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The Promises of God: Discovering the One Who Keeps His Word by R. C. Sproul ($3.03)

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CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet (FREE)

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Best Blogs

What Banning One Books Says About The Future Of Our Society – Joel Miller

The introvert behind the pulpit

Pastor, Heal Thyself? | Seminary Grad School

Increase Their Joy: Three ways to encourage pastors | Sayable

Should a pastor take a day off every week? – Practical Shepherding

We Need an Additional Way to Credential Pastors

Rehearsal for Calvary | Biblical Preaching

BibleX: Preaching Ezra and Nehemiah

BibleX: Ebooks and Seminary Textbooks

Singing With Thankfulness In Our Hearts | Gentle Reformation

6 Ways to Benefit from Reading Genealogies

20 Truths from The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson

Patrick Gillespie on “Republication?” | Meet The Puritans

Typology & Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics | pilgrimandshire

Dear Christian Leaders of Social Media – RAANetwork

Starting a conversation about race

Tangled Up in Blue: Depression and the Christian Life – Reformation21

Why Teenage Suicide is More than a Statistic for Me | TGC

The New Abortion Absolutists

The Poverty Problem Is A Marriage Problem

Why Poor Students Struggle – NYTimes.com

Less Gushing, More Blushing

Best Videos

Announcing the Ligonier 2015 National Conference: After Darkness, Light

Justin Taylor (Sorta) Interviews Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund: Edwards on the Christian Life
Now for the real interview. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Dane’s book Jonathan Edwards on the Christian Life is the most soul-refreshing, thought-provoking, joy-generating book I’ve read this year

TWC News Austin: High School Blitz Interview with Apollos Hester
Just a wee bit hyper. Still not sure if this is a prank or not.

iDoctor: Could a Smart Phone Be the Future of Medicine?

I’ll Be Fine

KLASSEN Car Design Technology
Cultural mandate applied to the minivan.

Flying the Typhoon Through Mach Loop at Low Level


God Is A Happiness Promoter

God is good. His goodness is manifest in every work of his wisdom, for he has so continued and arranged all things in the best manner, to promote the happiness of his creatures, according to their nature and capacity. Archibald Alexander.

Lots of people make a living by promoting events such as concerts, sports, conferences, and festivals. Others promote products and services. Others, like Kim Kardashian, simply promote themselves.

Tough Work

Promotion is tough work. Lots of time, energy, and money is spent trying to persuade people to buy a ticket, commit to a service, purchase a product, or worship the latest celebrity.

Selfish Work

Sometimes the promoter has the good of others at heart – he really believes in the product or service and really believes that people will benefit from it. Much of the time, though, promoters are simply out to make money for themselves and don’t really care about creating value for their clients or customers.

Doesn’t Work

Even promoters with the best of intentions sometimes find that their most sincere promises and best arrangements just don’t work out – illness cancels a concert, bad weather ruins a race, the new car is recalled, speakers bomb at the conference, gadgets break, and so on.

A lot of people just don’t like promoters. They find them pushy, selfish, money-grabbing, and “economical” with the truth.

A Different Kind of Promoter

But I want to introduce you to a promoter who is unlike any other promoter. More accurately, I want Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander to introduce you to this promoter. In A Brief Compend of Bible Truth, he wrote:

God is good. His goodness is manifest in every work of his wisdom, for he has so continued and arranged all things in the best manner, to promote the happiness of his creatures, according to their nature and capacity.

Good Promoter

As Alexander says, this promoter’s name is Good God. His good product (or is it a service? or is it a person?) is happiness and He’s poured everything into getting it out of Himself and into others. He’s still in this business after thousands of successful years and millions of satisfied customers, as He daily devotes Himself to this wonderful work.

Selfless Promoter

Although He is “pushy” and persuasive, He doesn’t do this for selfish reasons; only for the good of His creatures.

Powerful Promoter

He’s wisely and powerfully organized everything to maximize people’s happiness, His arrangements really coming to a climax about 2000 years ago when He put together an awesome event in which His Son became sin, and through which sinners became righteous.

Active Promoter

And He continues to call men and women to happiness in and through His Son, knowing that we of all His creatures have the ideal nature and greatest capacity for this supreme happiness, a capacity and nature that He will one day transform and enlarge enough to take in the happiness of heaven forever without bursting.

What’s not to like about this promoter and this promotion?

You can buy the Kindle version of Archibald’s Brief Compend of Biblical Truth for $0.99.


Mental Health Experts on Faith and Mental Illness

On Monday, I explained how God used the tragic death of a man with schizophrenia to fund research into the connections between mental illness and Christian faith.

The Study of Acute Mental Illness and Christian Faith was conducted by LifeWay Research and its objectives were:

1. To equip family members and churches to care for loved ones suffering from acute mental illness, by expanding the understanding of what these persons experience, applying what Scripture says about essentials of faith, and sharing positive contributions that can be made in these individual’s spiritual lives

2. To help family members and churches discern the spiritual state of loved ones suffering from mental illness.

Over the next few weeks, I want to start sharing some of the results of the research and hope the bullet point style of presentation will make the material useful for personal education and also helpful for discussion groups.

The following summary findings were the result of hour-long interviews with fifteen Christian mental health professionals whose practice includes regular treatment of those who have schizophrenia, severe depression, and bipolar disorders.

Mental Health Experts on Shame and Stigma

  • People with mental illness or their families deal with a large amount of shame and social stigma around the illnesses.
  • People assume the person has “done” something to cause it.
  • Honest conversations that bring clarity to the topic are needed.
  • Conversations about mental illness need to change in frequency and in tone.

Mental Health Experts on the Family

  • Parents of children with mental illness deal with a substantial amount of denial and grief.
  • Questions about suffering are common.
  • To move forward, parents have to learn to dream new dreams for their child and their families.
  • Key tools for families.
    • Establish realistic time frames.
    • Understand illness isn’t going to just “disappear.”
    • Let go of others’ expectations.
    • Make room in their lives to deal with the illness.
    • Establish boundaries that lead to success.
    • Understand that it’s not about them.

Mental Health Experts on the Church & Community

  • People with mental illness turn to the church first for help.
  • Church has an opportunity to be a place of healing.
  • Pastor’s reactions to people struggling with mental illness are varied.
  • Pastors need to understand their own limitations.
  • Walking with the mentally ill can benefit the congregation, not just the individual.
  • Prepare for the cyclical nature of it and potential relapses.
  • Pastors are most likely to change their view on mental illness once they are personally impacted by it. 

Mental Health Experts on Faith & Maturity

  • Patients may forget to tell a mental health caregiver about struggles with their faith because they are more focused on the surface issues of the illness.
  • Labeling a mental illness as a “spiritual issue” only is not helpful and it can be detrimental.
  • Some manic episodes can appear to be signs of devotion or sacrifice.
  • Social support and community in the local church is important for personal spiritual growth.
  • Be realistic about how much spiritual growth or progress is to be expected of loved ones dealing with mental illness.
  • In most cases, the illness needs stabilizing before spiritual growth will take place.
  • Strong faith does not make a mental illness go away. People who deal with mental illness tend to be more honest about their relationship with God.
  • Before sharing their illness with others, it is important for the individual to feel they are in a safe church or group.
  • Unhealthy faith expressions can actually be a symptom of mental illness. Look for behaviors outside the norm of the group.

Tools Recommended by Mental Health Experts

  • Education was the most commonly mentioned needed resource.
  • Individuals, families, churches, pastors all need clarity on
    • The basics of mental illness.
    • Signs of what to look for.
    • Knowing how to respond if they suspect someone has a mental illness.
    • Ways to be supportive without being overwhelmed.

For discussion about limitations of the term “mental illness” you can read The Problem with “Mental Illness” and Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness.


Two Financial Game-Changers

I’ve lost count of the number of budgeting plans, techniques, strategies, programs, apps, and so on that Shona and I have tried over 23 years to get our finances in order. Sometimes we’ve come close to mastering our money, but it just doesn’t seem to last. A few times we’ve just given up, but most of the time we’ve worked really really hard to plan, budget, keep accounts, and practice accountability. And yet, no matter how much income we have, savings never seem to rise, unexpected bills bomb our beautiful budgets, and we just about survive from month to month.

Dave Ramsey’s plan has brought us closest to getting a handle on our accounts over the last couple of years, but we kept finding the micro-categorization so complicated and time-consuming. Also, when we blew it on one category, we kind of lost heart in keeping the other categories under control. And it was always difficult to figure out exactly how well we were doing overall at any stage of the month. Usually we got to the end of the month and just about squared things away with savings in some categories compensating for over-spending in others. But neither of us felt much motivation to really try to save money in our daily expenditure as we didn’t see our decisions making any difference to the overall picture.

Until a few months ago, when we stumbled upon a modification of the Dave Ramsey system, let’s call it the Dave Murray system, that has absolutely revolutionized our finances.

The Dave Murray System

Step 1: Estimate how much income from all sources in the course of the month.

Step 2: Calculate how much fixed expenses for the month.

Fixed expenses are predictable amounts that come off every month and includes items like tithe, mortgage (including property tax and insurance), car insurance, cellphone, Internet, YMCA, College tuition, Covenant Eyes, utilities, pension, health insurance, and so on. We also include a small fixed amount every month that goes into savings.

Step 3: Calculate the difference between Step 1 and Step 2 (Total income minus Fixed expenses = Variable expenses budget)

The amount left here is what’s available for all the variable monthly expenses, amounts that go up and down each month depending on so many uncontrollable factors. We take this out of the bank in cash.

This is where I leave the Dave Ramsey plan and start the Dave Murray plan.

At this point, Dave Ramsey would have you start putting this money into multiple envelopes for numerous categories: gas, groceries, stationery, pharmacy, doctor/dentist, car repairs, clothes, house maintenance, furniture replacement, and on and on it goes.

Instead, my wife heads to Costco.

Step 4: Monthly Mega-shop

Shona takes a large chunk of the variable expenses budget calculated at Step 3 and does one mega-shop in Costco and Walmart at the beginning of the month to get best prices on items that cost so much more in a weekly shop at the local grocery store. This has been a huge game-changer for us, especially with a family of seven, and has greatly reduced our monthly expenditure on food and non-food items.

Step 5: Variable Expenses minus Monthly Mega-shop = What’s left to spend (divided by 30)

Here we subtract Step 4 (mega-shop) from Step 3 (variable expenses budget) to find out what we have left to spend in the month. We then divide that by 30 (or 31 depending on the month). This gives us a daily budget amount, a fixed sum that we work really hard to save from each day. We then put together a spreadsheet with 30 columns and enter this fixed daily amount at the top of each column. That’s what we have to spend each day on everything we need – gas, groceries, books, clothes, etc. This step has been the second and biggest game-changer for us.

Step 6: Daily Accountability

Every evening after our family meal, Shona and I get together and write in the spreadsheet how much she’s spent we’ve spent that day. Our aim is to have savings each day from our daily budget that will accumulate more and more momentum as the days and weeks pass. It’s been incredible how working with this limited daily amount has made us so much more conscious of every spending decision, motivating us to really ask if we need to buy this or that right now, with every saving making a visible and felt difference to the cash pile in our money box. If we go over budget a day or two, then we work extra hard to recover quickly. It’s so encouraging to see how quickly $30 saved one day and $20 another quickly mount up to hundreds of dollars each month.

With this method, unlike the Dave Ramsey method, you know exactly where you are each day of the month, either exceeding budget or saving from it. Also, it is so much quicker to do each day. When we were using the Dave Ramsey system we ended up spending up to 30 minutes a day getting all our categories sorted. That often put us off actually doing it for days at a time, making it difficult to remember, frequently leading us to give up.

With this scheme, there’s just one category (daily budget) and all daily expenditure is debited from that. Usually we’re done in 5 minutes. And for the first time in our lives, we feel in control of our finances, we’re saving as we’ve never saved before, and we’re even enjoying it!

I’m including this in my New Student Tip series because although my family circumstances are just a wee bit different to most students (you can probably skip the Costco mega-shop!), the basic framework of this system, especially the daily budget idea, can be used by anyone, including students.

UPDATE: You Need A Budget Is Offering their App free to students. More details here.


New Student Tip #13: Money Management

It’s extremely hard to manage money well, and it’s especially hard when you’re a student with so little earning capacity and so many huge expenses associated with further education. Let me give you some key biblical words to guide you. Then tomorrow I’ll share with you the two biggest game-changers in my own money-management.

1. Study (Prov. 24:3,4)

If someone gave you $2 million today, you would probably buy a book on money management. Given that the average American family will earn $2 million in the course of a working life, why haven’t you bought the book yet? No one is born a George Soros or a Warren Buffet. Just as we need to study our math, biology, etc., we also need to study how to manage money wisely. I’d recommend Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover or his Complete Guide to Money.

2. Budget (Prov. 24:3,4; Luke 14:28)

If you aim at nothing you’ll always hit it. The 3% of people who write out financial goals achieve more financially than the other 97% combined. Budgeting means working out exactly how much income you have each month from various sources, then estimating exactly how much money you will spend on various categories (tithe, saving, housing, gas, food, etc.) and ensuring that the income is greater than the expenses.

3. Save (Prov. 21:10; 22:3; Matt. 25: 14-30)

You should have a short-term savings fund for emergencies like car repairs (maybe about $500). If you can afford it, you should also consider a medium-term savings fund for things like replacing your car or computer. Next priority, if there’s anything left, is to build up a deposit on a house. And then, as early as possible you should start putting a little away for retirement. I know that sounds ridiculous but have a look at this graphic if you need further persuasion.

4. Give (Prov. 3:9,10; Luke 6:38; 1 Cor. 16:2)

What? I’m a student, people give to me! No, you should tithe any earned income no matter how small it may be and give to support your local church first and foremost. The earlier you start, the easier this will be later in life. Believe it or not, tithing does not get any easier the more you earn.

5. Insure (Prov. 22:3)

“Foresee the evil and hide (“cover”) yourself.” The number one cause of bankruptcy in the US is medical bills  (#2 is credit cards).

6. Wait (Heb. 13:5; 2 Cor. 6:10; 1 Tim. 6:6)

Be content with what God has given you and learn to patiently wait until you can buy with cash

  • 19% of bankruptcies are filed by college students (usually caused by credit card debt)
  • People spend 47% more when using credit cards than when using cash
  • 88% of “Ninety days interest-free credit offers” are turned into high interest loans
  • Avoid get-rich-quick schemes (Prov. 13:11)

7. Repay (Prov. 6:5; 22:7)

I agree with Dave Ramsey that, apart from your home, you should avoid loans as much as possible and if you must take one, then aim to repay it as fast as possible.

8. Work (Eccl. 9:10; 1 Tim. 5:8)

Don’t depend entirely on your parents or college to fund your lifestyle or your studies. Even if your parents support you to some extent, or you win a college scholarship, it’s unlikely this will cover all your costs. Far better to work now to cover the balance than to take a loan which you will end up working to repay eventually.

If you say, “But I need a loan to attend this college,” you should consider whether your lack of cash in hand may be part of God’s guidance of you away from that college or course to one you can afford. If you can’t work through semester time, then your aim should be to work through summer and winter vacations. Apart from the extra cash, you will also learn good discipline and work habits.

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking
New Student Tip #11: Time Management
New Student Tip #12: Memorizing

Books

Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)
Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)
Top 10 Books for Students


Serving Those With Mental Illness: Free eBook

What possible good can come out of schizophrenia? What possible good can come out of losing a loved one due to schizophrenia-related complications?

Hard to imagine any good resulting from such painful and tragic circumstances isn’t it?

Well, today I want to encourage you by demonstrating how much good God can bring good out of such evil, how much light He can create out of such darkness, and how much comfort He can produce out of such deep sorrow.

Over the last couple of years, I got to know a Christian family who had seen family members suffer with mental illness, including schizophrenia. A close relative died from schizophrenia-related issues and left a substantial sum of money in his estate. After much prayer and consultation, the family decided to donate the money for research into mental illness and how it affects Christians, pastors, and churches.

Research Opportunity
The next step was to invite proposals from researchers. Thus, about 18 months ago, I announced a Major Counseling Research Opportunity on my blog and invited proposals from researchers. We received a number of excellent proposals, but the standout was one from Lifeway Research. It rose to the top not only because of the research expertise that Lifeway brought to the work but because of Lifeway’s ability and passion to get the research into the church so that pastors and Christians could use it in their ministries. What’s the point in doing the best research in the world if no one ever reads it and if the church never benefits from it?

As I discussed the proposal with Lifeway’s Ed Stetzer, he continued to expand the vision and to seek further partners that would both contribute to the research and help to make it widely available. I was, therefore, delighted when Focus on the Family also came on board and brought their own unique experience and expertise to the project.

All things for good
Do you see what I mean about God working all things together for good? Out of the tragic death of one unknown schizophrenic, two major national Christian organizations are involved in producing and publicizing research and resources that I believe will help thousands of people suffering with mental illness and their caregivers.

So, here we are, 18 months on and launch day for the research. The full study will go live here on Lifeway’s website this afternoon. Focus on the Family have also set up a landing page at Thriving Pastor that contains a summary of the research, articles on mental illness, and other helpful resources in a free eBook Serving Those With Mental Illness.

At that website you’ll also find a video interview about mental illness in the church with Ed Stetzer and Focus’s Jared Pingleton, together with numerous other recommendations for books etc. Ed’s being generating interest among various national media organizations and journalists and later on this afternoon will host a media call with Kay Warren (wife of Rick Warren).

Happy Day
It’s been a real joy and privilege to see God bringing so many strands together – painful providences, a generous family, Christian research expertise, media connections, and the bundle of buoyant life that is Ed Stetzer – to produce so much good for so many who live in daily agony of body, mind, heart, and soul.

I’ll be sharing and commenting upon the research in more detail in the days ahead, but in the meantime, why not get over to Focus on the Family, download that free eBook, and equip yourselves to serve God’s suffering children.