he would know that he wasn’t talking to some donkey, I mentioned telemeres. He took up the topic but pronounced the word differently. "You mean I've been making a donkey of myself all these years, saying it wrong?" was my response.

It was just idle conversation that ensued, not particularly going anywhere. Then, out of the blue he brings up that his trip has another purpose. He is traveling to get his daughter out of her latest jam. He doesn't know what happened to her. He did his best to bring her up right, but she takes up with one lowlife scoundrel after another and has made a hopeless hash of her life. 

I didn't say: "Too bad she is not a Jehovah's Witness. Then all of her troubles would be over." I mostly just listened and asked a few questions to draw him out. Who doesn't like to be reminded what can happen to kids in the absence of Bible principles and sometimes even with Bible principles? But he didn’t know me from a bag of beans, and yet he turns to me as though I was Father Confessor. It was likely because he had NO spiritual component to his life, and when he at last came across one, the dam burst.

The time flew with the plane and we landed in no time at all. I'll never see him again, most likely. But you never know. Perhaps he will be like the man who accepted a few magazines, but eventually told me he would do so no more because his wife was allergic to newsprint. 'Look, just tell me if you don't like them,' I said to myself. 'What a stupid excuse!' Years later I met them at a convention, both baptized.

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One Thing We Know About Jesus: He Does Not Go Through Channels

 

It took the religious leaders of Jesus' day no time at all to hate his guts and to put out schemes to kill him. John chapter 11 is very frank as to why. Starting with vs 47:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and said: “What are we to do, for this man performs many signs? If we let him go on this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [Protecting their turf is what is was all about with these guys.]

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them: “You do not know anything at all, and you have not reasoned that it is to your benefit for one man to let one man die in behalf of the people rather than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” [He's a contemptuous character, isn't he?] 

He did not say this, however, of his own originality, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only for the nation but also to gather together into one the children of God who were scattered about. [And he's a schemer.]

So from that day on they conspired to kill him.

Imagine! Issuing his own prophesy that Jesus will "die for the nation and gather the children of God, yada yada yada," so that when he killed him, he could put a happy face on it.

During that time, the high priest was not installed in the usual way that the Torah says it should be done. It was a political appointment from the governing authorities. He was serving as high priest "that year." You are not supposed to do it that way because you forget all about God and instead focus on covering your rear end. That is why you don't want a 'house church,' under government control.

For (prime) example, there is the house church in Russia, the Orthodox Church, snuggling up to national leadership and that leadership in return granting it exclusive status. And isn't the result more or less the same as it was back then: the ones closely reading, studying, and applying God's word of instruction and counsel, find themselves, from an organizational point of view, killed?

I like how one of those leaders broke ranks, having come to Jesus previously by night, as covered in John chapter 3:

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This one came to him in the night and said to him: “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.”

He's not exactly of the same heart with his buddies, is he, and he sticks up for Jesus later on (to no avail).

In response Jesus said to him: “Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter into the womb of his mother a second time and be born, can he?” Jesus answered: “Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. What has been born from the flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed because I told you: You people must be born again. The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who has been born from the spirit.”

Now you know, you just know, that Caiaphas and the boys would have snapped: "What is it with these riddles? I don't have time for this nonsense!" But Nicodemus said: “How can these things be?” and he even suffers through a little reproof from Jesus as the latter replies:

“Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things? Most truly I say to you, what we know we speak, and what we have seen we bear witness to, but you do not receive the witness we give. If I have told you earthly things and you still do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Moreover, no man has ascended into heaven but the one who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.

He is speaking awfully plain now (for him) and he goes on to reveal to the unpretentious ruler the most compact, though complete, statement yet of just how God adapts his purpose to the present and future, a purpose he revealed long ago, when he says:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. (vs 16)

It is too cool. He doesn't go 'through channels' because if he did, he would have run this by Caiaphas first (who would have told him to zip it). He never goes though channels. Always he goes over the heads of the pompous ones and speaks straight to the ordinary ones. And this next bit is certainly true (skipping only a verse or two):

Now this is the basis for judgment: that the light has come into the world, but men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked.

And what about this beaut that follows? 

For whoever practices vile things hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works may not be reproved.

Nobody wants to be reproved and a fine way to reach that end is to shut down any channel that might do it.

Nicodemus doesn't fare well (John 7:51) when he tries to defend Jesus before his co-rulers: “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” he says.

But they tell him: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you?"

Yep. Rural, backwards Galilee, home of the bumpkins, far from the sophisticated city that they hail from. Galilee, the armpit of the world, and Jesus probably smells like one, too, even if he does raise some lowlife people from the dead every now and again.

See: I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why

 

 

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Jesus Dragged His Feet for Two Days

Martha sent for Jesus. She knew where he was. He dragged his feet for two days before coming (John 11:6) and her brother Lazurus died.

Martha knew it was Jesus‘ ‘fault‘. She said ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’

Wouldn’t a more ordinary Martha have said ‘What in God's name took you so long?!’

Instead, she said: “Yet even now I know that whatever you ask God for, God will give you.”

John 11 is the go-to place if you are trying to explain the condition of the dead and the resurrection. I like that you can read a long passage and discuss it as you go; you don’t have to cherrypick here and there. It is always better if you don't have to hop around.

I learn something more each time I read the chapter, and I never noticed this little item about both Martha’s temperament and faith before.

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No Direct Mention of the 144,000

The new online Bible study lessons on JW.org does not directly mention the 144,000. Instead, it says of God’s kingdom with Christ as King: "God also selects others to be associate rulers with Jesus" and adds that "anyone who obeys its laws can be a citizen."

Good. The 144,000 is a yawner. Nobody cares. I never go there.

To clarify a little, some care, but it is analogous to the wonks on media absolutely obsessed over the doings of government and all its machinations, imagining that they reflect the interest of the ordinary people whose greatest hope towards government is that it will pave the roads, jail the bad guys, keep a few of its promises, and otherwise stay out of their hair.

A handful throughout history go on to rule with Christ in heaven. Good. It means the heavenly government has more of a feel for humanity than it would otherwise, first indicated by the fact that the King himself did time as a human.

That's all anyone really cares about, as they envision how God's Kingdom will bring relief from the incessant woes and travesties they suffer on earth. I barely go further with the 144,000 unless someone insists on it.

It is even now as one might explain ‘the Lord’s prayer’: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” ‘Sure, God’s will is done in heaven,’ one might point out. ‘I mean, I assume he’s got everything running smoothly up there. But it is ‘on earth’ where we hope to see God’s will be done, as it will be when his Kingdom comes.’

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It's Because We're Jehovah's Witnesses - A Respite from Monsoon Living

When the border guard asked my daughter's friend from Canada, recently Honduras, how she knew her companion from Australia, recently Myammar, who both had come to visit American friends and camp in the Adirondacks, she, caught unawares, said the first thing that popped into her mind: "We're Jehovah's Witnesses." The guard accepted that as the answer, and he pursued the topic no more.

Did he do so because he knew that with Witnesses, national divisions mean nothing and they routinely hop all over the globe? Or was he a scaredy-cat who feared they might witness to him?

The two had stopped by the house to pick up the Aussie's suitcase, which through some crazy sequence of events that I did not even try to get my head around, yet another friend had stored at my house for safekeeping, they being in and out too much to reliably be at home for pickup and subsequently taking for granted that I was a stick-in-the-mud who would be. I learned long ago that I am no longer TrueTom but my childrens' dad. I do what I am told and I don't open my mouth; it just complicates things.

California was burning up on the TV with the state's greatest fire in history when they arrived and they were dismayed at the sight, but there were no mentions of the 'last days' on that account. Their dismay was tempered by the fact that they get around and see and hear of such disasters all the time. For the most part, American TV news cares only about what is happening within the country, and if calamity strikes people elsewhere, it is barely a footnote, unless it is kids trapped in a Cambodian cave.

Certain numbers of Jehovah's Witnesses' youth have long volunteered to serve as missionaries abroad, being trained at a school called Gilead to do this. About 20 years ago, the general invitation was sent out to just about anybody, young or old, who could work it into their lives, following the example of Paul ('step over into Macedonia, and help us') to relocate temporarily or even permanently anyplace on earth where there was a preaching need. A sizable minority of our youths take them up on this. My daughter has done so.

Though grueling in many ways, she and her husband love the experience. The Branch, she says, takes substantial care to ensure that the experience will be a good one and that no one arrives unprepared. They know that the volunteers are stepping far outside of their comfort zone and they bring them up to speed on cultural, political and safety climate, so that these produce as few surprises as possible.

When my daughter experienced severe dental problems, a resurfacing of injuries suffered as a teen, it turned out that she could hardly have been in a better place. She flew to nearby Thailand, which has dental clinics so excellent and relatively affordable that Americans halfway around the world line up to fly there. She did it discreetly, conscious that for most of her new native friends, if they suffered such injuries, they would simply go toothless. However, the locals asked her husband point blank about where they had been, and when they learned the answer, they bore no one any ill will. There is a general gratitude that outsiders would willingly accept vastly lower standards of living, and they are not expected to "go native" in every respect.

Not all can acclimate. One friend, of slight build to begin with, became quite ill in her new home and had to leave. I figured she had caught some horrid disease and perhaps her goose would be cooked, even back in the States, but she promptly put the weight back on and thrived. "Some foreigners simply can't hack the change," nod the locals, as they wade through eight inches of routine monsoon water in pedal-to-the-metal humidity.

My daughter had sufficient lead-in to her new life and learned how to handle herself long ago. Working with a congregation in the Dominican Republic, the young boys would surround her lodging and yell teasingly: "Hunnah! You are oogly!" But she would reply: "Thank you! That is so nice of you to say that!" and they, unsure of their English skills, would walk away confused. All dads can be relied upon to overstate their children's attributes, but suffice it to say that she is, by no stretch of the imagination, ugly, let alone oogly.

 

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World Without War

On the ‘What’s New’ tab of the JW Library app is a re-release of ‘Will There Ever be a World Without War.’ I thought it was an update of the 1992 tract, and it may be in some minor areas, but for the most part it seems the same.

I always liked the paper brochure. That is not to say I used it much. It presents our Bible view such that it would more likely appeal to someone of Jewish background. For some reason I cannot quite put my finger on, that appeals to me. The Bible is like a prism, and you can turn it this way or that way so that it sheds the most light to different ones according to their background.

The reason I thought it might be updated is paragraph 2 of the last chapter: “As bright as the prospects are for the future, they are not bright for all. Jehovah will not wait endlessly for all men to beat their swords into plowshares.” It is the rare Watchtower publication that says “as bright as the prospects are for the future;” most just harp on darkness galore, and Witnesses in the U.S, at least, will comment at length on “wars and rumors of wars,” as though you cannot throw a stone in any direction and fail to hit ten of them. In fact, they are rare today. That is not to say there is peace—peoples and societies everywhere are violently crumbling, but actual flat-out wars are not plentiful. The modern atheists come around and point to the dearth of real wars as though that were proof that all is improving, and the brochure inserts that line to counter it.

The reason I thought the brochure was not updated at all, or if it was, it was just a little bit, is that the science quotes are all quite dated, from the 1980s or even before, as would have been at time-of-publication. Especially what caught my eye is a 1977 quote from New Scientist, that the “view that commonly expects scientists to be nonbelievers…is a view that is widely wrong.” And “as many as eight of every 10 scientists follow a religious faith or countenance principles that are ‘non-scientific.’”

Is it my imagination or is that greatly changed today, just 30 years later, almost to the point of reversing the percentages? Judging by when these characters go online, one would think they are almost all atheist. Are they? Or is this a case of ‘the squeaky wheel that gets the oil’…the simply scream louder than anyone else.

I call them ‘scientist-philosopher-cheerleader-atheists.’ They overlap with scientists but are not the same. The latter just do science. The former ram it down everyone’s throat as the be-all and end-all.  There are some areas in which science is absolutely terrible as a way to look at things, such as quantifying things that are essentially unquantifiable, due to possessing an astronomical and non-replicable number of permutations. Most ‘living things’ are like that.

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The Wicked and Sluggish Slave Strikes Again

I like the parables of Jesus where every word may convey meaning and none of it should be quickly dismissed as "filler" For example, the excuse proffered by the wicked and sluggish slave, and the master's rebuke:

"Finally the slave who had received the one talent came forward and said: ‘Master, I knew you to be a demanding* man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not winnow.So I grew afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ In reply his master said to him: ‘Wicked and sluggish* slave, you knew, did you, that I reaped where I did not sow and gathered where I did not winnow? Well, then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my coming I would have received it back with interest." (Matthew 25:24-27)

The master does not deny the slave's allegation that he 'reaps where he does not sow,' letting pass without comment only the slave's perception that he is thereby 'demanding.' The slave has a bad attitude, for the master does not expect to make his own disciples personally - he expects his slaves to pull with him, and the slave ought to have gotten his head around that.

Nonetheless, it seems that even with that bad attitude, the master could have worked with it. All it took was to deposit the money with the bankers - essentially a one-time only trip - and the master would have rolled with it. He may not have jumped for joy, but he would not have rebuked the slave - who worked up a sweat to thwart what would have occurred automatically.

So there are be ones today who don't have the greatest attitude. They don't have to. It is better if they do, for immersing oneself in the kingdom work as it exists is the best way to strengthen faith and be happy, they surely build up the brotherhood more, and they may be heading for shipwreck if they do not, but it is only by actively opposing and 'beating his fellow slaves' (from Matthew 24:48) that the master gets riled - burying the money in the ground, which is the exact opposite of setting the lamp on a lampstand so all will see the light.

Still pondering if I have the right read on his one. I am not sure it has been commented on in detail.

 
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Inviting to the Assembly Hall - We Sure Weren't Prophets About That, Were We?

In field service I found myself working directly across the road from the Assembly Hall during an assembly. What are the chances?

Now, I am always on the lookout for something quirky to say so as the break the ice. An idea occurred to me as I approached a man in his garage. I thumbed behind me and said: “Man, the talks are so boring in there I just had to take a break and come talk to you - you know how religion is!”

Of course, I didn’t leave it there. I registered the impression made and soon added that I just threw that in for his sake – I didn’t really believe it. Though in SOME cases…. Well, no – not usually in the Assembly Hall. It can be the case in a Kingdom Hall, but not usually at the larger gatherings and practically never at the Regionals.

There is a chance – one must always consider – that a householder will quickly close the door and thereafter repeat to others your final and only words – “he said his meetings are dull.” No matter. This fellow will say bad things about us, anyway. Might as well give him an accurate statement to relate.

It is the season of the Memorial invitations, which are very brief. Big event – we’re inviting people – Memorial of Christ’s death – we do it every year. In closing I mention I have a cool video that explains everything in just over a minute, or I can explain it myself and that will take 45 minutes and which works best for him? But I don’t twist arms and it is always clear there is a third option, to pass on both, which most people take.

Our Assembly Hall is unusual in that it is on a residential road, which has only become more so since we built it. Moreover, though it is a network of roads, it is essentially a cul-de-sac. So there has long been a certain tension simply because of the traffic generated.

To several I explained before I left: “Actually, just so you know – I really do go there, and – it is a standard announcement at every meeting that “we have neighbors and they have kids, so make sure to observe the 30MPH speed limit” so whatever speeders there are are the neighbors and not us. One woman was very gracious and said ‘I’m sure that’s true.’

They are only going to get more neighbors. At the end of their cul-de-sac network is a new tract of over 100 homes being built. That is in addition to the Ryan homes on the right before one reaches the Assembly Hall. That was cornfield when we moved in, and later we found out that Kodak bought it as a buffer to their property so we thought we would never see anything but corn or landscaping.

We turned out to be false prophets on that one, didn’t we?

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Pay Them All a Denarius

If we accept the usual take that Matthew 20:1-15, about paying all workers a denarius, is about time spent in the Christian congregation and those arriving to it late have the same reward as those early, with its object lesson: 'don't gripe about it,' then how serious are we to take the questions within the parable? Do they mean anything or do they just flesh out the story?
 
I'll opt for the former.
 
The master's question smacks of a reproof: "Why have you been standing here all day unemployed?" Yet he accepts the laggards' answer: "Because nobody has hired us" and sends them also into the vineyard.
 
Why shouldn't that be applied to the preaching work? At first glance, the master is taken aback that there yet are, at such a late date, so many just hanging around unemployed. But their answer is unassailable - nobody 'hired' them.
 
It's not an exhortation to be active in the ministry and not to write off people as unresponsive? The master apparently agrees that it is just a matter of their not yet being reached.
 
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I think the exchange of the master with the 11th hour ones serve as an exhortation to preach, and even to step it up where possible. 'Get out there so those ones know they are hired. They won't know it otherwise.'
 

There is another application of Matthew 20:1-15 - 'pay them each a denarious' - that has nothing to do with time spent in the Christain way, which I like as much, or even better.

It is: In any circumstance of life, you cut the best deal that you can and then you look ahead to the next deal You DO NOT look around, envious, at someone who may have gotten a better deal. Think of how much heartburn THAT would solve if we managed to internalize it.

Neither do you gripe, like the initial vineyard workers, that the 'master' was unfair. Life will be fair in the new system. It is not typically so today.

Maybe it is there in print somewhere. I haven't come across it. No matter. It is enough to stay within 'the pattern of healthful words' It is not necessary to but repeat the healthful words oneself.

 
photo: Master Alsace Magic ElsaB Photography
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No Scrapping on My Watch

I don't do the following often, for it is a little mean. I wouldn't do it just on account of a differing point of view. I reserve it for someone obnoxious and condescending from the fundamentalist religious world, someone trying to denigrate the work Witnesses do, someone saying dismissively: "No thanks. I'm Christian." As though they own the word.
 
I reply that only a Christian would do the work I am doing, adding "frankly, I'm a little surprised you're not doing it yourself." Always it vanquishes the smug smile.
 
However, one does not stop there, upon seeing that the blow has landed. Immediately you move on to soften it somehow, perhaps by returning to whatever you were discussing in the first place.
 
I am not thrilled speaking with these ones. If they try to start a fight - and it is always over the Trinity - I deflect. Hopefully I share my verse and leave it at that.
 
When I offered a verse to one of these fellows, he immediately wanted to know my religion. Anyone else I would tell immediately, but to him I acted as though - well, it's rather a personal question, don't you think? I mean, this is the Bible. What is more Christian than to talk about it?
 
Too many of these folks have their scholarship defined by their beliefs, and not the other way around. Too many have had a religious awakening of some sort. How do you tell them that their experience is not theirs? I don't try. If they find what they learned by revelation confirmed in Scripture, they are happy, but they are not unduly put out when they find it is not.
 
Reliably, being saved by faith and not by works will come up. 'Of course,' I reply. 'Everyone knows that. But the works don't hurt, to they? They certainly give us some street cred.'
 
What about "there has been a child born to us...his name will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, prince of peace," he challenges. What about it? I reply. Does he think I should have a problem with it? Why should I?
 
He will have to get a little more specific than that if he wants to get into a shoving match. No scrapping on my watch. Wrestler
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