Tag Archives: healing

6 Things You Can Do To Support Your Pastor

6 thingsI haven’t posted to this blog in 3 months. The reason for this leave of absence is simple: I am a small church pastor in a rural community of 700. I love my job and the people I serve. Between early October and December 26th, the busy season for church work, I didn’t have a single day when I didn’t field a work-related phone call, head over to the office to take care of a few tasks, visit with someone from the church, run into town for a hospital visit, spend time working on a sermon, sat down for counseling, attended a meeting, or spend time working. I often joke that I work every day, which is true. As the excess or work ramps up, the productivity of writing goes down. That having been said, I’m not bragging or complaining about this. I don’t consider burnout to be a sign of spiritual health. I actually really like my job and most days I don’t think I work to excess. In the past, I’ve worked at similar levels of busyness and not felt as good about it. Most ministers have experienced days when they didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and when they felt like there was no escaping the crush of expectations.

Strangely, after nearly three years of this sort of schedule, I have yet to reach that point. I certainly have bad days and times when I grit my teeth when the phone won’t stop ringing. The difference between past times of ministry work and now seems to be the attitude of the community of believers I am serving, as well as a few things they do consistently. This is a huge deal considering how often pastors walk away from church work in a state of burnout. Here are a few of the big things I have observed that have made a big difference to me.
  1. Pray for your pastor. Praying for your pastor means more than simply telling them you will pray for them. Praying for your pastor involves asking them what they need prayer for. It’s offering prayer for them in church during community prayers. It involves praying with them before events. Pastoring is spiritual leadership. There is an inherently spiritual component to the endeavor. As such, it is important to pray for pastors and let them know you are praying for them.
  2. Let your pastor be human. I am not perfect. In fact, even on my best days, I am not anywhere close. I still sin. I get tired, frustrated, and angry. Sometimes I am thoughtless, careless, and insensitive. I’m not saying I don’t strive for holiness or that I’ve given up on trying to be a better man. What I’m saying is that Jesus is perfect and I am a work in progress. The congregation I am serving has been great about letting me be human. When I struggle, there are church members who listen and offer advice. I talk about struggling with sin when I preach and no one is lining up to fire me for it. Nothing is more tiring for a minister than putting on their “holy man” mask every morning for work. There is a great deal of peace and comfort that accompanies knowing that you can talk about your struggles. It’s crushing to constantly live in fear of minor slip-ups. It’s even worse to carry secret sin, knowing you cannot confess it to anyone lest you lose your livelihood.
  3. Offer to help. There are several people in my church who routinely offer to help with aspects of my workload. They typically do a great job of following through when I take them up on the offer. These are the same people who show up at church events, bring food to sick members of the community, and stay late to visit with other members and clean up after an event. One of the biggest frustrations that can set in as a pastor stays longer with a small congregation, is the sense that they are doing everything. To be honest, even the offer of help is heartening. The sense that others are willing to help out is huge. Very little is more frustrating than investing time, energy, and enthusiasm, only to be met with indifference. Offering to help demonstrates investment.
  4. Be concerned about your pastor’s marriage. My first pastor appreciation month in Montana, the members pitched in and got my wife and I a 3-day stay at a hot spring resort. With this gift, we were given free childcare at the ranch of one of the members. This has been the norm since. Every year, we are given our own marriage retreat. This really isn’t a once-a-year thing. There are several members who routinely take our kids so we can go on dates or just get some alone time. On top of that, I am regularly approached by members who ask about my marriage and ask for ways to support us. The single best mechanism for maintaining pastoral morale is their family. The demands of ministry work can be significant and can significantly strain a marriage. Supporting a pastor’s family and helping maintain familial health essentially protects the most important mechanism for pastoral contentedness.
  5. Offer your pastor honest accountability and meaningful praise. This doesn’t mean offering empty praise. I often joke that no one ever tells you that you preached a bad sermon. There are a handful of people in my regular contact who will tell me when a sermon wasn’t good or will hold me accountable when I am wrong. Mind you, I am not talking about nit-picking. Feedback is most effective when it deals with larger block matters. Several years ago, I encountered an individual who would make suggestions based on phrasing errors I made while preaching. I don’t preach from a manuscript. It’s nearly impossible to preach extemporaneously without phrasing a few sentences poorly. In addition to accountability, praise is important. Pastors appreciate hearing when they do well. Positive feedback lets them know that what they are doing is appreciated. This should not be empty, puffing up praise. Rather, they should be genuine positive observations. There are a few people in my church whose praise various efforts, but aren’t shy to let me know when I miss the mark. Their opinions are valuable to me. This is not an instant thing. It is a product of relationship.
  6. Develop a relationship with your pastor and his family. My family has eaten meals with most of the members of our church. When I encounter church members at the store, they converse with us. We love the folks we are serving, not just because we are supposed to. We love them because they have made it a point to be our friends. I once had a pastor tell me that it was best not to invite people from the church into your lives. He told me about folks who had personally hurt him and his family. In time, we encountered people who confirmed this as a decent suggestion. For many years, my wife and I were standoffish in church communities. During our time in Montana, we have discovered that this was not the right course. There has been little that has meant more to us than the close relationships our church has set out to form with us.
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Christians, the Internet, and Rage Porn

angry-desk-flip-lSeveral times in the last few months, while scrolling my Facebook feed, I have come across friends who have posted those annoying fake news stories, that are technically “parodies”, but are not identifiable as parodies in any way, apart from reading the home page of the website it was originally posted on. These posts are usually political, outrageous, completely fabricated, and designed to induce rage in the reader. The thing that has blown me away is that on several occasions I’ve read where a comment will point out that the article is fictional, and the follow up comments will continue to pile on with rage about how “it might as well be true” or “that’s the sort of thing <insert some group here> would actually do.” In short, it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re true, these  articles become an excuse to pour fuel on the fire of rage at an ideological group. They are, what I refer to as “rage porn.” They exist for the sole purpose of feeding an emotional state. They become an excuse to express rage and fury on the internet. Rage porn isn’t limited to the fake stories. There are whole websites that do the same thing with single line quotes and mischaracterizations. In these cases, the news articles will feature a single sentence and an editorial about how evil the speaker and everyone associated with them is. There is not attempt at context or intelligent engagement. The only objective is eliciting an emotional response, because anger is political strength in our culture.

The crazy thing is that this pouring out of rage isn’t purging or venting anger. It’s the sort of anger that gets hotter and bigger the more it’s given voice. It snowballs. The more the reader engages it, the bigger the anger gets. It’s easy to reach the point where the entire perspective held about the opposing ideological group is nothing but venom and hate. It becomes difficult to see those involved as anything other than the caricature that sits pickling in rage, resentment, and bitterness.

Some might question the use of the word pornography to describe this sort of internet material. It’s not usually sexual or lewd. It’s just inflammatory. It serves no purpose other than generating a hateful response. Anger and hate can feel powerful. Many people enjoy feeling justified in the feeling of hate they can aim at others, particularly those who “have it coming.” Most rage porn puts the reader in a position where they can feel moral or intellectual superiority along with reveling in spite. All of these feelings are part of an image; folks seek out and read these articles in order to feel anger. The only difference between these posts and pornography is the emotions produced by consuming it.

For followers of Jesus, these stirring hatred and rage in our hearts is contrary to the lifestyle we are called to live. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to pray for those who mistreat us. He even demonstrates this attitude by praying for the Roman soldiers who were crucifying him. Paul directs us not to allow the sun to set on our anger. John’s first epistle tells us that anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. More directly, Paul writes the church in Ephesus:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:30-32
warning-42657_640Believers have no place in their lives for stoking the flames of rage over politics or anything else. We may mourn over sin in the world. We can feel free to disagree with the actions of others. We can speak out for Christ and the protection of the innocent and helpless. At the end of the day, we must love those who Christ bled and died for. We need to pray for the folks we would be tempted to judge and love the folks we are more tempted to despise. It’s important to note that love involves more than lip service. If I rage at and trash talk a person, then explain that I love them; I am not doing much in the way of demonstrating my love toward them. Our call is to serve and to love concretely. This isn’t easy. Turning to reading materials that inflame our rage at “the enemy” does little to produce the sort of holiness that Christ is directing us to.
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Why Self Help Doesn’t Help

2427949527_37cee71670_zThe world of publishing has witnessed an interesting phenomena over the last few years. Sales of print books have slumped in almost every category as ebooks sales have surged. The only arm of book printing that has experienced growth over the last several years has been in the area of self-help. Self improvement book sales have defied the trend in the industry by experiencing a boom. Between books on weight loss, ways to improve your marriage, methods for overcoming depression, improve your career standing, and all manner of other do-it-yourself-to-yourself books; Americans are still buying. In our self-obsessed culture, feeling bad or inadequate is simply unacceptable. This has prompted a veritable gold rush of publishing in this area. The world of Christian books has not missed out on this trend. “Christian self-help” books are extraordinarily popular. I include quotation marks because far too often these books are simply christian flavored versions of their secular counterparts. Rather than being a distinct worldview, self-help Christianity has a tendency toward nearly identical in approach with bible verses attached to the ideas at strategic locations. At issue isn’t the notion of working to improve our health, emotional wellbeing, income prospects, or anything else we feel discontentedness toward. The issue is related to a basic philosophical incompatibility that exists between Biblical Christianity and most self-help approaches to the world.

One of the basic theological tenants of Christianity is the concept of total depravity. Basically, this teaches the because man is sinful from birth, he is incapable of following God of his own accord. Man’s natural bent is rebellion against his creator. The only way we are able to have a relationship with God is through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. When a person becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit enables us to follow God and to overcome sin in our lives. One of the foundational concepts behind most self-help systems is that you can overcome any challenges you may face in life. The solution to life’s ills is found by unlocking potential within you. The conflict between this philosophy and depravity make the two positions incompatible. One points to our inborn ability to do right, while the other points to our dependency on God’s provision to overcome. The incompatibility of the two makes the self-help approach problematic from the Christian worldview.

Romans 7 offers the best comment on the matter, when Paul writes about his ongoing frustration that the good he desires to do is seldom reflected in his actions, because sin rules his body. Ultimately, his comfort for this condition is found in Christ’s saving work on the cross. Believers finding themselves in unfortunate life circumstances or trapped in destructive patterns, recognize that relief is only obtained in Christ’s redeeming work and sanctification through the Spirit’s working in their lives.

Self-help can be a band-aid solution for some problems, but can never fix the core problem that all men face. Only God’s redeeming and recreating work can fix the problems that lay at in the hearts of all men.
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5 Reasons Secrecy Hinders Recovery from Pornography Addiction

2014-09-24-canstockphoto13219245copyThere’s a saying that originated in AA: You are only as sick as your secrets. The more an addict hides their sickness, the worse it will become. Without outside assistance, recovery is nearly impossible. This is particularly the case with pornography addiction. Recovery from pornography addiction comes with some significant hurdles to beginning and sustaining recovery. Perhaps the biggest challenge in beginning the pr ocess of recovery is overcoming the shame associated with the addiction. This is particularly the case because of the social stigma accompanying sexual problems. This stigma and its bedfellow, shame, keep pornography addicts hiding in the darkness, often knowing that they need help, but unwilling to seek it out of fear of the judgement of others. This is particularly the case for married addicts, who risk losing their spouse by coming clean about their problem. The secretiveness makes recovery nearly impossible because of the nature of addiction. Simply put, addiction is a disease in which the stimulus reward process in the brain begins to dominate the addict’s behavior. The process reaches a point where the addict simply cannot stop using. In fact, one of the diagnostic criteria for addiction is repeated, failed attempts to control using. Pornography addicts may do this by deciding to quit using altogether, only to start again later. They may also try to come up with artificial ways of limiting their pornography consumption or the time spent searching for or looking at porn. These efforts inevitably fail. Secrecy eliminates the support essential to the recovery process for the following reasons:

Addicts need accountability: The inability of the addict to control their using through their own efforts means that they cannot effect change without outside help. They need other people to confess their failings and struggles, too. Further, they need outside perspectives regarding the best way to deal with their temptations and struggles. This is particularly important for pornography addiction, where using can be so easily hidden.inadequacy-447731_640

Addicts need help working through thinking errors: Another major complication that secrecy brings to recovery is related to thinking problems. Addicts develop sophisticated thinking mechanisms to protect their using. Thinking errors can be very difficult to identify without outside input and discussion. Further, addicts can easily become overwhelmed by their faulty thinking, which can be extraordinarily difficult to untangle. This requires the addict to talk through their thinking on different issues with other addicts.

Addicts need someone to talk to for stress relief: The stimulus reward cycle gets out of control when using becomes the primary mode for dealing with stressors, or more accurately, avoiding dealing with stressors. The accumulated negative feelings and memories put constant pressure on the addict and perpetuate the cycle of addiction. Recovery requires that the addict have access to individuals who can listen as the addict talks out their stressors. They need an outlet to let off emotional steam. Without it, the addict will simply go back to using.

Addicts need perspective: Talking with those who have successfully gone through recovery is helpful to the addict because it makes it clear that the journey has a destination that is reachable. Further, addicts tend to blow things out of proportion. They need outside input to keep the scale of situations clear in their minds. Without this scale, the addict can easily get overwhelmed by circumstances.

Addicts need help focusing: It’s easy for addicts to get distracted or to come up short regarding what they need to do next. Input from an outside perspective can help the addict to keep focused and take the steps necessary for recovery. It’s very easy to become distracted and to drift away from working toward recovery. Addicts need outside support to prevent them from losing focus.

keyboard-114439_640One of the major difficulties with opening up about pornography addiction is finding appropriate people to begin talking with. Ministers or counselors are a decent place to start. Both are common in most communities. I also recommend Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin or through the associated website: http://www.samsonsociety.com. The Samson Society website is a good resource for finding recovery meetings and materials.

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Real Men Shave? Understanding Biblical Manhood

IMG_1061One of the newest trends in men’s grooming is premium shaving gear. This includes all sorts of oils, different shaving cream styles, suggested variations in shaving ritual, and assorted styles of razors. Most of these products are marketed with the basic premise that they are part of rediscovering manhood or some aspect of being a man that is authentically male. A few weeks ago, I came across an old safety razor at an antique sale, and having read all sorts of material on how they were more of a Mercedes shaving experience compared to my Pinto experience with the disposable razor, I invested $3 on a 60-year old shaver. After thoroughly researching the technique involved, I made my first few attempts at grooming with my antique razor. Incidentally, I also learned all about the proper use of a styptic pencil. For those unfamiliar with the styptic pencil, it is used to staunch blood flow for minor cuts and nicks. I also learned that the reason that multi-bladed modern razors exist is because shaving with a safety razor is difficult, more time consuming, and potentially much harder on your face. The other thing I discovered is that shaving with an antique razor, the way my grandfather probably did, didn’t make me feel more manly. I didn’t feel like I had discovered some secret to manhood. Really, all of the mystique of the experience seems to be a little overstated. Perhaps I am doing it wrong. Perhaps when I have completed the hazing period and have the scars to prove it, then I will understand. More likely, I suspect that the ads are attempting to tap into a deep-seated need in our culture. Many men are searching for a definition of manhood because they aren’t certain as to what it really means to be a man. They don’t have a clear definition or standard by which to measure themselves, and as a result, they struggle with a core component of their identity. We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with manhood and where fathers being estranged from their sons is increasingly common. Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers. They observe, imitate, and learn. Without a father who models manhood, many young men grow up with no real concept of what it means to be a man. Such young men must teach themselves about manhood. Self-taught men often grow up with learning about manhood from pop culture, peers, or not at all. Many live with a need, whether it is conscious or not, to be validated as a man or find manhood standards to live up to. These often materialize as success at work, sexual dominance, or even being the opposite of their own dads. They need not be so overt, as some men live out this need by simply swallowing it or drifting in their life course.
GR6-DJT6Ultimately, if you ask most males what it means to be a man you will get a hodgepodge of activities that men associate with manhood and even some isolated values that are associated with male identity. What is far less common is a clear definition of the foundational values or focus of manhood and from where they are derived. This results in some perplexing behaviors that are labeled “being a man” that are likely far from a complete male identity.
There is an obvious opening question to further discussion about manhood: How do we know what it means to be a man? Where does this standard come from? I’d suggest that any conversation should begin with Genesis. The creation of man gives us a hint as to what he was supposed to be.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…
Genesis 1:26
267685_10151393255501835_1082856663_nIn Genesis 5:3, after the fall of man into sin, Adam has a son. Interestingly, the text says that Adam’s son was in Adam’s likeness. The reason for this shift is that man is now sinful. Instead of being as we were created to be, we are fallen. All people fall short of what they were meant to be. However, in Jesus we see the perfect representation of God and man without sin. In Him, we see what we were meant to be. Men may wander, chasing after images of manhood that fall well short of the ideal, because in Adam, we are fallen. In Christ, we can be what we were created to be. In fact, Paul writes that those who are in Christ are new creations. They become new for the purpose of imitating Christ. We can rediscover manhood in Him. The beginning of recovering real manhood is recognizing that He is the perfect model for us to emulate.
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6 Simple Practices to Help Overcome Depression

part 2One of the central realities of depression, and any mood, is that neurotransmitters in the brain affect how we feel. One of the most concrete ways to effect positive change in mood and attitude is by taking up activities that encourage healthy levels of of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, insulin, etc. This does not necessarily mean taking anti-depressants. There are all manner of ways to affect brain chemistry positively. Here are several simple things that can make a huge difference:

• Exercise: Exercising, even just going for a 20-minute walk, can trigger the release of endorphins, which make you feel good. Exercising enough to raise your heart rate 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes at a time is all that is needed. Exercising outside in the sunlight is even better, as exposing yourself to sunlight tends to trigger the release of chemicals that promote feeling better. Part of what makes this difficult is that depression makes you feel tired and unmotivated. Starting this will be difficult, but it is very effective.

• Spending time with friends and family: Depression often results in aversion toward spending time with others. It takes energy to engage others, while isolating is so much easier. The problem is that isolating tends to make things so much worse. Spending quality, low stress time with loved ones has a positive impact on mood. It’s difficult, but it works.

• Diet: Diet affects mood. While consuming comfort foods may be pleasant in the short term, poor diet can negatively impact mood. A poor diet can result in lower energy, which helps further drag you into depression. In addition, certain supplements can help improve mood. One example is fish oil, which studies have suggested can improve mood. This can be challenging because eating junk food can easily become a “go to” method of coping and it works in the short term. However, it can potentially have the opposite effect in the long term when insulin crashes after sugar binges deflate our good mood or with lowered energy levels as a result of poor nutrition. There are all sorts of books and websites devoted to eating habits and depression. Pursuing positive changes in eating habits are best undertaken with as much education as possible.

• Prayer and religious observance: Praying and engaging God over your feelings can be effective toward shifting mood. In addition, meditating over scripture and reading the Bible can help shift focus away from the sorts of thinking that perpetuates depression. In addition, keeping yourself in a frame of mind that is rooted in hope, based on God’s provision and plan, presents a more optimistic view of the future. Finally, religious observance in the form of serving others, loving your neighbor, and regular worship can impact mood and mental state in a positive way. Part of why this works is that it shifts attention away from self and toward others. This can help alleviate depression.

• Monitor thinking: There is a degree to which thinking effects brain chemistry. If you sit and think miserable thoughts, given enough time your brain will react by shifting toward depression. The opposite is also true. As a result, monitoring thoughts to ensure that you avoid dwelling on topics that can worsen the depression is a valuable habit to develop.

• Talking: Talking through depression can be helpful. There are a few reasons this is true. In the short term, talking about feelings can help with overcoming them. Further, it is not unusual for depression to be the result of past hurts that have been buried with the intent of forgetting them. The lasting effect of the undigested emotions can be depression, anger, or other unpleasant feelings. Talking through situations helps to digest the emotions attached.

This is by no means a definitive list. There are all sorts of other ways options for dealing with depression. Severe depression may require professional counseling or medication. As stated earlier, the beginning of dealing with the problem is making the decision to start dealing with it.

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Dealing With Depression Part 1: Taking the First Steps

depression part 1Earlier this summer, I was out running. A few miles into my run, my right hip started to bother me. A little research provided me with a several stretches, which alleviated my discomfort. Further investigation has led me to understand that I need to do core exercises and more stretches, or I can expect further trouble down the line. Pain, like the “check engine” light on a car, lets us know that something is wrong. In this way, pain is a good thing. Without pain we would not know when we sustain injuries that need our attention. Depression is one way our brain lets us know that something is not right. We experience this discomfort and it reveals to us that we are not operating the way we were made to operate, as such, something needs to be attended to. Simply ignoring the problem won’t serve as a consistent, long-term solution, but many people choose to respond to warning signs with attempts to ignore the problem. I knew a young woman who put a piece of electrical tape over the maintenance lights in her car, so that she couldn’t see them and wouldn’t worry about what might be wrong. This is essentially what we are doing when we find ways to ignore what ourbrains are telling us through our emotions.

Unlike automotive problems, which are often much simpler to diagnose and repair, depression can be a more daunting task to take on because it is less cut-and-dry. Emotions tend to be harder to figure out and deal with.  The other challenge in finding the root of persistent depression is the malaise that accompany depression. Symptoms of depression also tend to perpetuate the problem, particularly low energy and difficulty concentrating. These tendencies make it difficult to take the steps necessary to begin climbing out of the hole that depressed people often find themselves in. Because of these difficulties, the first concrete step that must be taken by an individual suffering from depression is acknowledging the problem to themselves and, if possible, another person. Following closely at the heels of this first step is making a decision to deal with the problem. This involves recognizing that there is hope for a better tomorrow and that living with depression doesn’t have to be the norm. God designed us for better and promises comfort for those who hurt. Recognizing that God will help us is valuable because He is the great physician, who is capable of healing us of these hurts. None of these steps is easy. It is difficult, particularly for men, to acknowledge depression because there is a stigma associated with emotional struggles.  Unfortunately, this first obstacle is daunting enough that many suffer in silence, sometimes for years, until they reach the point that their emotional discomfort outweighs the dread of being labeled as personally weak or defective in some way. These labels are unfair and inaccurate, but the stigma remains.

Once the decision to work toward overcoming has been made, the groundwork has been laid for the work toward freedom from anguish to commence.

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A Boy Named Sue and A Different Point of View on Pain

A Boy Named Sue is one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. Most people are familiar with the tune, but for those who have never encountered Cash’s humorous song, it tells the story of a man whose father was a worthless drunk who abandoned his family. Just before leaving, the drunk cruelly named his son “Sue.” The monicker brought teasing and mockery from an early age, which forced Sue to get tough, fighting anyone who picked on him. Intent on revenge for his unfortunate name, Sue hunts down his father with murder in his heart. Eventually, Sue finds and attempts to kill his father. Before he dies, Sue’s dad explains that the name was intended to toughen his son up, because he knew he wouldn’t stick around to help him learn to be a man. Sue realizes that as much as he hates the terrible name, it has made him into the man he is. The song ends with Sue walking away with a different point of view, thankful that he learned to fight and win through his difficulty.
I relate the content of the song because, though humorous, it makes an interesting point. Over the years, I have counseled with many people who curse bad parents, lament difficult circumstances they went through at different points of their lives, or rage against God for past hurts. Often, these hard circumstances in their lives resulted in them growing resentful or carrying a grudge. In such cases, I usually point to Johnny Cash’s song. I have never met a person who went through difficulty without growing strong, learning important skills, developing a deep sense of empathy, encountering God in a meaningful way, or developing a deep and abiding spirituality. Often, these qualities remain unnoticed in the individual because they simply accept them as a part of surviving hardship. In reality, some of the best qualities in people develop from going through difficulty. Diamonds are formed with intense heat and pressure and gold is refined with intense heat that burns away impurities. Further, God often uses our areas of brokenness to minister to the needs of others with similar issues. There’s a reason Alcoholics Anonymous is so effective. It’s because God is able to us alcoholics’ past brokenness to help deliver other alcoholics from their addictions. I have spoken to all sorts of believers who have effectively ministered from their own broken past, regardless of what the brokenness in their past is.
imagesThere is an important principal in this. Comfort, a sense of meaning, and purpose for difficulty in relation to hard circumstances in our past can be discovered by recognizing God’s refining us through the pain we experienced, reflecting on the good it produced in us, and reflecting on how our experiences have shaped us into the person that we are. Doing so requires that we learn to take a different point of view in relation to our past. This can be terribly difficult, because hardship often creates bitterness, which tends to blind us to anything positive that may come of unfortunate incidents. It can also be hard because it’s easy to confuse finding positive outcomes with being glad a bad thing happened. We don’t have to be happy that tragedy has been present in our lives in order to recognize how hardship has shaped us. We can be thankful for what we have become without having joy at what made us the way we are. Learning to shift our perspective in relation to past pain can bring great comfort and release. As difficult as it is, it becomes easier to shift our perspective the further displaced we are from the events. This is often the first step toward healing.
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Patching Cracks Vlog Episode One: Stealing Daddy’s Seat, a Comment on James 4

This is the very first Patching Cracks video blog. It’s new to me, so let me know what you think.

james sermon click

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Understanding Pornography Addiction

Cycle_of_AbuseIt’s easy to understand how alcohol or cocaine are addictive substances, but when it comes to pornography addiction understanding the issues involved can be more difficult for a variety of reasons. For starters, discovering a hidden pornography habit can result in significant feelings of betrayal for a wife and can make understanding the addiction component very difficult. In addition, pornography use carries some stigma, which clouds perspective and makes understanding the addiction more difficult. However, pornography addiction is a real illness, it’s diagnosable, and it’s treatable. Looking at pornography produces similar brain functions that take place with using cocaine. It is highly addictive for the same reasons as any other drug. This is not to excuse the betrayal of a spouse or anything of the sort. Rather, it is to say that an individual can develop an illness, which prevents them from quitting the behavior. Let there be no mistake, addicts cannot stop a behavior on their own. Denial, thinking errors, shame, and an out-of-control reward response system in their brains literally result in the addictive patterns becoming compulsive.

A behavior is an addiction, rather than just being a set of sinful decisions, if it features certain common qualities:
  1. Increased tolerance– Increased tolerance as it relates to pornography use involves getting into increasingly harder-core porn or much more of it in order to achieve the same results that were achieved with less before. Increased frequency of use can also be associated with increased tolerance.
  2. Withdrawal- Withdrawal from pornography use can involve cravings, restlessness, anxiety, depression, etc. Withdrawal doesn’t necessarily happen instantly. It can take as much as a week or more to fire up.
  3. Continued use despite harm- When an addict recognizes that their addiction is hurting them, they continue to use. They may get caught, feel shame, or other negative effects, but they do not stop, largely because they cannot.
  4. Using more or for longer periods than intended- This is essentially a loss of control. A pornography addict will struggle with limiting their use. They may intend to look for only a few minutes, but then spend hours using porn. Addicts often comment that they are never really sure how long their using episodes may last.
  5. Attempts to control use- Pornography addicts may swear over and over again that they will never use again, but they will inevitably find themselves using again. They may try to come up with ways to prevent themselves from looking at porn, but they will inevitably find ways around these measures.
  6. Excessive time spent acquiring pornography or thinking about using– People who become addicted to pornography find themselves spending more and more time thinking about using it or hunting for new and different porn. This is especially the case for those who are hiding their addiction from family members, which then requires them to spend enormous amounts of time protecting their addiction by hiding it.
  7. Reduced involvement in work, social, or family obligations- Pornography addiction becomes increasingly time consuming as the addiction advances in severity,  withdrawing from obligations as they get in the way of using.

In order to be diagnosed as an addiction, the individual must exhibit three or more of these criteria.

Dealing with the problem is uniquely difficult for pornography addiction for several reasons. For starters, hiding pornography use from a spouse is much easier than hiding substance abuse. As a result, treating the addiction can involve revealing some huge and hurtful secrets. In addition, pornography addiction is far less recognized and exists more in the shadows of our culture. Consequently, there are far fewer support group and treatment options. This is not to say that pornography addiction is a hopeless situation. Dealing with it begins with acknowledging that the problem has gotten out of control and turning control of your life over to God. Seeking help from an addictions counselor, a pastor, or a support group is a good next step. There are several terrific resources available as well. I highly recommend the book: Sampson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood by Nate Larkin. It is the best book I have read on the subject that is written for the average man.

Pornography addiction is treatable and there is hope. Further, as long as the addiction is out of control and untreated, the addict will live with a significant degree of fear and shame. There is also a constant danger of discovery, particularly by any children who live in the home. Early exposure to pornography by a parent is very common among addicts, largely because kids find their way into all sorts of things that you never intend for them to get into. Taking the first difficult steps toward dealing with addiction are difficult, but worthwhile once the painful early stages have been worked through.

For its part, the church needs to learn to look past the inclination to judge, protect the privacy of those seeking help, and learn to offer help to addicts who are seeking help. This may require specialized training and some uncomfortable topics being addressed from the pulpit at times, but its part of our calling to be salt and light to the world.
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