I actually wrote a poem about this very thought many years ago when enduring our terrible trial and I am so happy that I am finally able to meet some of you.
When we get together to read a chapter or two of the bible, we also have the opportunity to share with others any thoughts we've had during the week from our own personal bible reading.
This morning, one of our friends made a comment about JER 10:23. He pointed out that we quoted this scripture often whilst in the organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses, "It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step." This friend made mention of the Israelites and how they wanted a human king to lead them. Jehovah warned the Israelites about the negative consequences of such a request but nonetheless, they still wanted one.
Our friend commented that we could be the same if we want a human to tell us what to think and what to do. JEREMIAH 10:23 is warning us that looking to men is pointless. It does not belong to humans to direct their own steps, let alone other people's.
We must always look to our leader, Jesus for guidance. And he told us that the holy spirit would guide us into all the truth. He also said that God's Word is truth. So bible study is the key. Look to Christ and not to men.
Oh dear brothers and dear sisters,
Out there in your pain.
How I long to comfort you
And tell you, “You are not alone.”
We suffer together oh unknown ones,
Though crying alone.
Our prayers ascend in unison –
“Help us dear Father, help us endure.”
Oh dear faithful ones I know you are there
And long to meet you all.
Yes you are my brothers and sisters in pain.
I have been reading through Paul's letters and have just completed COLOSSIANS which was so encouraging. At the end of the book, Paul sends his greetings to the brothers at Laodicea and to Nympha and to the congregation at her house. COL 4:15.
This reference to the congregation meeting in Nympha's house made me happy as I thought about the lovely discussions we have on Sunday mornings with others. We use Skype and it truly feels like we are all in the same room. It's great! There were 8 of us together today - from 4 states of Australia.
We simply take turns reading 5 paragraphs each of the chapter we're up to. We're currently reading ACTS and today we read ACTS 20. When anyone has an interesting thought or a question, they simply raise it and we have a discussion.
I can imagine that the congregation that met in Nympha's house did something very similar. I'm confident that they would have discussed the scriptures and the way that they were being fulfilled in their own day. Getting together would have been enjoyable with everyone feeling free to share their thoughts.
With the fulfilment of the very words we read today in ACTS 20:29+30, things changed. The bad men that Paul prophesied about drew away the disciples from the original arrangement and eventually established highly controlled, man-made, hierarchical religions with its emphasis on religious buildings to meet in. I don't see any reference to churches or purpose built meeting places in the bible. Meetings were held in private homes. They shared meals together and encouraged one another.
It was so lovely to hear a comment from one of our newly found brothers who lives in Queensland. After the first time he and his family joined in with our bible reading arrangement, he said, "That was the most enjoyable meeting I've ever been to in my life!" And we agree! 😊 We are loving the wonderful spirit of love and joy that comes from meeting with those who truly love God and his Word and want to move forward in understanding God's purposes.
It can be a big adjustment when first leaving a religious organisation to worship with a very small group of believers. I guess this is because we have been told over and over again that Jehovah deals with his worshippers as a large formalised group. Do you remember being told that we as Jehovah's Witnesses would survive the Great Tribulation as a group although as individuals we may not? I remember being told this many times. The effect this had on me was to see myself as part of a large entity of sorts. Our relationship was inextricably linked with being part of a group - those we thought were God's people - Jehovah's Witnesses. We were also reminded constantly that we were part of a worldwide brotherhood. But in reality, you only had association with those in your congregation. Over the years we have been in many congregations where we shared a hall with another and we rarely got to know anybody in the neighbouring congregation well. Perhaps you've had the same experience?
So the concept of a worldwide organisation of brothers and sisters was really an ideal rather than something that pervaded daily life and weekly worship. It is true that people travel to other parts of the world and are shown hospitality such as when attending a district convention but this is highly organised hospitality. It's not like you could just ring someone up in another country normally and arrange a visit? That would be a bit strange.
So meeting in small groups locally is really the same as when we were in the organisation as far as our worship is concerned but our recognition of our brothers and sisters around the world is achieved through eyes of faith. We KNOW that our brothers and sisters are there throughout the world even if they are not formally organised. Jesus knows who his sheep are and if we are his sheep we are related to those who also listen to his voice. We love these ones even though we have not met them or know who they are. Of course we will all meet eventually. MATTHEW 24:31 tells us that when Jesus comes he will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity. What a lovely thought. 😊