Monday, April 25, 2011

A Visit to the JW's

A little over a week ago I paid a visit to the Jehovah's Witnesses.  A week or so before, a couple of JW's came to our door, inviting us to their annual celebration of Christ's death, which is essentially their version of the Lord's Supper.  So I went to their Kingdom Hall here in town...with certain concerns in my mind.  First, I'd never been to a meeting of a group commonly known as a cult.  Second, there is always confusion here in Spain of anything or anyone that considers itself Christian but not Roman Catholic (we've already been asked a number of times if we're JW's and then have had to begin to explain the differences), so I didn't want people who know me (as an evangelical) thinking that I belonged to their group.  And third, if put on the spot, I wasn't sure if I could defend myself in Spanish biblically and theologically.  As it turned out, none of my preoccupations were worthy of losing sleep over (thanks be to God).  Here are a few reflections or thoughts based on the experience:

  • The people were quite nice.  Perhaps it was because it was a most special occasion for them and they had worked hard inviting all the town...or perhaps that's part of their training...or perhaps they're just genuinely nice.  But I felt welcomed by the people, and they seemed interested in me.  It probably helped being the only American in the service (and in town).
  • Their meetings look an awful lot like (Spanish) evangelical worship services, especially from a Catholic perspective.  In fact, as I sat there observing and listening, I began to understand why a Spaniard whose only concept of church or a worship service is a mass happening in an ornate Catholic sanctuary would confuse the JW's and the evangelicals.  Both of our meeting places are normally storefronts, we sing a couple songs, a preacher preaches and prays up front, there are no kneelers, no images or statues, little written or memorized get the picture.  I imagine that they would have a hard time getting past the appearances to even begin to contemplate the differences in doctrine and teaching.
  • They use the Bible poorly, at least in explaining their core beliefs.  On this occasion, the preacher explained these core beliefs, taking verse after verse out of context and then saying, "So we see that this is what the Bible teaches about eternal life, heaven, the way of salvation, Jesus, etc.."  We have to be careful to use the Bible well in our services and teaching, training people to know and study the Word in its entirety.
  • Not everyone, not even the majority, took communion.  In fact, the preacher mentioned that last year some 18 million people attended this same celebration of Jesus' death worldwide, but only 11,000 actually took communion.  I'm not sure why this is, if it requires a certain number of converts or a certain amount of time in the club or what, but it struck me as interesting.
  • I need to learn a bit more about how to talk with, reason with and, perhaps, sow some seeds of doubt with JW's.  The people who invited me were quite interested in visiting me again, even knowing that I'm an evangelical pastor, so hopefully I'll have the opportunity to share Christ's love and good news with them.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Prayer for Alcora: Spiritual Warfare

In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul affirms the reality of spiritual warfare, that we live in the midst of “enemy-occupied territory,” as C.S. Lewis put it, and that Satan has certain schemes and methods of attacking us.  But the truth is that we haven’t been thinking so much about demon possession and some of the more sensational displays of this reality (though we know this is real); rather, we’re continually reminded of the more subtle footholds and influences the enemy has in our world and culture.

One foothold we see here in Spain, and surely around the world (and even in our own lives) is the blatant materialism and the desire for more and more stuff.  We don’t have time to go into a deep discussion of it, but we’re convinced that this is a clear foothold and distraction that the enemy is quite pleased with…and that we’re unaware of much of the time.

Another subtle scheme of the enemy that we see, especially at this time of the year, Semana Santa, here in Spain, is the participation in the grand processions and other religious activities of this season.  Don’t get me wrong:  we're not necessarily against the Catholic Church nor religious processions, in and of themselves.  But this week many will go out to see the processions out of pure tradition, or habit, or boredom, without really thinking about why Jesus’ death makes a difference.  Others will participate to uphold a promise they made to God or the Virgin, thinking that this is really all that God expects of them, all the while missing the profound, eternity-shaking significance of what Christ has done in His death and resurrection (even as they watch the processions which represent Jesus’ sufferings).  From our point of view, this is a very subtle and, therefore, powerful hold that the enemy has on many Spaniards, keeping them from knowing God in a real way.

So please pray with us this month:
  • That God will cause Spaniards to question why they are going out to see the processions and what the death and resurrection of Jesus truly means for them.
  •  That God will give us opportunities to be good observers of the people and culture here in Alcora during the processions.
  • That God will give us opportunities to have good conversations with people here about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • That God will protect us from the schemes and attacks of the enemy as we continue to serve Him here.