Eagle's Wings Community Church

My Testimony

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My Testimony Introduction Video

I grew up in Corcoran, Minnesota.  We did not go to church even for holidays.  We didn’t talk about religion in our house.  A phrase I remember hearing was “You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe.”  I remember being told that I was being raised to make my own decision about what I wanted to believe.  The sky was the limit.  I was an agnostic bordering on atheist.

After high school I joined the Navy.  In boot camp in San Diego, I chose to sit at the table on Sundays rather than attend any kind of religious services.  For no solid reason I can think of, I did decide one day to read the bible.  However, I don’t think I ever made it much past the genealogies in Matthew.

My next stop was A-school in Millington (Memphis) Tennessee.  I spent almost all of my free time in the clubs since my major passion was dancing.  It was here that I met my friend Robert (Rob) Vaughn.  During A-school we were really more acquaintances than friends.  Rob had a roommate who also had the name of Brian, I think.  One day I went to breakfast with Brian.  In about the most formal, dorky way possible, Brian asked me “So Brian, will you be attending church today?”  Taken off guard I said no.  However, for some reason, maybe out of a feeling that I had let him down, I continued to explain.  I said, “I don’t really go to church.  I’ve never really gone to church.  I suppose I should some time.  Maybe I will go some day.  Maybe I should go with you some day.  I can’t go today but maybe next week.  I tell you what, I’ll go to church with you next week.”  Did I really just say that?  All that time and I don’t think Brian had ever said anything other than his initial question.

I’ve always been a man of my word.  So, knowing that I would be out late at the clubs on Saturday night, I was still determined to hold to my word and get up for church the next day.  I found out that Brian was picked up for church by the pastor.  Once in church I spent most of my time observing and it was clear I had little clue about what was supposed to be done and when.  The church had about 30-40 people in it and was located in a store front.

At the end of the service, when it was time to pray, I bowed my head and closed my eyes more because that’s what others were doing than based on my own instincts.  While in prayer the pastor asked a question and asked us to raise our hand if the answer was yes.  Not doing a good job of listening I didn’t know what had been asked.  Also, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to open my eyes to look around to see what others were doing.  So, my thought was that I had to guess and I had a 50-50 shot.  So, I took a guess and raised my hand.  In a southern drawl like that out of a televangelism show I heard, “I see that hand.”  Oh boy!  What did I just get myself into?

So, I went up to the front, as directed, and repeated some words I couldn’t begin to even paraphrase today.  On the way home I had no idea why Brian and the pastor were so excited.

A few days later my friend Rob went to Cecil Field, Florida and I followed about a week later.  By the time I arrived Rob had met a girl, Patricia, playing tennis who invited him to church.  Knowing that I had gone to church with his ex-roommate, he asked me how it was and if I wanted to go with him and the tennis girl.  I said church was alright and decided to go with him to church only because I had no other friends on base and nothing else to do.  If I didn’t hang out with Rob I would just be hanging out in my room.

The next Sunday we were off to Philippian Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida.   Once again I spent most of my time observing rather than listening.  Even shortly after that first service I could not have had any meaningful discussion about the sermon topic.  We went a few more Sundays and then started to attend Sunday school; specifically new member’s class.

One week during class we were visited by the Pastor.  He spoke and I can only remember him as funny and interesting.  Then, he started doing something I could only faintly recall having ever seen on television.  He started laying hands on people.  As the people began to “fall out” I was thinking that Rob and I were strategically positioned right by the door.  We could make a quick escape caring little about whether or not we were noticed.  Unfortunately, at least at the time, Rob wasn’t able to read my mind.  So, eventually the pastor came to me.

I had already predetermined to “fake it” which I did.  Then the pastor went on to my friend Rob, to my relief.  I expected Rob to fake it too but I could tell that he didn’t.  I actually noticed a glow.  Not a supernatural light or anything but the kind of glow people notice on other people sometimes when we say they are glowing.

Even though I was not on this day the only Caucasian in the room (Philippian is mostly a black congregation) the pastor, Pastor Callahan, came back to me.  He whispered in my ear “Give it a try.”  At that time I was an agnostic/atheist but I thought “What do I have to lose?” so I decided to give it a try.  He laid hands on me and I felt something indescribable that I’d never felt before and would never feel again.  I began to cry for no known reason and my legs felt weak.  Someone sat me in a chair and I left that day and told Rob “God is real.”

We went back to our barracks and Rob and Patricia began to walk me through the story, starting from Adam and Eve.  I was that biblically ignorant.  I had, and still have, so many questions but I know that God is real.  I’m aware of the theology, doctrine, and philosophy of experience, gifts, and miracles, but that is not what this post is about.  This post is about my testimony.

I would likely not be a Christian today had it not been for Rob Vaughn, Pastor Callahan, and Philippian Community Church.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Brian Bram September 15, 2011 Leave A Comment Permalink

9/11, Theology, & Violence

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9-11, Theology, & Violence Introduction Video

With the 10 year anniversary of September 11, I wanted to do what I’m sure will be one of many theological reflections on the collapse of the Twin Towers, God, and the topic of violence and Christianity.

This is not a blog claiming to be the Christian position.  In fact, too many Christians claim to speak for the Christian position on too many topics that are perpetually unsettled.  I’m skeptical of the idea that scripture gives us one clear and definitive choice to make on this topic.  There are too many good points to be made on both sides of the argument.  In fact, the topic of violence and Christianity is one that is usually framed in an either or manner.  Either we support violence in war and certain other extreme situations or we condemn all violence as un-Christian.  Unfortunately, regarding this topic, there may actually be no third option.  At least, as I stand today, I can’t think of one.  The trouble is, there seems to be problems with either side.

Those who condone violence usually point to Old Testament scripture, complete with themes of righteous nations being used by God to bring judgment to wicked ones.  Of course, here in America, those using this argument usually assume America is the righteous nation being used by God.  They often repress memories of our own national wickedness and highlight our good deeds to place ourselves in the position of God’s chosen.

Those who have a theology of pacifism will highlight Jesus who is peaceful at all times and present various apologetics regarding the God of the Old Testament.  Also, perhaps equally important, they often present the topic as though someone would have to be an idiot to have faith in Jesus while at the same time making concessions for any use of violence.  The topic is often presented thusly:  Since Jesus always found a way to avoid violence, Christians must be pacifists.  It can seem as if there were never any no-win situations or extremely tough decisions to be made.

So, I’ve decided to break up my blog in two sections.  They are, what I’m only a little sure about and what I’m more strongly sure about.

What I’m Only A Little Sure About

I’m not sure how God wants Christians to respond to certain violent or potentially violent situations.  I’m not sure I want to align myself on either side of the spectrum presented above but it feels like I have no choice.  So, I’ll take a side and present my best case for my decision below.

I’m not sure there’s a one size fits all response that’s expected from God.  Like most situations in a dynamic world, I wonder if there are different responses for different nuances of scenarios.  For example, because Jesus cleverly avoided violence in some situations (telling Peter to put down the sword, for example) does this mean He expects Christians to never use or support violence in all situations?  (Don’t all tax paying Americans support violence in war at least indirectly?  Aren’t we taught in scripture to pay our taxes?)

So, essentially I’m saying that I don’t think I know the answer to the question I’m posing.  If that’s the case, why even write this blog?  In this case, I think telling as many people as possible that we may never know the answer in this world is exactly the point.  However, I hope some of my thoughts help us get a better picture of who God is along with a reality check of just how broken our world is.  Maybe by recognizing that, we’ll be one step closer to recognizing our own brokenness and our need for a Savior.

Since I can’t know for certain, I’m only moderately sure that in some cases the most ethical thing to do is to use violence.  As a Christian, that is a painful sentence to have to write.  It has so much potential for being taken out of context that I wish I would just erase it right now.  Instead, I’ll discuss some of the classic scenarios on the topic.

Classic Scenario: If Hitler’s men knocked on your door and you were hiding Jews, would you lie?

Yes.  Even though I’m fairly sure Jesus would come up with a creative or miraculous way around the conundrum so that He would not lie and at the same time all lives would be saved (except of course, possibly His own!) I’m acutely aware of my own shortcomings.  In this scene I would lie to save the lives of the pursued if I couldn’t think of a surefire way around it and I’m not sure I’d feel much need to repent.

Of course, there are other scenarios where a simple lie may not suffice.  I remember a fellow student in college who spouted the rhetoric about the Gulf War being only about gas.  Having served in the Navy during this war, I quickly added “Well, I think it may have had something to do with the Scud Missiles, too.”  What do we suppose we should do?  Stand by and let people be slaughtered?   To be sure, there are many times humanity has rushed to military action too soon.  However, it seems a little naive to me to talk about God’s love for all people and each individuals worth as they plot mass destruction on multitudes of other innocent people that God also loves.

My conclusion is, then, that God loved Osama Bin Laden just as much as Billy Graham and me.  My conclusion is that God was not pleased at the death of Osama Bin Laden or any of the people he was responsible for having killed on 9-11.  Finally, because of his preemptive planning and potential for further killing and violence, my conclusion is that, like in too many other situations we face in a broken world, America had to send in Seal Team 6 to kill him.  What I’m suggesting then, is that while it’s true that I’m called to love my enemies, the most loving thing to do, in certain situations, may be to use violence in order to display my equal love towards their potential victims.

What I’m More Strongly Sure About

I’d love nothing better than to be a pure pacifist and I hope I never have to use violence.  Unfortunately, there are scenarios I can think of in my head that would seem to leave me no choice.  People usually point to the life of Jesus at this juncture in the conversation, and they should.  I would remind them though that Jesus had a lot of advantages we don’t have.  We seem to forget that sometimes.  He was God, you know, and we’re not.  As much as the Holy Spirit lives in me, Jesus still had infinitely more at His disposal for handling the darkest events.  While I aspire to the highest levels of faith, trust, and wisdom, I have doubts about my ability to be instinctively led should I ever be faced with the decision on whether or not to attack a highjacker on a plane.

I’m fairly confident that the people responsible for the events of 9/11 did so by their own choice and that it was no fault of God.  It was not God’s plan and there was no lesson to be learned.  God was not punishing anyone nor was He using mass destruction and death to get our attention.  Instead, God was working in the NYFD personnel who continued to ascend a burning building in order to save lives.  God was working in the people in the hospitals and He was working in the volunteers who kept digging for survivors and who still pay a price for their sacrifice today.

I’m confident that extremists of every religion, including both Christianity and Islam, misrepresent others who are not extremist believers.

Finally, eschatologically (future times), I’m fairly certain that we’re not going to have to make these types of tough decisions when Christ brings heaven to Earth.

Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

God bless all the families that were affected by September 11.

For further reading on many of these topics:

Alan M. Dershowitz – Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways

David K. Clark & Robert V. Rakestraw –Readingsin Christian Ethics: Theory & Method

David K. Clark & Robert V. Rakestraw –Readingsin Christian Ethics: Issues & Applications

Greg Boyd – The Myth of a Christian Nation

Greg Boyd’s several blogs on Open Theism

N.T. Wright – Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Brian Bram September 7, 2011 2 Comments Permalink

Starting A Church The Hard Way

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Starting A Church The Hard Way Introduction Video

There are many stories about individuals in Singapore concerning the first generation who worked extra hard to build something for future generations who would then be able to live a better life.  Because of the sacrifices of some many people were able to reap great benefits.  Because of their hard work Singapore is now one of the most booming and most happy places on Earth, according to Dan Buettner in his book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.  In fact, Singapore is the fastest growing economy in the history of the world.  Also, they did it with mainly three very different culture groups.  It was those first people who gave up so much for others who would follow.  Not that they are flawless, but our church plant could learn a lot from the Singaporeans.

Having spent a good number of years preparing for starting a church, I made a good number of decisions that are hard for some who are close to me to understand why I’ve gone a particular route.  So, this blog may go a little ways towards helping those around me to understand and others who are doing the hard labor to be encouraged.

As a preface I’d like to say that the way we’ve chosen to build Eagle’s Wings is not the way but a way of building a church.  My examples below aren’t all wrong ways.  In fact, some of them are very proven ways for church planting.  However, they are not the vision God has given me.  Also, the point of this blog is not to suggest that people engaged in other strategies of church planting are not doing hard work.  Most, if not all ways of church planting will involve hard work.  The question I get asked often though, is why I’m not taking advantage of some of the tools available.  Hopefully this will help answer some of those questions, too.  So, here we go.

Why not break off from another church?

There are two ways this is generally done.  One is to steal a bunch of members of a church by pointing out weaknesses.  The strategy is firstly to convince oneself that this is the work of God and secondly to convince others to turn their allegiance from current leadership to new ones.  I may have had the opportunity to do this but wanted no part in it.  I think the reasons should be clear.  For me, I could never feel good about any future reward based on a foundation built upon these types of methods.  I would always have thoughts of trickery in mind.

The second is more of a planned break that is supported by the church.  I’ve dealt a great deal with this in my blog titled “Why Plant a Church?  Why Diversity of Thought?” so I’ll only reiterate here that these strategies tend to yield homogenous churches.  Clearly, we’re being very intentional about diversity in all its forms so the goal and the strategy don’t seem to align together.

Why not start in a booming community?

There are usually two considerations here.  The first one is numbers of people.  A surefire way to grow a church quickly is to do demographics and target one of the fastest growing areas to plant a church.  However, as we can see from the story where Jesus asks His followers if anyone else will be leaving after He commanded them to “drink” His blood and “eat” His flesh (Regardless of how one interprets this command it seems clear to me that this is not meant to be taken literally to the ultimate degree) His first concern is not numbers of followers but true disciples.  Our purpose is to make disciples rather than members.

The second consideration is usually money.  It’s not a strong display of business savvy to start anything dependent on finances in a downward local economy.  Money has the ability to solve a lot of problems so new churches, like ours who are learning as we go could make life a lot easier if we removed this extra obstacle.  However, in scripture, God doesn’t seem to call everyone to do the thing that makes the most reasonable sense.  Somebody has to serve the communities that are not growing and not out of pity or some feeling of superiority coming to the rescue but out of vision.

Why not get denominational help?

There are certainly benefits to this idea.  However, the whole reason someone should plant a church is the conviction that God is going to do something new or lacking in the life of the church community.  Since God has given us a vision for diversity of thought it would be pretty difficult to simultaneously claim a denomination even if they did give a high degree of latitude.  Our hope is that we would attract and maintain a variety of leaders and attendees from a range of denominational backgrounds in a demonstration of powerful ecumenicism (unity in diversity).  Claiming a denomination is absolutely not wrong.  However, for us, it would be difficult to reach our goals because it would appear as those leaders especially would need to change from their historical denominational allegiances to another.  Additionally, historically denominations have largely formed due to disagreements amongst people in the church.  A significant part of our statement is that we don’t have to separate just because we disagree on outskirt doctrine and theology even though we recognize that we won’t all agree on what qualifies as something on the outskirts.  Still, we’re striving to be more tolerant than the church has often been by listening to what others have to say, considering their arguments, pushing them to be informed, pushing ourselves to be informed, and challenging one another to continue in fellowship and communion together amidst our different conclusions.

Above all we’re aimed at loving all people, marginalized or not, by serving them and bringing the hope of the good news.

My next blog will not focus on what we are not doing, but rather what we are doing at Eagle’s Wings in terms of growth strategy.  Our great commission is to reach the world with the message of God’s Kingdom and that is a large task that we are blessed to be a part of.

Finally, keep an eye out for our upcoming church plant informational seminar!  Our title will be “10 Reasons Not To Join A Church Plant.”

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Brian Bram September 3, 2011 1 Comment Permalink