My Meeting Notes: Week of 3/10/24–Psalm 18

Just one psalm for the weekly Bible reading this week. 18. It is longer than most. Following are a few aspects commented on: 

First, the visual: “flash floods of worthless men” (Psalm 18:4) Imagine getting caught up in one of them! David, the psalmist, was, and it “terrified” him. It would me, too.

He was also worried about “the faultfinding of the people.” (vs 43) He had to be rescued from it.   They are bad news, always with ‘You didn’t do this right! You didn’t do that right! Why isn’t this such-and-such? What about . .  Sheesh.

Then there is that long visual of Jehovah “bending the heavens” to descend and save the day, with “thick gloom was beneath his feet.” (vs 9) You science brothers can be forgiven for thinking of Einstein, who also bends heavens.

Those “flash floods of worthless men” have been encircling the loyal ones with whom God himself will act loyally (vs 25), to deliver from “ropes of death, (vs 4) “ropes of the Grave,” and “snares of death.” They call to Jehovah and he heeds them.

It’s all but target practice then. Thick gloom is beneath his feet as he descends, but he lights it up with “his lightning” to throw “them into confusion.” (vs 14) Things covered are uncovered: “The streambeds became visible; The foundations of the land were exposed by your rebuke. (vs 15) Things (like the psalmist) in danger of being covered over are uncovered: “He reached down from on high; He took hold of me and pulled me from deep waters,” like pulling a Floridian from Hurricane Ian. (the storm that destroyed Ft Myers Beach, where my relatives had a time share and we used to visit from time to time.)

Upon which, the psalmist is thankful. Would you not be too? “[Jehovah] rescues me from my angry enemies; You lift me high above those who attack me; You save me from the man of violence. That is why I will glorify you among the nations, O Jehovah, And to your name I will sing praises.” (48-49)

Only a minority of translations render Psalm 18:4 as “flash floods of worthless men.” Most don’t add any human element at all—a common rendering is “torrents of destruction.” But the fact that some do suggests to me that the ones that don’t are chickening out. Maybe they succumb to the modern trend that it’s okay to judge actions but not people, like the psalmist seems to do—so they soften it. “Rivers of wickedness” is a common choice, as though rivers themselves can be wicked.

Floods “of ungodliness” or of “ungodly men” is the better choice of some. It’s like the Watchtower’s explanation that “the knowledge of Jehovah” being widespread throughout the earth is something that does not affect zebras and bears. Rather, it is a reference of humans who once lived as animals. While the Isaiah 11 prophesy of “the lion shall lay down with the lamb” may well find fulfillment in animals getting along, the real fulfillment lies in how persons who once ripped and devoured each other like wild beasts will no longer do so.

Similarly, waves don’t get ungodly all by themselves, but waves “of the worthless” (YLT) do.

***five of the Biblegateway translations had significantly different readings. NABRE is an example, which renders 18:4 as: ”Praised be the Lord, I exclaim! I have been delivered from my enemies.” There’s a note somewhere that it is a Masoritic correction. I have to research it further. It does have in common with the others that the trouble is with humans—enemies—and not just with some vague ‘forces of destruction,’ or ‘perdition’ as some translations say. 

***

Then there was the Watchtower Study article, “Conquer fear by trusting in Jehovah.” (January 2024 issue) At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. It’s like a recipe, that doesn’t look like much just to see it in print. But when you cook it, that is a different thing. The study itself at the Kingdom Hall amounts to “cooking it.” Most study articles are not designed to stand alone—they must be “cooked” with audience participation. 

Reference was made (paragraph 14) to a 2014 regional convention  which depicted how we might meditate on our hope. A father discussed with his family how 2 Timothy 3:1-5 might be worded differently if those verses foretold what it would be like in Paradise: “In the new world the happiest of times will be here. For men will be lovers of others, lovers of spiritual treasures, modest, humble, praisers of God, obedient to parents, thankful, loyal, having great affection for their families, open to agreement, always speaking well of others, self-controlled, mild, lovers of goodness, trustworthy, yielding, lowly in mind, lovers of God rather than lovers of pleasures, motivated by genuine godly devotion; and to these people stick closely.” 

Reversing the 19 negative attributes of 2 Timothy 3:1-5. I had not thought of that. But I raised my hand to comment that, for the most part, that reversal characterized the brotherhood today. It’s not flawless, people fall short, are imperfect, but in the main it is that way. That’s why they call it a “spiritual paradise.”

 

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A Watchtower Study to Settle the Faith-Works Debate: Part 2

Q: I dunno, can it really be that the faith/works debate that has raged for centuries can be cleared up in a single Watchtower Study? (See Part 1 ) It must be more complicated than that. You mean all who ‘disagree with our interpretation are either not intelligent enough to understand what is plain in Scripture, or so depraved as to deny the truth they see plainly?’

 

A: I think there is another explanation.

Key to me is Jesus words at Matthew 11:25

At that time Jesus said in response: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children. 

What other topic is like that, in which young children get the sense of it but the wise and intellectual ones do not? I think it means that a person ought park his/her intellectualism at the door, because it doesn’t help. Per Jesus’ words, it may even hinder.

In any academic topic I can think of, the wise and intellectual always have a leg up over the young children. Here, they lose out. Translation: Worship of God is not an academic subject and the biggest mistake one can make is to treat it as though it is.

 

Q: Maybe the doctrine of justification (by faith or works) does not lend itself to a simple, clear, certain, understanding, and grasp upon first reading the Bible. 

A. I think it does, though not necessarily on first reading. That is why Phillip asked the eunuch if he understood what he was reading and the eunuch replied he could not unless someone guided him.  Upon receiving that guidance, he got the sense of it almost instantly. For whatever reason, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been that source of guidance.

They’re not particularly brilliant. They don’t stand out as intellectuals. How is it they have discerned things that their academic superiors have not—things like no-trinity, kingdom over earth, no immortal soul, and so forth?

Obedience is surely one factor. God gives holy spirit to those obeying him as ruler, says Acts 5:32. I think that means if you don’t obey him, he may be stingy with the holy spirit that aids understanding. Humility would be another. Here, intellectualism actually gets in the way, for the more of it one has, the greater the assault on humility. Then, there is brotherly love and the resulting determination to remove any obstacle that gets in its way, whether it be the king stirring up emotions of national superiority, or prevailing societal  attitudes of racial, class, or educational superiority.

So, at least three factors exist that trump intellectualism: obedience, humility, and love. For the most part, those who frame discussion of faith as an intellectual endeavor make no mention whatsoever of these qualities. As often as not, they use their intellectualism as a ploy to justify doing whatever it is they want to do.

Not that there’s any virtue in being dumb. Not that if you have intellectual gifts you can’t bring them to the altar. Paul had such gifts and he was thus equipped to write 1/3 of the New Testament. But he’s not known primarily for his thinking ability, rather for his zeal,love, and humility. I like the way he takes direction from men inferior to him intellectually.

 

The sort relationship of faith and works does indeed lend itself to a simple, clear, certain, understanding. Granted, all the nuances will not be covered in a simple Watchtower Study article, but overall, I think it does. Some people don’t like simple and clear, for it undermines their love of debate and pontification. Some people like mystery. That way, you can put your relationship with God in that category and do whatever you want. You can forget all about ‘obedience’ and acquiesce to the contemporary view that obedience makes you a chump. You can speak of being ‘intellectually humble,’ as though it were possible to separate that quality from overall humility. 

One sister, who has derived benefit from her college degree, says, ‘I would never say that higher education is valueless, but it does have a way of taking things that are simple and making them complicated.’

 

These people who think they can muscle through on brainpower alone are a plague. “By their fruits you will know them,” holds no sway with them. You would think people would assess critical thinking by the world it has collectively produced. It has been the chief export of universities for some time now, and few world leaders are not university-equipped. 

Witnesses, on the other hand, though not without the minor mishaps stemming from being ‘earthen vessels,’ have achieved a peacefulness, unity, cohesiveness, that the world can only dream of. Pew Research says their membership (in the U.S.) is almost exactly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Hispanic, with about 5% Asian thrown in. Translation: They have solved racism, the issue that is ripping this world apart, despite its educational advantage.

Brotherly love is a concept that works, but it does not stand well up to ‘reason,’ especially reason with evolution at its root. It is not a concept that lends itself well to ‘proof.’ The truths that are declared ‘self-evident,’ that ‘all men are created equal,’ are not at all self-evident to those evolution-based. What is self-evident to them is the 2001 SpaceOdyssey humanoid discovering he can beat the snot out of his competitor with a leg bone, whereupon he throws it into the air and out comes this spacecraft to Jupiter. 

 

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My Meeting Notes: Week of March 4, 2024

When the Scriptural Gems portion came, five separate people commented on this verse, for the most part not repeating each other. The scripture was a hit

“Rescue me with your hand, O Jehovah, From men of this world, whose share is in this life.” (Ps: 17:14)

Imagine. You have to be rescued from them. Whatever they have rubs off, that determination to have it all, whereas any Christian knows the meaning of delayed gratification. You don’t want to overdose on people “whose share is in this life.” Alas, when one gives up on God completely, it is all that remains.

The contrast is in the very next verse (15): “I am satisfied to awaken in your presence.”

Then there was the student talk in which was quoted Mark 7:9: “Further, he said to them: ‘You skillfully disregard the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.’”

 

‘Skillfully disregard.’ They have to work at it.

 

And from the commentary on Acts (7:54-8:3):

“What can we learn from Stephen’s speech? . . .  We can also learn about graciousness and tact from Stephen. His audience could hardly have been more hostile! Yet, for as long as possible, he maintained common ground . . . he also addressed them with respect, calling the older men “fathers.” (Acts 7:2) We too need to present the truths of God’s Word with “a mild temper and deep respect.”​

How respectful can you be when you go on to call those religious high court members “obstinate men?” It recalls to me the quip that if you begin your remarks with, “With all due respect,” you can say any horrific thing you want.

 

“Which one of the prophets did your forefathers not persecute?” Stephen charges. (vs 52)

Now, the scribes and Pharisees were sensitive to that charge. They’d worked up a defense against it. Earlier, Jesus had said, (Matthew 23: 29-30) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you . . . say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have shared with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’”

Oh, hogwash, he says. You’re fully in that tradition. Keep on keeping on:

“Therefore, you are testifying against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Well, then, fill up the measure of your forefathers.” (31-32)

 

Someone commented on Stephen’s forgiveness: “Finally, Stephen prayed directly to God in a loud voice: “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.” After saying this, he fell asleep in death.​“—Acts 7:59, 60. Not his role to judge, apparently. Besides, maybe they were just being used.

 

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My Quora Answers: Part 1

Probably, some are real. But, most of them are disingenuous. Some, maybe even AI generated. Still—why not answer a question? Use Twitter (X) skills. 140 characters, later 280, forced the windbags to be concise. Do it here.

Since they are disingenuous, ought one use the line of Paul to Elymas? “O man full of every sort of fraud and every sort of villainy, you son of the Devil, you enemy of everything righteous, will you not quit distorting the right ways of Jehovah? (Acts 13:10) No. Not unless you also can strike with blindness the way Paul did. Just answer the question. If they are too taunting or stupid, (which many are) let them slide.

Many are hot-button issues, taking the form of ‘gotcha’ questions, that are not heard in the Kingdom Hall, where people in general are quite content.

 

Q: Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses love the earth more than heaven? 

A: When you step on a cloud, your foot goes right through it. That doesn’t happen on earth.

“As for the heavens, they belong to Jehovah, But the earth he has given to the sons of men.” (Psalm 115:16)

 

Q: Why do Jehovah's Witnesses not go to hospitals for medical treatment? Is prayer considered more effective for healing?

A: No. They like prayer, but they don’t imagine they can go into hospitals and clear them out with prayer. Humans weren’t supposed to die at all, doing so only as a result of the first man pulling the plug on himself long ago, and consequently all his offspring. Since then, someone has likened life to boarding a great ship heading out to ocean that you know is going to sink. Usually, there is foundering along the way.

It is only when the cause of that original death is removed that sickness will be removed as well. (Romans 5:12) To be sure, prayer connects one to a higher source. The resulting better mood can aid recovery from illness, but no one imagines it a silver bullet. And, of course, Witnesses go to hospitals as readily as anyone else.

 
Q: Saints look forward to a NEW heaven & earth, says 2 Peter 3. What do Jehovah’s Witnesses say about that?
 
A: The ‘heavens’ above could fry you one moment, freeze you the next, drench you thereafter, and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it. Thus, ‘heavens’ made a good Bible metaphor for government. For the most part, such is still true of human government; they impose conditions on you, but power to change them is negligible for most. ‘Earth’ likewise becomes a symbol, not for the planet itself, but for the people on it.
 
A: They use email and voicemail.
 
 

A: To them, if it makes sense to you. Away from them, if it doesn’t.

Recognize the ‘cult’ label is affixed these days to anyone straying too far from the mainstream, and often for that reason. People who decry brainwashing the loudest are less concerned about brainwashing than they are brainwashing that is not theirs.

The definition of cult has much changed over the years. It used to be that if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, separated from society, and began to do strange things, you just might be a member of a cult. That definition is expanded today into any non-conformist group, as though someone else is ‘controlling’ them to do be that way.

A: No, he was the guy who said (and practiced): ‘If you stop and kick every dog that barks at you, you’ll never get very far.’
 
 
 
A: Some acknowledge that they know their Bibles quite well, but think it would be nice if they kept it to themselves.

Alas, they run up against Jesus observation that, ‘People light a lamp and set it, not under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house.’ (Matthew 5:15)

If you have good news, you don’t just sit on it. You tell others.

A: It is always hoped that a disfellowshipped one will return and many of them do. Disfellowshipping is a last-ditch attempt attempt at discipline, when all other avenues have failed, to ensure that members adhere to the biblical standards and conduct that they have voluntarily signed on for. Of course, anyone can tire of them and leave on their own, but if they insist on bringing unacceptable conduct into the congregation, trouble ensues. More on disfellowshipping here:

https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2018/08/the-trump-card-of-christian-discipline.html
 
 
A: Learn to mind your own business.
 
 
Q: Do Jehovah's Witnesses have humanitarian aid programs in addition to their door-to-door ministry?
 
A: Besides being a significant source for literacy in lands where it is poor, they are well known for disaster relief, prompting taking care of their own, in catastrophic times. They thus provide a good example for other groups to follow, for there is no reason that anyone cannot do as they do.

In recent years, some critics have attempted to spin this exercise of brotherly love as a lack of concern for anyone else. They do this even though they themselves would—say, in the event of an earthquake—check on family members first, never dreaming that anyone would frame that as indifference to the suffering of others. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a family, frankly not large enough to fix everyone. If opponents refuse to acknowledge that love of God can form the basis of family, that is hardly the Witnesses’ fault, is it?

The above is an excellent example of ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.’ What is the good of criticizing the Witnesses over this? Emulating them is a better idea. Alas, people without Bible principles tend to be slow to roll up their sleeves. They also tend not to get along, so cooperation is amongst them is difficult. Yet, all they have to do is adopt the Bible principles that Witnesses have, and all would be fine.

 

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Psalm 13 & 14. Correcting Oneself

I came to appreciate more the 13th psalm. I had that Bible reading last night.

“How long, O Jehovah, will you forget me? Forever?”

What’s with the ‘forever?’ Not a bit of complaint there, even sarcasm? 

It’s followed up with three other ‘how longs?’ and then — is it a plea or a demand?: ‘Look upon me and answer me, O Jehovah my God.’ I read it as more the latter than the former, with emphasis on the ‘Look’ and with the exclamation mark that seems to fit the entire line.

HQ narrators get stuck in ‘mildness mode’ and tend to play down the heat. I tried to crank it up. These are real serious complaints, not just pleas. Or so it seems to me.

The psalmist does self-correct, though, forcing upon himself the bigger picture: ‘As for me, I trust in your loyal love; My heart will rejoice in your acts of salvation.’ And even, ‘I will sing to Jehovah, for he has richly rewarded me.’ (I did a long pause before these verses, allowing for the complete reversal of sentiment.)

In its entirety:

Psalm13: How long, O Jehovah, will you forget me? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long will I have anxious concern, With grief in my heart each day?  How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look upon me and answer me, O Jehovah my God. Give light to my eyes, so that I may not fall asleep in death, 4 So that my enemy will not say: “I have defeated him!”  Do not let my opponents rejoice over my downfall. 5 As for me, I trust in your loyal love; My heart will rejoice in your acts of salvation.  6 I will sing to Jehovah, for he has richly rewarded me.

Psalm 14, also in the reading, follows the same pattern of complaint followed by self-correction, only this time he makes God an ally in his complaint—even if an ally who takes his time in setting things straight.

The complaint: ‘Their actions are corrupt, and their dealings are detestable; No one is doing good.’

God as ally: ‘But Jehovah looks down from heaven on the sons of men To see whether anyone has insight, whether anyone is seeking Jehovah. They have all turned aside; They are all alike corrupt.  No one is doing good, Not even one.’

What’s he going to do about it? Not much, at the moment: ‘Do none of the wrongdoers understand? They devour my people as if they were eating bread.’

But then, the self-correction that eventually he will: ‘But they will be filled with great terror, For Jehovah is with the generation of the righteous. You wrongdoers try to frustrate the plans of the lowly one, But Jehovah is his refuge. O that Israel’s salvation may come from Zion! When Jehovah gathers back his captive people.’ (Uh oh—there’s that word ‘generation’ again. I’m not touching it.)

Both psalms are good for conveying that, lacking God’s timetable, it’s easy to become wound up too tight.

 

See: (with some repetition): Psalm 11 and Psalm 12, even more on Psalm 13, all to be integrated later

 

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The Question that Blew up in My Face: Part 1

Q: How much credit do PIMO Jehovah’s Witnesses owe to Zoom for freeing them from attending boring meetings at the Kingdom Hall?

Probably quite a bit, though simply fading would accomplish the same goal, minus the certain element of hypocrisy. Fading works fine for those who wish to leave. As long as one doesn’t go publicly reviling, robbing banks, or killing people, one is fine.

A consistent blackened screen without any participation always suggests to me PIMO as a possibility, save for obvious cases of infirmity, distance, hardship, etc. Nor is anyone fooled in the long run. Witnesses bond so readily with their fellow believers, even from around the world, because 2/3 of what they have in common is their spirituality/love of God. Begin to indicate that 2/3 is not very important to you, and in time relationships, even friendships, will shift.

I mean, I don’t think those meetings are boring at all, but if I did, I not only wouldn’t go but I also wouldn’t use Zoom in an attempt to deceive others into thinking I was.

***

I got into some trouble with this post on FB. Several who use Zoom a lot were indignant, thinking I was calling them luke-warm Christians or worse. One, who has always been a pal, proceeded to tell me off on no uncertain terms. It’s my own fault, as so many things are. Had I made clear from the beginning that the opening question was not mine, it would not have happened. I told this brother that 

“I wasn’t speaking at all about you or any of the situations you mention. I should have stated—and would have were I to do it again—that the Question about ‘boring meetings’ is not mine, but was taken off a social media site (Quora) that pitches out questions for anyone to answer. I decided to answer it, and so the next three paragraphs are mine, but not the question itself. It may be the question was not written by a current Witness at all, but a former one. There are some in that population that openly boast of being PIMO, with the eventual ‘goal’ of being POMO (physically out/mentally out). Many of the friends have never even heard of that terminology, but it is sort of a modern-day ‘Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things.’ It is among the reason that our numbers have been stuck around 8 million for many years now, barely growing at all. I wasn’t in any way speaking of ones like you.”

upon which, he made a graceful reply and all is well again.

On the one hand, I was heartened that so many black screens chewed me out, taking umbrage that I should think them PIMO. On the other hand, I was disheartened that so many had never even heard of the term—not the term itself, really, but the phenomenon. Alas, it does kind of smack (in the case of those who are shepherds) of not knowing the appearance of the flock.

***Then there was one wiseacre who suggested our meetings would not be boring if we had a little more of this:

It’s not bad. And, say—Isn’t that Howard Hoodwinkel 8 rows back, 4th from the left? 

I hope the brothers don’t harrumph too much over it. It’s not like they could endorse it, but it is possible to say, ‘You know, there’s a place to learn more about this Jehovah.’ What to one person is not being swept along by the fads and vagaries of men is to another just being a bunch of fuddy-duddies.

But, i had to walk that praise back in view of the following comment from someone who “attended 2 mega churches for several years, this type of music is nice to listen to but being in that concert type environment week after week gets old. Knowing what goes on behind the music also makes it out as just a show. Followed up by a regurgitated topical teaching that may use a scripture. And I found most people who go to mega churches are biblically illiterate. Even a pastor once said they were there to entertain people.”

This is like when Mike.e used to drive me bonkers week after week with his attack on the organizational structure of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I responded with some biblical things that they didn’t seem to know about and he replied as above. ‘You must understand that many Christians are biblically illiterate,” he told me. “Well, whose fault is that?” I replied. “We manage to keep our people familiar with the menu.”

Then—back to the PIMO theme—someone told the anecdote of where a teacher was asked how he knew a student was looking at his phone when they were being so stealth about it. He said: no one smiles at their crotch. 

It is not an answer that would work today because they have discovered a few genders in recent years where people do just that. 

Another brother told of riding around with teens in the backseat and he wasn’t sure their conversation, to put it mildly, was firmly in line with the program. But they had volunteered to help on a move, he didn’t want to lose his free labor, so he did nothing but say how he appreciated their help. 

This reminded me of Al Kapp, the cartoonist, who stuck to traditional ‘follow the flag’ values. He didn’t think much of his generation’s young people protesting, and lampooned them, inventing the group, S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything)  He would appear on campus and tell them off. One of the protesting youths asked the pugnacious fellow whether he thought young people were better than older ones at anything. ‘Yes, they’re better at carrying luggage,’ he replied.

 

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My Meeting Notes, Week of 2/18/24–Psalms 8-10, Acts 6

“When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, The moon and the stars that you have prepared, What is mortal man that you keep him in mind, And a son of man that you take care of him? You made him a little lower than godlike ones, And you crowned him with glory and splendor. You gave him dominion over the works of your hands; You have put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:3-6)

It is a good, appreciative, attitude for life, much better than ‘We pulled ourselves up from our own bootstraps!’ evolution.

Metaphorically, you can probably use it even if you do believe in evolution. After all, it is only ‘origin of life’ [happenstance or created?] at which one must absolutely draw the line. Should developing life incorporate elements of evolution, we can all live with that. Let scientists be scientists and Bible students be Bible students.

The psalmist’s attitude is harder to pull off if you are undergoing Job-like trials. Then again, such an attitude might better enable one to endure them while they last.

 

***When the nations get too big for their pants, which they are wont to do, the psalmist says,

“Rise up, O Jehovah! Do not let mortal man prevail. May the nations be judged in your presence. Strike them with fear, O Jehovah, Let the nations know that they are only mortal men.” (9:19-

 

***His eyes are watching for an unfortunate victim. He waits in his hiding place like a lion in its lair. He waits to seize the helpless one. . . . The victim is crushed and brought down.” (Psalm 10:8-10)

I don’t know anyone like this. Even of the mechanic who billed me for a new carburetor on my Tesla I didn’t go that far.

The whole psalm is about how the wicked one shakes you like a dog with a rat. This may be why Rosie said when she first read the psalms as a young girl, “Man, this guy sure whines a lot!” 

Could you apply it to machinations of humans, be they political parties, governments, or powers transcending governments who push schemes, sometimes will full knowledge they are making you trouble, doing so for their idea of the ‘greater good.’ That scenario fits the tone of the psalm. It’s not for nothing that the Bible likens governments to ‘the heavens.’ They drench you one moment, scorch you the next, freeze you after that, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

Verses like #4 suggest it’s the atheists up to no good: “In his haughtiness, the wicked man makes no investigation; All his thoughts are: “There is no God.’” But other verses are to the effect that they acknowledge God but count him as a non-factor: “He says in his heart: “God has forgotten. He has turned away his face. He never notices.” (vs 11)

Besides, here’s a commentator (in connection with ‘the senseless one who says in his heart ‘there is no Jehovah’) who says there were no atheists back then, at least not enough to single out as a class: “It never occurred to any writer of the OT [Hebrew Scriptures] to prove or argue the existence of God. . . .It is not according to the spirit of the ancient world in general to deny the existence of God, or to use arguments to prove it. The belief was one natural to the human mind and common to all men.” Dr. James Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible.

It matters little to say there is a God. What matters is what attributes you assign him. We diss the ancient peoples who worshipped different gods, but when people hold to radically different views of God, is it not in effect different gods they speak of? Just like you mention Oscar Oxgoad and I say ‘I know that guy!’ But further discussion reveals the attributes and physical qualities don’t line up, so you say, ‘Oh, I guess I don’t know him after all. It’s two people who share the same name.’

Who are these characters that assign him whatever attributes they find convenient? I’ll take the overall lesson of the psalm. They’re cocky as all get-out, but God will set matters straight—an underlying theme of the Bible. Humans insist upon self-rule, the underlying Genesis message of knowing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ God says, ‘Don’t try it—you’ll mess it all up.’ They do so anyway. God says, ‘Alright, I allot you such-and-such an amount of time to make good on your claim. When the time is up, we’ll see what kind of a world you’ve made.’

“[The wicked one] says in his heart: ‘I will never be shaken; For generation after generation I will never see calamity.’” (vs 6)

What says the psalmist of God? “Rise up, O Jehovah. O God, lift up your hand. . . . you do see trouble and distress. You look on and take matters in hand. To you the unfortunate victim turns. . . . Break the arm of the wicked and evil man, So that when you search for his wickedness, You will find it no more.” (vs 12-15)

 

***This is from the previous week, but the idea had to gel and be prompted by a question on Quora:

Q (from Quora): Its odd that 1 out of 9 men in the governing body is a person of color. How does that reflect their constituents?

A: 100% of the American presidency was a person of color for 8 years running. Did that result in a country where blacks and whites get along seamlessly, as with JWs? Pew Research reports that [in the United States] the makeup of Jehovah’s Witnesses is almost exactly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 Hispanic, with about 5% Asian, mirroring the national population quite well. It is the biblical values taught that count, not the people who serve as placeholders. One should go for substance, rather than symbolism. As the stats show, Witnesses have all but solved racism.

It is pretty much as in Acts 6, when “the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution,” necessary because an annual pilgrimage for the Pentecost celebration unexpectedly turned into an extended stay with the formation of the Christian congregation. The apostles jumped on the problem right away, selecting “seven reputable men . . . full of spirit and wisdom, that we may appoint them over this necessary matter.”

Five of the seven are Greek, judging by their names. (vs 5). Good. The Greek names would build confidence among the Greek persons who were agrieved, no doubt. But the apostles saw no need to change their own makeup, incorporating some Greeks among themselves. It’s the same with the Governing Body themselves. With Branches, the governing arrangements start out heavily foreign but as locals advance spiritually a greater load shifts to them, very much like the appointment of the Greek speaking disciples.

 

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Speaking with Evangelicals

A circuit overseer serving congregations in the Bible Belt (Southern U.S.A) tackled how to respond when people ask, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’

If you hesitates in any way, he said, maybe to explain that with us it is not ‘once saved—always saved’—you can lose your ‘saved’ status, or maybe to explain how Jesus is God’s Son, not God himself—or maybe to explain that our individual salvation is not the central issue under all creation, but the sanctification of Gods name is . . . if you hesitate in any way, they take it as a ‘No.’ 

So why do it? Are you saved at present? (Yes) Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior? (Yes). Just because the phrasing is not exactly as you would put it, why make a fuss? Whereupon, he had the congregation repeat in unison several times: ‘I am saved.’

I mean, there is such a thing as building bridges rather than burning them. Why burn when you don’t have to? Even my response to a truly condescending evangelical (a minority among them—few are this way) who said, ‘No thanks, I’m Christian,’ with the unmistakable implication that I was not—even that, I have rethought. I had said at the time, ‘Well, only a genuine Christian would do what I am doing. Frankly, I’m a little surprised you’re not doing it yourself.’ (Fade smug smile—a beautiful sight) But I have rethought it. Even toward those who blatantly deserve it, it amounts to ‘striking back’ and does nothing except satisfy the ego. 

Better to do, when some evangelical is intent to pick a fight (and if it is not them, it is us), ‘Look, I know you think we’re doing it all wrong. And we think you’re doing it all wrong. You’d steal our sheep in a second and we’d do the same to you. Got it. But the point is, we’re both doing it, and we live in a world where more and more people are not doing it.’ I’ve seen conversation turn on a dime with such remarks. Instantly, an adversary becomes a confidant. Discussion turns to mutual challenges of keeping faith in a faithless world, on the mutual trials of raising a family in one, and not one of ‘Our religion is better than yours.’

You can clear up those things later, if conversation goes that far, and it probably won’t, but it doesn’t anyhow.  Better to depart with a good taste in your mouth and theirs, than with a bad taste.

 

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Midweek Meeting Notes, Wk of 2/11/24, Psalms 5-7)

“For nothing they say can be trusted; Within them is nothing but malice; Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue.” (Psalm 5:9)

How’s that for an image? We’re bowled over by bad breath. Imagine what a throat like an ‘open grave’ must smell like.

“Return, O Jehovah, and rescue me; Save me for the sake of your loyal love.” (Ps 6:4)

No Witness of Jehovah wants to die. It’s inconvenient and it make people feel bad, though death itself holds know terror for them, since they know what it is. And then there is this: “For in death there is no mention of you; In the Grave, who will praise you?” (vs 5)

“Look at the one who is pregnant with wickedness; He conceives trouble and gives birth to lies.” (Ps 7:14) Another image I like: imagine someone ‘pregnant with wickedness.

“He excavates a pit and digs it deep, But he falls into the very hole he made. The trouble he causes will return on his own head; His violence will fall on the crown of his head.” (vs 15-16)

Exactly right, though it may take a while.

 

******  The bookstore

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'

A Watchtower Study to Settle the Faith-Works ‘Debate.’

Reference was made at yesterday’s Watchtower Study about how “For centuries, the relationship between faith and works has been hotly debated in Christendom.” Some insist it is saved by faith, and some insist by works. So the Study explored that topic, and it is a big ‘Duh.’ A child can understand it. Barely any ‘education’ at all is required. It is different ‘works’ in different contexts that Paul and James refer to.

[‘Faith and Works can Lead to Righteousness’—December 2023 issue]

So you begin to wonder why the learned one haven’t been able to settle it “for centuries.” Is it that “debate” is their method of choice, as though the way to settle anything is through triumph of the intellect? One brother pointed to a faulty silver lining in that approach; it enables professional debaters to say that it’s okay never to reach resolution because the Bible writers themselves couldn’t agree! However, said that Watchtower (paragraph 9): “Jehovah inspired both Paul and James to write what they did. (2 Tim. 3:16) So there must be a simple way to harmonize their statements. There is​—by considering their writings in context”—and, without fuss, they did it.

Or is it that God blesses those who put obedience first? As in, ‘obedient ones are blessed with understanding, but the ‘great thinkers’ never figure it out?’ As in, “Look! To obey is better than a sacrifice,” (1 Samuel 15:22) in this case, the ‘sacrifice’ of brainpower. As in, ‘You don’t have to know everything, but act upon what you do know.’

I suspect that’s why the scholars will never be running the show at JW Central. It’s too easy for scholars to take refuge in their scholarship and be unconcerned that no practical application is ever made of it. Said Jesus to the learned of his day: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” (John 5:44) The first activity interferes with the second—it is a trap scholars can easily fall into. Run with what you have, instead. If you don’t have everything, as you never will, figure it out on the fly.

Or is it some other factor? Is it that the faith people are such because they don’t want to do any works? Or the works people are such because they don’t have much faith, but do like to shine before others? At any rate, it is very strange that the relationship between faith and works can be cleared up in a single Study at the Kingdom Hall (it was just a refresher study anyway, not anything new) whereas the theologians have debated it “for centuries.”

Some of these points came up in field service the day before. ‘Here you are going door-to-door,’ one evangelical man said to us, ‘but don’t you know that salvation is by faith and not by works?’ ‘Yeah, everyone knows that,’ I replied. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses think they’re ‘earning’ anything. It’s just a matter of showing appreciation for a priceless gift. If you receive such a gift and it makes no change whatsoever in your life afterwards, one might justifiably wonder just how much you really do appreciate it.

This fellow also went on and on about the pastor of his church. The pastor will quote this or that from the Bible and then you should not just take his word for it, he would say, but you should check it. ‘Yeah, we’re trying to make all our people pastors,’ is what I would have said had I thought of it in time—our best lines always occur to us too late. Of course, not all our people are pastors—we too have plenty of weak or immature Christians—but the Witness organization doesn’t cater to them by appointing just a single person to serve as the ‘pastor.’ There’s no reason everyone can’t attain to the role. Besides, a pastor is always at risk that his special qualifications and background doesn’t go to his head. Sometimes it does.

 

******  The bookstore

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'