Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Saddest Sight: My Memorial 2014 Experience

On a Sunday afternoon I received a few knocks on my door. Since my family and I are new in Edmonton, the last thing we expect is a knock on the door. As I opened, there were two older Jehovah's Witness men. I invited them in, had a wonderful conversation on the Bible, Jesus, and how to attain eternal life. They then proceeded to hand me an invitation to the Memorial of Christ death. This year the date landed on April 14th, 2014.

It has been 5 years since I have attended the yearly Memorial celebration of Jehovah's Witnesses. For those who do not know, the Memorial or "Lord's evening meal" is the only sanctioned celebration JW's across the World observe, it is the one part of the year where they remember the death of Jesus and pass around the emblems of the bread and wine. It is essentially their yearly sacrament meeting, and it is very important to the Witnesses. An estimated 17 million people Worldwide attend this meeting.

I decided that I would go. My wife never grew up as a Witness and has never been to any of their meetings. The only experience she has is through me and interactions shes had with my JW family members. I thought it would be good for her to see and get a feel for the religion I grew up in. So we went. As I walked into the rented Hall they had for the occasion, I could not help my mind from going to an earlier time in my life, going to the Memorial felt familiar and almost routine. I was told that the event had 3 congregations in one, yet there couldn't have been more than 200 people in attendance. As I looked around my family and I looked like we we're the only ones "out of place", we had our own Bibles, no song books. Not to mention I wore no tie and walked in with a full set of hair on my face. We sat in the last row and observed everyone coming in. Out of everyone there I am convinced we were the only ones who were not either studying with JW's or were JW's. The reason this is interesting to me is that I am sure that the Witnesses in my area have spent thousands of hours inviting people to this event for the past month and it seems like we were the only ones who responded to the invite. How ironic. 

The meeting started with a usual "Kingdom song", but as soon as the recorded tune started I noticed maybe half of those in attendance were actually singing along. This depressed me, I mean this is the most important night of the year for these Witnesses, you would imagine that they would be eager and excited to praise Jehovah for the sacrifice of his Son. Yet the music reflected the dead spiritual state of their worship. It's no wonder why they call it the "Memorial", it feels more like a funeral then a celebration of life and triumph. The talk given was no different from years before, they talked about the provision of the ransom, the significance of the occasion, who could and could not partake and then the future blessings on Paradise. Looking from the outside in, its incredibly alarming how the speaker brings together isolated Scriptures and quotes one end of the Bible to the other to prove his doctrine without any context of the surrounding verses. I use to do the same thing as a JW but I was never conscious that I myself was doing it. Then came the moment to pass the emblems of the bread and wine. I had contemplated partaking of the Memorial to make a statement, but I decided against because I did not want to bring unwanted attention to myself or offend anyone. So when the emblems started coming our way my wife and I got up and walked away to the back of the meeting. 

Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that they can partake of the emblems of the Sacraments unless they are part of the 144,000. They believe that the Great Crowd members are not born again, that they are not apart of the New Covenant, and that they are not sons and daughter of God. It was as they were passing the emblems that we saw the saddest sight- Every Jehovah's Witness in the room passing and rejecting the body and blood of Jesus. This was the first time that my wife had been to the Memorial and as she saw what was happening a tear came down her eyes as she saw an entire room of people reject the sacrifice of Jesus. As we were standing in the back another gentlemen was back there attending his child and was trying to explain to us what was happening and why no one was partaking, I turned to him and asked, "Doesn't it seem like they are rejecting and passing away the ransom sacrifice of Christ?". He stood stunned by the question, he had never seen it that way and he was taken back by the question. After the meeting I stood in the back for a while as a few JW's approached us and greeted us. As we were getting ready to leave three JW men approached us and I took the opportunity to ask them a few questions regarding some of the stuff that was mentioned during the Memorial. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes and at the end of the conversation all three Witnesses were stunned by some of the verses I had shared with them. They all promised to look into it and research it. 

Going to this years Memorial was a reminder of what I once was, a person outside of the Kingdom and Covenant of God. It was sad to see people who genuinely want to serve God reject the very sacrifice that can set them free. I'll end this post with a quick overview of what the Bible really says regarding the Memorial of Jesus.

How often are we to observe the Memorial? The Bible makes clear that every time believers in the 1st Century came together, they observed the sacraments or "Memorial" of Jesus. It was NOT a once a year occasion. READ 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 & Acts 2:46

Who can partake of the emblems? According to the New Testament, every believer has the privilege of taking communion, it is one of the two commands instituted for believers in the Church alongside baptism. Jesus said regarding the cup, "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." What are we to do to remember Him? Is it to pass the cup and bread? No, to remember is to partake according to Jesus. There are no verses in all of Scripture that says that a certain class of Christians CANNOT partake of the emblems. The belief that only a 144,000 can partake is an unscriptural assumption.

Are only the 144,000 Born again members of the New Covenant? This is a concept that is totally foreign to Scripture. Jesus said,"Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." (John 3:3, NWT) He did not say only 144,000 would be born again, instead he said "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." (John 3:6-7, NWT) If you are not born again, which is a spiritual rebirth, according to Jesus you are still in the flesh. It is written regarding the New Covenant, "That is why he(Jesus) is a mediator of a new covenant, in order that because a death has occurred for their release by ransom from the transgressions under the former covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance." (Hebrews 9:15, NWT) If you are outside of the New Covenant arrangement you are outside of life and salvation. If you are not in the New Covenant relationship with Jehovah than you have no guarantee of the promises of everlasting life. The 144,000 are very likely Jews who are the promised remnant of the nation of Israel who will believe in the Messiah during the end times. READ Romans 11:1-2, 25-26 & Revelation 7:4-8

Are there "two hopes" for Christians, a Heavenly and Earthly one? Ephesians 4:4-5 in the NWT confirms that "One body there is, and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism". There is only one hope for Christians, that is to be with Christ. READ 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 & Philippians 3:20-21

So everyone will go to Heaven? What about Paradise Earth? The Bible teaches that when a believer dies, he will go straight into the presence of the Lord. (Philippians 1:20-21) But that is not the final reward of the believer, for the Bible teaches that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, we believe that in the new creation Heaven in the form of New Jerusalem will come down to the Earth and God will dwell and reign with man for all eternity. It will be a true Paradise, literally a Heaven on Earth! READ Revelation 21:1-27

Place your faith and trust in the Savior, Jesus said "Most truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselvesWhoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I will resurrect him on the last day." (John 6:53-54, NWT) Will you obey Jesus who leads to life, or will you place your eternal salvation in the hands of an organization of men? Choose this day whom you shall serve!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Serving Hope in Canada

Back in January of this year, my family and I prayerfully decided to pursue a new job opportunity and adventure in ministry in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada as a part of Hope Mission.  In February we headed out from our home in Connecticut, leaving behind precious friends and family in order to pursue a calling we felt God had clearly opened up. I have been in Canada and in my new position for about a month now and my goodness has it been a ride! At first when we heard of this opportunity to move to Edmonton we hesitated. We were firmly convinced that CT was our home, and that despite our difficult circumstances we would stay the course in Hartford. But as we took this matter to the Lord, it began to be very apparent that God did indeed have different plans for us. 

We knew that if we were going to take this plunge to leave behind our loved ones and our way of life, God would have to make it possible for us to get over there. My car at the time had broken down beyond repair, my job in CT was quickly coming to a close and our apartment had gotten broken into. We were in need of transportation to get there and enough money to start over; both of which we were lacking. But trusting in the Lord we moved forward and accepted the job offer to work as an Intake ministry worker for Hope Mission. God blessed obedience and he provided us a vehicle by the graciousness of our incredible Christian family back home. God also blessed us with more than enough money to be able to travel and get started in Canada. The Lord also granted us our passports and visas without any hindrance! But leaving behind all that we had come to know and love was anything but easy. We also had to leave behind most of our possessions, we packed what we could in our Station Wagon and away we went. We made a stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where we said more goodbyes to family and friends. The car ride from Hartford to Milwaukee, and Milwaukee to Edmonton was not something I'd enjoy doing again. The traveling combined with the goodbyes and the anxiety of a new life away from home took an unexpected toil on us all, not to mention we have been traveling with our 1 year old son. 

When God calls you to relocate to a completely foreign place where you know essentially no one and have nothing, faith in God's leading is chief. When we arrived in Edmonton, a wonderful Christian couple housed us and took us in until we could get on our feet. I immediately started working and learning the ropes at Hope Mission. Let me explain my new job to you guys. Hope Mission is a Christian non-profit that serves the underprivileged people of Edmonton by serving over 1000 hot meals a day(Breakfast, Lunch, & Supper) and offers a warm place to sleep to over 500 people a night. Hope Mission has specific ministries that reach out to teens, women, men and people who are struggling with addictions. I have the responsibility to work as an intake worker at one of the men shelters and also lead our Turning Point Program which serves men who recognize their addiction problems and are looking to something bigger than themselves to help heal them. During our sessions I teach Bible principles that will lead them to recognize their need for recovery and a Savior, with the hope that they join our 1 year Breakout program which is an enhanced Bible recovery program. It's been a real joy to teach men the Bible and helping them on their road to recovery, and even more, their road to Jesus and eternal life. I have already begun to see the fruit of God's faithfulness and calling to serve Hope to the people of Edmonton. 

This has been a time of testing, trials and transition. We miss our friends, family and dear House Church and spiritual family back home. We look forward to meeting and making new friends, and serving people in spiritual need. I also rejoice in the trials that we have endured and the ones we will encounter, for as the Scripture says, "Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing." (James 1:2-4, HCSB)

Pray for us during this exciting time of transition. May the Lord bless you all.