I'm talking about Jehovah's Witnesses. Usually, a mention of that cult sparks thoughts of hostility among Christians, and I certainly am no exception, but the Lord used Saturday to refocus me on His heart for them.
I arrived at the bus stop way early for my bus, because I didn't know what time the bus left. I think I actually have a schedule for both buses that I could have caught, but the Lord had a reason for allowing me to misplace them. By sitting at the bus terminal behind the Park Place mall, I became the target of the JW Saturday morning canvas. As the young white man approached me, he offered me reading material while I waited. I gently refused, saying that reading Scripture had led me to conclude that Watchtower publications are false. Now, this wasn't my exact phraseology, and, in any case, he was not offended; rather, he tried to persuade me that the Awake magazine was actually all about studying the Bible, noting that it contains Scripture references throughout (which it does).
But I told him that there is a difference between "cherry-picking" (I actually learned that term from an atheist, believe it or not; I have since heard Christians employ it, but that was my first exposure to it) special verses for one's own purpose (something not particularly exclusive to cults) and actually reading a verse, not only in context, but also for its consistency throughout Scripture. Then I asked him, "Have you read the Bible from beginning to end?" He affirmed. "On your own or with guidance?" On his own, he said. I was actually surprised by his answer, and I didn't have any evidence to challenge that notion, and, in any case, reading the Bible from cover to cover doesn't mean that one is saved; it just means that one has less than no excuse (whatever that means).
So instead I asked him, "Who do you think Jesus is?" Jews for Jesus uses this question all the time. I don't actually remember a specific case of using it myself, even when I was with them in 2006. But it was a great opener. I think he was just supposed to distribute the magazines and hop back in the truck with his mentor, but, at the prospect of perhaps persuading someone to reconsider his opinion of Jehovah's Witnesses, he decided to answer.
It was a simple answer, anyway, "Jesus is God's Son."
"Is He supposed to be worshipped."
"The only One who is supposed to be worshipped is God."
"So when Thomas said to Him, 'My Lord and my God,' was he wrong for that?"
"Jesus always pointed people to His Father."
"So what about the man whom Jesus healed who was born blind, and Jesus found him in the Temple after He had healed him, and the man bowed down and worshipped Him (John 9; actually, he wasn't in the Temple: he had just been kicked out of the synagogue)--was Jesus wrong for accepting his worship?"
I also referenced John 14, where Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father"; but this guy, whose name I failed to get, wasn't budging from his position: "Jesus never took any glory for Himself, He always pointed people to His Father."
Then he tried to blow it off, saying that first that Jesus couldn't control the actions of other people. "No, but He could rebuke them, and He had no problem doing that." Then he said that the question wasn't that big an issue. I was furious: "Yes, it is! It was a death-worthy sin in the Old Testament! Look, you may not want to acknowledge these things because they say that you are wrong, but the truth doesn't change, and, if you ignore the truth, you are only going to hurt yourself." All things that are true. But, boy, was that the wrong track to take!
As I reflected on it later, the Lord reminded me that He had put John's rather candid confession of sin in Revelation (actually two separate incidents of the same act: 19:10; 22:8-9) of bowing down before an angel, and the angel rebuking him, telling him only to worship God; and when Paul and Barnabas had rejected the worship of the Lycaonians in Acts 14:8-18; and Peter raising Cornelius to his feet in Acts 10:25-26 -- the Lord had brought all these things to my mind during our conversation before it got ugly, and I had rejected them in favor of a logical argument. Oops. I guess I was the one with the hard heart.
At least some Scripture was planted, but, next time, I will stick with Scripture. You can't argue with Scripture--you just present it. Then it's no longer how persuasive I can be, but a matter of accepting or rejecting God's Word.
I still continued to witness to others who sat close to me on the bus and at the stop. I transferred to another bus later (I was going to Coquina Key to play flag football, and my usual ride was unavailable), and one of the people we picked up on the way down was reading an Awake magazine. Alarm!
I tried to start the conversation by referring to it, but she was engrossed and probably wasn't paying any attention to anyone trying to speak to her on the bus (there are a lot of people who try to start unseemly conversations or who want to ask for something you can't afford to give them, so I can't blame her), so I just prayed hard for an opening. He actually almost missed the bus.
Jerry is one of the kids from the Rock downtown (the Rock is a center of gathering at South Straub Park in downtown St Pete, where a bunch of drug-addicted, fornicating teenagers hang out with each other to get drunk, high, beat up, and laid; a group from Team Hope usually ministers to them every Friday night, led by Gabe Graham, who is actually planting a church fellowship in that very area). He has openly opposed our Prayer Station set up at Bay Walk, saying that we were getting preferential treatment. Actually, we simply have been exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and of assembly regularly and on public property; so it's not like Bay Walk has actually endorsed us. In fact, they have actually tried to kick us out of our spot several times, and the police that they tried to enlist against us have had to remind them of the First Amendment.
I wasn't there Friday night, because I had taken my neighbor Dave to The Most Excellent Way. After his bad week, he has been asking about different church events daily. I wasn't able to take him to anything Thursday, because he was my guest and I was going to SENDERS! which is an internally-focused ministry, not one with inherent outreach potential. If it had been any other week, I could have taken him to Men's Accountability, but I wasn't going. But he did want to go to The Most Excellent Way, so I had agreed to take him.
I was worried about what to tell him, since this last week was the last one, so there wouldn't be one for him to go to on a regular basis, but the Lord handled that: he walked out during the singing, saying that he had to go to the restroom, and he didn't come back right away, so I went out to get him, realizing that he hadn't really come in order to get closer to the Lord, and took him home. By the time we got there, Team Hope had already left, so I went to Panera bread to work on some things on Facebook, and got to witness to a bunch of teenage boys instead.
So I had missed having yet another battle with Jerry about his Tarot cards and incense Friday night (he had set up a Tarot card reading across from us two weeks ago and got removed by security, because he really was on Bay Walk property; and he had walked up and down the sidewalk burning incense as a way to sic demons on us last week; of course, I laughed at him, telling him that I had endured many spiritual attacks, and that Jesus was way more powerful than demons; he wasn't too happy about that and didn't agree, but oh well). But here he was getting on my bus! And, if I had caught the other bus, I would have met this bus downtown already after he had gotten off at Williams Park. And, if he had not been so unreasonably hostile, he would not have opened the lady's attention who was reading the Awake magazine. =) God is so good.
She told me that she herself wouldn't just reject someone out of hand who wanted to talk to her about God. She even referred to her receipt of the Watchtower's publications as proof of her accepting spirit. It was the perfect opening. Then another lady got on the bus as it was about to pull away and joined in the conversation, too. She was a pleasant addition as we discussed the Gospel, and I asked her how she knew that God was going to forgive her of her sins. I don't actually remember her answer, but the other lady, the one reading the Watchtower's Awake magazine, said, "He'll forgive you because Jesus died for your sins"!
Yes, that's it!
The second lady made the excuse that she was going to get there eventually with her answer, but I reminded her that the thing we trust in the most is what rolls off our tongues under pressure. She was grateful for that reminder, and I told her that the Bible is so full of reminders, I don't even judge her for needing one (yes, that is a new position for me; it comes from studying Peters epistles, which the Vine is doing on Saturday nights; side note: I told Dave that he could come to the Vine if he wasn't drunk, but he had already had a few before the time that I was supposed to take him, so I didn't). We finished a great conversation within minutes as she arrived at her destination, the first lady having already disembarked.
Now, for everyone who is going to come at me for laughing at Jerry's threat of sending demons after me, please note that this young man has not only been witnessed to every possible way that we can, Isaac actually saved his life one night with his own inhaler when Jerry was having an asthma attack (possibly triggered by that incense?) and the paramedics weren't too kind to him. Raven, his brother who has actually been very forceful in trying to remove us from the Rock, called a truce after that incident, but Jerry has increased his hostility. I was mocking him because I refuse to show fear in the face of a powerless act. The sooner he realizes the impotence of his demons (I know they are more powerful than me, but they are not more powerful than Jesus, and that is the One behind Whom I fight), the better off he will be. He has actually said on several occasions that his demons will one day beat God. So I am not doing any damage to the Gospel in my interactions with him.
Other prayer points: please pray for Tina, one of the young ladies in the Vine. She was hospitalized last week and had two mal-functioning organs removed. She is recovering rather well and was at the Vine last night. Please also pray for the part of the Vine that is preparing for a mission trip to the Domincan Republic: they need finances, unity, and spiritual growth and protection for their journey. And please also pray for the Jews for Jesus Behold Your God Israel campaign that is going on right now. There have been many battles, some won, some lost, some in progress. Go to www.jewsforjesus.org and click on the appropriate links for updates.
Thanks for all your prayers. God bless.