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Archive for the ‘Biblical Counseling’ Category

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

Don’t Hide Your Hurt, Heal Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Mark Merrill

Wounds in a marriage, big or small, can be difficult to deal with. During a recent conversation with a friend who has been navigating through some painful things in his own marriage, I realized that there’s an important choice that faces every man and woman when dealing with these wounds in marriage. Every husband and wife can either choose to cover festering wounds in their relationship and prevent healing or choose to expose those wounds and promote healing.

There are several reasons why a spouse or couple might try to leave untreated, or even hide, the hurtful wounds in their marriage instead of exposing them. Here are just a few:

Pride – They refuse to admit to their spouse that they’ve done anything wrong in the relationship to contribute to the hurt. Or, they worry about being embarrassed and what a spouse, family, or friends would think if they really knew what happened to them.

Fear – They fear what they might lose if the hurt is exposed, and that loss seems to outweigh any good they might gain from getting healthy.

Shame – They already feel guilty about some of the things they have done or have been done to them, and don’t want or need anyone else to pile on.

Pain – Maybe the pain is all they’ve really ever known and so they just live with it because it’s tolerable.

Hopelessness – They think, “What’s the use. We’ve talked about this over and over, but the same hurtful things are still being done. My spouse is never going to change. Things are never going to be different.”

In one of my posts, “Confession: My Wife and I Struggle Too,” I shared some challenges we’ve had in our marriage. Fortunately, they are all fixable issues we’ve worked through or are working on. What did Susan and I do to address these struggles and the ways we’ve sometimes hurt one another? We looked for credible, encouraging, experienced voices in books, other marriage resources, and seminars. We worked hard to identify problems, confess them, apologize to each other, and commit to working through them–together.

We also recognized that sometimes we needed an outside perspective. We have found those perspectives in places like a marriage class at church, a close, trusted couple we’ve known for years, and a marriage counselor. Yep…Mark and Susan Merrill have needed to lean on a professional counselor a time or two. And we wouldn’t change a thing. Read my previous blogs on 4 Ways to Know When It’s Time for Marriage Counseling and Finding a Good Marriage Counselor: Stacking the Deck in Your Favor. Here are some more steps on How to Heal a Wounded Heart.

So today, instead of ignoring or hiding your hurt, open it up and start treating it. Only then will the healing begin.

Family Systems Change

SOURCE:  Prepare/Enrich

I’ve always been interested in how my family operated.

I can remember specific times in my life where I could see how I thought my family system was about to change. As a 14 year-old, I wrote a paper about my perspective on my sister’s upcoming wedding. I clearly remember stating my point of view that I was not losing a sister, but gaining a brother. Eight years later, while in college, I lost my grandmother unexpectedly, and I watched my entire family figure out how to handle the new void in the system. And now, I write this newsletter as I await the birth of a new niece or nephew. I know this new baby will again change our family system.

The thing is, change isn’t bad. It’s inevitable though.

Family systems theory, the basis of many counseling programs, sees the family as an emotional unit. When one part of the system changes, the system needs to re-calibrate. Changes in the system also happen when the functioning of a family member changes. The connectedness and reactivity within the family unit make the functioning of family members interdependent. The same happens when a family member is added or removed from the system. Sometimes this transition happens over time such as adding family members through marriage, adoption, or birth. There are other times where it is not planned, like a death in the family.

Adding family members allows the opportunity to create new bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. But, it’s important to acknowledge that the transition can be bumpy. Some family members won’t be welcoming, some won’t like the change, and others may wish it was like the “old days.”While change is hard, it can also be beautiful.

Don’t feel like you need to combat these feelings.

We have some tips for how to manage when your family system changes:

  • Hear them out.  Listen, listen, and listen some more to your family members who are having a hard time adapting to the “new” dynamics. Their feelings are valid and its crucial to not outcast them in the transition process.
  • Give it time.  Don’t expect your family or yourself to be completely comfortable right away. It’s natural for some time to pass before a new “normal” sets in.
  • Encourage openness.  Embrace change yourself and model for others how to be open to changes that happen in the family system.
  • Establish new bonds.  Identify new family traditions or “special” moments with that new family member. This can be as simple as an inside joke with your new brother-in-law or a special tradition you create each time you have the birth of a new baby.

 


5 Indicators of an Evil Heart

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

As Christian counselors, pastors and people helpers we often have a hard time discerning between an evil heart and an ordinary sinner who messes up, who isn’t perfect, and full of weakness and sin.

I think one of the reasons we don’t “see” evil is because we find it so difficult to believe that evil individuals actually exist. We can’t imagine someone deceiving us with no conscience, hurting others with no remorse, spinning outrageous fabrications to ruin someone’s reputation, or pretending he or she is spiritually committed yet has no fear of God before his or her eyes.

The Bible clearly tells us that among God’s people there are wolves that wear sheep’s clothing (Jeremiah 23:14Titus 1:10Revelations 2:2). It’s true that every human heart is inclined toward sin (Romans 3:23), and that includes evil (Genesis 8:21James 1:4). We all miss God’ mark of moral perfection. However, most ordinary sinners do not happily indulge evil urges, nor do we feel good about having them. We feel ashamed and guilty, rightly so (Romans 7:19–21). These things are not true of the evil heart.

Below are five indicators that you may be dealing with an evil heart rather than an ordinary sinful heart.  If so, it requires a radically different treatment approach.

They twist the facts, mislead, lie, avoid taking responsibility, deny reality, make up stories, and withhold information. (Psalms 5:810:758:3109:2–5140:2Proverbs 6:13,146:18,1912:1316:2016:27, 2830:14Job 15:35Jeremiah 18:18Nehemiah 6:8Micah 2:1Matthew 12:34,35Acts 6:11–132 Peter 3:16)

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

But if you look at the fruit of their lives or the follow through of their words, you will find no real evidence of godly growth or change. It’s all smoke and mirrors. (Psalms 50:1952:2,357:459:7101:7Proverbs 12:526:23–2626:28Job 20:12Jeremiah 12:6Matthew 26:59Acts 6:11–13Romans 16:17,182 Corinthians 11:13,142 Timothy 3:2–53:13Titus 1:10,16).

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

They reject feedback, real accountability, and make up their own rules to live by. They use Scripture to their own advantage but ignore and reject passages that might require self-correction and repentance. (Romans 2:8Psalms 1036:1–450:16–2254:5,673:6–9Proverbs 21:24Jude 1:8–16).

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

They demand mercy but give none themselves. They demand warmth, forgiveness, and intimacy from those they have harmed with no empathy for the pain they have caused and no real intention of making amends or working hard to rebuild broken trust. (Proverbs 21:101 Peter 2:16Jude 1:4).

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

They do not struggle against sin or evil—they delight in it—all the while masquerading as someone of noble character. (Proverbs 2:14–1510:2312:1021:27,29Isaiah 32:6Romans 1:302 Corinthians 11:13–15)

If you are working with someone who exhibits these characteristics, it’s important that you confront them head on. You must name evil for what it is. The longer you try to reason with them or show mercy towards them, the more you, as the Christian counselor, will become a pawn in his or her game.

They want you to believe that:

1. Their horrible actions should have no serious or painful consequences.

When they say “I’m sorry,” they look to you as the pastor or Christian counselor to be their advocate for amnesty with the person he or she has harmed. They believe grace means they are immediately granted immunity from the relational fallout of their serious sin. They believe forgiveness entitles them to full reconciliation and will pressure you and their victim to comply.

The Bible warns us saying, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10).

The Bible tells us that talking doesn’t wake up evil people, but painful consequences might. Jesus didn’t wake up the Pharisee’s with his talk nor did God’s counsel impact Cain (Genesis 4). In addition, the Bible shows us that when someone is truly sorry for the pain they have caused, he or she is eager to make amends to those they have harmed by their sin (see Zacchaeus’ response when he repented of his greed in Luke 19).

Tim Keller writes, “If you have been the victim of a heinous crime. If you have suffered violence, and the perpetrator (or even the judge) says, ‘Sorry, can’t we just let it go?’ You would say, ‘No, that would be an injustice.’ Your refusal would rightly have nothing to do with bitterness or vengeance. If you have been badly wronged, you know that saying sorry is never enough. Something else is required—some kind of costly payment must be made to put things right.”1

As Biblical counselors let’s not collude with the evil one by turning our attention to the victim, requiring her to forgive, to forget, to trust again when there has been no evidence of inner change. Proverbs says, “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” (Proverbs. 25:19). It’s foolishness.

The evil person will also try to get you to believe

2. That if I talk like a gospel-believing Christian I am one, even if my actions don’t line up with my talk.

Remember, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13–15). He knows more true doctrine than you or I will ever know, but his heart is wicked. Why? Because although he knows the truth, he does not believe it or live it.

The Bible has some strong words for those whose actions do not match their talk (1 John 3:17,18Jeremiah 7:8,10James 1:22, 26). John the Baptist said it best when he admonished the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

If week after week you hear the talk but there is no change in the walk, you have every reason to question someone’s relationship with God.

Part of our maturity as spiritual leaders is that we have been trained to discern between good and evil. Why is that so important? It’s important because evil usually pretends to be good, and without discernment we can be easily fooled (Hebrews 5:14).

When you confront evil, chances are good that the evil heart will stop counseling with you because the darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and the foolish and evil heart reject correction (Proverbs 9:7,8). But that outcome is far better than allowing the evil heart to believe you are on his or her side, or that “he’s not that bad” or “that he’s really sorry” or “that he’s changing” when, in fact, he is not.

Daniel says, “[T]he wicked will continue to be wicked” (Daniel 12:10), which begs the question, do you think an evil person can really change?

Helping victims of domestic abuse: 4 pitfalls to avoid

SOURCE: Dr. Diane Langberg/Careleader.org

To understand domestic abuse properly, let’s start with the word abuse, which comes from the Latin word abutor, meaning “to use wrongly.” It also means “to insult, violate, tarnish, or walk on.” So domestic abuse, then, occurs when one partner in the home uses the other partner for wrong purposes. Anytime a human being uses another as a punching bag, a depository for rage, or something to be controlled for that person’s own satisfaction, abuse has occurred. Anytime words are used to demean or insult or degrade, abuse has occurred. And anytime there is intimidation and threats and humiliation, abuse has occurred.

Domestic abuse is something you as a pastor may encounter, or it may be a “silent sin” within the church that goes unseen. Either way, it is a reality, and one for which we must be prepared. But how do we do this? How can we prepare to minister to victims of domestic abuse? Below, I share four common pitfalls of pastors and leaders, then conclude by explaining how the church is called to act in these situations.

Pitfall #1: Not realizing the frequency of abuse

We need to realize just how frequently abuse happens. We are surprised by it in the church, but statistically 20 percent of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

That’s almost one-third of women, and that includes women in the church.

20% of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

Further, more than three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

Or here’s another statistic: pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.

That is astounding. And again, those numbers don’t change when you survey women within the church.

Pitfall #2: Not calling abuse what it really is

One of the most important things we can do is call abuse what it really is, because people have a tendency to rename abuse into other things. For example, an abuser might say, “I was upset from a bad day at work … which is why I turned the table over, broke the dishes, and hit my spouse,” or “It was a mistake.” Abusers use words to minimize what has been done and make it seem normal. And unfortunately, those trying to help do the same thing, saying things like “Can’t you forgive so-and-so for that mistake?”

But domestic abuse is not a mistake. It is abuse; it meets the definition of abuse. So we have to call it what it is, because we are called to the truth. We have to call things by their rightful name. By changing the wording, we diminish the gravity of the sin.

Pitfall #3: Encouraging submission despite abuse

Sadly, many women have been beaten, kicked, and bruised, and then return home in the name of submission. Worse, many of these women have been sent home in the name of submission. But submission does not entitle a husband to abuse his wife.

Unfortunately, this instruction is one of the biggest mistakes pastors and church leaders have been known to make. So many women are sent home by church leaders to be screamed at, humiliated, and beaten, sometimes to death. Their husbands can break their bones, smash in their faces, terrify their children, break things, forbid them access to the money, and all sorts of things, but they are told to submit without a word and be glad for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.

Pitfall #4: Protecting the institution of marriage instead of the victim

Domestic violence is a felony in all fifty states. So, to send people home and not deal with it, not bring it into the light, and not provide safety is to be complicit in lawbreaking, which is also illegal. In sending women home, the church ends up partnering in a crime. But it is not the church’s call to cover up violence. Paul says in Ephesians 5 to expose the deeds of darkness so the light can shine in. That’s the only way there is hope for truth and repentance and healing.

I also find one of the things that confuses Christians is we think that if we take the wife and children out of their home to bring them to a safe place, for example, we are not protecting “the family.” We say that we have to protect the family because it is a God-ordained institution, which it is. But what we forget is that God does not protect institutions, even ones He has ordained, when they are full of sin.

It’s easy for us to forget that truth, and particularly when we know those who are abusive, we tend to want to believe them. We don’t understand how incredibly deceitful and manipulative they are, deceiving first themselves and then others. We think we can tell when people are lying—even though the Scriptures say we are all so deceitful, we can’t even know the depths of it. But we are deceived into thinking that they wouldn’t do something so severe. And while we think we are doing the right thing by believing or trusting them, we are actually completely opposed to Scripture.

The calling of the church

The church is called to be the church. What that means is that we are called to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed; that’s all through the Scriptures. And we are called to hold others accountable, despite the tough road to repentance, even if they are our best friends.

So when a pastor hears from a woman that she is being abused in her home, the first step is to find out what that means. It could be verbal abuse, or it could be that her life is in danger, and she and her children need to be taken out of the home and put in a safe place.

Unfortunately, though, not all victims of domestic abuse feel that they are able to leave, a source of frustration for many caregivers. The vast majority of women in these situations love their husbands and want their marriage to work, and many times, the husband assures her that he won’t do it again. She wants her husband, so she keeps going back. So while we want to ensure her safety by not sending her back to an abusive home, we also want to give her the dignity of being able to make her own decision, which he does not give her.

We must also have the humility to involve other authorities like the police, if need be. They are God-given authorities for matters such as these, but it can be a bit of a revolving door. If she wants to report the abuse to the police, go with her to the police. If she needs to file a protection order, go with her to the courthouse. We must walk with her as she makes her decision.

As pastors and leaders, we must not minimize abuse, nor should we teach women that submission means being a punching bag, even a verbal one. We also cannot minimize the gravity of the issue or be naïve to its prevalence in the church. Instead, the church is called to love and protect those who are vulnerable, to walk with them and care for them well.

3 Common Mistakes of Addicts’ Families

SOURCE: Taken from an article by 

Families of addicts feel desperate to help their loved ones stop abusing drugs or alcohol. However, if their desperate, though understandable, responses to their loved one’s behavior are not informed by biblical principles, they will unwittingly and sometimes tragically do more harm than good. Here are some of the common mistakes families of addicts make, followed by tips on how to help families become aware of what they need to change.

Mistake #1: Trying to control the addict

Sometimes families try to control the behavior of an addicted member by limiting that person’s access to funds, monitoring his or her time, or keeping constant tabs on the addict’s whereabouts.

Unfortunately, this approach frustrates the addict and becomes an excuse for him or her to entrench deeper into drug or alcohol abuse. Though trying to control a loved one’s addiction is counterproductive, it is understandable. Families are desperate to keep their loved one from taking illegal drugs or drinking alcohol. And they may experience a small measure of peace when they know their loved one isn’t getting into trouble. But such a high level of control is impossible to maintain in the long term. Plus, exerting so much control stresses out family members who end up becoming more aware of all the many things they can’t control while trying to police their loved one. Dr. Joseph Troncale, medical director at Retreat Premiere Addiction Treatment Centers in Lancaster County, PA, says, “Family members with addicted loved ones would do well to consider becoming familiar with Al-Anon1 principles: (1) you didn’t CAUSE the addiction; (2) you can’t CONTROL the addiction; and (3) you can’t CURE the addiction.”

Mistake #2: Enabling the addict

Trying to love the addict, some family members enable that person to continue his or her destructive behavior. “They’re trying to please this family member and make him or her happy, and they do so in ways that are just encouraging sin. Rather than taking a stand and reproving, they’re encouraging the sin to take place,” said Dr. Mark Shaw, executive director of Vision of Hope in Lafayette, IN, and an ordained minister, biblical counselor, and certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor.2

The family may also enable out of fear of losing the relationship (e.g., a child has threatened never to speak to his parents again if they don’t pay his rent) or of violent retaliation (an addict may lash out violently if kept from her drug of choice). If fear for one’s safety motivates an enabling situation, you should address this first.

Mistake #3: Ignoring the needs of other family members

Often, families ignore the needs of other family members by focusing all their attention on caring for the addict. When this happens, those who are ignored can become bitter toward their parents or their addicted family member because the addict receives all of the attention, time, and resources. Siblings become bitter because their college funds are used to fund rehab. Spouses give up on marriages because their partners are consumed with their child’s addiction. Children who would excel in school don’t because a parent’s addiction robs them of the support and encouragement they’d typically receive. Neglected family members are often tempted to turn to unhelpful ways of coping with the pain and instability caused by living with an addict.

How to help the families of addicts recognize the effects of their actions

While it may be clear to you that the family is hurting their loved one or that they are not acting in his or her best interest, the family members may not be aware of this. In fact, they may believe that their approach is wise, is in the best interest of the family, and keeps the loved one from living on the street. So how do you get them to see what they’re doing wrong?

One of the best ways to do this is to ask them questions that help them see the effect their behavior is having upon their loved one. Author, counselor, and CareLeader.org’s own Dr. Jeff Forrey says that questions should elicit facts that help loved ones see the consequences of their actions.

He also points out that while it is important to help people understand the impact of their choices, it’s also important for family members to realize what’s not happening as a result of their choices. For example, ignoring the actions of an addicted family member may keep the peace, but the addict does not learn how his or her behavior is affecting others, and family members do not learn how to deal with conflict. Devoting hours to controlling behavior may not seem detrimental to the mother of an addict until she is led to realize how other family members are being neglected.

Guiding families to wiser responses

Once family members become aware of the immediate consequences of their behavior, you can also help them think through the long-term implications of their behavior. Once they realize the futility of their actions, here are a few truths that you may want to guide families of addicts to realize.

Truths for those who tend to control
Help family members realize there is so much that they can’t control. Consider reminding the family that God is the one who is ultimately in control of the situation and that He is able to rescue and work all things for good. Philippians 3:21 reminds us that His power “enables him to bring everything under his control.”

Families attempting to control an addict often fear the consequences of addiction. Remind them that God has a history of using bad things—even the consequences of sin—for good and, ultimately, His glory. This is a difficult truth for family members to accept, especially because ultimately it means wrestling with the idea that God could use even the death of their loved one for His purposes. Even the most mature believers may struggle to be at peace with the simultaneously heartbreaking and comforting realities of God’s sovereignty. So be patient with families struggling to embrace the idea that God is in control.

You can also explore other possible motives family members may have for trying to control the addict. A desire to keep others from finding out about the situation can be problematic, for example, when it is rooted in the family’s desire to protect its own reputation.

You can explain to families that the addict is worshipping the substance: the alcohol or drug has become his or her god, and no amount of human control can break the bonds of spiritual slavery at play.

As you suggest new ways family members can interact with the addict, a simple verse like Proverbs 3:5 can help family members: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Encourage family members to pray and trust that the Holy Spirit will help them learn to embrace God’s ways of responding to sin and not trust their instincts.

Truths for those who enable
Remind families with tendencies to enable that protecting the addict from experiencing the consequences of the behavior shows a wrong understanding of how God loves His children. The family members may think they are showing God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy, but forget that God still allows His children to reap what they’ve sown. When dealing with an addict, Christians can and should allow people to experience the consequences of their behavior.

Proverbs 3:12 reminds us of another side of God’s love: “The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” And Ephesians 5:11 states that Christians are not called to hide but to bring to light the sins of others: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

When counseling an addict’s family, help them consider whether their response is somehow facilitating addictive behavior. Disciplining an adult child, spouse, or other adult family member may not be possible or appropriate. But you can help them see that taking steps to stop destructive behavior (not enabling, but allowing people to experience the consequences of their behavior) is consistent with God’s character.

Psychiatric Meds: Should I or Not?

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick/CareLeader

“Pastor, should I take psychiatric meds?”

Let’s begin this discussion by placing the question in the correct category—whether an individual chooses to use psychotropic medication in his struggle with mental illness is a wisdom decision, not a moral decision. If someone is thinking, “Would it be bad for me to consider medication? Is it a sign of weak faith? Am I taking a shortcut in my walk with God?” then he is asking important questions (the potential use of medication) but placing them in the wrong category (morality instead of wisdom).

 Better questions would be:
  • How do I determine if medication would be a good fit for me and my struggle?
  • What types of relief should I expect medication to provide, and what responsibilities would I still bear?
  • How would I determine if the relief I’m receiving warrants the side effects I may experience?
  • How do I determine the initial length of time I should be on medication?

In order to answer these kinds of questions, I would recommend a six-step process. This process will, in most cases, take six months or more to complete. But it often takes many months for doctors and patients to arrive at the most effective medication option, so this process does not elongate the normal duration of finding satisfactory medical treatment.

Having an intentional process is much more effective than making reactionary choices when the emotional pain (getting on medication) or unpleasant side effects (getting off medication) push a person to “just want to do something different.” With a process in place, it is much more likely that what is done will provide the necessary information to make important decisions about the continuation or cessation of medication.

Preface: This six-step process assumes that the individual considering medication is not a threat to self or others, and is capable of fulfilling basic life responsibilities related to personal care, family, school, and work. If this is not the case, then a more prompt medical intervention or residential care would be warranted.

If you are unsure how well your church member is functioning, then encourage him to begin with a medical consultation or counseling relationship. If he would like more time with his doctor than a diagnostic and prescription visit, suggest that he ask the receptionist if he can schedule an extended time with the physician for consultation on his symptoms and options.

Step 1: Assess life and struggle

Most struggles known as mental illness do not have a body-fluid test (i.e., blood, saliva, or urine) to verify their presence. We do not know a “normal range” for neurotransmitters like we do for cholesterol. The activity of the brain is too dynamic to make this kind of simple number test easy to obtain. Gaining neurological fluid samples would be highly intrusive and more traumatic than the information would be beneficial. Brain scans are not currently cost-effective for this kind of medical screening and cannot yet give us the neurotransmitter differentiation we would need.

For these reasons, the diagnosis for whether a mental illness has a biological cause is currently a diagnosis-by-elimination in most cases. However, an important part of your church member’s initial assessment should be a visit to his primary care physician. Encourage your church member to:

  • Clearly describe the struggles/symptoms he is experiencing.
  • Describe when each struggle/symptom began.
  • Describe the current severity of each struggle/symptom and how it developed.

As the person prepares for this medical visit, it would be important for him to also consider:

  • What important life events, transitions, or stressors occurred around the time his struggle began?
  • What is the level of life-interference he is experiencing as a result of his struggle?
  • What lifestyle or relational changes would significantly impact the struggle that he’s facing?

Step 2: Make needed nonmedical changes

Medication will never make us healthier than our current choices allow. Our lifestyle is the “ceiling” for our mental health; we will never be sustainably happier than our beliefs and choices allow. Medication can correct some biological causes and diminish the impact of environmental causes to our struggles. But medication cannot raise one’s mental health potential above what that person’s lifestyle allows.

Too often people want medication to make over their unhealthy life choices in the same way they expect a multivitamin to transform an unhealthy diet. They assume that the first step toward feeling better is receiving a diagnosis and prescription. This may be the case, and there is no shame if it is, but it need not be the guiding assumption.

Encourage your church member to look at the lifestyle, beliefs, and relational changes that his assessment in step 1 would require. If there are choices he could make to reduce the intensity of his struggle, is he willing to make them? Undoubtedly these changes will be hard, or he would have already done so. But let him know that they are essential if he wants to use medication wisely.

As your church member identifies these changes, he should assess the areas of sleep, diet, and exercise. Sleep is vital to the replenishing of the brain. Diet is the beginning of brain chemistry—our body can create neurotransmitters only from the nutrition we provide it. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular, has many benefits for countering the biological stress response (a primary contributor to poor mental health). The first “prescription” should be eight hours of sleep, a balanced diet high in antioxidants, and cardiovascular exercise for at least thirty minutes three days a week.

A key indicator of whether your church member is using psychotropic medication wisely is whether he is using medication (a) as a tool to assist him in making needed lifestyle and relational changes, or (b) as an alternative to having to make these changes. Option A is wise. Option B results in overmedication or feeling like “medication didn’t work either” as he continually tries to compensate medically for the volitional neglect of his mental health.

Step 3: Determine the nonmedicated baseline for mood and life functioning

This is an important, and often neglected, step. Any medication is going to have side effects. The most frequent reason people stop taking psychotropic medications, other than cost, is because of their side effects.

If your church member is not careful, he will merely want to feel better than he does “now.” Initially “now” will be how he feels without medication. Later “now” will be how he feels with medication’s side effects. In order to avoid this unending cycle, there needs to be a baseline of how he feels when he lives optimally off of medication.

One of the reasons postulated for why placebos often have as beneficial an effect as psychotropic medication is the absence of side effects. Those who take a placebo get all the benefits of hope (doing something they expect to improve their life) without any unpleasant side effects. Getting the baseline measurement of how life goes when one simply practices “good mental hygiene” is an important way to account for this effect.

“As I practice medicine these days, my first question when a patient comes with a new problem is not what new disease he has. Now I wonder what side effects he is having and which drug is causing it,” says Charles D. Hodges, MD, in his book Good Mood Bad Mood.

There is another often overlooked benefit of step 3. Frequently people get serious about living more healthily at the same time life has gotten hard enough to begin taking medication. This introduces two interventions (medication and new life practices), maybe three or four (often people also begin counseling or being more open with friends who offer care and support), at the same time. It becomes very difficult to discern which intervention accounts for their improvements.

Writing out his answers to the following questions will help your church member discern if he needs to move on to step 4 and make the needed assessment in step 5.

  • What were the struggles that initially made me think I might benefit from medication?
  • How intense were these struggles, and how did they manifest themselves?
  • What changes did I make in my lifestyle and relationships to alleviate these struggles?
  • How effective was I at being able to make the needed changes?
  • How much relief did the lifestyle and relational changes provide for my struggles?
  • How do I anticipate medication would assist me in being more effective at these changes?

Step 4: Begin a medication trial

If your church member’s struggles persist to a degree that is impairing his day-to-day functioning, then you should encourage him to seek out a psychiatrist or other physician for advisement about medical options. In this conversation, he should consider asking the physician the following questions:

  • What are the different medication options available for the struggle I’m facing?
  • What does each medication do that impacts this struggle?
  • What are the most common side effects for each medication?
  • How long does it take this medication before it is in full effect?
  • If I choose to come off this medication, what is the process for doing so?
  • What have been the most common affirmations and complaints of other patients on this medication?

These questions should help him work with his doctor to determine which medication would be best for him. Remind your church member that he has a voice in this process and should seek to be an informed consumer with his medical treatment, in the same way he would for any other product or service.

In this consultation your church member will also want to decide upon the initial period of time to remain on the medication (unless he experiences a significant side effect from it). In determining this length of time, he would want to consider:

  • His physician or psychiatrist will make recommendations based upon additional factors (beyond the scope of this article)
  • Staying on the medication a minimum of at least twice the length of time it takes to reach its full effect
  • Significant life stressors that would predictably arise during this trial period (e.g., planning a wedding)
  • How long it would take to make and solidify changes that were difficult to make without medication (see step 3)

Once this set period of time is determined, your church member’s goal is to continue implementing the changes he began in step 3 while monitoring (a) the level of progress in his area of struggle and (b) any side effects from the medication.

Step 5: Assess level of progress against medication side effects

Near the end of the trial period, your church member should return to the life assessment questions he answered at the end of step 3. He should compare his ability to enjoy and engage life at this point with his answers then. The questions to ask are:

  • What benefits have I seen while on medication?
  • What side effects have I experienced?
  • Is there reason to believe my continued improvement is contingent upon my continued use of medication?
  • Are the side effects of medication worth the benefit it provides?

The more specific he was in his answers at the end of step 3, the easier it will be for him to evaluate his experience at the end of step 5. At this point, encourage him to try to be neither pro-medication nor anti-medication. His goal is to live as full and enjoyable a life as possible. It is neither better nor worse if medication is part of that optimal life.

Step 6: Determine whether to remain on medication

At this point in the process there are several options available to the individual; this is more than a yes/no decision. But any option should be decided in consultation with the prescribing physician or psychiatrist. Your church member can decide to:

  • Remain on medication because the effects are beneficial and the side effects are minimal or worth it.
  • Opt to stage off the medication because the benefits were minimal or the side effects were worse than the benefits.
  • Stage off the medication to see if the progress he made can be maintained without medication, knowing that if not, he is free to resume the medication without any sense of failure.
  • Opt to try a different medication for another set period of time based on what he learned from the initial experience.

Regardless of what he chooses, by following this process he can have the assurance that he is making an informed decision about what is the best choice for him.

How Worry Affects You (and others)

SOURCE:  Tim Lane/CareLeader

Surprising ways worry affects your people

Any quick search on Google or Amazon will confirm what we all already know: worry is harmful to our bodies. Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and twitching

You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe a person’s worrying is. Most of the people in your church can probably identify many of these anxiety-producing experiences.

Unfortunately, this is not the only way people in your congregation are impacted by worry. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on one’s overall health. People who worry consistently are more prone to the following physical consequences:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Digestive disorders
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack

In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word worry comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word anxiety is of Indo-Germanic origin, referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.

Statistics reveal that nearly 20 percent of people living in the United States will experience life-debilitating anxiety annually. That is nearly 65 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions.

What would the doctor say?

Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest, and some kind of meditation is a proven help to the person  struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that you could share with those imprisoned by worry?

While these things are important, the people in your church also need to know how to connect to God when worries come. We all need God’s grace even if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful. Let’s consider the most fundamental aspect that must undergird everything else we do when taking care of our bodies.

What would Jesus say?

Jesus lived at a time in human history that was very unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where He encouraged people not to worry, He did so with compassion because He knew firsthand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, He spoke these encouraging words to anxious people: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but His command is one of encouragement, not shame.

Here are a few simple but profound phrases and truths based upon that passage that you can share with those in your congregation.

Do not be afraid …

Jesus knows that worry is a serious problem. He knows it is bad for you physically, as well as spiritually, and He gets right to the point because He loves you. His commands are always for your good. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word worry that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of His teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).

Little flock …

Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words:little flock. While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, He speaks to you as one who belongs to Him, whom He is shepherding and for whom He laid down His life. You are unimaginably dear to Him and loved by Him. You are one of His sheep. Be reassured—He cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget Him and His care and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of His flock.

For your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom …

Your Father is not only going to care for you now, He is in the process and will ultimately give you His kingdom. Your future is certain and you can begin to experience it even now, because His kingdom has broken into your life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is a deposit guaranteeing that you will get it all one day. So, right now, in the ups and downs of life, the stresses and strains of the uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to.

With all of this in mind, encourage those in your congregation to allow the truth of God’s care for them to work its way into their daily life. We are to prioritize the kingdom by viewing everything through the lens of our faith. When we begin to live for God instead of the things of the world, we may find that our tendency to worry will lessen and our response to God and to the world, spiritually and physically, will change dramatically.

Living With A Narcissist

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Les Carter/CareLeader

Helping those living with a narcissist

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is defined as a personality so consumed with self that the individual is unable to consistently relate to the feelings, needs, and perceptions of others.

Why is it so difficult for someone to live with a narcissist?

It is quite challenging to live with a narcissist since chronically controlling and exploitive behavior is at the core of this personality, and over time narcissists have a knack for generating exasperation in those who simply want to relate with equality and respect.

Anyone can be self-centered. What makes a person a narcissist?

When we refer to a narcissistic personality, we acknowledge that self-absorption is not just present, but it is the defining feature. Even when they appear helpful or friendly, narcissists eventually illustrate that their good behavior has a self-serving hook on the end of it. (“Now you owe me.”)

What are some indicators that someone is a narcissist?

Key indicators of a full-blown narcissistic personality include an inability to empathize; expecting special favors; an attitude of entitlement; manipulative or exploitive behaviors; hypersensitivity when confronted; being loose with “facts”; extremes in emotional reactions, both positive and negative; idealism; an unwillingness to deal with reality; an insatiable need for control; the need to be in the superior or favored position; and an ability to make initial positive impressions.

How can someone have a healthy relationship with a narcissist?

I know it seems pessimistic for me to state this, but when someone engages with a narcissist, he or she cannot afford to think “normally.” Normal relationships have an ebb and flow of cooperation, something a narcissist knows little about. (Keep in mind, the narcissist thinks he or she is unique, meaning above the standards of everyone else.)

Is it wise to try and reform the narcissist?

While it is tempting to plead or debate with the narcissist, such efforts will only increase one’s aggravation. The narcissist has no interest speaking as one equal to another. The narcissist must win, meaning the other person must lose. There is a very small probability that person will respond to another person’s good comments with, “I really needed to hear that. Thanks for the input.” Don’t waste emotional energies by bargaining, insisting, or convincing.

How should someone communicate with a narcissist?

A very predictable tactic of the narcissist is to argue the merits of one’s beliefs or needs. This strategy draws a person into a debate that will never end well for the person (Prov. 26:4). The good news is that the hurting spouse is not required to be a master debater, and in fact, after the spouse has explained his or her thoughts and feelings once, those words do not need to be repeated. For instance, when the narcissist continues to argue, instead of being sucked in, a person can say something like, “I know we differ, but I’m comfortable with my decision.” When receiving the predictable pushback, he or she can say, “I’m comfortable with my decision, so I’ll stick with my plans.” No debate, no needless justification.

Why is it important for those living with a narcissist to demonstrate a belief in their own dignity?

Someone may often feel poorly about him- or herself since a narcissist so readily discounts that person, leaving the person to wonder, “What’s so awful about me?” Encourage the person not to fall into that trap. Contrary to the narcissist’s assumption, one’s dignity is a God-given gift, and it does not vary due to the narcissistic person’s invalidations (Ps. 139:13–14). Encourage the person who feels poorly to connect with friends and associates who understand how relationships can be anchored in mutual regard.

What can a person do to stay at peace with a narcissist?

Narcissists can stubbornly persuade and coerce, telling others how to think and behave. Being inebriated with correctness, they quickly turn discussions into a battle for dominance. The best way for a person to be in control of him- or herself is to drop the illusion that he or she can control the narcissist, and also to remember that sometimes there’s only so much one can do to keep the peace (Rom. 12:18).


Additional resources

For more detailed instruction on how to live with a narcissistic/self-centered spouse, see Brad Hambrick’s free online resource Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse. It’s a helpful guide you can use to help spouses develop Christ-centered strategies to deal with a narcissist. The resource is also designed for self-study.

9 Things You Should Know About Autism

SOURCE: taken from an article by  thegospelcoalition.org · Joe Carter

Here are nine things you should know to help raise awareness and prepare you to minister to those with ASD.

1. Autism is the common term used to refer to Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder that involves abnormal development and function of the brain. People with autism show decreased social communication skills and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors or interests. (Throughout the rest of this article autism will be referred to as ASD.)

2. The term autism (from Greek autos ‘self’ + -ism, a form of “morbid self-absorption”) was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1910 to refer to a subset of childhood schizophrenia. However, the first-ever clinical account of the disorder didn’t appear until 1943 when Leo Kanner, a pioneer in child psychiatry, published “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Disorder.” Around that same time Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger wrote about the condition and noticed that many of the children he identified as being autistic were able to use their behaviors to their vocational advantage in adulthood. Asperger’s work was relatively unknown until 1981 when Lorna Wing coined the term “Asperger syndrome” in her paper on the condition.

3. Prior to 2013, autism was considered one of five different pervasive developmental disorders that included Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not-Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Rett’s Syndrome. In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V), and the five disorders were subsumed under the diagnosis of ASD. (You can read the diagnostic criteria for the disorder here.)

4. Estimates are that 14.6 per 1,000 (one in 68) children aged 8 years are affected by the condition. ASD is estimated to be about four times higher among boys (23.6 per 1,000 or 1 in 42) than among girls (5.3 per 1,000 or 1 in 189), and significantly higher among non-Hispanic white children (15.5 per 1,000) compared with non-Hispanic black children (13.2 per 1,000), and Hispanic children (10.1 per 1,000).

5. The causes of ASD remain unknown, though it appears to have a strong genetic component. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other will be affected between 36 percent and 95 percent of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other is affected about 0 percent to 31 percent of the time. Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2 percent to 18 percent chance of having a second child who is also affected. ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions. About 10 percent of children with autism are also identified as having Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, or other genetic and chromosomal disorders. ASD commonly co-occurs with other developmental, psychiatric, neurologic, chromosomal, and genetic diagnoses. The co-occurrence of one or more non-ASD developmental diagnoses is 83 percent, and the co-occurrence of one or more psychiatric diagnoses is 10 percent.

6. Despite nearly 30 years of research, there has been no causal connection established between vaccinations and ASD. The claim that vaccines caused ASD was given credence in 1998, though, by the publication of a fraudulent research paper in the British medical journal The Lancet. That paper was later retracted when it was discovered that the chief researcher, a British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield, had manipulated the data and failed to disclose that he had been paid more than $600,000 by lawyers looking to win a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Wakefield also was found to have committed numerous breaches in medical ethics, and in May 2010 British regulators revoked Wakefield’s license, finding him guilty of “serious professional misconduct.” They concluded that his work was “irresponsible and dishonest” and that he had shown a “callous disregard” for the children in his study. Despite being discredited for fraud and unethical conduct, Wakefield is still considered the primary source and champion for those who believe there is a connection between vaccines and ASD.

7. ASD imposes a significant economic burden on families. Children and adolescents with ASD had average medical expenditures that exceeded those without ASD by $4,110 to $6,200 per year, the CDC notes. On average, medical expenditures for children and adolescents with ASD were 4.1 to 6.2 times greater than for those without ASD. In addition to medical costs, intensive behavioral interventions for children with ASD cost $40,000 to $60,000 per child per year.

8. ASD can also impose a significant disadvantage later in life. A study found that for youth with a ASD, only 34.7 percent had attended college (in comparison, about 68 percent of all U.S. students enroll in college after high school graduation, and about half will graduate). Additionally, only 55.1 percent had held paid employment during the first six years after high school. More than 50 percent of youth with ASD who had left high school in the past two years had no participation in employment or education. Youth with ASD had the lowest rates of participation in employment, and the highest rates of no participation compared with youth in other disability categories.

9. While there is no cure for ASD, children who receive therapies and behavioral interventions—especially when begun early in life—can have improved symptoms as they reach adolescence and adulthood. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes also notes that families and siblings of children often need help with coping with the special challenges that come with having a family member with ASD.

Are You A Bad Listener Or A Good Listener?

SOURCE:  Deepak Reju/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Tommy’s wife often gets frustrated because Tommy just doesn’t seem to care when she tries to have a conversation with him. As she walks into the living room to talk with him, his eyes stay glued to the television. As she talks, it seems like she gets very little of his attention. “Uh-uh…sure dear…uh-uh…whatever you want,” he’ll say, all the while never making eye contact with her.

Here is what she wants—nothing extravagant. She wants him to turn off the television, turn to face her, and give her his undivided attention. But he never does.

What Is a Bad Listener?

Are you a bad listener? What would your spouse or best friend or roommate or children say about you? Would they say you are a bad listener? People tend to think much more highly of themselves than they actually deserve. What would you say? Are you a good or bad listener?

What causes a person to be a poor listener?

Impatient people make for shoddy listeners. An impatient listener is not able to appreciate or be fully engaged in her present circumstances. She is not willing to hear her friend out. She interrupts or cuts him off. In her impatience, she communicates that she doesn’t care about what her friend has to say.

Another killer of conversations is tiredness. In a fast paced society, people don’t rest much. Little or no sleep means you are already exhausted when you begin a conversation, which doesn’t usually lead to a good conversation.

Think about your listening abilities during a Sunday morning sermon. How much do you zone out, especially when you are bored with what the pastor is saying? It is easy for the mind to wander to other things—work, what you’re doing that afternoon, a conversation with a friend or spouse that morning, etc. Zoning out or being easily distracted makes for bad listening.

Or you might tend to interrupt others before they are finished. Your thought is so pressing, or your tongue is so loose, that you blurt things out even before the other person is done speaking.

Impatience, tiredness, zoning out, interrupting—these are just a few of the many reasons why someone can be a poor listener. Do any of these descriptions fit you?

Consider the biblical picture of a bad listener—the proverbial fool.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).

The biblical picture of the fool is one who doesn’t listen and understand, but speaks too quickly. In Proverbs 18:2, the fool finds pleasure only in saying what he wants to say. Because of his pride or selfishness or lack of love, he doesn’t care about understanding. He is impulsive. He answers before he hears. He doesn’t take the time to hear and then speak. In Proverbs 18:13, because of his impulsive speech, he is deemed foolish and shameful. Or as one commentator put it, this impulsive fool is “stupid and a disgrace.”

Are you the proverbial fool? Be honest. If you are, you might need to confess your lack of patience, love, and understanding before the Lord (Psalm 51:3-4), and to someone whom you have been not listening to….

What Is a Good Listener?

Contrast the proverbial fool with the advice we get from the apostle James…

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

James’ encouragement is to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Wisdom and love are displayed in quickly hearing and not speaking.

The profile of a good listener is the opposite of the proverbial fool—patient, energetic, focused. He lets the other person finish without interrupting. Because he is eager to put others before himself, he listens and works hard to understand the other person. He doesn’t think so highly of himself that he regularly speaks before he hears.

Just think about Jesus. Think about His conversations. How engaged He was. How much He listened to others and asked questions in response. How skilled He was at drawing others out, and communicating His sympathy for a person, not just by listening, but by loving them and showing them what ultimately should matter in their life—faith, hope, and love. What would Martha, or Blind Bartimaeus, or the woman at the well, or the disciples say about Jesus? Would they say He was a good listener? Would they say He cared about them and took the time to understand them? Absolutely and positively yes!

Do you want to be like the proverbial fool or do you want to be like Jesus?

Are Pastors Bad Listeners?

Pastors are teachers and preachers. They daily and weekly proclaim God’s Word, and along the way, they grow accustomed to others shutting their mouths to listen. Every Sunday church members sit in silence and listen to the pastor’s words. God’s Word is powerful. It transforms lives. It does not go out void. This is how the kingdom works. God speaks through the instrument of a pastor, and the Word goes out to change hearts and minds. This is all good. And this is God’s redemptive plan.

But transfer this into a counseling room, and things might not go so well. Pastors expect to speak and people to listen. So, after a few minutes of conversation, the pastor might make a few assumptions, speak into a situation with great authority, maybe even quote a Bible passage or two to make his point, and then be done with the matter (and the person for now).

Which one does your pastor resemble in the counseling room—the proverbial fool or Jesus? If you are a pastor, remember: Good shepherding starts with knowing the sheep (John 10:3, 11, 14-15). That requires a lot of you—patience, listening, and understanding the sheep. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Before you say anything, figure out what your member is struggling with and what is motivating him to do what he does. Only after you understand should you then speak into his life.

The Listening Test—How Good or Bad Are You?

A good way to figure out if you are a good listener is to ask those who know you best. Start by rating yourself on a scale of 1 (poorest of listeners) to 10 (best listener on the planet). To test your rating, ask someone who knows you really well what he or she would rate you. Whether they come up with a different number or one similar to your rating, talk about it with them. You can imagine a husband saying to his wife, “Honey, you said I was a 3, but I rated myself as a 7, am I really that bad in your eyes?” Do this test only if you are humble enough to receive someone else’s feedback. If you are not humble enough to receive godly criticism, then don’t ask for it.

The End of the Matter for Listeners

Ultimately, no matter how good or bad you are, listening is a skill that you can grow in, but you never do it apart from God’s strength (Ephesians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:12) and His grace (Romans 15:15). Work harder at being a better listener; but remember that God is at work in you to make you more like his Son (Philippians 2:12-13; 1 John 3:2). Praise be to God that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.

One day, we won’t have to work so hard at listening because we’ll be surrounded by a great throng of believers, from every century, and every part of the world, all praising and singing to God. The singing won’t be overwhelming, but glorious. And there will be no sin—so you and I will be patient, energetic, and focused in our conversations. What a glorious day that will be.

How To Ask For Help

SOURCE:  adapted from Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward T. Welch

Asking for Help Is Hard

Asking people for help makes calling out to the Lord seem easy by comparison. The Lord already knows we are weak and needy, but other people? That is a different story. They may not know, and we desperately want to appear competent before them. Even though spiritual neediness is one of the most attractive acts of a human being, we have our own views of strength, honor, and what is most becoming, and pleas for help are not on that list.

But it really should be simple.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, pray for us” (1 Thess. 5:25; also 1 Cor. 1:10–11; Eph. 6:19–20; Col. 4:3). Apparently, he was no longer embarrassed by his weakness and need. Paul was thoroughly schooled in rejection and humiliation. He was once a noted up-and-coming Pharisee, and then—he became nothing. He was nothing before his Hebrew kin, and he was of no reputation before many of the churches he founded. Having learned that Jesus made himself of no reputation before others, Paul was unconcerned about his own reputation. That is how he was able to ask for prayer.

If we desire to be perceived as competent and in control, we will not ask for prayer. If we know that humans, by nature, are spiritually needy, and God’s plan is that we turn both to him and to other people for help, we will ask for prayer.

How to Ask

Whether we have never asked anyone to pray for us or we do it every day, the goal is to grow both in how often we ask for prayer and how we ask for it.

How often? We want to ask more than we do now.

How to ask? We want to ask for prayer about both circumstances and matters of the heart that sit below the surface, for things seen and things unseen. We take the skills we have learned in personal prayer and ask others to pray with us.

First, we put our burdens into words. Second, we attach words of Scripture that capture both our real needs and God’s purposes and promises. That is, we pray for what we know our Father wants to give us.

Example 1: I’m So Behind

First, the burden: “I have been so tired. I feel like I am always a few steps behind on everything.”

Second, we attach Scripture: “Would you pray that I would rest in Jesus?” The Scripture that shapes this prayer is from Matthew 11:28–30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Example 2: My Daughter Is Sick

First, the burden: “This is so hard. Would you pray for healing for my daughter?”

Second, we attach Scripture: “Would you also pray for perseverance and that I would be able to fix my eyes on things that are not seen?” (Heb. 6:11 and 4:16–18).

Example 3: I’m Too Impatient

First, the burden: “I have been so impatient with my kids recently. I need help.”

Second, we attach Scripture: “Would you pray that I will know Jesus’s unlimited patience toward me so that I will pass that on to my children?” (1 Tim. 1:16). Or, “Would you pray that I will see my anger as my problem and not theirs? I want to see that anger is murder and the problem is that I demand something and am not getting what I demand” (James 4:1–10).

Example 4: I Need a Job

First, the burden: “Would you pray that I will find work?”

Second, we attach Scripture: “And would you pray that I will trust the Lord for manna each day rather than get swamped by my anxieties?” (Matt. 6:28–34).

And sometimes our request for prayer can be very simple and desperate: “I feel undone. Would you pray for me? I don’t feel that I can pray for myself, and I don’t even know what to pray.”

If you have prayed for someone, you know it is a privilege. Other people will feel the same way when you ask them to pray for you. Once we get the knack of asking, we can ask for help for some of our other burdens in life, such as looking for a job or cleaning up an apartment. We can even let people know our financial needs.

Recognize Help When It Comes

Once we’ve prayed and asked others to pray for us, all that’s left is to keep watch. We assume “that if we pray according to God’s promises, we will see him on the move. So we wait expectantly, and then we acknowledge his work when it comes.

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Edward T. Welch (PhD, University of Utah) is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation.

Why We Must Never Forget Even When We Do Forgive

SOURCE:  LeslieVernick.com

 
Biblical counselors are also guilty of using these same phrases with their counselee’s usually when the one who has been sinned against feels stuck and is unable or unwilling to be silenced and continues to bring up past offenses or hurts in the counseling session.

Working for over 30 years with couples attempting to recover from serious marital sin, I have often heard one of them say, “Why can’t you just forgive and forget?” or “You’re holding onto the past?  Can’t we start with a clean slate?” or, “God says that we’re to forget the former things. Each day is a fresh start.”

There is a time for putting the past in the past, but doing so doesn’t mean forgetting the past, it means healing from it.  We must never forget the past because…

1. The past is instructive.  The past reminds both sinner and sinned against that sin is always painful and destructive to someone.  Remembering helps both of them stay aware that they never want to return to where they’ve been.  It also keeps them stay vigilant so they won’t slide back into the old habit patterns that created the problem in the first place.

Tom, one of my clients, reminds himself every day that he is an alcoholic. To forget would mean disaster. One wrong decision could wreak havoc on his entire present life that he has worked so hard to rebuild.  He attends weekly meetings and joined a men’s discipleship group where he remembers what it was like to be lost, drunk, hopeless and helpless and what it feels like to be rescued by Christ.  He never wants to go back to his old life.   Remembering he’s an alcoholic as well as a new creation in Christ, helps him know what to do when the lure for just one drink sings her deceitful song.

2. The past is often still the present.  John swears he’ll never hit Sally again and feels insulted that she won’t let go of her “irrational fear”.  He wants her to reconcile and trust him again.  It’s true that John has not hit Sally for over eight months.  But John continues to demonstrate attitudes and actions that are rude, selfish, and inconsiderate.  He is consistently unable to empathize with Sally’s feelings, and unwilling to hear her dissent.

John has not allowed his past to instruct him (about himself) but Sally has learned something from it. John may have learned not hit her again (due to his fear of legal consequences), but Sally knows John’s heart has not changed.  He continues to minimize his offenses, refuses to follow the counselor’s treatment plan, and is still ruled by his own desires rather than by Christ.  Sally can’t and shouldn’t forget the past because if she chooses to stay with John (or is told by her counselor she must), their past as a couple will continue to be her present reality.

John demonstrates no new history (fruit of repentance) to give Sally any other data points in which to rebuild safety or trust. To trust his words when his behaviors don’t match them is foolishness, not godliness.

3. Forgetting the past could put you and others in continued danger. Recently the media has been covering a story chastising the silence of the church leadership at Covenant Life Church, and former pastor Grant Layman, because they did not report allegations of rape and sexual abuse and withheld incriminating information from the police.

We are not privy to all of the details of this case but for whatever reasons, whether to protect the church’s reputation from ugly scandal or a misapplication of Biblical forgiveness and forgetting, they closed their eyes and allowed other children in their congregation to be vulnerable to a sexual predator.

Sin always, always, always has negative consequences.  Sometime the consequences are short term but other times they are permanent.  I hope if someone molested one of your children, no matter how much he or she repented, I hope you would never allow him or her unsupervised contact with any of your children or anyone else’s children that you know. You may forgive him or her, but you must never forget.

When we as biblical counselors, encourage someone to forget, we are asking him or her to do the impossible.  God gave us our memory for a good purpose.

Remembering keeps us humble.  We need to be honest with ourselves. Remembering helps us stay alert to the places where we are weak and most vulnerable so that we invite wise people to help us change, as well as help us “see” ourselves more clearly (Hebrews 3:13).

Remembering keeps us vigilant to our blind spots so that we are less likely to repeat serious sin and trash our lives and hurt those who live with us.

Remembering keeps us wise, so we don’t become repeat victims or continue put others or ourselves in harm’s way.

As a biblical counselor, when a person guilty of a terrible or repetitive sin keeps pressuring his or her partner to forgive and forget, pay attention.  They are doing so because they are unwilling to do the hard work to learn from their mistakes. They are unwilling to be empathetic to the pain they’ve caused.  Rather, he wants to be free from the pain he feels and put it all behind him.  In addition, he is unwilling to be held accountable by his spouse and wise others, who know what’s going on, to call him into awareness when he is getting close to the edge of repeat destructive behavior.

Forgiveness does not mean or require forgetting. 

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This post was originally published on ChristianCounseling.com.

Q&A: My Friend Is Depressed. What Should I Do?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by EDDIE KAUFHOLZ/Relevant Magazine

How To Help When You Just Don’t Know What To Say?

I have a friend who has been struggling with depression for a long time and I think she’s considering suicide. I’m really worried about her, but I don’t know what to say. What’s the best way to help her?

– Courtney

Courtney, thank you for reaching out and asking this incredibly important and brave question. You are a good person with a good heart, and I’m glad your friend has you.

Here’s what I’m going to do. Usually, the form of these Ask RELEVANT articles take us from theoretical to practical. Today though, I’m skipping most of the theoretical and just giving you three steps to do right now:

1. Treat Every Mention as Real.

When we first hear someone say they’re thinking of taking their own life, it can be really difficult to accept. There are a number of reasons why:

Sometimes, they say it in such a casual way that it doesn’t register as an actual threat to their life, but more like a little throw away phrase. We all say these kinds of things, don’t we? “I could kill the guy who’s setting off fireworks in August!”

See what I’m saying? Even if I’m justified because the 4th of July was well over a month ago and my kids are now crying at 3 a.m. because of that punk, I’m not going to really kill anyone. I’m just talking.

We need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

We sometimes hear, as clear as day, someone say something like, “This world would just be better off without me,” and we chalk up the statement to our friend being sad and maybe a little dramatic—they’re just talking, right? Who knows. That’s why you treat it as real, instead of guessing incorrectly.

However, there’s another reason we don’t believe the mention of suicide is real. It’s because, well, we don’t believe it’s actually real. We think there’s no possible way they would actually do that. Maybe we think the idea of suicide is unthinkable and unimaginable. Or maybe you’ve heard a friend say a hundred times that they’re going to take their life. But this time, you believe it’s time to wisen up and not be duped a one-hundred-and-first time.

Nope. It’s real, just like it was time 1 through 100.

Whatever our reasons for not fully comprehending the weight of a suicidal threat, we need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

So Courtney, just to be really clear, your friend’s cry for help is real, and it’s time to act. Which leads us to the next step …

2. Ring the Bell.

Courtney, you need to find someone to tell about your friend’s admission to you. Now, I know, because you’re a good friend, that it may seem like you’re betraying some sort of trust because your friend may ask you to keep this between the two of you. But seriously, you can’t. Here’s why:

First, neither you nor I have all the skills necessary to really help. In fact, no one person does. Even an amazing counselor, when confronted with a client who’s threatening self-harm, talks to another counselor for wisdom.

You see, really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc. It’s bigger than you, or me, or your friend. But it’s usually not beyond the scope of a good support team.

So what I would do is be as empathetic and loving to your friend as possible, and then engage in a conversation about who else could be told about this. Maybe your friend will have an adverse reaction and try to stop you. If that’s the case, you have to just go to a parent, counselor, pastor or really anyone you trust and let them know everything you know. Your friend’s desire for your actions can’t outweigh your desire for their well-being.

However, more often than not, the person will appreciate that you’re taking the threat seriously, caring for them genuinely and letting other people join the team. If this ends up being the case, talk together about who could be told and then figure out the best way to tell them.

Courtney, isolation is the enemy here. Your friend knew that, and she was smart enough to bring you in to help and not try to fight this thing alone. And now you need to do the same. You can’t be alone in knowing this information—it’s time to ring the bell.

Really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc.

One more thing: A lot of people get hung up on the, “I have to tell someone” part and they can’t figure out a person who is trustworthy and safe. If that’s the case, or even if you just can’t come up with a name in the intensity of the moment, please call this number, they’ll walk you through what’s next:

3. Be Supportive.

All right Courtney, this is the last thing. Thoughts of self-harm stem from a very real and difficult space. And anyone who has ever been suicidal and found their way out of the dark woods knows that it wasn’t because they purely willed themselves to get better. It’s because a lot of people helped.

Courtney, think of yourself as one of the three legs of a stool: One leg represents professional/medical help, one leg represents a belief system (often, a belief in God), and one leg is community support (you).

For your friend to get better and find balance, all three legs must be intact. This is where your role becomes vital. Because while doctors and counselors are diagnosing and testing, you’re going to be there telling your friend you love and value them. And while your friend tries to figure out that their life is worth something, you’re going to be the constant voice telling them they matter to you. Courtney, you’re not the only leg of the stool, but you’re a vital part of the team. What you contribute can’t be undervalued.

In closing, I’ll share this: I still mourn the loss of one of my best friends to suicide, and would give anything to tell him one more time that he matters and what he does with his life matters. And while I still feel unspeakable sadness about his death, I know it’s not in anyone’s power to save anyone else. All we can do is take the threat seriously, gather a support system and love them through the pain.

I, and many others, will be praying for you, Courtney. You’re a good friend.

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1-800-273-TALK(8255)
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/my-friend-depressed-what-should-i-do#BsYpozlYcxHYgUxZ.99

Six Steps to Better Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

SOURCE:  David Murray

The wisest man in the world said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”

(Proverbs 23:7).

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.

For example, if I think about all the things I failed to do today, I will get discouraged and possibly even angry. I will then drive home in a bad mood, and those thoughts and feelings will have a knock-on effect on how I interact with my wife and children.

If, on the other hand, I focus on what I actually managed to accomplish, if I look at the boxes I ticked today, and fade out everything else, then I go home cheerful, energized, and ready to play with my kids and chat to my wife.

Dark and Dangerous

Now think of a more serious example. If a person thinks only on the bad things that have happened in his life, or on the bad things that could possibly happen in his life, and that becomes a long-term habit, he is going to end up very depressed, very anxious, and maybe even suicidal.

Although there are and have been many good things in his life, and there are good things ahead, yet looking on the dark side has become such a habit that he finds it really difficult to change what his mind fixes upon. People have told him to change and he’s told himself to change, but he feels stuck and sinking fast.

Skillful Advocate Needed

This man needs someone to come alongside and help him to see and focus on the good things in his past, present, and future, to reason  him to a more realistic and accurate picture of his life. As if in a court of law, he needs a trained and skillful advocate to bring exhibits and evidence before him, and to persuade him to make revised judgments based upon the facts that are being presented to him.

Hopefully, as the evidence mounts and reason prevails, the mind gradually learns to think along different pathways, the old negative habit weakens and the new positive habit increases in strength until it becomes the new normal. As that happens, his emotional well-being improves, his energy returns, his relationships improve, and he becomes productive at work again.

Traffic Jam Therapy

Let me return now to a simpler and less serious example in order to break this down further in a way that we can all relate to (well, the men at least).

Next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam and you start steaming and screaming, try to understand where these feelings and actions are coming from by asking yourself these questions.

Step 1. What are the facts? The facts are that I am in a two-mile back-up and the radio tells me it will take one hour to clear due to a breakdown in the fast lane several  miles ahead.

Step 2. What am I thinking about these facts? I’m thinking about the idiot who broke down in the fast lane. I’m thinking about all that I could have done with this hour.

Step 3. What am I feeling? I’m angry at the guy who broke down, I’m frustrated about the lost time, and I’m worried about what my friends will think about me for being late.

Step 4. Can I change the facts? No, there is no way out of the traffic jam.

Step 5. Can I change my thoughts about the facts? Yes, I can believe that this is God’s plan for this hour of my life. I can be grateful for time to stop and think and pray in the midst of a busy day. I can practice my breathing relaxation techniques. I can listen to a sermon on the radio. I can pray for my friends.

Step 6. What am I feeling now? Slowly I feel peace, tranquility, calm, and trust in God coursing through my heart and body.

We are what we think

In each of these examples, I’ve asked six questions in two groups of three. The first three – about facts, thoughts, feelings – help us identify our thoughts and recognize how they are impacting our emotions and behavior. The second three – also about facts, thoughts, feelings – help us challenge our thoughts, change them, and so change our feelings and actions. In summary:

  • How did I get into this mood? Facts, thoughts, feelings.
  • How do I get out of this mood? Facts, thoughts, feelings.

The Psalmist follows these steps when he found himself depressed and worried (e.g. Ps. 42, 73, 77).

These six steps are also at the core of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and help explain why it is so effective as part of a package of holistic care for suffering people.

Christians who have compassion for hurting and broken people would become even more effective in helping them if they would learn the basics of how to use this God-given tool. A couple of good books to get you started would be I’m not supposed to feel like this (a simple introduction written by three Christians), or Mind over Mood (not written by Christians but even simpler and very practical).

For more difficult issues and complicated problems, I’d recommend that pastors and counselors try to find out if there are any Christians who practice CBT in their area, or at least someone who will work with you (and not against you) as a Christian pastor and counselor. You will learn a lot from them and over time you will see them as a vital and valued part of your pastoral care team. All under the authority of God’s Word.

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.

Four Reasons for Addictions

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

So many things in life seem relatively straightforward on our first pass. Later we discover that there is more to it.

For example, at first, all deciduous trees seem to look alike—tall and leafy. Gradually though, our eyes can tell the difference between oaks, maples, poplar and ash. Finer discriminations come over time. We could also do the same with fear, anger, bipolar . . . almost any category. And we can do it with addictions.

On our first pass, addictions are lusts. They are out-of-control desires that usually hurt the addict and anyone else who is close by. But if we spend enough time with addicts we might notice subgroups within addictions, and though lust applies to them all, there are other biblical approaches that could be even more suitable.

I’ll identify four subgroups.

1. The hurt, fearful, or shamed addict. These are well known and most common. Addiction covers pain, guilt, shame, fear—stuff that just hurts. If we miss these reasons we will be unhelpful.

2. The angry addict. These drink and drug at others. They have enduring anger at certain people and the addiction is aimed at them. You won’t hear a sentence or two without some expression of judgment, sarcasm, or cynicism. Sometimes these angry addicts are also hurt and fearful; sometimes they are just plain angry. They are scary, not so much because they might hurt you, though they certainly can lash out at family and friends, but because anger is so delicious and satisfying to the angry person. For these addicts, anger becomes part of the addiction.

3. The bored addict. These are difficult. We can understand the desire to numb pain, and we are familiar with anger, but life is certainly not boring. And though we can easily summon some respect and empathy for those who are thrown by the pain of life, boredom has more in common with the spoiled brat. For the bored, addiction is a way to feel more alive and above the ordinariness of daily life. Anger and entitlement might not be too far away.

4. The “what happened?” addict. These moved into addiction by way of naive experimentation or simply because friends were doing it. But, for some reason, they seemed to like it more than most, so they did it again, and again, and, at some point, the addiction owned them. And the whole thing is a bit of a blur. The reality is that some people like the experience of being high or altered more than others. Is there biology involved? Probably.

There are dozens of other reasons for addictions. I am not suggesting that these are even the top four. I do think, however, that a growing taxonomy such as this can help us understand people more clearly and enable us to counsel them with the truth that is most relevant to their addiction.

 

 

Think You Don’t Need A Counselor? Think Again!

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Karl Benzio/Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

We all have so many unanswered questions about ourselves.

Am I really a good person? Am I truly lovable? Why do I do the things I do? Why do I feel the way I feel? Why do I continue to make the same mistakes? Can I change? Will I ever be fully in control of all areas of my life? Why can’t I handle adversity or stress?

We often struggle to answer these questions for ourselves. And it’s difficult to get to the core answers without a reliable counselor or coach who knows how to help us probe and analyze.

The combination of our arrogance and pride has kept most of us from realizing that we do need counseling.

Our usual response: “Me? I don’t need any therapy, thank you very much!” And the counseling profession carries huge stigmas — mental illness, Freud, Prozac and all that.

All of us need a counselor. What athlete would ever think he doesn’t need a coach anymore? Does any student ever really know it all? Your doctors continue to study and get more education, going to classes and seminars, relying on consults and guidance from experts in hard cases, until they retire. In life, the most complicated activity ever, we will never know it all. But thankfully, as Christians, we have the best counselor at our fingertips and He lives right inside us.

The Bible tells us Jesus sends us his Spirit as a Counselor. That ought to make our need very clear. And apparently, we need quite a lot of counseling—the Spirit isn’t just stopping in to give us an annual checkup or a quick tune-up. No, He has come to stay and give us a complete makeover … from the inside out. Now we just need to figure out how to “hear” His counsel and quit sabotaging His efforts in our lives.

This next statement might sound blasphemous, but we need more than the Holy Spirit’s presence. That’s why we listen to sermons and study the Bible … to help us get out of the Holy Spirit’s way and so we can begin to partner with the Great Counselor. This is where a human counselor, mentor, coach, or disciple can have dramatic impact. Obviously, an earthly counselor needs to understand and help you apply the Holy Spirits’ instruction and principles.

Today, confess your sins, then talk to God about a struggle in your life. Open His word and then listen for His counsel. If you have trouble following the counsel, or continue to sabotage His efforts, consider getting someone to help show you how to listen and follow His counsel. Whether you listen to the Counselor and apply His teaching or you act as your own counselor is your decision, so choose well.

Dear God, I thank You for sending me the ultimate Counselor, Your Holy Spirit. Help me recognize my daily need for guiding advice and for the Spirit of truth. Help me listen and heed Your advice. Help me gain wisdom and courage to follow Your guidance, and humility to set aside my agenda. Thy kingdom, not my kingdom, come. Give me humility to seek out and listen to Godly advisors so I can overcome my areas of struggle. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who asked You to send the ultimate Counselor, the Holy Spirit;  – AMEN!

The Truth
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” John 14:16–17

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:12-14

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”              Proverbs 1:29-33

Should I Forget My Past

SOURCE:  Robert Kellemen

As a biblical counselor, people often ask me the important question, “Should I try to forget my past?”

I first respond with a one-word answer. “No.”

Then I respond with a blog-size answer using the words:

  • Remember
  • Reflect
  • Repent/Receive/Renew
  • Reinterpret
  • Retell
  • Resources

Remember

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t forget the past. It’s impossible. More importantly, it’s unbiblical.

Memory is our God-given capacity to store and recall what we have experienced and learned. Remembering is part of our design by creation—before the fall into sin. “Remember” is used 167 times in the Bible (NIV), thus reminding us of the importance of remembering.

Some people mistakenly interpret Philippians 3:13 to mean that we should try to forget our past. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” The Greek word for “forget” does not mean not to remember, but not to focus my attention on. More importantly, the biblical context is whether Paul would focus his attention on his works of the flesh, attempts at self-righteousness, and putting confidence in the flesh, versus focusing on Christ’s righteousness and the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is a testimony to the biblical value of remembering. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia” (2 Cor. 1:8a). Throughout the epistle, Paul recalls and rehearses a litany of past suffering.

Reflect

In a similar way, the Psalms are a biblical testimonial to the power and value of remembering face-to-face with God. I call it reflecting.

People typically ask about forgetting in the context of dealing with past suffering—being sinned against, or dealing with past sin—sinning against others. I believe that attempting to refuse to remember our past can actually be a symptom of sin.

Trying to suppress past memories of pain (either regarding our suffering or sin) can be a refusal to face and deal with life. It can be an attempt to deal with pain apart from God. We could compare such attempts to self-sufficient “coping mechanisms” such as drinking and drugs—where we try anything to numb our pain, emptiness, or guilt.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I describe how the Psalmists, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul remember face-to-face with Christ through “candor and complaint/lament.” In biblical candor, we’re honest with ourselves regarding our past and present. In biblical complaint/lament, we’re honest with God regarding our past and present.

Rather than attempting to forget, we are to bring to mind past external events and our current internal thoughts and feelings and bring them to Christ. As I put it in the book, “No grieving, no healing. Know grieving, know healing.” Reflecting on our past is our admission to ourselves and God that we can’t handle our past on our own, that we desperately need Christ.

Repent, Receive Grace, Renew

When our memories of the past relate to our past sin, Christ’s soul-u-tion is to remember, repent, and receive grace. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).

In Psalms 32 and 51, David models remembering, repenting, receiving grace, and renewing his life by God’s Spirit. Rather than trying the impossible and sinful mental activity of suppressing the memory of his sin, David recalls to mind his sin against God. He repents deeply not only of behavioral sin, but of heart motivational sin.

Having repented, David receives grace—he accepts God’s gracious forgiveness and prays for shalom—a conscience at peace with the God of peace. He then prays that the Spirit would renew a right spirit within him so that he could turn from his path of sin (put off) and return to the path of righteousness (put on).

Reinterpret

But what do we do with our emotional agony when we remember past suffering—being sinned against? God’s Word is clear. We never forget, we re-member.

Think about that word: re-member. To put our memories back together again, to shape our memories through God’s eternal grid.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I use the life of Joseph to portray how God wants us to remember and then reinterpret our past with spiritual eyes. There I call it “weaving.”

In Genesis 50:20 and 45:4-8, Joseph refuses to forget. He calls to mind his suffering past with these words. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

In the Hebrew, the word “intended” can be used in a physical sense for weaving together a tapestry, such as Joseph’s coat of many colors. It can be used in the metaphysical sense in a negative way for weaving together an evil scheme or plot, such as Joseph’s brothers did. Or, it can be used in a positive sense of God weaving together good out of evil.

How do we deal with our past suffering? We look at life with spiritual eyes by bringing to bear God’s eternal narrative, spiritual 20/20 vision, and larger story perspective. Weaving is re-membering—to create wholeness using God’s perspective to bring meaning to our suffering.

That’s how, like Joseph, we find hope when we’re hurting. That’s how, like Joseph, we grant forgiveness to those who have caused our suffering. In so doing we can say, “I grieve, but I don’t despair.”

Retell

Being human involves shaping our personal experiences into stories or narratives. That’s part of our God-given capacity of memory. We shape our sense of self and who we are in Christ from our retelling of our experiences.

As spiritual friends, it is when we listen carefully and compassionately to one another’s most important stories that we gain access to how our friends are attempting to make sense of themselves in the context of their past experiences. Our one-to-one relationships and our small group meetings should be places where we retell our stories.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I discuss how the retelling process moves us from “weaving” to “worshiping.” In worshiping we are committed to finding God even when we can’t find answers. We are committed to knowing God more than knowing relief from our past. We worship God by retelling our stories like Joseph did—in a way that honors and glorifies God and His role in redeeming our past (see Genesis 45:4-8).

There is no power in forgetting our past. God doesn’t want us to pretend. Of all people, as Christians we must be the most honest about our past. We must remember, reflect, repent/receive/renew, reinterpret, and retell.

Resources

Two biblical counseling resources that I think you will find helpful in dealing with your past are:

I Am Afflicted

SOURCE: Taken from a sermon by  Pastor Mark Driscoll

I Am Afflicted: Sermon Recap

1. A third of the Psalms are laments. All of the Old Testament prophets except one include a lament. The Bible doesn’t avoid suffering. You won’t avoid suffering.

2. Don’t believe false teaching that says you won’t suffer if you really love Jesus. Jesus will end all suffering eventually, but on earth he suffered more than anyone.

3. When it comes to suffering, don’t ask “Why” ask “Who am I in Christ?” Your affliction doesn’t establish your identity, but your identity can get you through your affliction, if your identity is in Christ.

4. Suffering will cost you a lot of time and energy, so I encourage you to invest it. If you’ve suffered, you have powerful credibility to lead others to the genuine hope found in Jesus.

5. It’s not wonderful that suffering happens, but it’s wonderful that God can use it to help, bless, and encourage others.

6. How are you suffering? What is God teaching you? How can you use it to bless others?

7. If one of the great goals of your life is to be more like Jesus, the most horrible seasons can also be wonderful opportunities for growth.

8. God can use the most painful parts of our story to be the most encouraging to others.

9. Addiction, self-medication, debt…much of life is spent trying to figure out how to go on after we have lost heart. Jesus says, “Take heart!”

10. Some don’t talk about their suffering because it somehow feels more righteous to bear it quietly and avoid burdening others. But the apostle Paul was open about his suffering, and none of us are more godly than him.

11. God usually doesn’t give us an answer for our suffering, but he provides us with his presence: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

12. If you minister to hurting people you will have a growing ministry.

How to Choose a Christian Counselor

SOURCE:  Pastor Jared Pingleton/Focus on the Family/Thriving Pastor

Life is relational. God created us in relationship, through relationship, and for relationship. Without the mutual benefit of relationships, life wouldn’t be possible.

But like life itself, relationships are rarely simple or easy. Sometimes life throws difficult things our way. There’s often hurt and heartache. Distance and disappointment. Crisis and conflict. The results of life’s trials, temptations and tragedies can fill us with pain, doubt, resentment and unforgiveness. Strained or broken relationships can leave us feeling hurt, alone, confused, hopeless and afraid to reach out for help.

As ministry leaders, we are not immune to or exempt from these “growth opportunities.” Whether we’re addressing these issues on a personal level or as professionals, on behalf of the members of our flock, the question is always the same: “To whom can I turn for help?”

This is a crucial concern. It has to be approached carefully and with generous amounts of prayer. How do we go about selecting a person from whom we can seek guidance and assistance for ourselves or our family members in times of need? And where do we go to find a counselor who can help a parishioner whose problems transcend the scope of our own expertise or training? There are several important considerations to take into account at the beginning of the process.

Among other things, ask yourself the following questions:

  •  Is the therapist under consideration safe and trustworthy?
  • Will he or she handle my issues—or my parishioner’s—respectfully?
  • Will deeply personal concerns be treated with care and an appropriate degree of confidentiality?
  • Will he or she be nonjudgmental, accepting and sensitive?
  • Can I view this therapist as a supportive ally in ministry rather than an undermining adversary?
  • Does the counselor know what he or she is doing?
  • Will the client be led astray or into the path of life?

Of course, it would be difficult and time-consuming to run through this litany every time you run up against a problem that calls for the skills of a professional therapist. That’s why I’d strongly encourage you to make a concerted effort to develop a healthy working relationship with a reputable Christian counselor in your area so that you can make referrals with confidence and assurance. Remember the words of Jesus—”By their fruits you shall know them.”

Here are some key “fruits” to look for in making a good referral for Christian counseling:

  •  Does the therapist have and reflect a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ?
  • Does the therapist have and display a genuine love and concern for hurting people?
  • Does the therapist base his or her work on a biblical worldview and value system?
  • Does the therapist have the appropriate professional training, credentials, experience and state licensure as a certified mental health professional?
  • Does the therapist express a desire to be seen by you as a trusted colleague in ministry? Is he or she open to consulting with you on the client’s behalf provided the appropriate release forms are signed to maintain a healthy confidentiality boundary?

If you can’t find someone who meets all the above criteria in your area, give our Counseling Department a call [1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459)]. A member of our highly trained and experienced team of licensed mental health clinicians will be happy to consult with you or your parishioners to offer helpful resources and/or referrals to Christian therapists on our National Referral Network.

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Rev. Jared Pingleton, Psy.D., Clinical Director of the Counseling Department, is credentialed as a minister and as a clinical psychologist, and has been serving clients since 1977.

Finding Hope in the Midst of Failure

SOURCE:  Taken from a book by Ed Hindson

The first key to growing through failure is realizing that God is greater than your mistakes.

Second, failure is a universal part of being human.

God wants us to learn from failure. We especially need to learn how not to make the same mistake again. We need to face our weaknesses. Whatever can be changed needs to be changed; wherever we can improve, we need to improve.

If you cannot succeed in a certain area of life, it may very well be that it’s not the will of God for you to pursue that area. You might love to play football, but if the doors aren’t opening for you to play professionally, then most likely that’s not God’s calling for your life. You may enjoy singing, but perhaps your voice isn’t of the quality that’s necessary to be a recording artist. If you aren’t achieving the goals you’d like to reach, that doesn’t mean you need to feel like a failure. It just means that God intends for you to succeed elsewhere.

Don’t let some initial failure cause you to go away discouraged, angry, and upset, or you will never accomplish what you could have had you just kept trying.

What Is Your Definition of Success?

In order to address the problem of failure, we have to start with a question about success. Does God really want us to be successful? There are some pious believers who say, “Oh, the Lord really doesn’t intend for us to be successful. We can be failures to the glory of God. The more everything goes wrong, the more spiritual we can become.” Then there are those who are bent on success at any cost. Their attitude is, “Do whatever you have to do to succeed, whether it’s biblical or not. After all,” they rationalize, “God wants us to be successful. He doesn’t need any more failures.”

But how does God’s Word define success?

Read Joshua 1:8: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” By this definition, success is doing the will of God. We may think that certain things we do will make God happy with us, but that’s not the way it works. Everything we do for God needs to be done according to the Word of God in order for it to be done in the will of God.

By some standards, Abraham was a total failure. Leaving Ur, the greatest city of his day, he went out to the middle of nowhere to the land of Canaan and there lived and died in obscurity. Yet he is one of the most illustrious men who ever lived. Moses led the slaves of Israel out of Egypt into a wilderness and never entered the Promised Land. He died a failure by modern standards, yet he is one of the greatest men God ever used. Christ died on a cross, initially appearing to be a failure, and yet by His death He won us an eternal victory. For in that death, He atoned for the sins of mankind.

Jesus talked about failure and success in the story of the successful Pharisee and the sinful publican, both of whom went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9–14). The Pharisee’s prayer was boastful—unlike others, he had never let God down. By contrast, the publican stood afar off and bowed his head in humility and prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Commenting on this incident, Jesus said, “I tell you that this man [publican] rather than the other [Pharisee], went home justified before God.” The man who appeared to be successful was a spiritual failure. The one who appeared to be a failure was the one who was truly successful. Humility, not ability, is the only true success before God.

When people fail, they usually do one of two things.

Either they confess their failure, repent of it, and get right with God, or they go around making excuses for their failure. Those who confess get back on track and ultimately turn their failure into success. The latter never honestly face their failure. They never solve the problems that led to it, and their lives never get turned around. God wants us not only to repent and erase our failure; He wants us to go on and find real success in serving Him.

The Failure Factor

Understanding Failure Orientation
Failure orientation is that self-perception found in some people that limits not only their self-confidence, but even their ability to trust God as all-sufficient Lord. Individuals with a failure orientation are haunted by a sense of failure, which comes from one of two sources:

1. How we think we appear to others. If we are prone to a failure orientation, we tend to develop “ears” for negative feedback from others. Blocking out or downplaying positive feedback, the failure orientation makes us morbidly sensitive to any negative response we’re getting from others. Unfortunately, we tend to limit the feedback we receive—thereby limiting whatever useful information we might glean from the comments of others. We need feedback from others to help us develop the foundation stones of our value system, self-concept, and understanding of behavior.

Sometimes individuals with a failure orientation have trouble distinguishing between negative feedback directed at them personally and negative feedback simply directed at their behavior. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two in interpreting feedback. “Failure” that may come in the form of a negative response to one’s behavior is usually short-lived and may be overcome. Such “failure” should not be mistaken for a negative response to one’s own person or self-integrity.

As Christians, we may fail, but we are not failures. No matter what others choose to think of us, we are “more than conquerors” through Jesus Christ, who loves us (see Romans 8:37). From time to time, others may praise or ridicule us, but we must never lose our true identity and sense of purpose in the quicksand of struggling to prove ourselves acceptable to others. Scripture describes clearly how we should envision our efforts as we strive to achieve our goals in this life: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.… It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23–24 NASB).

2. How we view ourselves. Frequently, people with a failure orientation have an artificially high, unrealistic, or even perfectionistic set of expectations for themselves. When asked to rate their accomplishments in almost any area on a scale from one to ten, such persons inevitably rate themselves at five or worse. They rate themselves harshly, even when by all objective standards their performance is far above average. These individuals tend to categorically classify themselves as total successes or total failures. They have an “either-or” mentality when viewing their own accomplishments. They see their output as fully acceptable or totally worthless—more often the latter.

Such a sense of failure often paralyzes initiative. These individuals become cautious, diffident, unwilling to take risks their own judgment tells them are perfectly acceptable. Such persons need a comparison group of other individuals who are at a roughly equivalent skill and attribute level with whom they can identify and derive a sense of belonging without either being intimidated or bored.

Overcoming Failure Orientation
How can we overcome failure orientation? Here are some suggestions:

1. Fully analyze and understand our own failure-prone thinking. Analyzing the negative thinking and feelings of failure within us can help in identifying the various areas or aspects of life in which they appear. We need to try to delineate these areas as specifically as possible and look for hidden irrational ideas or unbiblical beliefs that serve to undermine our sense of God-given worth.

Usually we can trace our failure orientation back to various setbacks and misconceptions coming from ideas about ourselves, our friends, job, parents, brothers and sisters, church, or school. Rather than perceiving the world through our mind’s “failure filter,” we need to analyze and approach situations from a biblical perspective. One way to do this is to write down every irrational or unbiblical idea we can pinpoint in our thoughts. Then match it with a passage of Scripture that refutes it.

2. Choose goals and objectives that will improve our self-concept. It is advisable to begin with an area in which we have a reasonable amount of self-confidence. A success-oriented self-concept is contagious within our own personality. When we are able to establish goals and begin to reach them, the belief that “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me” begins to take on genuine reality in our own experience. From one area of success, this attitude of confident capability will snowball into other personal and professional areas of our lives.

3. Break the objectives down into bite-sized components. Once we have begun to take on an objective, it is necessary to approach that goal through a series of small steps. No one can jump from the ground onto the roof of a house, but ten or 12 small steps on a ladder will enable us to get there. By breaking the goal down into a series of smaller bite-sized behaviors and objectives, we simplify our task and heighten our chances for success. These smaller objectives should be undertaken in logical sequence, moving from shortest to longest or easiest to hardest. Here, the wise and thoughtful counsel of a spiritually mature person is invaluable, whether we need advice or just encouragement.

4. Implement a plan of action. This is the trial-and-error step. It will involve developing persistence above all else. It will involve the discipline to be well prepared for a task, and sensitivity to remain teachable and flexible. A change in a personal failure orientation of a longstanding nature won’t happen overnight. Many times, in fact, we will find ourselves taking two steps forward and one step back, but time is on our side, and the outcome is guaranteed. We can be confident, that “he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Turn Your Failure into Success
Many people never overcome their failures because they never really forgive themselves for failing. They continue to punish themselves with self-inflicted guilt rather than moving beyond failure to success.

1. To fail is to be human. All human beings fail. God is fully aware of our limitations: “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 NKJV). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). True success is not avoiding failure, but learning what to do with it.

2. To fail is not be a failure. Studies show that the most successful people often fail. For example, Babe Ruth not only set the record in his day for home runs in a single baseball season—he led the league in strikeouts, as well. However, that didn’t make him a failure. Many Christians who have achieved a number of successes are quick to call themselves failures when they suffer a few strikeouts in life.

3. No one is ever a failure until he stops trying. It is better to attempt much and occasionally fail than to attempt nothing and achieve it. No one learns the limits of his ability until he has reached the point of total failure. Thomas Edison tried over 5,000 different types of light-bulb filaments without success before finding one that would work. His willingness to endure many failures without branding himself a failure gave us the electric light.

4. Failure is never final as long as we get up one more time than we fall down. Fear is much more damaging than failure. If you’ve failed, admit it and start over. Forgive yourself and learn to forgive others. Don’t be controlled by what has happened to you, but rather be motivated by where you are trying to go. Focus on your goals, not your failures. Move ahead with determination, for nothing worthwhile is accomplished without some risk. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV). God has given you certain gifts and abilities to serve Him. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something. Go and do it to His glory!

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Hindson, E. E. (1999). God is There in the Tough Times (62–68). Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers.

Can This Marriage Be Saved? (Part 2)

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

[In a previous article], I [wrote] about safety being the number one priority and first step we need to take as Biblical counselors when working with a couple in a destructive marriage.

Words of remorse and tears of apology are never enough when there have been repetitive actions and attitudes of abuse, deceit, dependence and indifference. We want to see a change of heart as well as a change of habit.  Putting off old destructive ways and putting on of new godly ways takes time, energy, and specific effort.

Along with safety, we must help the couple gain sanity. For a long time both the husband and wife have believed lies.  She believes it’s her responsibility to make this marriage better.  If only she were more loving, or more godly, or more submissive, her husband would change.   Jesus is the example we look at to refute this kind of thinking.  He was godly, loving, and appropriately submissive, yet certain people, such as the religious leaders, never changed.

Thinking truthfully as well as living truthfully is a high value to God.  When someone continues to pretend, placate, live in fantasy, deny reality, self-deceive or deceive others, the more insane and destructive he or she becomes (Romans 1:25-32).

Before you can work with a couple together on solving serious marital problems, these untruths must be uprooted, exposed as lies, and refuted. This is done in individual counseling, not marital work.  If these lies are not recognized, challenged, and changed, they will continue to form the foundation of the destructive individual’s thinking and therefore his problem solving strategies.

There is no possibility of working together to build a healthy relationship if both individuals in the marriage are not free to talk, to question, to disagree or to hold one another accountable for the commitments they’ve made.  The bible says that one of the main steps we all need in order to grow and change is to renew our mind (Romans 12:2).  Therefore a husband and wife together and separately must be committed to truth seeking and truth telling if restoration is to take place.

For example, let’s look at some of the sanity needs for a destructive husband.  First, he must be willing to reexamine his unrealistic expectations of marriage and of women and expose his underlying attitudes of entitlement.  He must come to understand the truth; there is no perfect wife or marriage. He must come to value his wife as a person to love, not an object to use.  She has her own thoughts, feelings, dreams, and needs. She can’t and won’t meet his every need or always revolve herself around his wants. He needs to recognize the lie he tells himself when he believes he’s entitled to the blessings of a warm and trusting wife no matter how he treats her.

Sanity also means that he understands and accepts God’s law of consequences.  When you are deceitful, abusive, indifferent, and controlling, there are negative consequences in the marriage. Forgiveness does not entitle someone to automatic restoration with no consequences, no amends or no work.  Sanity means he must learn to take responsibility for his own thoughts and his own behaviors without blaming his wife.  He must also learn to handle his emotions such as disappointment, frustration, anger, and hurt in new ways that don’t damage people, things, or relationships. If he wants to have a good relationship with his wife,  sanity means that he now understands he needs to take responsibility for his part and do the work to make that happen.

Once the destructive spouse (as well as the enabling or compliant spouse) has completed the sanity stage, the couple is ready to begin to work together on marital issues because now there is safety and sanity.  This provides the proper foundation to build a new history together.

In summary, to work through the sanity stage with a destructive individual means that he move through the five steps of change.

1.    Clarity:  He sees that he has been destructive, abusive, indifferent, deceitful, controlling toward his partner and he no longer wants to behave in those ways.

2.    Commitment:  He is willing to be accountable and teachable in order to grow and become the person he wants to become.  If there is any question of safety violation, he will immediately call his supportive community and temporarily remove himself from the situation or the home when needed.

3.    Community:  He will allow others, including his wife to speak into his life. He will listen and prayerfully consider what the community has to stay about what they observe in his attitudes and behaviors.

4.    Confession:  He will own his wrong doing instead of blaming, minimizing or rationalizing it.  He will confess his sin to God and to the person he’s hurt. If engages in abusive tactics such as verbal bullying, intimidating, withdrawing or engages in other behaviors that frighten his spouse, he understands that restoration of the marriage is not possible at this time.

5.    Consequences:  He humbly accepts the consequences of his sin and makes restitution where needed to restore the relationship.

Can This Marriage Be Saved? (Part 1)

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

As biblical counselors our goal is to help marriages stay together but we must be careful to not be like the priests in Jeremiahs’ day who healed God’s people superficially by saying peace, peace, when there was no peace.

When working with couples in destructive and abusive marriages, I think it’s important that we understand what it takes to put their marriage back together in a godly way.  And, if one of them won’t do the work required, then what?  Do we encourage them to stay legally together even if they’re relationally separated or divorced?

God gives us a means for healing damaged relationships, but his blueprint is not unilateral.  Healing a destructive marriage can never be the sole responsibility of one person in the relationship.   It always takes two people willing to work to achieve godly change.  There needs to be forgiveness sought, and forgiveness granted.  There needs to be amends made and a willingness to rebuild trust.  There needs to be constructive feedback given and willingly received.  When one person refuses to participate or take responsibility for his or her part, healing or restoration of the relationship cannot fully take place.

As biblical counselors, working with individuals and couples in destructive marriages, I want to give you a few mile markers that will help you identify where you are on the healing journey or whether or not you’re even on the right path toward getting there. [I’m] going to talk about the importance of safety.

Safety

Safety in an intimate relationship such as marriage must never be underestimated. You cannot put a marriage together in a healthy way if one person in the marriage feels afraid of the other. Without question, whenever there has been any kind of physical abuse, destruction of property, and/or threats against one’s self or others there is no safety.

Shirley e-mailed me.  She wrote, “My biblical counselor says that I must allow my husband back into the home if we want our marriage to heal. He said, ‘How can we work on our marriage when we’re not living together?’

“What are your concerns about him moving back home?”  I asked.

“We’ve been separated for over a year after he gave me a black eye. It wasn’t the first time he hit me, but it was the worst. I never pressed charges or called the police, but I told him he’d have to move out. Honestly, I haven’t seen any real change in him. My counselor says that Ray is changing.  He hasn’t hit me for a long time. I agreed, but his underlying attitudes of entitlement are still there.”

“Give me a few examples,” I said.

“He badgers me to give in to him when I disagree. When he visits with the kids at the house and I tell him I’m tired and I want him to leave, he says I’m selfish and only thinking about myself. He thinks it’s okay if he walks into our house without knocking even though I’ve asked him not to.  If he won’t respect my requests when we’re separated, how will he do it if he moves back home? “

“He won’t. ” I said. “Either he’s not willing to respect you or he’s not capable of doing it but either way you are not safe until he learns to do this.  Please, stick up for yourself with your counselor.  Before you can work on the marriage, your husband need to value the importance of your safety and demonstrate that he can control himself and honor your feelings and boundaries without badgering or retaliation.  If he won’t do this much, you cannot go any further to repair your relationship. ”

There are other issues of safety that also must be resolved to some degree if a marriage is going to be wisely restored. For example, Kathy still loves her husband despite his sins against her. She longs for Jeff to be the man she knows he could be. Yet she must not throw caution to the side and be fully reconciled with Jeff without the proper safety measures in place.  She knows Jeff has a problem with sexual addiction.  He has a long history of pornography, affairs, prostitutes and one night stands.

Does God ask Kathy to ignore these dangers to her health and safety in order to reconcile her marriage?  Or, is it both in her and Jeff’s best interest that she stay firm and not resume sexual intimacy with Jeff until he gets a clean bill of health as well as demonstrates a change of heart and some progress in his change of habits?

In a different situation, Gina’s husband, Matthew, feels entitled to keep his income in a separate bank account with only his name on it.  He gives Gina an allowance each week for household expenses but requires her to give him give a detailed account of everything she spends.  Gina is an RN, but she and Matthew agreed it was best for her to stay home with their four children.  Gina does not feel safe financially or emotionally.  She feels like a child when she has to give an account, yet Matthew refuses to let Gina know what he’s spending.  He says it’s his money.  Gina feels vulnerable and scared whenever Matthew travels, especially overseas.  What if something happened to him and she ran out of cash?  When she’s expressed her concerns to Matthew, he tells her not to worry, nothing will happen to him.

Legally Gina is an adult and considered an equal partner in their financial responsibilities, yet she has no voice, no power, and no idea what is happening with their assets. Should she submit to Matthew when he says she’s not allowed to have a credit card even though she’s never been irresponsible with money?   Gina’s observed Matthew being deceitful at times in his business expenses. What if Matthew has been deceitful in other ways?  What if he has underreported their income tax?  Gina would be held equally responsible even if she didn’t know.   What if he is not paying their mortgage or their home equity loan faithfully?   The financial consequences of his irresponsibility would fall equally on her shoulders. Gina and Matthew will never have a healthy marriage if these issues aren’t discussed with the underlying imbalance of power and control changed.

I’m dismayed by the number of people helpers, pastors, lay counselors, marriage mentors and professional counselors who don’t understand safety issues must come first. There can be no constructive conversation about other marital issues nor can there be any joint marital counseling  if one person has no say or isn’t safe to tell the truth or disagree without fear of physical, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual retaliation.

Responding to the Connecticut School Shooting: Six “T’s” for Helping Kids through Trauma

SOURCE:  Tim Clinton/American Association of Christian Counselors

Today, an unspeakable tragedy took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Fox News reports that 26 people are dead; 20 of the victims are elementary age children. It’s horrifying, mind-boggling and surreal—an unspeakable evil and every parent’s nightmare.

Pray for the families of the victims and the entire community of Newtown during this confusing and desperate time. Around the dinner table tonight, there will be many conversations about why tragedies like this happen… and questions from kids about whether or not they’re safe, especially at school.

As one mother on the scene put it, “I’m in a state of shock. I don’t know how I’m going to handle having [my daughter] know… about the whole situation.”

Trauma is best understood as any event that shatters our sense of safety. Immediately, one can become hyper vigilant—overly sensitive and set on emotional alert. Fear rules, especially in kids. The pictures online screamed of the horror. In these moments, children need adults who are attuned to their emotions and tender to their needs.

 Six “T’s” for Helping Kids through Trauma

Togetherness. This is a night where your kids need to have you close. They need to know they’re safe. Pull in together as a family. Pray together. Be together. The antidote to trauma is safe, loving relationships. Coddle your children a little bit more. Stay in close proximity to them, particularly if they’re anxious or afraid.

 Touch and Tenderness. Touch is an expression of affection that reinforces proximity and closeness. It produces a calming affect. Fear makes our minds race and wander, but tender touch dispels it. Hold a hand. Stroke your children’s hair. Let them sit in your lap. Wrap your arms around them. Kiss them. Be present emotionally. If they’re acting out a little bit with anger, rebellion or defiance, it very well could be a fear response. Be sensitive to their behavior.

Talk. The questions will come: “Will a shooter come to my school?” “Why did he hurt those kids?” Be present, sensitive, and don’t offer pat answers. Engage them in age-appropriate discussion. Contrary to what many of us believe, talk doesn’t perpetuate anxiety—it helps to reduce it. Avoid graphic details, but don’t skirt around the issue. Become a safe place for them to bring their questions.

Truth. Fears of the unknown can paralyze us. Anchor their hearts in truths like, “Not everyone in the world is bad. You’re safe now. God loves us and is close to us.” Remember, our kids absorb us. Your mood, thoughts, and actions directly influence theirs. These truths flow through you—Mom and/or Dad. Share the promises of God’s Word with your kids. Pray for, and with, them.

Triggers. Someone screaming. A door slamming. A siren. What children experience or see on the news can deeply affect them. Don’t let your kids get overdosed with the news stories and all the gory details. This can lead to nightmares, excessive bouts of crying, deepening fear, and not wanting to attend school. Be attuned to your children. Don’t react to their emotions, respond lovingly.

Time. Don’t rush or ignore this process. Over the next several days, we will all be flooded with information about the shooting. Keep your life as normal as possible. Sameness and routine reinforce the message of safety for your kids. Your family stability over time will help dispel their fears.

Our children are not immune to the darkness and brokenness of our world. We may think that if we ignore this incident, our kids won’t know about it or feel the impact. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our kids need parents and teachers—those who have influence in their lives—to be emotionally present and invested, especially in moments like these.

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Tim Clinton, Ed.D., (The College of William and Mary) is President of the nearly 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world. He is Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care, and Executive Director of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University. Licensed in Virginia as both a Professional Counselor (LPC) and Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Tim now spends a majority of his time working with Christian leaders and professional athletes. He is recognized as a world leader in faith and mental health issues and has authored or co-authored 20 books including his latest, Break Through: When to Give In, How to Push Back.

20 Ways Satan May Seek to Destroy You

SOURCE:  Paul Tautges/Biblical Counseling Coalition

He is the serpent, the Great Dragon, Beelzebul, the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the evil one, and the adversary. He is Satan. And—if you are a follower of Jesus Christ—he hates your guts with a passion. Like a roaring lion he is prowling about seeking to destroy you. How can you stand firm and resist the devil so that he will flee from you? First, do not be naive; you must consider his ways.

  1. He may slander God to you in order to cast doubt on God’s goodness and shipwreck your faith (Gen 3:4-5).
  2. He may tempt you to deceive others in order to create, or maintain, the impression of being more spiritual (Acts 5:3Jn 8:44).
  3. He may corrupt your mind and steer you away from the simplicity of Christ and His gospel (2 Cor 11:3).
  4. He may hinder [cut in on, as in a race] your gospel witness and steal it from unsuspecting hearts (1 Thess 2:18Matt 13:19).
  5. He may wrestle against you, fighting against your progress in Christ (Eph 6:12).
  6. He may tempt you to commit sexual immorality against your spouse as a result of neglecting the intimacy of the marriage bed (1 Cor 7:5).
  7. He may harass you with some form of fleshly affliction (2 Cor 12:7).
  8. He may blind the spiritual eyes of your unsaved family, friends, and neighbors so that they may not see the glory of Jesus in the gospel (2 Cor 4:4).
  9. He may keep your unsaved acquaintances in bondage to sins that hinder them from coming to God (Gal 4:8).
  10. He may smite you with physical disease (Luke 13:16Job 2:7).
  11. He may murder you (Ps 106:37Jn 8:44).
  12. He may sow tares [counterfeit Christians, sons of the evil one] within your assembly of believers in order to deceive and create disunity (Mt 13:38-392 Cor 11:13-15).
  13. He may lead you toward theological compromise by causing you to be friendly to false doctrine and its teachers (1 Tim 4:1-3).
  14. He may persecute you for your godliness (Rev 2:10).
  15. He may tempt you to do evil (Matt 4:11 Thess 3:5).
  16. He is—at this moment—prowling about seeking to capture and destroy you, chiefly through pride (1 Pet 5:6-8).
  17. He will most assuredly slander you before God in heaven (Rev 12:10).
  18. He may ask God for permission to sift you out for concentrated attack and temptation (Luke 22:31).
  19. He may use the power of suggestion to move you away from the will of God (Matt 16:21-23).
  20. He may try to cripple your effectiveness through confusion, discouragement, and despair (2 Cor 4:8-9).

How can you stand firm and resist the devil so that he will flee? The Bible exhorts believers to war against the enemy of faith by not remaining ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor 2:11); by submitting to God (Jas 4:7), being sober and alert and resistant to him (Eph 4:27Jas 4:71 Pet 5:8), and by not speaking lightly of him (Jude 82 Pet 2:10).

5 Defensive Pieces of Armor and 2 Offensive Weapons: We must put on the armor of God, which includes the defensive weapons of truth, righteousness, gospel proclamation, faith, and salvation. We must also employ the offensive weapons of the sword of Scripture and prayer (Eph 6:11-18). These are the only means by which we may firmly stand against the devil. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph 6:12).

“Is Mania a Physical Problem?”

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Ed Welch/CCEF

Yes. Mania is a physical problem.

And, since the question is [important], there is a little more we can say.

Some people are prone to mania and some are not. Those who are prone to it are neurologically different from those who are not, even though there is little or no scientific evidence for those differences yet. The reason we can say it is physical is that it is not spiritual. That is, the spiritual is expressed in those behaviors and thoughts that are either commanded or prohibited by Scripture. Mania is neither commanded nor prohibited. It is physical by default like pneumonia or cancer.

We are embodied souls—physical and spiritual. Some behaviors call attention to the spiritual while other behaviors highlight the effect of our physical bodies. When someone is violently angry, we are not too concerned about brain function because the problem is definitely spiritual. But when someone is blind or lame or even having an incredibly difficult time with math, the problem is physical. Likewise, when someone has emotions that are excited and elevated for no apparent reason (i.e. mania), and those emotions stay at that level no matter how much the person would like them to come down, the problem is physical.

Where this gets tricky

Where this gets tricky is when those who are manic commit flagrant sin, especially sin that they might not commit when their emotions are in a normal range. This is so common that behaviors such as “sexual indiscretions” are mentioned in the diagnostic criteria for mania.

These sins, of course, are spiritual. To say otherwise would create one of the most frightening scenarios we could imagine.

“I, Ed, take you, Sharon to be my wife. I promise my fidelity to you, unless I have some brain-thing happening that makes me have sex with someone else or makes me dump every penny we have on a lottery ticket.”

Is it possible that the body can make us more vulnerable to temptations? Absolutely.

Anyone who has ever been cranky because of little food, little sleep or PMS reminds us that the body can be a stumbling block. But those same people confess their crankiness rather than blame it on their bodies.

God can sanctify

There are ways that mania creates intense and unique temptations for people, and I think that many of us would not do well in the midst of those temptations. When you begin to understand mania you become more patient with those who experience it. But we know this: the Spirit of God can sanctify manic people even if their mania persists.

Waiting…Waiting…Waiting on God

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

Requirements of Waiting

Psalm 25:3-5

Waiting for God’s timing is neither passive nor idle–it takes discipline and commitment. I can think of four basic requirements for successful waiting.

Faith. The Lord’s ways and timing are nothing like ours (Isa. 55:8-9). From a human standpoint, He usually does things in a totally different way than we expect. But as we trust Him more, we’ll discover that His approach isn’t so strange after all. And when we live in harmony with God’s will, His timing starts to make sense.

Humility. To wait for the Lord, you must be convinced of your need for Him. Submission to His divine will requires humility–you cannot charge ahead with your own plans and at the same time be fully surrendered to God.

Patience. Are you willing to remain in your current position until you receive clear divine direction? Pausing for clarity from God does not mean that you disengage and allow circumstances to fall apart around you. Waiting upon the Lord is a deliberate decision that requires patience.

Courage. Waiting for God often takes courage, especially when there is pressure to act. If you’re not careful, you might stop listening to the Lord and follow other advice. So keep your ear attuned to the voice of Almighty God, and you won t go wrong.

Waiting upon the Lord is one of the wisest, most important decisions we make in life.

And contrary to popular assumptions, it is an active endeavor that requires faith, humility, patience, and courage. When you rely upon God and wait for His timing, the various facets of life fall into place.

[Copyright 2012 In Touch Ministries, Inc.]

Focus on the Family: Homosexuality/Same-Sex Attraction Issues

SOURCE:   Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

Counseling for Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions

In recent years, there has been a marked debate in the mental health professions about both the desirability and feasibility of attempts to alter a person’s homosexual orientation. Historically, such “change” was widely considered both desirable and possible.

More recently, however, an increasing number of mental health practitioners now believe that a homosexual orientation is an intrinsic part of a person’s identity that can not – and should not – be changed. It is in this largely politically driven context – in contrast to a more objectively scientific or even scriptural context – that many clinicians further hold that any and all therapy practices that have as their goal sexual orientation change are harmful and should be declared professionally unethical.

Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

 Cause for Concern (Same-Sex Counseling)

Many who experience homosexual temptations and impulses are responding to the Gospel message that unwanted same-sex attractions can be overcome.

Bowing to the forces of political correctness, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1998 issued a position statement “rebuking” practices that are broadly referred to as “reparative therapy” for homosexuality. In 2000, the APA affirmed this opposition to psychiatric treatment of reparative or conversion therapy. 1Holding the view that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality, their concern was with groups who were motivated by the view that homosexuality is morally wrong and harmful to society. While the 1998 statement said that there are risks to such therapies, no evidence was offered to support this claim.

What is evident, however, is that the American Psychiatric Association was simply agreeing with pro-homosexual activists and with the American Psychological Association, which had passed a similar, but broader, resolution in 1997. Here, the American Psychological Association claimed that treatment for unwanted homosexual behavior is harmful, unethical and unsuccessful. 2Of note, this resolution also supports the client’s right to self-determination and autonomy – calling for psychologists to “respect the rights of others to hold values, attitudes and opinions that differ from their own.” Clearly, this would include religious beliefs upholding the biblical view that God’s created intent for sexual expression is limited to a monogamous, covenantal marriage relationship between one man and one woman.

Significantly, both groups ignored the fact that many individuals who experience same-sex attractions are dissatisfied with the situation and seek professional help in aligning their thoughts and behaviors with their convictions and faith. In short, many who experience homosexual temptations and impulses are responding to the Gospel message that unwanted same-sex attractions can be overcome. And as they seek pastoral and professional psychological counseling, they find that change and transformation are, indeed, possible.

Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.


1Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation (Reparative or Conversion Therapies) POSITION STATEMENT, May 2000,http://www.psych.org/Departments/EDU/Library/APAOfficialDocumentsandRelated/PositionStatements/200001a.aspx, August 20, 2008.

2Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, APA online, 14 August 1997, http://www.apa.org/pi/sexual.html , August 20, 2008.

Our Position (Same-Sex Counseling)

Focus on the Family is dedicated to defending the honor, dignity and value of the two sexes as created in God’s image.
  • Focus on the Family is dedicated to defending the honor, dignity and value of the two sexes as created in God’s image – intentionally male and female – each bringing unique and complementary qualities to sexuality and relationships.
  • Sexuality is a glorious gift from God – meant to be offered back to Him either in marriage for procreation, union and mutual delight or in celibacy for undivided devotion to Christ. 1
  • Homosexual behavior violates God’s intentional design for gender and sexuality.
  • While we do not believe an individual typically “chooses” his or her same sex-attractions, we do believe that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex sexual temptation can choose to steward their impulses in a way that aligns with their faith convictions.
  • We affirm the Scriptural teaching that homosexuals can and do change their sexual identity (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
  • We support counseling and the availability of professional therapy options for unwanted homosexual attractions and behavior.
  • We do not endorse or promote any one particular religious, psychiatric or psychological approach as the “one and only” way to go about changing same-sex attractions and behaviors.
  • Just as there are many paths that may lead a person to experience same-sex attractions, there are likewise multiple ways out. Thus, individuals and their helping professionals are called to discern and pursue the most appropriate approach that best enables them to steward their sexuality in alignment with their chosen values.

Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.


1Focus on the Family Mission and Vision, The Pillars,http://www.family.org/sharedassets/correspondence/pdfs/GeneralInformation/FOF_Mission_Statement_and_Pillars.pdf, August 20, 2008

 Talking Points (Same-Sex Counseling)

 Both the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association call for practitioners to respect the religious and spiritual values of their clients and assert that clients have the right to autonomy and self determination. 1At the same time, however, both groups view the traditional biblical understanding on homosexuality with disdain and actively promote a sexual ethic opposing biblical orthodoxy. The American Psychiatric Association goes so far as to take sides in the theological debate by referencing pro-gay, biblically unorthodox, revisionist writers in its document. 2

  • The resolution by the American Psychological Association also calls into question parental rights to raise children according to their own standards – including those who encourage their children to follow a traditional biblical sexual ethic.
  • Research confirms that permanent change away from a homosexual orientation is, indeed, possible.
  • In 2007, Drs. Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse published a study confirming that long-term change away from homosexual orientation can occur through religious mediation. At the end of three years, 67 percent of men and women who had undergone group discussions, individual counseling, journaling, Scripture reading and prayer either reported a change towards heterosexual orientation or a rejection of gay identity with establishment of successful chastity, or were continuing work towards one of those two goals based on the progress they had already experienced.3
  • In 2003, pro-gay Dr. Robert Spitzer published his study of 200 men and women who had reported some change “from homosexual to heterosexual orientation that lasted at least five years.” He found that “almost all of the participants reported substantial changes in the core aspects (of) sexual orientation, not merely overt behavior.” 4
  • A major study, released in 1997, of almost 860 individuals and more than 200 psychologists and therapists who treated clients with same-sex attractions, reported that a large number had moved away from homosexual attractions, identity and behavior. 5
  • There is no valid or replicable research demonstrating the inevitability of homosexual behavior based on biological or genetic circumstances. 6
  • Not only does research confirm that permanent change is possible, but numerous testimonies declare the truth of God’s healing and redemptive power – both with and without the assistance of those in the psychiatric and psychological professions. The Apostle Paul noted the reality of change for some members of the early church in Corinth, and men and women continue to find freedom from homosexuality today. 7
  • While the process of changing one’s sexual identity is often a long and difficult journey, it is nevertheless possible for highly motivated individuals.
  • In contrast to the claims of both APAs, competent religiously mediated counseling for unwanted same-sex attraction was found not to be harmful on average, and hence the change attempt is not inherently harmful. 8
  • In America, individuals are blessed with the freedom to choose how they define themselves and to steward their sexuality as they see fit. If people want to change their sexual identity, it is their right to choose.
  • The American Psychiatric Association’s “rebuke” in 1998 of “reparative therapy” and the resolution adopted by the American Psychological Association are not – nor have they ever been – official ethical bans on therapeutic approaches to bring behavior, attractions, and identity in line with a person’s values. Individuals continue to have a right to choose counseling and therapy to help align their thoughts and behavior with their convictions and faith.

Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.


1Religious/Spiritual Commitments and Psychiatric Practice, RESOURCE DOCUMENT, December 2006,http://www.psych.org/Departments/EDU/Library/APAOfficialDocumentsandRelated/ResourceDocuments/200604.aspx, August 20, 2008; Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, APA online, and http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/index.aspx, section heading ‘What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight?” Here, the APA says “Mental health professional organizations call on their members to respect a person’s (client’s) right to self-determination;…”

2Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation (Reparative or Conversion Therapies)
POSITION STATEMENT.

3Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Ex Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, InterVarsity Press, 2007.

4Robert L. Spitzer, “Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Oct. 2003, vol. 32, no. 5, pp. 403-417. See alsohttp://www.narth.com/docs/evidencefound.html.

5New Study Confirms Homosexuality Can Be Overcome, Findings Indicate that Those Who Want to Change Sexual Orientation Can Be Successful, May 17, 1997,http://www.narth.com/docs/study.html , August 20, 2008.

6Caleb H. Price, “Are People Really “Born Gay”? See http://www.citizenlink.com/2010/06/are-people-really-born-gay/

7I Corinthians 6:9-11; Personal Pageshttp://www.stonewallrevisited.com/, August 20, 2008; Real Stories, http://exodusinternational.org/resources/real-stories/, August 20, 2008.

8Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Ex Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Behind Bullying: Early Attachments and Lack of Father Figure May Be Key Factors

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

Verbal taunts. Emotional abuse. Fights. Harassment. Threats. While bullying has always been an issue, rates have soared in recent years to create a national epidemic. In 2003, about 7% of students reported being bullied, but by 2007, that number had jumped to over 30%. That’s nearly 1 in every 3 kids being bullied!

The recent New York incident in the news serves as a jarring reminder of just how emotionally damaging bullying can be. Which begs the question…why? What drives a group of 7th graders to mercilessly taunt, insult and threaten their bus monitor?

Could bullying, perhaps, be a symptom of a much deeper issue in today’s adolescents?

According to an online report, lack of father involvement and resulting attachment beliefs may be key predictive factors to consider. Brett Ellard, a Christian licensed professional counselor with 30 years of experience notes that “what causes someone to become a bully starts at the core of family life, with the absence of a father figure, whether the bully is male or female…” This could include a father who is physically absent from the home, often because of divorce, or a father who is physically present, but emotionally uninvolved.

Attachment research suggests that lack of father involvement may perpetuate an insecure relational style because of core relational beliefs that are developed. In Why You Do the Things You Do, Drs. Clinton and Sibcy describe four attachment styles that are critical to understanding the roots behind bullying:

Ambivalent Attachment

  • I am not worthy of being loved.
  • I am not capable of getting the love I need without being angry or clingy.
  • Others are capable, but unwilling and may abandon me.

Disorganized Attachment

  • I am not worthy of being loved.
  • I am not capable of getting the love I need.
  • Others are unable, unwilling and abusive, and I deserve it.

Avoidant Attachment

  • I am worthy of being loved.
  • I am capable of getting the love I need on my own.
  • Others are incompetent and untrustworthy.

Secure Attachment

  • I am worthy of being loved.
  • I am capable of getting the love I need.
  • Others are willing, able, and available to love me.

What children believe about themselves and other people influences their behavior in relationships in very real ways. For example, if a child exhibits an avoidant attachment, he or she will likely act out of superiority—viewing others as “less than” and worthless. Similarly, when kids have a deflated view of self and an inflated view of others, they can often resort to extreme and violent measures to try to prove their worth.

With this understanding, bullying is not just a “normal part of adolescence.” Experimentation and mistakes are inevitable, but when a father is not involved in his children’s daily lives—correcting, encouraging and guiding them, as well as modeling healthy social interactions—kids often fail to develop a healthy understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

For children who live daily in the chaos of a broken home, bullying can quickly become a matter of influence and control. While their living circumstances and family environment are beyond their control, through taunting and terrorizing other kids, a bully gains a sense of power, influence and popularity.

Exploring a child’s attachment beliefs, relational style and home environment are important factors for Christian counselors and caregivers to consider in working with adolescents. In many cases, bullying will not be successfully addressed simply by encouraging kindness and politeness, or removing privileges.

Counselors and educators must take the time to see the hurt and pain behind a bully’s tough exterior, remembering that such behaviors are likely a symptom of a child’s attachment wounds. Using attachment-based interventions, the roots of bullying can be addressed in order to develop new attachment beliefs leading to a secure relational style.

The “Passive Aggressive” Always Wins

SOURCE:   Les Carter, Ph.D./AACC

As Nancy rolled her eyes, heaving an exaggerated sigh, her face said it all.

She was at her wits end, not knowing how to proceed with her husband, Norman. “He’s the most unreachable person I know,” she said with exhausted self-restraint. “He’ll make one promise after another about improving our marriage but nothing ever comes of it. I’ve talked with him until I’m blue in the face. I’ve pleaded. I’ve cried. I’ve yelled. But nothing can get him to change course. In fact, the more I persuade, the more it seems to energize him in the wrong direction.”

Nancy went on to explain how Norman was the type of money manager who could screw up any budget. He was a slob and a procrastinator. Rarely did he follow through on chores. Occasionally she would receive reassurances from him about being more responsible, but inevitably she would later realize he was just saying what was needed to get her off his back. Commonly he would give one-word responses to her queries. Sometimes he would not speak at all when spoken to. He was secretive. He forgot birthdays. He had moments when he seemed friendly, yet he was not affectionate and had no particular interest in sex.

“What angers me the most,” she said, “is that he did such a good sales job to get me to marry him. Prior to the wedding he was a gentleman. He was considerate and had a sense of humor. I genuinely believed he liked me because he was so available.” Sighing heavily again, she said, “I feel so defrauded.”

Nancy was living with the quintessential passive aggressive person.

This manner of life is typified by belittling treatment of others via non-cooperation, evasiveness, being dismissive, and avoiding emotional attachments. The goal of the passive aggressive person is to preserve self’s perceived needs at the other person’s expense with the least personal vulnerability. Though they may never speak these words overtly, their behavior covertly communicates: “Try as hard as you like, but you will never pin me down. I’m only interested in my agenda.”

To the passive aggressive, relationships are a competition and they will win no matter the cost.

While passive aggressive people may indeed have pleasant and congenial moments, time eventually reveals such qualities to be part of a disguise. Beneath the surface are trends that could be adjusted but are not.

Most prominent among these trends are: (1) a quiet commitment to anger, (2) entrenched fear, and (3) a powerful need for control. Let’s look at each separately.

A quiet commitment to anger.

Some people falsely assume that anger is only evidenced in loud raucous behaviors. If you do not shout or curse or throw things, so the reasoning goes, you probably do not have anger issues. Anger, however, is not that one-dimensional. It is the emotion of self-preservation, prompting individuals to stand up for personal worth, presumed needs, and core convictions. Communicated respectfully, it can actually serve a useful purpose.

Passive aggressive persons have determined to manage their anger on the sly. Wanting to maintain the upper hand, they disdain clean anger since it requires an attitude of dignity and equality. In the spirit of competition, their behavior quietly shouts: “I like my anger because it deflates you and I’ll punish you every time you attempt to put me into your mold.”

Entrenched fear.

Passive aggressive individuals find traits like openness and accountability threatening. They tell themselves, “If I fully expose my feelings or perceptions, you’ll try to invalidate me.” They operate with low confidence that others can be trusted. It is likely that they have historically received shame messages, so they have determined that no one will ever again succeed in making them emotionally vulnerable. Their defenses are overly developed because they are so binary (all or nothing) in their thinking that they do not consider the possibility that some individuals would truly like to relate as one equal to another. They do not allow such hopeful thinking to guide their behaviors.

The need for control.

Passive aggressive people are convinced that the way to succeed in relationships is to be as fully in control as possible. Being cooperative or understanding would mean giving up chunks of power, something they absolutely will not do. When another person has a separate opinion or preference, it cannot be managed at face value. It is instead interpreted as the other person intending to dominate, prompting all sorts of stubborn retorts.

People like Nancy who are trying to come to terms with someone like Norman often make a common mistake by asking the seemingly reasonable question: “How can I make that person cooperate?” Such a question positions them to enter into the One-up/One-down game that they will surely lose. It is a guarantee that when they try to force standards upon the passive aggressive, adversarial responses will ensue.

When advising others about ways to respond cleanly to passive aggressive behaviors, I offer three notions:

1. Recognize that the other person’s behavior is not a referendum about your worth. Do not attempt to persuade that person to give you the respect that will not be given.

2. In sober moments speak non-coercively about your desires for the relationship. Make no demands, but be clear about your preference for honest, fulfilling exchanges.

3. Live with well-defined personal boundaries. If the other person chooses to be difficult, you can proceed with resolve and consequences. Maintain calm firmness even as you choose not to beg for cooperation.

It is sad that some individuals maintain a commitment to an adversarial manner, yet you can determine not to become so drawn into the undertow that you too become unhealthy. The passive aggressive may persist in the attempt to win, but you do not lose when you opt out of the game of rude responses.

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Dr. Les Carter is the best-selling author of The Anger Workbook and The Anger Trap. He maintains a private practice at the Southlake Psychiatric and Counseling Center in Southlake, Tx.

Receiving Help That I Might Be Of Help

 SOURCE:  Dr. Tim Clinton/AACC

Real Soul Care

Somewhere outside Atlanta. All alone. Discouraged, and perhaps even a bit depressed. Questioning myself. Confused about the direction my life was taking. Wondering about God’s plan. Even questioning whether or not God cared, or was even listening.

Years ago, that is where I found myself. It seemed as if the wheels were coming off of my life, and I was simply driving aimlessly around. When my phone rang, the caller I.D. displayed “Michael Lyles”. I answered, albeit hesitantly. “Where are you Tim?” he asked. When I told him, he said, “Stay right there… I’m on my way.”

The next few hours felt like fresh water to a man dying of thirst. Mike listened. He prayed. He poured spiritual comfort and grace into my very soul. He affirmed and encouraged me. He believed in God’s work alive in my life. It was as if he came along side of me as a brother, friend and fellow warrior. Still, not everything in life made sense, but now I knew for sure that I wasn’t facing it alone.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV) have been “life” verses for me for a very long time:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Recently, I came across those verses in The Message

“All praise to the God…of all healing counsel! He comes alongside uswhen we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

Often in the New Testament, the writers refer to the “God of all grace”… or the“Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Amazing Grace.

What’s important to understand is that I received the Grace of God that day in North Atlanta. And it was poured into my life through the life of another. Strong’s Concordance describes grace (charis) with these words… divine influence upon the heart, and it’s reflection in the life. And don’t miss this — God comforts us in ALL our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in ANY affliction…

Let me paraphrase all of this if I might:

When we are going through hard times, God comforts us with grace, and that grace has a divine influence upon our hearts. Often he uses someone else to help bring that grace to us. And He comforts us in ALL of our trials. Then, further down the road, when we meet someone else who is going through ANY hard time, the grace that God poured into our lives is now reflected into their life – so that further down the road, when they meet someone else who is going through ANY hard time… And on and on it goes.

Life is tough. Struggles, trials and hard times will come. When they do, look around you. God is probably bringing someone along side of you to pour grace into your life. Grace to turn your life around — so that one day you can help turn someone else’s life around.

A Prayer for Serving Our Friends Who Struggle with Depression

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Ps. 43:5

Heavenly Father, today my heart goes out, and my prayers reach up, on behalf of those who struggle with depression, in one of its many forms. I have friends who live all along the axis from mild melancholy to the relentless pangs of suicidal depression. And my family tree has roots in clinical depression—with many loved ones who’ve struggled with emotional fracture and darkness as a way of life. Father of mercies, grant all of us greater compassion and wisdom for loving those whose mental health is under siege.

Thank you for rescuing me from simplistic views of depression. It’s not as simple a condition as I used to think. I grieve the ways I used to counsel the depressed, and it saddens me to realize how much pressure I put on them get better and “get over it.” Happiness is not always simply a choice.

David asked the right question in a season of duress: “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” (Ps. 43:5). Indeed, Father, what are the various reasons for a downcast, disturbed soul, and what does hoping in you look like for each?

Father, for friends who are depressed for no other reason than living with a graceless, gospel-less heart; keep them miserable until they rest in the finished work of your Son, Jesus. May they despair of their own unrighteousness and their “wannabe” righteousness, until they are driven to the righteousness that only comes from faith in Jesus. Sometimes misery is a great mercy.

Father, for friends who suffer from depression generated by chemical complexities, lead them to the right kind of medical care. And help us in the community of faith to be patient and understanding of the complexities involved in their care. The risk of abusing medications is always there, so give us wisdom.

Father, for friends who suffer from depression fueled by the demonic, grant me humility and wisdom. A part of me doesn’t even want to acknowledge that this is an issue at all, but how can I read your Word and dismiss the demonic so lightly? His condemning, blaming, and shaming voice, alone is enough to generate the deepest forms of darkness and a disconnected self. Yet his schemes are multiple (2 Cor. 2:11). Show us, in the Body of Christ, how are we to care for those under the spell and sway of our cross-defeated, fury-filled foe (Rev. 12:12).

Father, for those of us whose downcast-ness is little more than the fruit of blocked goals, idol failures, self-pity or the consequence of our own disobedience, smite us, yet again with the gospel. May we cry, “Uncle!”, that we might cry, “Abba!”

By your great and sufficient grace, I make King David’s affirmation mine. I do and I will yet praise you, my Savior and my God. My hope is in you, Father—for me and for all of my brokenhearted downcast friends. The gospel will win the day. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ compassionate and victorious name.

Where Is Our World Going? STOP Sexualizing Our Children

THE COUNSELING MOMENT EDITOR’S NOTE:  

The below article from the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) is alarming and also prophetic — a preview of more of the unthinkable to come.  At the last AACC World Conference I attended in 2011, this information was presented as the next emerging “watershed” issue we will face as Christians.  An aid to this down-hill societal slide was when God largely was removed from schools and increasingly from society.  Then, there was (is) the abortion issue.  From there we see ever-increasing lax moral views, the redefining of family, and legalization of same-sex marriages.  Now, this next issue (as brought out in the article) is to regard  “pedophilia as just another ‘sexual orientation.'” 

 Where will this downward slide finally and ultimately end?  

 “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. ComeLord Jesus. [Rev 22:20) 

In due course, when the Lord Jesus returns to bring completion to His redemptive work in creation, all things will be made right — according to God’s original creative intent.  However, until that time, we — as followers of Christ — must continue to seek His grace and ability to do what is right, loving, and pleasing to the Lord.  

Jesus makes it clear (Mt 5:44) that we are to love our enemies (i.e., those entirely opposed to and antagonistic toward us and God) and pray for those who would mercilessly persecute us for our beliefs about what is right as we understand and apply God’s Word.  At the same time, we are to seek the Lord’s help to obey His command for us to be holy as He is holy (1Peter 1:15-16) and have nothing to do with evil/darkness, but rather to expose it (Ps 101:4; Eph 5:11).  May the Lord give us His Divine wisdom, understanding, knowledge, discernment, heart, perspective, protection, strength, and resolve to be and to live as the men, women, and children of God to His Glory.

Stop Sexualizing Our Children

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors/Matt Barber [http://www.aacc.net/stop-sexualizing-our-children/]

In “Batman,” the Joker rhetorically asks a young Bruce Wayne: “Tell me, kid – you ever danced with the devil by the pale moonlight?” Well, I have. Not by the pale moonlight, but in a brightly lit Four Points Sheraton in Baltimore, Md.

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, I – along with the venerable child advocate Dr. Judith Reisman – attended a conference hosted by the pedophile group B4U-ACT. 

Around 50 individuals were in attendance, including a number of admitted pedophiles (or “minor-attracted persons” as they euphemistically prefer), a few self-described “gay activists” and several supportive mental-health professionals. World renowned “sexologist” Dr. Fred Berlin of Johns Hopkins University gave the keynote address, saying: “I want to completely support the goal of B4U-ACT.”

Here are some highlights from the conference:

• Pedophiles are “unfairly stigmatized and demonized” by society.
• There was concern about “vice-laden diagnostic criteria” and “cultural baggage of wrongfulness.”
• “We are not required to interfere with or inhibit our child’s sexuality.”
• “Children are not inherently unable to consent” to sex with an adult.
• “In Western culture sex is taken too seriously.”
• “Anglo-American standard on age of consent is new [and ‘Puritanical’]. In Europe it was always set at 10 or 12. Ages of consent beyond that are relatively new and very strange, especially for boys. They’ve always been able to have sex at any age.”
• An adult’s desire to have sex with children is “normative.”
• Our society should “maximize individual liberty. … We have a highly moralistic society that is not consistent with liberty.”
• “Assuming children are unable to consent lends itself to criminalization and stigmatization.”
• “These things are not black and white; there are various shades of gray.”
• A consensus belief by both speakers and pedophiles in attendance was that, because it vilifies MAPs, pedophilia should be removed as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), in the same manner homosexuality was removed in 1973.
• Dr. Fred Berlin acknowledged that it was political activism, similar to the incrementalist strategy witnessed at the conference, rather than a scientific calculus that successfully led to the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder: The reason “homosexuality was taken out of DSM is that people didn’t want the government in the bedroom,” he said.
• The DSM ignores that pedophiles “have feelings of love and romance for children” in the same way adults love one another.
• “The majority of pedophiles are gentle and rational.”
• The DSM should “focus on the needs” of the pedophile, and should have “a minimal focus on social control,” rather than obsessing about the “need to protect children.”
• Self-described “gay activist” and speaker Jacob Breslow said that children can properly be “the object of our attraction.” He further objectified children, suggesting that pedophiles needn’t gain consent from a child to have sex with “it” any more than we need consent from a shoe to wear it. He then used graphic, slang language to favorably describe the act of climaxing (ejaculating) “on or with” a child. No one in attendance objected to this explicit depiction of child sexual assault. There was even laughter.
(In fairness, Dr. Berlin did later tell Mr. Breslow that his words might “anger” some people and that he [Berlin] is categorically opposed to adult-child sex with “pre-pubescent” children. When asked about the propriety of adult-child sex with pubescent children, Dr. Berlin did not provide a clear answer.)

So, am I just an intolerant, “pedophobic” bigot? Apparently so. In fact, Dr. Berlin says pedophilia is just another “sexual orientation.” Some of the “minor attracted” conference-goers insisted that they were “born that way.” Sound familiar?

This is sexual anarchy – fulfillment of the moral relativist dream.

In the 1940s, homosexual psychopath and secular-humanist messiah Alfred Kinsey’s stated goal was to destroy, in society, the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic. He has largely achieved that goal.

Indeed, during his sexology “research,” Kinsey facilitated the rape of thousands of children – some as young as 2 months old – placing stopwatches and ledgers in the hands of “minor-attracted persons” to document their “findings.” He then recorded everything in what is generally referred to as the “Kinsey Reports.”

Kinsey determined, among many things, that children are not harmed by sex with adults and that it can be a positive experience. Old Al even earned his very own Kinsey Institute, still in existence today at Indiana University.

As recently as 1998, the APA seemed to agree with Kinsey’s assessment, releasing a report that suggested harm caused by child rape was “overstated” and that “the vast majority of both men and women reported no negative sexual effects from their child sexual abuse experiences.”

Furthermore, the APA report suggested that the term “child sex abuse” be swapped with “adult-child sex,” indicating, as did Kinsey, that such “intergenerational intimacy” can be “positive.” Isn’t “tolerance” wonderful?

Oh, and the “progressive,” political-activist APA has also seen fit to join an amicus brief in favor of so-called “same-sex marriage.” What does this have to do with psychiatry? Your guess is as good as mine.

Make no mistake: Children are the target of what I call the “sexual anarchy movement.” Whether it’s the movement’s pedophile wing that seeks to literally rape children, or its radical pro-abortion, homosexualist and feminist wings, which seek to rape the minds of children, the larger sexual anarchy movement has a shared goal: Attack, corrupt and destroy God’s design for human sexuality. Children are just collateral damage.

Sexual anarchists know that to own the future, they must own the minds of our children. Hence, groups like B4U-ACT, GLSEN (The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network), Planned Parenthood and the like utilize academia from pre-school to post-graduate to brainwash and indoctrinate. Still, sexual anarchists are not restricted to the world of not-for-profit perversion advocacy. They also permeate the Obama administration.

Consider, for instance, that the official website for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently linked to “parenting tips” that referenced children as “sexual beings” and suggested that they should experiment with homosexuality and masturbation.

Small surprise when you consider that radical feminist and pro-abort Kathleen Sebelius was President Obama’s pick as HHS secretary.

You may also recall that Mr. Obama appointed Kevin Jennings, founder of the aforementioned GLSEN, to the post of “safe schools czar.” The position is now defunct, ostensibly due to national outrage over Jennings’ appointment.

In keeping with the thinly veiled goals of B4U-ACT, GLSEN seems to be “running interference” for pedophiles, having tacitly advocated adult-child sex through its “recommended reading list” for kids.

Again, not surprising when you consider that one of Jennings’s ideological mentors is “gay” activist pioneer Harry Hay. “One of the people that’s always inspired me is Harry Hay,” he has said glowingly.

What did Mr. Hay think? I’ll let him speak for himself. In 1983, while addressing the pedophile North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), Hay said the following:

“[I]t seems to me that in the gay community the people who should be running interference for NAMBLA are the parents and friends of gays. Because if the parents and friends of gays are truly friends of gays, they would know from their gay kids that the relationship with an older man is precisely what 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world. And they would be welcoming this, and welcoming the opportunity for young gay kids to have the kind of experience that they would need.”

(Oddly, there’s another “gay” activist group, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, that frequently partners with GLSEN. I wonder where they came up with the catchy title.)

Bolstered by support from the National Education Association, GLSEN has access to your children through sex education curricula it provides thousands of public schools across the country, and via adult sponsored “Gay Straight Alliances,” hosted in those same schools.

Alas, we live in a post-Kinsey America wherein our culture, along with our Judeo-Christian heritage, rots in the heat of the day. The stench of sexual anarchy is masked by the soaring, disingenuous rhetoric of “tolerance,” “diversity” and “comprehensive sex education.”

Sick to your stomach? I am. Why can’t these sexual anarchists leave our children alone and let kids be kids?

————————————-

[Matt Barber is an attorney concentrating in constitutional law. He serves as Vice President of Liberty Counsel Action. (This information is provided for identification purposes only.)]

The problem with caring too much or “over-caring”

SOURCE:  Rick Thomas/Counseling Solutions

While walking downtown Main Street the other day I met a beggar coming my way.

My mind hit a momentary pause button and then I re-indexed and ran a few thoughts through my head about how I should respond to this man.

As he came closer to me, he popped the question.

“Mister, can you spare a dollar or two. I haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday.”

I told him it would be a privilege to help him.

With a quick glance to my right, I pointed to the local Subway restaurant and told him I’d love to buy him a sandwich.

He said that he didn’t want a sandwich, but preferred I give him a couple of dollars to help him out.

I declined to give him cash and attempted to carefully explain that to him.

He was fixed on what he wanted.

I let him know that I could not help him that way, but would love to serve him.

He declined and continued on to his next prospect.

Within minutes of that encounter he became a fading event of my past, one of a million things I have done in my life that I hardly remember anymore. I was not perturbed, bothered, upset, or annoyed that he was working me.

It was just one of those events that happens to all of us. It was a quick opportunity to discern the Spirit and ask the question, “What would the Savior do in a moment like this?” You deal with it the way you believe God would want you to deal with it and you move on to the next thing that He has prepared for your day.

I did not dismiss this man or show a lack of care for him. It could possibly be analogous to the rich young ruler who wanted something from the Savior. The Savior encountered him and sought to serve him, but believed it would not be wise to give the young ruler what he wanted the way he wanted it.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. – Luke 18:22-23 (ESV)

The rich young ruler did not want what Jesus was offering. He had another motive. I’m not sure if this young man ever became a Christian. Minimally he became a Bible illustration regarding salvation.

I don’t think I was unkind to the beggar-man. He asked for money for food. I offered him food instead. He decided that he did not want the food after all. He wanted the money. I believed I did what I was supposed to do. I went on with my day. I tried to care for him, but did not feel tempted to over-care.

When caring becomes over-caring

Brent has been my friend for many years. We went to high school together and then separated shortly thereafter as marriage, family, and work took us to different places around the country.

Years later we reconnected. During the intervening years Brent’s life went from good to bad. His wife was about to leave him, his children did not have a heart for God, and Brent’s head was immersed in the worldly cares of this life.

He wanted to meet to work through some of these problems. We met. And we met. And we met again. And again and again and again. We met for nearly six months.

During this time Brent proved to be stubborn and disinterested in the kind of change that was necessary to bring reconciliation to his family. He said he wanted to change, but he was not willing to do what it took to change.

I prayed and pondered many hours about how to help this man to change. I would present change this way and then talk about it another way. It didn’t seem to matter. Nothing worked for Brent.

Not being deterred, I would back up and start all over again with a totally new approach. That new fangled approach did not work either. Over time I started becoming critical of Brent. Initially I never said anything, but sensed my heart growing frustrated with him.

After awhile I began to go home and tell my wife about how difficult he was being–about how rough and challenging the counseling was going. As the weeks went by and my personal investment in his life grew, I began to grow impatient with him.

It wasn’t long before I became harsh and unkind toward Brent. Sadly, I actually had a growing disinterest in helping him. He was not listening. I was over-caring. The investment had grown deep and the change was not happening according to my expectations.

Being concerned – Being responsible

Have you ever over-cared for someone or something? Have you ever cared too much? If you are a Christian with the love of God in your heart, I suspect you have. Have you ever over-worried? Have you ever been over-anxious?

Let me ask the questions this way:

  • Do you generally feel responsible for certain people?
  • Or can you guard your heart from being responsible, but still show concern?
  • Do you know the difference between being responsible and being concerned?

It is one thing to be concerned for someone regarding whether they change or not. It is a wholly other matter to be responsible for people–including your own children. I’ve illustrated the two positions with the stories above.

I am concerned – I was concerned for the beggar on the street, but I did not sense a responsibility to change him. I wanted him to change. I even thought about how I could serve him before he popped the question. But I did not feel like it was my job to make him change.

I did not act disinterested by showing no concern and I did not cross the line as though his change was my responsibility. I offered him some food and hoped to continue the conversation by introducing Christ to him. He wanted one thing–money.

I am responsible – With Brent it was a different story. I crossed the line from being concerned to thinking it was my responsibility to change him. I treated him much different from the beggar in the street or the way Christ interacted with the rich young ruler.

I forget what my role was with Brent. It’s simple: my role for all people at all times is to be concerned, but I am not to be responsible for anyone. I cannot make people change.

Righteousness is not something that can be forced on anyone. It is a personal choice between an individual and God. This has been my story regarding how I have changed through the years. No one could make me change, except for God.

  1. They could water.
  2. They could plant.
  3. But they could not give the growth.
  4. Change is God’s job.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-6 (ESV)

When the water boy sins

I am forever grateful for the people who have loved me enough to speak into my life. I love all water boys and seed throwers for Jesus. But I do not hold anyone responsible for my personal change.

Sometimes I can forget this very basic truth about the Gospel. Sometimes I can cross the line from being God’s water boy and seed thrower to trying to make a person grow–to change or what the Bible calls repentance.

When I forget my role, it is as though I believe I am responsible for their change. There is a world of difference between being concerned for someone and being responsible for someone. If I cross that line it won’t be long before I’m sinning against them.

You may ask, “How do I know when I have crossed the line from being concerned for those I help versus feeling responsible for them changing?”  That is the million dollar question and it’s easy to answer.

When I begin to over-care for a person there are certain things that begin to happen in my heart. Initially they are not discernible to the human eye, but if I don’t take these heart sins to God, they will soon manifest in behavioral sins that are clearly discernible.

What I try to do is keep an eye on my heart by sensing when I am caring too much. If these sins (below) begin to rear up then I know I have crossed the line from being appropriately concerned for someone to caring too much for someone.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of heart attitudes and behaviors that I commit when I’ve crossed the line. If any of these things happen to you, then may I suggest that you are caring too much–that you have forgotten your role in the change process:

  • I’m tempted to become angry when a person does not change.
  • I’m tempted to become critical when I think about him.
  • I’m tempted to gossip about him to others.
  • I’m tempted to be cynical and lose faith in God that he will ever change.
  • I’m tempted to become impatient when I am with him.
  • I’m tempted to exhibit more sadness than joy when I think about him.
  • I’m tempted to uncharitably judge him because he won’t change.
  • I’m tempted to worry or become anxious as though his lack of change is because of me.

When I sense these sinful temptations in my soul, then I know that my trust is slipping from the Savior of the universe to my own abilities, agendas, and preferences for this particular individual (think Brent here).

I am mini-Messiah, hear me roar

In short, I have become a Mini-Messiah. In those moments I have become a functional atheist–a man who believes the change process rests more on him and his opinion of how things should be than whatever God may be thinking or doing in a person’s life.

This is hardcore pride that must be repented from. In the case of me, I have to reposition myself within the framework of God’s purposes for that individual’s life.

If I do repent of my pride and realize that my main purpose is to water and to plant the seed while trusting God to bring the growth, then my human ability to serve my friend does not impede what God is doing in his life.

However, when I begin to feel more responsible than God wants me to feel, then I typically sin against the person–according to the list above. My sin then becomes a distraction in the helping process. My faith for change and the timing for change must be fully in God’s will, especially when I’m helping a seemingly unchangeable person.

For me, the tipping point is usually a person I have spent more time with rather than a person I will meet only briefly. That is why it was easier for me to not become emotionally attached to the beggar. He was a temporary encounter. That is also the reason I crossed the line with Brent. He was a long-term investment.

Typically people will sin against a person they have spent a long time praying for, pulling for, and generally helping and hoping that they will change. That is normal. The more time you put into somebody’s life, the more you expect them to change.

A lot of mothers are this way with their children. They are tempted to cross the line from being concerned and helping to taking it personal and getting in the way or becoming a distraction regarding what God might be doing in their child’s life.

It is one of the toughest lessons for a parent to learn. Can we discern and obey our roles in the change process, especially with our children? One of the triggers that will let you know if you have crossed the line is when you begin to sin. If you’re sinning, you’re not helping.

If you are becoming more anxious, worried, fearful, fretful, impatient, frustrated, or some other sin, then you’re out of line and in the way. You must repent and trust God. This is one of the most remarkable things about the Savior. He was cool in all contexts. He shared His Word and went on His way.

He was not uncaring and He would not force His righteousness on anyone.

A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  The below article taken from a lecture by Dr. Sam Williams is lengthy but well worth the time invested to read.  It presents an excellent, truthful, and graceful Christian perspective of this ongoing topic based on research under-girded by biblical thought.

Source:  Taken from a lecture — Biblical Counseling Coalition by © 2011 Sam R. Williams, Ph.D.

Homosexuality has not been a biblical abstraction in my life. That doesn’t mean I am coming out of the closet here. The skeletons in my closet don’t look quite like that; they are probably worse, and they are not the topic of this lecture, thank God.

What it means is Dale: my best friend in college coming over to announce that he was gay and therefore intended to kill himself on his 23rd birthday–and then me spending the next year talking him out of suicide.

What it means is Roger: my roommate while in grad school, who died of AIDS before medicine learned how to keep people with HIV alive. Our last conversation on the phone a few hours before he died was one-way because he could no longer speak. It was just me sharing the gospel with him, trying to point him to Jesus again, knowing that was the day he would meet the Maker.

Dale and Roger, both dear friends, responded to same-sex attraction (SSA) by “coming out of the closet” and adopting a gay identity, a much less popular step to take in the ’70s than in 2011.

But of course things have changed, to the point that such a step now may earn popularity points.

In a Gallup poll in 2010, for the first time a majority of Americans, 52%, called homosexuality morally acceptable, while only 43% said it is immoral.

For younger evangelicals, homosexuality is not a moral abstraction for them either. For them it brings familiar and friendly faces to mind immediately. For me now, as an elder in my church and a counseling professor in a Baptist seminary, I think of Terry and Karl and Dave (and I could go on) committed Christian men who came for counseling because no matter how much they tried, their sexual compass pointed more to men than women.

These men have had to grapple with the meaning of same-sexual desires.

• Does this mean I am Gay?

• Was I born this way?

• Did God make me this way?

• I surely wouldn’t set my own compass in this direction. If God’s design is for heterosexuality, what happened to me?

• I don’t think I chose this, so can I choose my way out of it? Can my sexual compass be reset, redirected through prayer or some array of spiritual practices or through counseling or therapy?

• If I didn’t choose to point my sexual compass in this direction, is it sinful?

• Do I repent of SSA…or is it merely a temptation and that I need to resist it as one would any temptation?

So that is the topic of this lecture – A Christian Psychology of and Biblical Response to Homosexuality.

How to think about the homosexuality of my friends was one of the first major cultural challenges I faced when I became a believer in my late twenties. The condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible didn’t make sense to me. As a psychologist and an aspiring empiricist, I could see that homosexuality was atypical and in a sense abnormal, but does it really have to be wrong? Maybe it’s just different, like left-handedness, or perhaps it’s some type of disorder some people are unwillingly afflicted with – but this is a form of neurosis that requires treatment, and not a moral or spiritual issue.

Eventually however, regardless of my own attitudes toward homosexuality, it seemed clear, and beyond any hermeneutically sensible doubt that Scripture forbids and condemns both homosexual practice and passions, and does so using hard-nosed terms such as “shameful, unnatural, and dishonorable” in Romans 1, “unrighteous” in 1 Corinthians 6.9 and 1 Timothy 1.9-10, and “detestable” or “an abomination” in Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13.

Surely, homosexuality is a watershed issue with respect to the interpretation, authority, and relevance of Scripture. But that is not the torch I am bearing here. My intent in this lecture is not to provide a biblical theology or ethical analysis of homosexuality. (See Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 2001.)

I am going to presume the majority opinion, a conservative biblical hermeneutic and sexual ethic that views every aspect of homosexuality as a product of the fall and of sin–that it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. And, I shall avoid the political squabbles so ever-present in media world.

Even though political issues are not unimportant, I do believe that following Jesus at this point in God’s plan is more rescue mission than culture war.

Someday when He is ready, Jesus will win the culture war, overwhelmingly–after His rescue mission is complete. And that mission is our mission for the time at hand, and also it is the mission of this paper.

I want in particular to note my debt to Mark Yarhouse and Ed Welch, both Christian psychologists whose thinking and writing in this area have in my estimation been seminal.

How will the church understand persons who struggle with SSA, and what should the hope and help that we offer look like?

What should you say to your friend or your son or your daughter if they come to you and say, “I think I’m gay.”? How did their sexual compass get so offset?

Can they change, and if so, what type of change can be expected, even hoped for?

How will you counsel and minister to them?

Effective ministry, according to David Powlison, requires of us a triple exegesis: of Scripture, of people, and of this beautiful and crazy world in which we live.

The movement from Scripture to real lives in this world requires careful and clear-eyed understanding of all three. So, what I have tried to do is listen first to the Bible and then to the social sciences – at least those parts of them that from my perspective deserve a hearing. Let’s start with defining what we are talking about, with a few descriptions and definitions.

Mark Yarhouse helpfully differentiates same sex attraction, homosexual orientation, and a gay identity. (see 1st figure, p. 16)

(1) Same-sex attraction is an intentionally descriptive term describing the direction of a person’s sexual desire. SSA can vary in strength and also in durability or longevity. It can be weak or moderate or strong, and it can be temporary or enduring. The term “SSA” is merely descriptive and says nothing about how a person feels about his or her sexual attraction, or what they intend to do or actually do with their sexual desires, nor does it say anything about their identity – who they are or how they label themselves.

Approximately 6% of men and 4.5% of women report experiencing at least some degree of same sex attraction (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, and Michaels, 1994).

(2) Same-Sex Orientation (SSO) is the term I prefer to use since the term homosexual often connotes an identity. What it means is that some people experience SSA in such a manner that it is predominant compared to opposite-sex attraction, and such that it is strong and durable and persistent. Like the term, SSA, SSO is a merely descriptive phrase.

Approximately 2% of men and 1% of women report a same-sex or homosexual orientation, wherein their primary and predominant sexual attraction is to the same sex. [1]

It is possible for a person to be sexually attracted to both sexes, to varying degrees, and that person might identify themselves as “bisexual.” It is also possible, although less frequent, for a person’s experience of same-sex attraction to be limited to a specific person, and for them to be otherwise heterosexual.

(3) Gay or lesbian identity: Some persons choose to adopt a homosexual identity, taking as a key feature of their identity their same-sex sexual orientation, and usually along with that accepting same-sex erotic behavior as a morally neutral or morally good sexual alternative.

The percentage of adults who identify as being gay or lesbian is estimated to be 1.7%, approximately 4 million persons. An additional 1.8% of our population was estimated to view themselves as bisexual (Gary Gates, Press release April 7, 2011, Williams Institute).

What is crucial to recognize here is that these three categories are not coterminous. They do not or at least should not be collapsed into one another. While it may be the case that a person experiences SSA or even is completely SSO, a gay or homosexual identity is not an experience and it is not inherent. Identity is a decision based upon one’s perspective on their sexual desires and their acceptability; in other words, the adoption of a gay identity is a value-based choice rather than a given fact of experience or of psychology or biology.

With respect to identities, they don’t happen to us, they come from us: “I” am the central organizer and active agent in forming my identity. Even though most of us are not aware of choosing our identities, they are our construction built out of the raw materials of who we are, our life experiences, especially key relationships, and all of this construed or interpreted in light of some prevailing narrative or worldview or philosophy of life.

So, our identity is a personal construction project composed of many conscious and subconscious choices which accumulate gradually over time. Of particular importance are the attributions that we make about ourselves and that others apply to us, which function like scripts for how we manage our lives. To a significant extent these identity scripts are provided by the various social authorities within our culture: parents, peers, religion, “science,” “psychology.”

Now, with respect to the development of sexual identity, some parts of that are biogenetically hard-wired and other parts are shaped by key relationships within particular cultures with particular values and views about the way things are supposed to be. And of course, at the center of all this is the active, responding, choosing person, made in the image and likeness of God but also fallen biologically and psychologically or spiritually, and embedded in a fallen world.

So, identity is personal and it is contextual; it is innate, but also it is formed in the context of a web of relationships, not unlike the way children develop language – with brains and tongues pre-designed to speak, but this innate capacity to communicate is formed by family, friends, and culture.

Most psychologists recognize that identity is as much a construction as it is an expression of one’s essence, and that personal values, beliefs, and religious commitments are “grist for the mill” producing the identity that one constructs. Among developmental psychologists, there are two camps which emphasize different elements in identity development, essentialists (nature) and social constructivists (nurture).

The modern language of sexual identity, “homosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian,” is a good example of this mutual interaction between person and culture. Although homosexuality has been practiced for millennia, “gay” as an identity is an historical artifact, belonging only to contemporary western culture: it is a personal and social interpretation and not an incorrigible fact.

“Although homosexual behavior has been practiced in other cultures throughout history, we are the first culture in which people refer to themselves this way. There was never a language for it, and there has never been community support for this kind of identification or labeling. Until recently there was not even a way to say it” (Yarhouse, 2010).[2]

Sorting these matters out on a personal level is a process; a person who experiences SSA is confronted with a unique dilemma: what does this mean about me, that I am attracted to the same sex? People attracted to the same sex go through a process that could be summarized in two stages.

• Identity Crisis: this is a painful knot of emotion – shame, guilt, anxiety, depression – with lots of confusion and many questions. If you’ve never listened to a person in this phase, do so, or at least read about it. This will help you understand the challenge of finding hope when something so fundamental to your person and to your gender is upside down and you can’t just flip a switch and set it right. (see Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill or Andy Comiskey’s various books)

But people don’t stay in crisis mode forever; eventually they come to some type of resolution.

• Identity Attribution: a synthesis and consolidation of same-sex attractions. Eventually, people come to conclusions about themselves and their sexual experiences based on some sort of interpretive paradigm, or script that is available to them in their world, and with respect or disrespect for the moral script that God has placed within every human heart.

These identity attributions occur much earlier these days, around 15 years of age; versus at 20 years in 1970 (Savin-Williams & Cohen, 2004). Another interesting recent phenomenon is that some young persons are choosing to avoid the adoption of any label at all regarding their sexual identity.

In contemporary western culture, there are two prevailing narratives or scripts, ways to respond to and integrate SSO. The first is to adopt a gay or homosexual identity. This is based on a Gay Explanatory Framework (GEF) (Yarhouse & Tan, 2004): the self is defined by sexual desire; sexual attraction defines who I am, categorically, just like an “alcoholic” defines who he is by his desire for alcohol.

This identity formula is very much at home in a culture of expressive individualism, which prizes self-expression above all else (see R. Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, 1996). The GEF relies upon metaphors like “discovery” or “coming out” to describe identity attribution. The GEF reaches beyond personal experience into the academy, developing its own personality and developmental theories which include an ideal or “healthy” socialization process, and which has unfortunately been adopted in the public square and public schools in most of western culture.

Usually the Gay Explanatory Framework is characterized by simplistic explanations of cause, especially biological reductionism – i.e., “Since I am not aware of making a conscious decision to feel this way, I must have been born this way. This is obviously biological.” According to this script, personal fulfillment depends upon sexual self-actualization, the embracing and expression of one’s sexual desires, with some sort of “coming out” ritual whereby the person is initiated into a new lifestyle in which same-sex sexual and romantic relationships are deemed either neutral or good, and even sometimes superior.[3]

While most people struggling with SSA or SSO in our culture believe the Gay Explanatory Framework is the only plausible option, there is another option, one that does seem increasingly strange, even abnormal to modern and post-modern people. The second identity option is to understand SSA or SSO by means of a Christian Explanatory Framework, taking Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Final Restoration as the definitive narrative for explaining same-sexual desires. This framework is honest about the experience of SSA or SSO but views it as unnatural and disordered, inconsistent with God’s will for sexuality.

The key issue, for anybody, and particularly for Christians, is which of our desires and affections we choose to be defined by. A Christian with SSA will, like the rest of us, emphasize their identity in Christ and in the body of Christ, and view same-sexual desires as a product of the Fall, just one of many forms of sexual deviation and temptation that can be overcome by God’s grace. They will grieve over their SSA, and some will repent of it depending upon how they understand its origin and how they understand sin and guilt and repentance. A Christian Explanatory Framework comprehends the reconstruction of our identities upon adoption into the family of God: “Now, God is my Father, Christ is my brother, I am a son/daughter of the Lord. ‘I’ (in the deepest sense of that little word) belong to Him. He redefines and redirects every part of my being.”

With respect to the origin of SSA and SSO, What causes it? Where does it come from?

While the person is the active and responsible agent with respect to their sexual desires, there are both nature and nurture factors related to the development of sexual attraction. So, there are things that come at the person and things that come from within the person. While there does not seem to be any single universal cause, “if this occurs, then that develops” the biological and social sciences do point out a few common factors that are helpful in understanding SSA.

The current scientific research and theory can be divided into three areas: biological, temperamental, and relational (see 2nd and 3rd figures on pp. 16-17):

• Biology (genetics, intrauterine hormones, neurological): while researchers in the ‘80s and ‘90s believed that genes or brains would offer the strongest contribution to SSA/SSO, more recent research has not supported earlier theories that genes or brains play a primary role in homosexual development. The better twin studies with larger sample sizes do not support a big genetic contribution to homosexual orientation. The concordance rate among identical twins was 20% for men and 24% for women (Bailey, Dunne, & Martin, 2000), which indicates that genes may play a role, but not in themselves an overwhelming one. Studies examining brain contributions are even less impressive. Even though there are some studies implicating brain structures, these studies have not been replicated. Even when brain differences have been found, sorting out cause and effect is nearly impossible with correlational research.

Another possible biological contributor still under investigation is the prenatal hormonal environment. Fetal development of sexual characteristics is a product of interaction with hormones, especially testosterone, and this may play a role in sexual orientation in some instances, but the data are not clear at this point.

Nonetheless, that there may be some biological contributions in some persons would not be surprising and does seem consistent with the research. The recognition that biology may play a role need not be resisted by Christians since God has created us as embodied souls, psychosomatic beings, and all things, including our bodies and brains and genes, have been infected by sin. In addition, that something such as the body or the brain is influential, or even formative, does not mean it is morally or spiritually determinative. It seems reasonable to accept, and clearly consistent with Scripture, that bodies and brains and genes along with parents and peers and cultures all play influential or formative roles in our lives. But that doesn’t mean they are determinative.

• Effeminate temperament features or gender non-conformit: Both anecdotal and research evidence supports a positive correlation between gender non-conformity and homosexuality (Hamer, 1994; LeVay, 1996).[4] Many homosexual men report feeling different and less masculine than the other boys during childhood. They tended to be more sensitive, less naturally aggressive, and more aesthetically than athletically inclined. This is sometimes referred to as the “sissy” phenomenon. Dean Hamer, a gay geneticist, in his book The Science of Desire (1994) goes so far as to write, “Most sissies will grow up to be homosexuals, and most gay men were sissies as children. Despite the provocative and politically incorrect nature of that statement, it fits the evidence. In fact, it may be the most consistent, well-documented, and significant finding in the entire field of sexual-orientation research” (p. 166).

• Exotic Becomes Erotic theory by Daryl Bem (1996) contends that at puberty we will experience sexual arousal by the gender that we find exotic, or by that gender which seems so different from oneself. In other words, “opposites attract.” So, if as a child a boy feels like the other boys, but different from the girls, at puberty he will find girls no longer abhorrent but fascinating and then attractive and arousing. On the other hand, if a boy does not feel like he fits in with the boys and instead is more comfortable with the girls, at puberty he finds himself fascinated by the boys and then erotically attracted to them. The biogenetic variable in this theory is the child’s innate temperament, especially traits such as aggressiveness and activity levels.

• Parental relationships: Early theories, rooted in Freud’s psychoanalysis, viewed homosexuality as a kind of developmental disorder – an impairment in psychological development (which does often seem to be the case) with parents as the culprits (which does not necessarily seem to be the case). However, these psychoanalytic explanations were based more on clinical experience and less on empirical research. More rigorous recent research lends little support to the traditional view that SSO is a direct result of absent or critical fathers and smothering mothers. The research does not indicate a primary role for parents as a sufficient cause of homosexuality; most children with troubled parental relationships do not turn out with SSA. At the same time, of course, there can be no reasonable doubt that parents play an important formative role in most aspects of child development. And, there does seem to be a preponderance of difficulties in the father-son relationship for many SSO men, and on the other hand a preponderance of negative experiences with men in SSO women. Even though these factors are not sufficient or determinative, they do seem to be significant influences in some instances of SSO (Yarhouse, 2010, p. 230, n. 21-24; Yarhouse & Burkett, p.175, n. 2).

Faulty development of masculine traits may be related to the father-son relationship, especially the extent to which the son feels connected to and then identifies with his father as a male, so that he develops the sense that “I’m like him” or “I want to be and can be like him.” On the other hand, it may be that for some boys the sissy phenomena may be more innate (related to genetic predisposition or to the brain or to prenatal hormones), and then subsequently the boy and his father find it difficult to relate to one another because they are so temperamentally different, which of course would further diminish the boy’s sense of masculinity.

• Peer influences: Boys who are less aggressive and masculine understandably feel disenfranchised and different. Unfortunately, they are often avoided or are the subject of derision or bullying by their peers, which can be devastating to a boy’s gender identity and masculine confidence.

• Early sexual experiences (abuse; early debut): While neither physical abuse nor neglect are correlated with homosexuality, studies have found some correlation between early sexual abuse and homosexual behavior in men, but not in women.[5] It is not difficult to imagine how sexual abuse, especially of a boy by a man, could be extremely disruptive to the boy’s developing sexual identity.[6] At the same time, it is important to remember that most boys who are sexually abused by men do not become same-sex oriented. Early, consensual same-sex behavior is also found more frequently in the history of male homosexuals. But, cause and effect are difficult to sort out in these correlational studies.

• Personal choice? The personal experience of most, but not all, persons with SSA is that it is not chosen, but instead is found, and often with shock and shame. This is particularly true for men and for at least half of the women. While most men with SSA/SSO believe their homosexuality was not consciously and explicitly chosen, 30-50% of lesbian women report that it was a choice.

So, what “causes” homosexuality? According to the human sciences, there are two honest answers to that question: “We don’t know for sure” and “Probably several things.” The principle of equifinality is helpful here. Equifinality is the principle of multi-causality: that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means. In the same way that there are several ways to get from here to San Francisco, there are several ways a person may develop SSA or SSO.

So there are a handful of common factors that seem significant, but there is no one-size-fits-all formula.[7]

Transitioning now from this overview of social science research and theory, we can now take up the question:

Can people change SSA or SSO, and if so, how do they change?

Change efforts come in a variety of contemporary secular formats: traditional psychoanalysis (C. Socarides, E. Moberly), reparative psychotherapies (J. Nicolosi), and gender-affirming encounter groups such as Journey into Manhood.

Do they work? It depends who you ask.

In 2009, The American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation “concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful. . . Given the limited amount of methodologically sound research, claims that recent SOCE [sexual orientation change effort] is effective are not supported” (pp. v and 2). [8]

Unfortunately, the composition of the task force was not methodologically sound either. Their objectivity was doubtful since each of the six authors, five psychologists and one psychiatrist, is on record as gay affirmative and several of them publicly identify as gay or lesbian.[9]

There are a couple of studies which indicate some degree of success in changing SSA by means of secular therapies, with 44 to 66% of persons reporting significant change of some sort, but the degree of change and what changes is quite variable (NARTH, 1997; Spitzer, 2000).

There are several different Christian counseling or ministry options:

Leanne Payne’s charismatic approach blends psychoanalytic theories of homosexuality with a focus on the inner healing of traumatic memories through “listening prayer.”

Christian recovery groups such as Courage, a 12 step program for Roman Catholics, and Homosexuals Anonymous (14 instead of 12 Steps).

Andy Comiskey’s Living Waters groups blend biblical teaching on gender, identity, and sanctification with some of the theories of the reparative therapies and inner healing, and emphasize the role of the Church as a healing community.

Mark Yarhouse and Warren Throckmorton’s Sexual Identity Therapy, which is less focused on changing same sex attractions and more focused on choosing one’s identity in Christ and the incorporation of behavioral and cognitive methods to facilitate the process of progressive sanctification.

Finally, there are other approaches that incorporate theories about the development of masculinity into the process of progressive sanctification. (Alan Medinger; Gerard van den Aardweg).

Do these work? Here also there are only a couple of good studies and they found that 23-29% of persons reported a complete change in orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, and 60-70% reported behavioral success. (Schaeffer, et al., 1999; Jones and Yarhouse, 2007, 2009)

Mark Yarhouse’s summary of this research is helpful:

Those who argue that there is “insufficient evidence” of sexual orientation change are often thinking of categorical and complete change, as though sexual orientation were a light switch that is in one of two positions: on or off. Homosexual or heterosexual. Gay or straight. On the other hand Christians can sometimes add to the problem by claiming this kind of complete change happens frequently. . . . Some people do report a change in attractions over time. For those who report a change, it tends to come in the form of a reduction in homosexual attractions, but these reductions are typically not complete. A smaller number of people also report an increase in heterosexual attraction. [In some instances this may be attraction to the opposite sex in general; in other cases it may reflect attraction to only one individual or the opposite sex, such as a person’s spouse]. . . . It may be helpful to everyone involved to recognize that 180-degree change or categorical change is less likely. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t attempt change or feel discouraged about it, but it does help us identify the more likely outcomes. In some ways, understanding this will free a person up to focus on other important considerations, such as vocation, stewardship, and Christlikeness (2010, pp. 89-90).

Listening to the Bible

Regardless of the particular causes identified by science or the success of sexual orientation change efforts, God aims to interpret and govern and redeem every part of our us, including our sexual experiences, desires, identity, and even one day our bodies. The good news of God is that whatever is distorted and broken can and will in God’s good time be restored and healed. Christ assumed a full human nature to heal all of human nature. The incarnation and bodily resurrection of Christ is God’s pledge of full and final healing (Gregory of Nazianus).

But the reception of God’s grace begins with a humble acceptance of what is wrong with us, with a kind of biblical psychopathology.

It seems that a biblical macro-psychology of homosexuality begins with the Pauline version of the Fall in Romans 1: an account of the origin of sin, with homosexuality as a vivid example of its dynamics. In that passage Paul attributes the origin of same-sex passions and practices to a failure to “thank and honor God,” in other words to disordered worship. Humanity’s original rejection of God then incurs His judgment and His passive, and yet terrible, wrath, wherein the passage says, God “gave them up” (v. 24, 26, 28). He simply lets them alone, leaves them to their own devices, giving them over to impure lusts, dishonorable passions, and a debased mind. So, in this passage, disordered desires of all sorts result from disordered worship. St. Augustine’s biblical psychology is helpful here: The root of all evil is wrongly directed desire.

Both Richard Hayes and Ernst Kasemann note that in this passage homosexuality, along with a string of other disordered desires and practices, is the consequence of God’s wrath, not the cause of it. Homosexuality is probably singled out because it is such a clear rejection of something so obvious – God’s complementary design for the sexes and of sexual intercourse itself.

But it is important to note that Paul’s account here is archetypal or generic; he is giving the history of humanity and of sin in general, with homosexuality as a particularly graphic case in point. He is not giving us a history of any particular person’s development of homosexuality. The Bible’s account of this chapter in human history goes like this: As a result of the rejection of God’s rule, God steps aside, and the consequence is the reign of sin and satan, a Kingdom in which everybody is born defective (Rom. 6.17) with deformed desires, some of which are common to all men, such as selfishness and pride, and others that are unique to some men. And this is where personal psychopathologies begin.

The typical experience of same-sex attraction, that it is not consciously chosen, is in fact consistent with our innately sinful condition, which in itself is not chosen – we are born that way. Sin is a chronic condition and sometimes, but not always, a conscious choice. This is the human condition Paul describes in Romans 7, where he goes back and forth, but he ultimately cites “sin in me” as the source of his sinful behavior. So, the starting point for a biblical psychology of homosexuality is fundamentally no different than the origin of many of our sin-driven character flaws, whether it is selfishness and narcissism, or jealousy and envy, or a bad temper, or worry and anxiety, or mania or depression, or addictions or whatever. Everybody is born congenitally defective with some innate bio-psychological weakness, which finds its origin in the fall and subsequently in hearts and bodies riddled with the cancer of sin. (Eccl. 9.3; Jer. 17.9)

According to New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon:

For Paul, all sin was in a sense innate in that human beings do not ask to feel sexual desire, or anger, or fear, or selfishness – they just do, despite whether they want to experience such impulses or not. If Paul could be transported into our time and told that homosexual impulses were at least partly present at birth, he would probably say, ‘I could have told you that’ or at least ‘I can work that into my system of thought.’. . . Paul paints a picture of humanity subjugated and ruled by its own passions; a humanity not in control, but controlled (2001, p. 431, 430).

In the same vein but with more emphasis on human accountability, Richard Hayes writes,

As great-grandchildren of the enlightenment, we like to think of ourselves as free moral agents, choosing rationally among possible actions, but Scripture unmasks that cheerful illusion…the Bible’s sober anthropology rejects the apparently commonsense assumption that only freely chosen acts are morally culpable. . . . The very nature of sin is that it is not freely chosen. . . . We are in bondage to sin but still accountable to God’s righteous judgment of our actions. . . . In light of this theological anthropology, it cannot be maintained that a homosexual orientation is morally neutral because it is involuntary (1996, p. 390).[10]

Up to this point we have been talking about SSA, a particular dis-orientation of a person’s sexual compass, but we could be talking about the infinite variety of sinful orientations of any of our hearts which are less than consciously chosen, but for which we will be held accountable by God. I think this is Paul’s point in Romans 2 and 3, when he segues from God’s judgment of homosexuality to God’s judgment of everybody, in what Richard Hays calls a “homiletical sting operation”: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself. . . . Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3) Paul makes it clear: no one has a secure platform to stand upon to judge others. (R. Hayes, 1996, p. 389)

MINISTRY/ COUNSELING

The truth is that each and every one of our sex lives, every look, every touch, every fantasy, and every desire within our hearts will be judged by our holy, holy, holy God.

According to Jesus, in Matthew 5.29-30, when it comes to sex, what we do with the desires of our hearts is a matter of life or death. So, “If your eye or hand causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” That ought to give all of us pause. This is serious business, according to Jesus.

So, the church’s response to SSA must be just as serious. It must be as theologically bold and as morally clear as Jesus is, and at the same time as pastoral and gracious as Jesus is. And we must bring hope: like oxygen for the soul – to those who struggle with same sex attraction. And this is that hope:

The Gospel changes the most important things initially, and it changes everything eventually.

What I mean by Gospel and change is a type of faith in and obedience to Christ that flows out of a fundamentally re-oriented heart, resulting in a changed and changing life.

In closing, there are four ways we can promote change in our churches and families for those who struggle with same-sex attraction.

First, the essential starting point is BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF, OTHERS, AND GOD.

In view of the mercy of God, it makes no sense to avoid, deny, or minimize SSA. I would like to propose that there is a properly Christian form of “coming out of the closet.” Should we not all come out of the closet with anything we find inside that is broken and wrong? We do this so that we can repent more thoroughly and receive all the help and healing that comes through authentic Christian relationships.

That which we keep to ourselves tends to fester and swell, and what is left is that painful knot of shame and guilt. The alternative to authenticity is not a pretty thing: loneliness, duplicity, secret sins, anxiety, self-hatred, and sometimes suicide.

It is here that the response of parents, peers, and church is so important. It is the responsibility of Christian families and communities to cultivate openness to the acknowledgment and confession of same-sex attraction. What can we do to move in this direction?

Second, we can CULTIVATE A RENEWED RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCES.

We need relationships characterized by respect and acceptance in which various forms of masculinity are affirmed, of course, that are true to one’s God-given gender, but also cognizant of a variety of temperaments. We should not presume that cultural stereotypes are biblical norms or guidelines. There is more than one type of man, and not all of them like to camp or play sports. (Could somebody explain to me how Ultimate(ly Foolish) Fighting became a fad among young evangelical men!?) My colleague Robert D. Jones says that the greatest man he has ever known described himself as gentle and humble in heart! It was this Lord who said, “Blessed are the meek/gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” If the character of Jesus is not the main part of your view of manhood, then it is not biblical manhood.

Probably one of the most important changes would be to eliminate within our communities, especially among men, the unedifying words that denigrate men whose masculinity is not so evident, who may have some effeminate characteristics. Such words are unconscionable. What if that were your brother or your son that was being made fun of? How would Jesus speak to him? And how would Jesus speak to those who spoke to him that way???

I still remember my best friend Dale announcing his homosexuality to me. He had heard me use terms like “fag, queer, homo” and many other false bravados characteristic (I wish only) of teenage boys. He said he would have told me sooner, but he was afraid of my reaction, even that I might attack him physically. That changed how I talk.

Third, we can EXPRESS A TYPE OF EMPATHY FOR PERSONS WITH SSA THAT COMPREHENDS HOW LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD IS UNDER THE CROSS.

It is important to realize and openly acknowledge that at the deepest and most important level we are much more like the person who struggles with SSA than we are different. They have their particular sin tendencies and temptations, and you have yours. Every one of us has a weak link, a form of remnant sin for which we need Jesus and one another. Therefore same-sexual sin should not be singled out as a red-letter sin.

Fourth, PROVIDE BIBLICAL HOPE FOR CHANGE.

Real and substantive change can be expected for people with SSA or SSO, as it can and should be for all who have chosen to follow Christ. Tim Wilkins says when he turned away from homosexuality, “I decided that although I honestly did not know how to become heterosexual, I did know how to be obedient. . . . Same-sex attractions continued throughout college and seminary, but to a lesser degree. I remained steadfast in refusing to give in. . . . I told God ‘it does not matter if I am ever attracted to a woman as long as I get You!’ What mattered most to Tim was becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Change for the Christian is a grace-fueled process that for good reason is called progressive sanctification: a long obedience of faith down a narrow and often difficult road, in the company of other Christian men and women within the local church. All this is rooted in the transformative power of the Gospel of God and the rich soil of the body of Christ. The cross of Christ signifies the beginning of the end of the old self, a progressive and radical reordering and re-orientation of every one of our distorted desires. But sin is stubborn, especially at the level of desires, and the old man dies slowly. Nonetheless, according to Paul, that old man is history: “Such were some of you. . . . But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. . . .” (1 Corinthians 6.11) That sounds like past tense.

As it is with many root sins that are lodged deeply within us, change may or may not be associated with a complete elimination or reversal of SSA, for now. But make no mistake about it: under the cross and in Christ neither the past nor our desires determine our identity or our future. Paul’s instruction in Romans 6 is to be who you are, in Christ.

Romans 611 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. . . . 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

This Spirit-fueled, Christ-following progressive sanctification includes an understanding of who we are: identities that originate in God’s good creation–made by and like and for Him, and then born again in a miraculous New Creation. Change like this includes a type of humble authenticity that does not flinch in examining and repenting of the distorted but dwindling effects of sin on all things: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”

Someday this grace will culminate in our final sanctification, when the King returns and resets everything. On that day, True North will be irresistible. Such is our hope.

________________________________________

NOTES:

[1] These figures rise in urban centers; in other words, those with a homosexual orientation are more concentrated in cities.

[2] Coincidentally, this is often a part of the gay critique of the biblical passages on homosexuality; they are correct when they claim that these categories and terms did not exist in the ancient biblical languages. Instead, more descriptive terms that described what that person does, or terms like natural and unnatural were the verbal categories relied upon to discuss these matters (Hays, 1996).

[3] It is this incorporation of homosexuality into the center of that person’s identity that makes even the most sensitive and winsome conversation so difficult with a person who identifies themselves as “gay”. If “gay” is who you are, then even the kindest challenge or disagreement is perceived at least as a personal rejection, and at worst as hateful or “violent.” Since this is the accepted normative narrative in most of the First World, any other view seems to be just so much nonsense. David Wells captures this dislocation well in his definition of worldliness as “that system of values, in any given age, which has at its center our fallen human perspective, which displaces God and his truth from the world, and which makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange. It thus gives great plausibility to what is morally wrong, and for that reason makes what is wrong seem normal” (Losing our Virtue, 1999, p.4).

[4] In its most extreme manifestation, Gender Identity Disorder, ¾ of boys with this disorder later report a homosexual or bisexual orientation (DSM-IV, 1994, p. 536).

[5] Wilson, H., & Widom, C., 2009. Does Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, or Neglect in Childhood Increase the Likelihood of Same-sex Sexual Relationships and Cohabitation? A Prospective 30-year Follow-up. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (1), 63-74).

[6] Dube, S. et al. (2005) found that 16% of adult men reported being sexually abused before age 16. They had been abused by men 70% of the time. Am J Prev Med;28(5), p. 433.

[7] The APA (American Psychological Association) states the following about etiology in their pamphlet, Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality: “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”American Psychological Association (2008). “Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality”.

[8] A review of 83 studies published in peer reviewed journals from 1960 to 2007 discusses people who attempted to change their sexual orientation through counseling or therapy.

[9] Joseph Nicolosi, of the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality, commented, “The Task Force’s standard for successful treatment for unwanted homosexuality was far higher than that for any other psychological condition. What if they had studied treatment success for narcissism, borderline personality disorder, or alcohol/food/drug abuse? All of these conditions, like unwanted homosexuality, cannot be expected to resolve totally, and necessitate some degree of lifelong struggle” (The 2009 APA Task Force Report – Science or Politics?, posted Jan. 10, 2011, NARTH website).

[10] Perhaps a good example of this is our dreams at night. And, if yours are like mine, I bet some of them are not morally neutral. And yet even though they are involuntarily and subconsciously created … whose dream is it? Who created and produced that dream? And if it is your production, who should repent of it?

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th Edition. Washington, DC: Author. 1994.

American Psychiatric Association. Report of the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. Washington, DC: Author. 2009.

Bellah, R., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkely, University of California Press, 1996.

Bem, Daryl. “Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation.” Psychological Review, 1996.

Dube, S. et al. “Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28.5, 2005.

Gagnon, Robert. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

Gates, Gary. “Press release April 7, 2011.” Williams Institute. Web. 15 Sept 2011.

Hays, Richard. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. San Francisco: Harper, 1996.

Hamer, Dean. The Science of Desire. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Jones, S. & Yarhouse, M. Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2007.

Kasemann, Ernst. Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J.H., Michael, R.T., & Michaels, S. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

LeVay, Simon. Queer Science. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.

Savin-Williams, R. C. & Cohen, K.M. “Homoerotic Development During Childhood and Adolescence.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2004.

Schaeffer, K. W. et al. “Religiously-motivated sexual orientation change: A follow-up study.” Journal of Psychology and Theology. 27 (4), 1999.

Spitzer, Robert. “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2003.

Wells, David. Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Wilson, H., & Widom, C. Does Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, or Neglect in Childhood Increase the Likelihood of Same-sex Sexual Relationships and Cohabitation? A Prospective 30-year Follow-up. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2009.

Yarhouse, Mark. Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

Yarhouse, M. & Burkett, Lori. Sexual Identity: A Guide to Living in the Time Between the Times. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2003.

Yarhouse, M. & Jones, S. Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2000.

Yarhouse, M. & Tan, E. Sexual Identity Synthesis: Attributions, Meaning-Making, and the Search for Congruence. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2004.


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