Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Oil and Wine

I believe we are entering a trying time as a nation and, for those of us who claim the name of Christian, as a church.  I think we will have to face where our values really lie and what it is we truly believe.  Recent events have caused me to think much about what I am writing here.  I originally set out to write a pointed essay with a clearly defined stance.  Instead, I am planning to discuss a familiar passage of scripture and I hope to do so in an unbiased manner with the goal of encouraging anyone reading this to inspect this passage themselves and honestly come to their own conclusions regarding the text.  I assume that most people who read this will be able to deduce which specific events have lead me to write this as well as my feeling on the subject.  I do, however, hope that this post and this passage of scripture can be read with an open mind and open heart regardless of how you align politically or on recent events.  

The parable of the Good Samaritan can be found in Luke chapter 10.  It is one of the more famous and well known parables in the Bible.  It also happens to be one of my favorites, behind maybe only The Prodigal Son. The parable itself starts at verse 30 and continues through 37.  However, I think much is added by looking at the verses just prior in verses 25 through 29.

Luke 10:25-29 
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And [the lawyer] answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as your self." And [Jesus] said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 
These are the circumstances that precede the parable that many of us have heard many times.  It begins by saying that the lawyer, someone who by occupation was intimately familiar with the Law, was trying to test Jesus. He was attempting to use his strengths to see if Jesus was for real.  He was trying to see if he would slip up.  Jesus answers with a question of his own, to which the lawyer responds with what is often referred to as "the great commandment".  Jesus gives almost the same answer in Matthew 34-40 in a very similar situation where Jesus is being tested by a Pharisee who also happens to be a lawyer.  In the passage in Matthew Jesus, as does the lawyer in this passage, ties together hand in hand the commandments to love God and to love others.  The lawyer, like many of us, knows the correct answer.  He knows the right words to say.  In this we, along with the lawyer, are successful.  However, it's one thing to have the right answer; it's quite another to know what it really means.  This is where I believe (myself included) a lot of Christians stop.  We love studying and reading the latest book (or blog post for that matter).  We learn a few of the Greek words and what they directly translate to. We discuss things in small groups and we pass the Sunday School tests.  I'm certainly not condemning any of these practices and wish that I myself had the disciple to participate in these activities more regularly.  We just can't let it stop with knowledge.  It does us no good.  The lawyer knew the right answer.  Jesus may well have answered by saying, "You have answered correctly and you will live."; but it's the inclusion of two little words, "do this", that make all the difference.  It's because of those two words that the lawyer follows up with the question, "And who is my neighbor?"  It says the lawyer's desire was to justify himself.  He wanted to know that what he was doing was enough.  He wanted to know who he did, and maybe who did not, have to love.  The parable of The Good Samaritan is a direct response to this question.
Luke 10:30-36
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal a brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"
Jesus introduces us to a man who we assume is a Jew traveling from Jerusalem.  This is a man not dissimilar to the crowd and lawyer that Jesus was speaking to.  Of no fault of his own, our man falls victim to robbers who leave him helpless on the side of the road.  Jesus goes as far as to tells us he is "half dead."

The next two characters in our story are a priest and a Levite.  These two men are interesting choices as they would have been Jewish men who, like our lawyer, had an extensive knowledge of the law.  It's not unreasonable to assume that they would have answered Jesus's question in a similar fashion as the lawyer.  They know the right answer for how to, "inherit eternal life."  Both of these men, however, respond to the sight of the beaten man in the same way.  They, "passed by on the other side."  I recall someone I once heard preaching on this parable say that this stretch of road, from Jerusalem to Jericho, was known for being particularly dangerous to travel.  This is reinforced by the fact that our first man was robbed and beaten.  Perhaps our priest and Levite were trying to protect against falling victim to a similar fate.  Perhaps they even suspected that the injured man might be a decoy, and they would be jumped and robbed as they made an attempt to help.  There are also laws that determined cleanliness in Jewish culture.  Both the priest and Levite would have to be ceremonially clean to perform the duties required by their jobs and helping the injured man would certainly have caused them to become unclean.  I don't want to simply paint these men as cold and selfish.  I'm trying to establish that they probably had their reasons for passing on the other side of the road.  They were probably good reasons.  They were probably justifiable reasons.

The third traveler to happen upon the helpless man, we are told, was a Samaritan.  There are a few assumptions about this Samaritan that I think are reasonable to make.  The passage states that he came upon the injured man, "as he journeyed", implying that he was in a place that was not his home.  I have thought in the past that Jesus chooses to use a Samaritan in this passage as a way to shame the Jews who were not living up to God's commandments since the Jews and Samaritans had contentious relationship and Samaritans were often considered lower class by the Jewish people.  Looking at this passage again, I came to another realization as to why Jesus may have decided to make this character in our story a Samaritan.  As a Samaritan, he would not have known the scriptures in the same way as our other characters.  He wouldn't be bound by the same laws.  He wouldn't necessarily have the "right answer" for what he should do in this situation.  He wouldn't be trying to live by a, "love God and love others" motto.  What this story does specifically tell us, is that when the Samaritan came across the man, "he had compassion."  His actions weren't motivated by trying to achieve eternal life or trying to check off a "love your neighbor" box.  He saw a fellow man in need and had compassion on him.  He had compassion on a Jewish man who could have been considered an enemy and who was, at the very least, very different culturally and socially from himself.  He put that man's needs before his own.  You can see from the scripture passage above, the extent to which the Samaritan went to care for the man who was in need.  He put himself in potential danger. He gave his time and his money and his energy.  He even promised to follow up when he returned to make sure that the man had everything he needed.

Jesus concludes the parable by positing the question, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" I would like each of us to think about and answer that question ourselves, but I believe the vast majority of us would come to the same conclusion as the lawyer.
John 10:37
He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go and do likewise." 

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Throne

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.    
Psalm. 103:12

These words from an awesome psalm of praise that reminds us of so many of God's qualities have been given new meaning after my trip to East Asia with the rest of the Academy.  Even with the technology of flight it is a long and, as we found out, potentially difficult path to get from one side of this planet to the other.  A journey that my body has yet to fully adjust to.

Our adventure began early morning as we left about 4 a.m. to head to the airport and the first two and shortest legs of our flight seemed to go effortlessly as we landed in New York on Schedule.  This is where things started to get a bit interesting.  Weather delays had plagued JFK in the week prior to our departure but we expected to get out of the country with minimal delay.  Our flight, originally scheduled to leave around 3:00 got pushed back to 6:00 because of baggage delays then again to about 9 because of issues with the plane itself.  We boarded and sat on the tarmac for 3 hours before the flight was ultimately cancelled and rescheduled for 6 p.m. the next day.  This wasn't totally bad news as we got to spend the night in a very comfortable hotel, get some rest, break up our long trip, and even venture into the Manhattan for lunch (even though we were probably only out of the car in the city for about 20 minutes.) Returning to the airport we were delayed again before finally getting off the ground around 9 p.m. that night.  Needless to say my Tourette's was going crazy as it acts up more severely in situations of stress, tiredness, and nervousness of which I was experiencing all three.

We landed at our destination about 2 a.m. and actually missed New Years as we entered the 1st time zone of 2011 after the clock had struck 12.  We gathered our bags (only missing one, which was reunited with us a few days later) and were warmly greeted the former SOSer who would be leading our trip.  Even though our time in the big city was cut short by a day and a half we still made the most of it.  After a very familiar yet subtly different experience at McDonald's near our hotel we set off for the Great Wall.  After about two hours of driving and listening to Daniel's stories about East Asia, the wall perched atop the mountains came into view.  We passed on the climbing option and took a gondola to the ridge of the mountain.  The view was magnificent, the sky was clear, and the ancient wonder was breathe taking.  It stretched as far as we could see disappearing and reappearing from behind the mountains.  We visited the oldest part of the wall that is open to tourists and it was dotted with lookout towers along its length.  Being the nerd that I am I was even impressed with the thoughtfulness of the drainage system built into the walkway atop the wall.  i caught myself all too often stopping to take pictures and falling behind the rest of the group.  The way back down the wall was potentially the most fun aspect of the expedition as we got the privilege of riding toboggans down what I can only describe as a long winding metal bobsled track where we met at the bottom by men dressed as Samurais.  The rest of our time before leaving for our next city included yummy steak at Outback, a trip to Olympic Park and an unfortunate visit to a closed Pearl Market.  All in all a successful 24 hours.

After arriving and getting settled in the hotel at our ultimate destination we headed out the campus where we'd be spending our time that week for a short bit of training and a chance to walk the campus and pray for our week. After that we headed back for some authentic East Asian food at a restaurant just around the corner from where we were staying that we would eventually and affectionately refer to as "our restaurant".  We ended up eating there 4 of the 6 night we were in town and loved it every time.  We'd sit at our tiny little seats and order a bunch of different dishes for all of us to share.  It was a fun and intimate time where we'd be able to share and relax as we reached across the table feebly trying to grab things with our chopsticks and downing more Coke than I think any of us have drank in the past year.

Our first day on campus began as the rest of our days would from that day forth, with all of us gathering together in one of the girls rooms to pray and worship and even hear a quick devotional teaching from Daniel.  That morning I specifically asked people to pray for my Tourette's, that it wouldn't be a distraction to me or anyone else that I might have the opportunity to talk with.  So after a short time together came the moment of truth.  We were going to campus.  As we walked up the hill and the campus started coming into view we were greeted with a very intriguing sight.  Thousands of students were dressed in identical wind breaker jackets with match pants and caps.  They literally filled many of the outdoor areas.  We walked around in confusion for a while trying to ask anyone else there if they knew what was going on.  We soon found out that all of the freshmen were required to do military training exercises (which basically consisted of standing in order) all day for the next two weeks with only about an hour and a half to two hours break for lunch.  This wasn't the greatest news for us since our goal was to focus on meeting and getting to know freshmen.  Still, we continued on with our tasks meeting upperclassmen most of the day and focusing on freshmen in that two hour window and hoped that God would take care of things.  Of course it turned out to be a blessing because when we were able to meet freshmen they were like walking billboards and all went back to their rooms to rest so we could meet a whole group of people at once.  The first day on campus ended up going great and it wasn't until I got back to the hotel that afternoon that I realized I hadn't noticed my Tourette's at all the entire day.  That, combined with the fact that we almost met our two day goal of getting contacts and setting up appointments all in one day, helped assure me that God was in control.  The next day was more of the same and equally as successful as the first, Tourette's included.  In fact I've still yet to have much of a problem with my disorder since being back home.  Dad was definitely with us.

On Wednesday we got a chance to break up our week and help work on an orphanage in progress.  The orphanage is a project that has been in the works for about 7 years and lead by a Dutch family who we got the pleasure to meet and spend the day with.  The father of the family is a large stern man with one of the biggest and most joyful hearts hearts I've seen.  He told us the stories of the orphanage, his personal call and even his efforts to avoid his call to East Asia.  He and his family hope to start moving children into the facility midyear and will eventually have room for about 80 special needs children, children who are often overlooked and hidden in society.  They have even adopted two children who suffer from hydrocephalus which results in an enlarged head and possibly severe damage without proper treatment.  Our task on that day was to paint and prepare one of the buildings to be ready to move children into.  This was especially enjoyable as a couple of the stinters (people who make a 10 month commitment to be there) were able to join us and tell us how their time in the country has been.

The last two days of our trip were spent back on campus meeting for longer periods of time with groups that we met earlier in the week.  The goal of this was to be able to share with them more in depth.  We split up on our own as usual that morning and went off to meet our new friends.  I had scheduled meeting that first day at 9:30, 12:30, and 2:00.  Fortunately all of my friends showed up and I literally went from meeting to meeting to meeting getting the chance to share with a total of 11 people that day all of whom had little to no previous knowledge of God.  Six of them even decided right there that they wanted to believe the message I had the privilege to present to them.  God was working, not only through me but within me as well.  One of the things we shared with the groups was the idea of having a throne in our lives where we seat the most important thing in our lives.  I got to explain to them a diagram of a person who sets themselves on this throne and a person who sets JC on their thrown.  As I went through this with my second group it hit me that I needed to ask myself who in on my throne.  Unfortunately my answer is all too often myself.  This is a lesson I've been wrestling with a lot over the past week and a half and I'm sure it will continue to weigh heavy on my mind for some time to come as well.

On Friday we returned for more meetings.  This day I only had one which gave me a lot of time to chat with God reflect on the week.  By the time we left the campus we had met almost 300 people and shared a message with close to 200 who had never heard it before.  I don't say this to brag about our team, nor am I practicing false humility because I think our team did great and was faithful to our task.  People heard who have never heard before and people believed who may not have had the opportunity otherwise, but we know that true transformation takes place in the heart, a place that only God can enter.  This is evidenced by the change that He worked in our own hearts while we were there.

I don't know exactly what God will do with the work that we did, but I do know there are faithful people in East Asia who will follow up with and continue to equip the people we met.  We've seen what He can do when people are faithful and I can only hope that He is extremely glorified by what He does on that campus, in that city, and in that country.  As for me, I'm sure Dad had a plan for why I was there and experienced what I did.  I don't know what my time in that country and on that campus means for my life, but I'm sure He'll reveal that to me when the time is right.  One thing is for sure, however.  You can listen all you want about reaching the nations and unreached people groups with Dad's message of forgiveness, but when you actually speak to someone who has never heard the name Jesus before, it all of the sudden becomes so much more real.  And now I have to figure out what to do with that.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

First Fruits

It's been a little over a month now (4 if you count the summer) since I've been here in Memphis and it's been an excellent experience so far.  NEVER would i have thought that I'd be living in the inner-city farming and doing construction.  That just goes to show that God is in control and not me, and that this is all his doing.  I'm still trying to get my head around everything I've been taking in and hopefully even this blog can help with that.  There are just so many aspects I don't don't even really know where to start.

I guess the most visible part of my internship is my jobs.  It seems as though I've been going pretty much nonstop since I got here.  My typical week so far has been working at the farm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning, and Friday then I go to SOS Wednesday afternoon and Thursday as well as Saturday and Sunday for Fall Work Weekend camps.  I don't tell you all of this to feel sorry for me because I've actually quite enjoyed it despite being pretty physically exhausted.  I already feel like I've gotten a lot of stuff done.  I built a chicken tractor (photos to come soon hopefully) shelving, raised flower beds, fences for our fainting goats, and filters for the fish tank at the farm.  I'm in the process of building a deck for our office space and have two more hoop house green houses on my to-do list.  I've also gotten to do a lot of projects with SOS my favorite of which was building a 24' wheelchair ramp for Ms. Betty whose house we worked on this summer as well. 

And while these are good things and are helping the community visible ways, the most exciting part of what I've gotten to do is just being a part of this neighborhood.  These people are the whole reason we're here. They have to be. If we're doing what we're doing to make ourselves look good or to make ourselves feel better we're missing something. God doesn't get the glory for that. Now I'm not saying that I don't feel good about what I get to do but the focus has to remain outward, God and other people.  This is one of the most significant lessons of the Bible.  When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus replied love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind.  He followed that up by saying the second most important is to love your neighbor as yourself. (Mat. 22:36-40) He wasn't asked what the most important two commandments were, but they are so connected together that he wouldn't separate them.  That's what I'm here to learn and do. James 1:22 says "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."  So, how do we love our neighbors as ourselves?  The Bible gives the example of the good Samaritan, a guy who sees someone in need and goes way out of his way to help.  Maybe a good question to ask is how do we love ourselves?  I don't think it means that we have gushy feelings for ourselves or think that we're just so great. I think it's as simple as getting ourselves food when we feel hungry and water (or Starbucks) when we're thirsty. It's as easy as buying a new pair of jeans when we rip a hole in the seat our old broken in pair.  It's putting on a jacket when it's cold so we don't get sick. It's stuff we don't even think twice about.  So I ask again. How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? We go out of our way to give to those who don't have the little things that we wouldn't even consider not doing for ourselves.  Now you and I both know that that sounds a lot easier than it really is, at least at first, but it's something to strive for.

Sorry, went on a little rant there, but that's why we're really here doing the work that we're doing.  The beautiful thing is that you don't have to live in a Binghampton or work for  an SOS to do it.  Don't get me wrong, people are needed here but they're also needed there (wherever "there" is). And it's not just the physical needs. It's the spiritual need that's probably even more important (although they're often hand in hand in the Bible). I read in a book that we've read through in the Academy called Restoring At Risk Communities that the inner city is often not seen as a legitimate missions field, at least not in the same way that foreign missions are.  I'm in no way trying to diminish the importance of reaching the nations and would actually argue that that is of the highest priority among people doing urban Christian Community Development.  In our cities lie pockets of different cultures; Indian, Chinese, Hispanic, African, etc.  Not only can we GO to the nations, but the nations are coming to us as well, and in some cases these people would have a greater chance of meeting a missionary had they stared in their native country than they will living in an American city.  Even in Binghampton there is a large 1st generation Hispanic American population and hundreds of African refugees who will potentially return to their countries later taking with them the message of Jesus Christ.  Now how much more effective will that be than a bunch of whities going over there not fully understanding the culture and pressures of that nation.

Well this is getting lengthy so I'll start to wrap up.  This month plus some change has been exciting, tiring, challenging, even confusing at times.  I came looking for answers and have gotten mostly more questions. I've felt pressed for splitting time between the Academy group, my house, SOS, the BDC and other relationships that I've began to build.  I've even struggled to make time for God and reading my Bible often times putting my laziness and personal desires before seeking after God.  I could use some prayer for that.  Support raising continues to be on my mind.  While God has been faithful so far in providing for me I've been able to raise about half of my goal and will have to continue that process again soon.  Nevertheless, I'm still very encouraged and thankful for the blessings and opportunities that God is continuing to give me.  Thanks for reading, your prayers and your support. Please seek me out and let me in on what you're up to and how you're doing. I really want to be praying specifically for all of you. I just bought a little prayer notebook and I need to fill it up.

Support Letter

I'm including my support letter that I sent out this summer. It contains information on what I'm doing this year through my internship. I will be adding Monthly updates very soon.
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Cor. 5:14-15

I hope that this letter finds you doing well and I am excited to share what’s been going on in my life lately. Since graduating from college a year ago I’ve been on an interesting road that’s consisted of interviews, big life questions, various jobs, and confusion about the direction of my life. This was mixed periods of depression and struggling to find purpose while feeling very distant from God. At the beginning of May, while still wrestling with these things, a door was opened to me to move down to Memphis for the summer and serve as a construction manager for an urban home repair ministry called Service Over Self (SOS). Over the past few months God has used my job and the people around me to begin a redemptive work in my life and recently opened an opportunity beyond the summer. Being in Memphis, I’ve witnessed God using people of all sorts (of all races and socioeconomic levels) to advance his name in the Binghampton neighborhood in which we’ve been working. I’ve fallen in love with the community and the strategic efforts being done here to spread the word of God and redeem this blighted part of the city, and I am very excited that I’ll be getting a chance to continue living here and contribute my own gifts and passions.

At the end of August I will begin a program through SOS called The Academy, which takes recent college grads and places them with ministries in the community that fit our unique interests and abilities for a one-year internship. Also, we will be living in Binghampton, participating in book studies, as well as going on a mission trip to East Asia. Attached is a letter from the SOS director Philip Walkley further explaining The Academy. My internship will be split between two ministries, the Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC) and SOS. The BDC seeks to revitalize the community mainly through housing and economic development. One part of that is creating job training and employment opportunities. One of the BDC’s latest projects, and one that I will personally be working on very closely is the Urban Farm. The purpose of the farm is to remain economically sustainable while providing work, training, and most importantly nutritious and affordable food to people who don’t currently have access to that. I’ll also continue working with SOS and serving during their college camps this fall and next spring.

What might be most interesting to me is seeing how I uniquely fit into these two very needed roles. God has gone before me and is using seemingly random experiences in my past such as working at an inner city youth camp 5 years ago and my semester abroad in Costa Rica studying sustainable agriculture to prepare me for what I’ll be doing. But along with all of this excitement comes the challenge of raising my own salary for the year. This task frightens me, but I am trusting God to provide for me in this. I have, however, come to realize some good things about raising support. For one, it forces me to rely on God as raising this money is very much out of my control. Support raising will cause me to put extra prayer and purpose behind the work I’ll be doing. It reminds me of my need for others who can love and encourage me. It gives me the opportunity to share with people like you what God is doing, thus expanding into areas outside of Memphis. I am very excited to see how God draws me closer to him and deepens my faith and trust in him throughout this support raising process as I witness his provision.

So, In order to continue this work I need to partner with people who share my desire to spread God’s word and to improve the lives of those in need. This is why you are important. As I begin raising this $15,000 I’m looking for people who will do more than simply write a check. I need People who will pray for me and Memphis, who will encourage me in the work I’m doing, who will share with me their lives as I share with them mine. I want people who, although they may not be here in Memphis, want to be a part of what God is doing here. I’m writing you this letter because for one reason or another I felt like this might be something that you would want to be a part of. I ask that you would pray about your decision and ask God to see if this is a ministry that he wants you to invest in however you may be able whether financially, prayerfully, or by any other means that you may be led. I would love to get a response from everyone even if you decide not to give financially. Simply fill out the response card and mail it in the preaddressed stamped envelope included. If you do feel that God is moving you to give, there are options of a one-time, quarterly, or monthly gift(s); which can be paid by check, credit card, or even directly deducted from a bank account. I can assure you that your money will be used directly for my internship. (See Philip’s letter for breakdown of how the money will be used.) If 50 people could give only $25 a month ($300 for the year) I would reach my goal, but again, seek God on this and see how much you personally can give.

I am extremely excited for this next year and believe what the verse at the top of this letter says, in that since Christ died for us we must live our lives for him. I pray that through this next year and beyond I will seek to do just that; following wherever I feel him leading and trusting him despite my fears, uncertainties, and weaknesses that he will use me for his glory. I am thankful for this opportunity to glorify God with you. I thank you for taking the time to read this, and since I can only fit so much information into a letter I would encourage you to contact me with any questions or just to talk about this more. I would especially love to talk with you in person if the chance permits, as I will be in Missouri for most of August before starting the Academy.

Brian Bowe
(573) 578-3609

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Phil 1:3-6