Even if you are an Auburn fan, this from Bear Bryant is good advice.

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Gospel Thoughts for High School GraduatesEarlier this week I posted a version of the letter I share each year with graduates. I asked for your input and it was such a great help that I made my most extensive revisions to the letter ever. It is a little longer, but it still fits on one page of a Word document with 1″ margins! Here is the 2014 version (with lots of links to follow).

Dear Graduate:

Congratulations on your accomplishment! We are so thankful for you.

For the last 20 years I have thought about what I would tell graduates on one page.  Each year I refine this letter a little more even as I refine our philosophy of youth ministry. Here is the 2014 version. It is my prayer for you.

  1. If you have not already, Give Your Life to Jesus Christ Who is the only King.  On the Cross He paid the penalty for His people.  Receive the gift of eternal life by believing in Him and your sins are forgiven.  The alternative is unthinkable (John 3:36). This is the Gospel (or the Good News of Christ) and it should shape every area of life. Christ is God- – He is not just a name we chant to help us cope. We must be His. It is not enough to be “moral” (Romans 3:23).
  2. Be sure you really are a Christian (2 Cor 13:5, James 2:17). Many think they are Christians and they are not. The worst words that will ever be heard in human history will be when a group of people stand before Christ thinking they are Christians and find out that they are not (Matt 7:21-23). What scares me most as a pastor is the thought that some of our people may be in that group. Be sure of your salvation! If you have any questions, talk to me, or someone who understands the Gospel, soon.
  3. Grow in wisdom (Philippians 1:9-11, Romans 12:1-2).  Wisdom is skill for living.  It is the saw we use to cut our way through life. We need a sharp saw to make quality decisions. We sharpen the saw by remembering that the fear of the LORD s the beginning of wisdom and by being in Word-centered local church. Don’t think you can simply put church on hold for the next few years. During that time, you will make decisions that affect the rest of your life.  Make wise decisions amid being involved in a good church and vitally connected to other committed Christians. If you move, or go to college, make it your first priority to find Christian fellowship. This is especially critical the first three weeks of college.
  4. Follow Christ and be super excited about a blessed or “happy” life.  For Christians, everything doesn’t always fit together as neatly as you would like in the short run. Our culture is increasingly hostile to Christianity. But Psalm 1 is true.  The person who walks with God and delights in God’s wonderful Word is the one who will be blessed.  Pursue the joy of Christian life. God promises that you won’t be disappointed (Hebrews 11:6). Christ is both right and best. Remember: there are two ways: a broad road or a narrow one. There is no third.
  5. Be warned: the way of the sinner is hard.  Please don’t be deceived.  Don’t buy the lie that you can make wrong choices and not reap the consequences (Galatians 6:7-8).  Choose to sin, choose to suffer (1 Corinthians 10:11). (Do not choose to suffer by dating unbelievers! Hate, hate, hate pornography!)
  6. Tell people about Jesus – Regardless of where God leads in life we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Cor 5:19-2). Jesus gave us the mission of making disciples.
  7. Be assured: the people of the Red Brick Church love you. When we get to the Heavenly City, we want to know you will be at our meeting spot: 5th tree, right side of the river, facing the throne. We will be there soon. In the mean time, I am a pastoral resource available to you!

In Him,

 

Pastor Chris Brauns

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Hurting On Mother’s Day

Chris —  May 8, 2014 — 11 Comments

Hurting on Mothers DayMother’s Day is a wonderful time to be thankful for maternity. But the celebration of Mother’s Day can also focus pain.*

I am taking the time this week to pray on my knees for women in several categories. I know specific ladies in nearly all of these categories. And I know some who are in multiple categories.

Who have I missed?

  1. Mothers who miss their mothers
  2. Women who have mothers with Alzheimers, dementia, or other illnesses that require care.
  3. Mothers who have lost a child: such incredible grief – See Christian books on pain and suffering
  4. Women (couples) struggling with infertility
  5. Women (couples) who could not have children and now watch friends with grandchildren
  6. Women who had abusive or neglectful mothers including some who even abandoned them
  7. Women who clash with their mothers on a personality level
  8. Mothers who miss husbands who have died
  9. Women (couples) who are trying to adopt and yet continue to be met with obstacles – See these posts on Russ Moore’s book here and here.
  10. Women grieved by rebellious children (see this post) and how parents should unpack forgiveness with rebellious children
  11. Single women who battle loneliness
  12. Mothers who regret how they raised their children
  13. Mothers battling “empty nest” syndrome
  14. Mothers who are estranged from their children and cannot see their grandchildren
  15. Single mothers trying to do everything on their own
  16. Women who chose not to have children and feel ostracized or out of place amongst other Christians.
  17. Mothers overwhelmed by financial concerns
  18. Mothers worn out physically who are facing other physical problems
  19. Mothers battling depression
  20. Mothers who have gone through a painful divorce or who are in painful marriages
  21. Mothers who regret abortions

Do be encouraged by the gospel. As one of the comments below said, “For some, Mother’s Day is difficult because of their experience or non-experience with their mother. Yet it can be transformed into something that is more positive when they think about how God provided someone to fill that void.”

*I will be updating and editing this as I receive input. I have already received excellent input. I have already made 4 revisions based on input in the comments.

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Allie High School GraduationWhat am I missing? On one page or less, what reminders should we give high school and college graduates? I have been working on the below document for the last 20 years. It has been revised many times. But I still think it can get better.

Dear Graduate:

Congratulations on your accomplishment!

Since I was a youth pastor, I have thought about what I pray our graduates will remember from our church.  During the last year (2014), I have reviewed our philosophy of youth ministry in a renewed way. I deeply pray that you will always remember these things.

Never forget:

  1. Jesus Christ is the only King.  He paid the penalty for His people.  Receive the gift of eternal life by believing in Him and your sins are forgiven.  The alternative is unthinkable (John 3:36). This is the Gospel (or the Good News of Christ) and it is not something just for isolated parts of life. It should shape how we live in every area. Christ is the center – - He is not just a name we chant to help us cope.
  2. Many people think they are Christians when they are not (Matthew 7:21-23). The worst words that will ever be heard in human history will be when a group of people stand before Christ thinking they are Christians and find out that they are not. What scares me most as a pastor is the thought of some of our people being in that group. Be sure of your salvation! If you have any questions, talk to me, or someone who understands the Gospel, soon.
  3. There is a need to grow as a Christian (Philippians 1:9-11, Romans 12:1-2).  Wisdom is skill for right living.  Wisdom is the saw we use to cut our way through life. We need a sharp saw if we are going to cut our way through decisions. We sharpen the saw by being in God’s Word with a local church. Don’t think you can simply put church on hold for the next few years.  During that time, you will make decisions that affect the rest of your life.  Make those decisions amid being involved in a good church and growing as a believer
  4. The Christian life is the blessed or “happy” life.  For Christians, everything doesn’t always fit together as neatly as you would like in the short run. But Psalm 1 is true.  The person who walks with God is the one who will be blessed.  Pursue the joy of Christian life. God promises that you won’t be disappointed (Hebrews 11:6). Christ is both right and best.
  5. And the way of the sinner is hard.  Please don’t be deceived.  Don’t buy the lie that you can make wrong choices and not reap the consequences (Galatians 6:7-8).  As believers you must make God honoring decisions or you will face the consequences of wrong choices.  Choose to sin, choose to suffer (1 Corinthians 10:11).
  6. The people of the Red Brick Church love you. When we get to the other side, in the Heavenly City, we want to know you will be at our meeting spot: 5th tree, right side of the river, facing the throne of Christ.

In Him,

 

Pastor Chris Brauns

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Balance is the temporary moment when one swings from one extreme to the other. Having thought about youth ministry for almost 25 years, it is my impression that balance is needed in the below areas. Both ditches must be avoided.

In what other areas of youth ministry is balance needed?

Left Ditch

 

Right Ditch

Worldly – No different than secular culture. “Amish” – Totally isolated and not salt and light.
Teens isolated by age group / de-emphasis of family No youth ministry / family and church seen synonymously
Games only Non-engaging and irrelevant teaching
A “decisionist” approach with little or know structured curriculum or teaching “Programmed conversion” / formalized spirituality through confirmation etc / no recognition of revival
Complete para-church approach A refusal to ever cooperate with other churches

See these posts:

Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity

Emphases for Graduating Seniors

The New City Catechism

A Key Principle for Youth Ministry

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Youth Ministry is Taking a DiveChurches are losing their youth at an alarming rate. Michael Horton and the White Horse Inn have started a new audio series that is highly recommended for parents and church leaders. Horton encourages catechetical teaching – - that is teaching through a structured series of questions and answers.

You can listen to the White Horse Inn series here. The series introduction reads:

According to the most conservative estimates, over 60 percent of those raised in evangelical homes end up leaving church at age 18. In some cases the estimates range as high as 90 percent. So what are we doing wrong? Why are we failing to pass the faith on the next generation, and what should churches and parents do to address this crisis? To help answer these questions, I’ll talk with J.I. Packer, Christian Smith, Thomas Bergler, Kenda Creasy Dean, and others as we introduce our new series on Youth Ministry.

According to the most conservative estimates, over 60 percent of those raised in evangelical homes end up leaving church at age 18. In some cases the estimates range as high as 90 percent. So what are we doing wrong? Why are we failing to pass the faith on the next generation, and what should churches and parents do to address this crisis? To help answer these questions, I’ll talk with J.I. Packer, Christian Smith, Thomas Bergler, Kenda Creasy Dean, and others as we introduce our new series on Youth Ministry. – See more at: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2014/05/04/whi-1204-youth-ministry-in-crisis/#sthash.X9x8qSVw.dpuf
According to the most conservative estimates, over 60 percent of those raised in evangelical homes end up leaving church at age 18. In some cases the estimates range as high as 90 percent. So what are we doing wrong? Why are we failing to pass the faith on the next generation, and what should churches and parents do to address this crisis? To help answer these questions, I’ll talk with J.I. Packer, Christian Smith, Thomas Bergler, Kenda Creasy Dean, and others as we introduce our new series on Youth Ministry. – See more at: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2014/05/04/whi-1204-youth-ministry-in-crisis/#sthash.X9x8qSVw.dpuf
According to the most conservative estimates, over 60 percent of those raised in evangelical homes end up leaving church at age 18. In some cases the estimates range as high as 90 percent. So what are we doing wrong? Why are we failing to pass the faith on the next generation, and what should churches and parents do to address this crisis? To help answer these questions, I’ll talk with J.I. Packer, Christian Smith, Thomas Bergler, Kenda Creasy Dean, and others as we introduce our new series on Youth Ministry. – See more at: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2014/05/04/whi-1204-youth-ministry-in-crisis/#sthash.X9x8qSVw.dpuf

The first person that Horton interviews is Christian Smith. Smith is the sociologist who coined the term “moralistic therapeutic deism.” See this post: Christian Smith Helps Us Understand Our Teens and Young Adults.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is . . . about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. This is not a religion of repentance from sins, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.” Christian Smith

Horton interviews a wide range of thinkers including J.I. Packer, Marva Dawn, and Will Willimon. They stress that we should think of teaching our teens about the Christian faith in the same way that we would teach them a second language. That is, they need to learn a new vocabulary and way of thinking.

At the Red Brick Church we work on our philosophy of youth ministry in an ongoing way. You ran read some of my thoughts on youth ministry on this post: Reflections regarding Youth Ministry.

Also recommended:

Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity

Emphases for Graduating Seniors

The New City Catechism

A Key Principle for Youth Ministry

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The Holy Spirit “fluttered” over the shapeless void and formed the order and beauty of creation.

Scripture indicates that each of the three persons of the Godhead plays a distinct role (Wood, 16):

  1. God the Father is the author, planner, and designer
  2. God the Son is the worker who carries out the directives of the Father especially giving revelation of the Godhead
  3. The Holy Spirit is the completer or consummator, bringing to final form that which has been brought into existence by the Son at the Father’s command.

Regarding Creation, the Father planned and designed. The Son created ex nihilo (out of nothing). Regarding the Spirit and creation, Wood writes:

The word moved (merahapeth) used in Genesis 1:2 is especially important in this context. It was noted to mean a “fluttering over,” or “caring for,” the chaotic world, like a mother bird providing for her young. The word does not, then, refer to an act of initial formation, from nonexistent substance. Such an act performed, certainly, for the world is not eternal; it was brought into existence when there was no substance from which to form it. But this act was that of the Son; he created ex nihilo (from nothing). The Spirit, however, quite clearly worked with what the Son had already created, fashioning it into the design planned by the Father . . . Before [the Holy Spirit] began to work, the world lay in a formless mass, call in Genesis 1:2 a state of being “without form and void” (tohu w-bohu); after He worked everything was fashioned into its respective, perfect form. From chaos had came order, from shapelessness design, from a non-functioning universe one that could operate and display the glory of God (Wood, 33-34).

Wood, Leon J. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, 16, 33.

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More from Jerry Bridges:

As I have said, one of the first 5 books I would recommend any believer read is The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. This book shows how grace and personal effort go hand in hand:

To behold the glory of Christ in the gospel is a discipline. It is a habit we must develop by practice as we learn to preach the gospel to ourselves. As I have repeatedly said, although sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is a work which involves us.

For a longer explanation, See Is Growing as a Christian a Result of Our Effort or God’s Grace

See also Jerry Bridges on Dependent Responsibility

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One of the first 5 books I would recommend any believer read is The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. This book shows how grace and personal effort go hand in hand:

Grace the personal discipline require to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.

For a longer explanation, See Is Growing as a Christian a Result of Our Effort or God’s Grace

See also Jerry Bridges on Dependent Responsibility

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Pentecost Defined

Chris —  April 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

Pentecost defined the Church and so we should know its definition! It is the day when Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church. When we understand how Pentecost is defined, we will celebrate Pentecost with the same enthusiasm as Christmas and Easter.

Acts 2 tells us that after Jesus’s ascension a group of 120 were praying together in an upper room in Jerusalem. In fulfillment of a prophecy from Joel 2:28-32, suddenly the Holy Spirit descended on them with a sound like a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-4). The Word was preached, 3,000 were converted (Acts 2:41), and the Church began. So, as Christmas is the birthday of Christ, Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the Church.

Pentecost explains the reason that it is for the good of Christians that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father (John 16:7). Sinclair Ferguson (57, 71-72) summarizes:

Pentecost publicly marks the transition from the old to the new covenant, and signifies the commencement of the ‘now’ of the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). It is the threshold of the last days, and inaugurates the new era. . . Now as the bond of union to God, the Spirit indwells all who believe as the Spirit of the LORD Jesus Christ. This is a development of epochal proportion. The Spirit who was present and active at Christ’s conception as the head of the new creation . . . now indwells disciples in this specific identity. This is the meaning of our Lord’s words, otherwise impossible to comprehend: ‘It is for your good that I am going away’ (John 16:7).

Quotes from several other theologians help us better appreciate the importance of Pentecost:

At Pentecost believers experienced a transition from an old covenant experience of the Holy Spirit to a more powerful, new covenant experience of the Holy Spirit (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 722).

It was then that, through the coming of the Spirit, the minds of Christ’s followers were enriched with unprecedented illumination (1 John 2:20); their wills strengthened . . . with contagious animation (Acts 4:13,19, 20, 33; 5:29) and their hearts flooded with warm affection to a previously unprecedented degree (Acts 2:44-47; 3:6; 4:32).” (Hendriksen, Commentary on Mark, 41).

Formerly isolation, every man for himself; now organic union of all the members under their one Head: this is the difference between the days before and after Pentecost. The essential fact of Pentecost consisted in this, that on that day the Holy Spirit entered for the first time into the organic body of the Church, and individuals came to drink, not each by himself, but all together in organic union. Abraham Kuyper, The Holy Spirit, 133.

The baptism of the Spirit is the work which joins Christians together in a common bond of church relationship. It unites them, giving them an organic oneness. It provides them with a sense of mutual love, and sets before them a common purpose. It is because of this Christians, wherever they meet, feel an immediate closeness of friendship. They are of one group, a part in one grand enterprise. Leon Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, 74-75.

Originally, the term “pentecost” was derived from a Greek word meaning 50th and referenced the 50th day after the Passover. But with the Pentecost of Pentecosts when the church was born marks an amazing new epoch in God’s unfolding plan of redemption (Acts 2:1).

See also Pentecost: When Babel Was Turned Upside Down

Credit for some of thoughts and wording in this article to M.C. Tenney’s article, “Pentecost,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology edited by Elwell.

 

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