We both love how Matthew has taken the concept of sin and given a breath of fresh air to the topic. You must read this book because in its pages you will finally gain a biblical perspective on sin and what it takes to free yourself from the bonds that so easily entangle!

Gary and Michael Smalley
Smalley Relationship Center
When mental illness afflicts a loved one, how can we understand what is happening and respond appropriately? This biblically-literate and scientifically-informed book offers helpful insight, encouragement, and practical advice. For pastors and for those who hurt for those who hurt, Matthew Stanford offers sensitive and welcome guidance.

David G. Myers, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Hope College and author of Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10 Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy in College

For most students, college is the doorway to a career that they have dreamed about since childhood. As a professor of Psychology & Neuroscience for almost twenty years, I have watched a new group of freshmen arrive on campus every year, full of excitement about the new experiences and opportunities that lay before them. As their parents help them move in and unpack what they consider the most important things to make the college experience a success (laptop computers, smart phones, text books and office supplies), I have often wondered if they have given any thought to the single most important item they have brought to campus; the one that will determine the success or failure of the college experience: their child’s brain! Many bright and intelligent students attending college today put themselves at a disadvantage in every class they take because they make choices that limit the functioning of their brain. The following ten things have been shown to enhance brain functioning and can help any college student live up to their full academic potential.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep is necessary for learning and allows the brain to repair itself from the stress of daily life. The average adult needs about 7.5 hours of sleep every night. Research has shown that sleep deprived individuals have a shorter attention span, impaired memory, longer reaction times and reduced neural activity during cognitive tasks. Sleep deprivation causes an individual to produce more cortisol and stress hormones. This “stress response” results in inflammation that causes cell death in the brain and limits neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells during learning). College students who sleep six or less hours/night report significantly lower grade-point averages than students who sleep nine or more hours/night.

Movies, TV and Video Games in Moderation

Positive and affirming movies, TV and video games in moderation are certainly not damaging. Unfortunately, in our high tech society this type of entertainment is increasingly taking the place of more healthy activities such as exercise, time with friends and reading. In excess, video media can have a detrimental effect on brain function. Studies show that watching movies, TV and playing video games induces alpha or slow wave activity in the brain. This type of activity is usually associated with drowsy or resting states. Long-term exposure to video media can lead to a permanent change in brain activity (particularly the prefrontal cortex) resulting in impulsive behavior and an inability to concentrate.

Exercise Regularly

Everyone knows that regular exercise benefits our bodies; it helps us manage our weight, increases strength and stamina, reduces stress and improves mood. Exercise is also important for the health of our brain. Research in both animals and humans have shown that regular exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis), increases blood flow to the brain (increasing oxygen) and reduces the level of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Those who exercise regularly learn faster, remember more, think more clearly and bounce back faster from brain injuries and psychological distress than those who do not exercise.

Stay Away from Pornography

Every second, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography. This is not just a problem for men; one out of every three visitors to internet pornography sites is a woman. Viewing pornography significantly increases levels of testosterone, oxytocin and dopamine in the brains of both men and women. This flood of neurochemicals brings about a pleasurable feeling, heightened excitement and focused attention. Increasing dopamine activity causes serotonin levels in the brain to drop, resulting in feelings of euphoria and obsessional thoughts (not being able to stop thinking about the images). Through frequent exposure, a person becomes neurochemically attached to the pornographic material limiting their ability to experience pleasure and form long-lasting relationships.

Develop Good Eating Habits

The neurons of the brain, like other cells in the body, are made of lipids and proteins and require glucose for energy. Brain cells communicate through the use of electrical signals, produced by an ionic solution which surrounds the cells, and neurotransmitters, produced from amino acids within the cells. For your brain to function optimally, it requires sufficient levels of glucose, electrolytes and amino acids, all of which are obtained through the foods you eat. Deficiencies in any of these vital nutrients can lead to cognitive confusion, forgetfulness, lack of attention and mood swings. Making the right diet choices can also decrease a person's risk of developing brain disorders, like Alzheimer's disease, later in life.

Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

Alcohol and drug use are significant problems on most college campuses; 73% of college students report that they drink alcohol at least occasionally, while 38% have used illicit drugs in the past year. Surveys show that the average male college student consumes 8.4 alcoholic beverages per week, while females consume 3.6 drinks per week. The highly destructive effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain cannot be understated. These substances wreak havoc on the neurons’ ability to send signals by altering the levels of neurotransmitters within the brain. In addition, alcohol and drugs literally destroy the cells within the brain which can lead to permanent brain damage and cognitive impairment.

Limit the Use of Technology

The average young person spends more than eight hours each day using technology. The internet, cell phones and texting have altered the social and educational landscapes of society. Unfortunately, they also appear to be rewiring our brains, resulting in an inability to form close relational bonds, false intimacy, an increased frequency of errors from multi-tasking and attentional problems. Chronic use of information technology appears to have a suppressive effect on frontal lobe executive functions. To overcome these negative affects, students should schedule regular breaks from technology, increase face to face interactions with peers and include the use of more traditional approaches to information gathering in their studies, like reading books, magazines and newspapers

Read Everyday

Reading is a highly complex cognitive task that simultaneously engages a significant number of neural systems throughout the brain. Much like an athlete that works his or her muscles through physical exercise, the brain is strengthened by the “mental” exercise of reading. Individuals who read often have superior memories, vocabularies, comprehension skills and attention. Good readers are also better writers. The neurocognitive affects of reading are perhaps most apparent in the fact that reading is protective against damage to the brain as a result of lead exposure, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, other dementias, sleep apnea, or traumatic brain injury.

Reduce Stress

In a stressful situation, the body reacts with a flood of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) to prepare you for the circumstances at hand. Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises and you breathe faster, pumping oxygen rich blood to your muscles. This is the famed “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, prolonged stress can have damaging effects on the body and the brain. Research has shown that extended exposure to stress hormones actually causes cell death in certain brain areas, particularly the hippocampus (which is vital to learning and memory). This is supported by the fact that highly stressed individuals consistently report forgetfulness and difficulty learning new material.

Develop an Active Spiritual Life

Spirituality encompasses the ways people find meaning, hope, purpose, a sense of internal peace and a connection to things greater than themselves. Studies show that religious and spiritual practices improve mental and physical health. Individuals who are able to connect with a transcendence larger than themselves are able to cope better with stress, resulting in lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels. They also report less anxiety, less depression, and increased feelings of security, compassion, and love. Neuroimaging research with highly religious individuals has shown that regular prayer and meditation can positively alter brain structure and function.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Addicted to Love

If you have ever been in a serious relationship, you know the symptoms: light headedness, upset stomach, loss of appetite, confusion, insomnia, obsessive thoughts and abnormally elevated mood. It’s not a new psychiatric disorder, its love! While the sexual motivation system drives us towards the opposite sex, the romantic attraction system enables us to focus our mating efforts on a preferred individual, Mr. or Ms. Right. Many factors such as timing, health, finances, childhood experiences and cultural forces play a role in triggering to whom one becomes attracted. Once all these factors are realized in a particular individual, the romantic attraction system takes over.

The primary neurochemicals in this system are dopamine, norepinepherine and serotonin. Dopamine could be referred to as the “pleasure chemical”. When released in the brain, it produces a feeling of ecstasy and bliss. It is most active in the areas of the brain related to reward and pleasure. These are the same areas involved in addiction, and that is why high levels of dopamine bring about a chemical rush similar to the effects of amphetamines. Norepinepherine is chemically related to adrenalin, and when released in the brain, causes a state of heightened excitement and focused attention. Serotonin is predominately an inhibitory neurochemical and is suppressed by dopamine activity. This means that when dopamine levels are high, serotonin levels are low. Low levels of serotonin in the brain bring about feelings of euphoria and obsessional thinking.

This is how the romantic attraction system works. When a potential mate that meets all the necessary attraction criteria is found, the romantic attraction system causes dopamine and norpinepherine to be released in the brain. This flood of neurochemicals brings about a pleasurable feeling, heightened excitement and focused attention. Increasing dopamine activity causes serotonin levels in the brain to drop resulting in feelings of euphoria and obessional thoughts (not able to stop thinking about the person). This type of neural activation is perceived as very pleasurable and causes the individual to want to be near this special person again and again. In fact the mere thought of them brings about a similar rush of pleasurable neurochemicals. Your brain has you hooked. You simply can’t get enough of them because in a very real sense, you’re addicted.

Two recent brain imaging studies of people deeply in love found that when viewing a picture of their beloved, blood flow significantly increased in areas of the brain known to be involved in reward and craving and decreased in areas related to negative emotions such as sadness and fear. In other words the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions or sexual arousal but instead like those of people using cocaine.

Biologically, this makes sense since the romantic attraction system uses the same neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction. Given this extreme change in brain chemistry during the initial phases of romantic attraction what happens if the relationship doesn’t work out? Much like a drug addict unable to get a fix, the romantic who is deprived of the lover goes into neurochemical withdrawal as dopamine and norepinepherine levels plummet in the brain and serotonin levels rise. This can lead to sluggishness, dejection and depression. So the poet was correct, "Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Schizophrenia and the Demonic

Schizophrenia is the most chronic and disabling of the severe mental disorders. It interferes with a person’s ability to perceive reality, think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. This disorder is not only frightening for the one afflicted but also for their family and friends. The disorder takes on an even more bizarre and frightening twist when the hallucinations and delusions are of a religious nature.

A friend of mine is a local pastor and recently shared that during a regular Wednesday night service he was leading, he spontaneously decided to have a time of sharing. He asked those in attendance if anyone would like to share and a young man near the back got up and moved forward. My pastor friend did not recognize the young man as one of his church members. The young man said that he knew the church was a “Bible believing church” and that they were “praying for Christ’s second coming”. He just wanted to let everyone know that he had returned. This young man was schizophrenic and believed himself to be Jesus. He was having what is called a delusion of grandeur, believing himself to be a famous or powerful person. Now this incident ended well, my pastor friend took the young man to a local psychiatric facility where he received treatment. Several of his congregants initially thought that this might be the work of demons.

It is easy to understand how people of faith, who believe in fallen spirits, could mistake the bizarre behaviors of schizophrenics or psychotics as demonic, especially when religious delusions or hallucinations take a violent turn. Recently in Florida, a man with paranoid schizophrenia shot and killed a retired policeman. At his murder trial, the man testified that he had to kill the victim believing the retired policeman was the Antichrist because of the University of Alabama “A” on the victim’s baseball cap. We all know the Texas case of Andrea Yates, who in a delusional state, drowned her five young children saying that God had told her to do it to protect them from going to hell. These are tragic events, but is this the work of demons?

In demonic possession, as described in the scriptures, a human is inhabited or taken over by an evil spirit and consequently cannot exercise his or her own will. At a surface level, that doesn’t sound like schizophrenia. If we look at the examples of demonic possession in the Bible and compare their behavior with that of schizophrenics we see significant differences. Unlike schizophrenics, the demonically possessed in the scriptures are rational in their interactions (Matthew 8:28,31; Mark 1:34; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28,31). When the demons speak to Jesus they are easily understood and have precise knowledge that He is the Messiah. Schizophrenics on the other hand are difficult to understand, their thoughts are very loosely associated and they often speaking in a stream of incoherent words or sentences based on delusional beliefs or misconceptions. A second difference is that the demonically possessed in the scriptures often manifest or are associated with supernatural phenomena such as supernatural knowledge or super human strength (Matthew 8:32; Mark 5:3-4,13; Luke 4:41; 8:33). This type of phenomenon is not generally associated schizophrenia. In addition, the scriptures teach us that illness and demon possession are separate things (Matthew 4:24; 8:16: Mark 1:32-34; Luke 9:1). So I would say that the scriptures show us that demonic possession and schizophrenia are two different phenomena.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Biology of Sin is Now Available

My second book The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing For Those Who Feel Trapped was released last week. Here is some advanced praise for the book:

Sin doesn’t occur in a vacuum. We sin by choice, but our choices are often guided by inclinations that we often don’t understand. Dr. Stanford has provided a valuable resource to the church by integrating a wide range of research on the biological conditions associated with various kinds of sins together with Scriptural teaching on these problems and how to address them. Avoiding the extremes of moralism and determinism, he takes seriously both human responsibility and biological vulnerabilities. Peppered with case studies, this book will be helpful to pastors, laypeople, and counselors seeking a better understanding of this complex area of human life.

Eric L. Johnson, Ph.D.
Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal

In The Biology of Sin Matthew Stanford probes the fascinating interface between the spirit and the brain in ways that are sure to intrigue and stimulate those who are interested in how Christian faith can inform our understanding of a fallen corporal nature. I enthusiastically recommend this book to all Christians who are curious about science.

Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D.
Research psychiatrist, UCLA School of Medicine and author of The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force

In years of trying to help people through the complex issues of their brokenness I’ve longed for resources to help explain the power of innate sin in a person’s life. Thank you Matt for integrating biology and brokenness so we can help set people free from the pains and struggles of their lives.

Jimmy Seibert
Pastor, Antioch Community Church (Waco, TX) and author of The Church Can Change the World: Living from the Inside Out

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Call to Action

I am often asked by pastors and people of faith if mental illness occurs at the same rates in the church as it does outside the church. An estimated 26.2% of Americans (57.7 million people) ages eighteen and older (one in four adults) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. In our most recent study of mental illness and the church we found that in a sample of 5,899 congregants, representing 24 different protestant churches, 27.1% reported that they or a member of their family suffered with a mental illness during the previous year. Clearly, mental illness is occurring at the same rates both inside and outside the church.

Those families struggling with mental illness also reported that they had significantly greater relational conflict, more financial problems and increased difficulty connecting with both God and the church when compared to families who did not deal with mental illness in the previous year. A quarter of our families in the church are struggling to survive on a daily basis. It’s time that the church stopped abdicating its role in mental health and started leading.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Do Men and Women Sin Differently?

If we look at sins such as violence, lust, addiction and criminality we find that men are more frequently involved than women in these behaviors. So the question must be asked, “Do men and women sin differently?” I believe that they do, and I suggest that this is just one more piece of evidence that sin has biological roots.

Physiologically men and women are very different. It is often extremes (both highs and lows) in the same hormonal and biochemical systems that differ between the sexes, which predispose us to sinful behavior. God made the sexes different but complimentary (Genesis 2:20-25). He instilled certain drives and desires in the man, so that he might fulfill his divinely determined masculine role. A different set of female specific drives and desires was created in the woman so that she might accomplish her God ordained purposes. The complementary nature of these physiological drives and desires changed when sin entered the world. Mankind became selfish and independent with each individual now relying only on him or herself to fulfill his/her natural desires and physical appetites.

The gender differences observed in sinful behavior are foreshadowed in the curse that God pronounced upon Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:16-19). The man is told that he will have great difficulty in providing for himself and his family, so the sins most often committed by men tend to focus on obtaining immediate pleasure or gratification (e.g., lust). The curse upon the women was that she would no longer be in an equivalent relationship with the man and he would rule over her. So the sins of women tend to be about relational status, privilege or position (e.g., envy). A recent Catholic survey supports this idea that men and women sin differently. The study was based on the confessions heard by 95 year-old, Jesuit priest Fr. Roberto Busa and focused on the traditional seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, sloth). The most common sins for men were lust, gluttony and slothfulness, while women were more likely to struggle with pride, envy and anger.

God created us as embodied spirits, having both physical and spiritual aspects to our being. Deeply stained and scarred by original sin, both spiritually and physically, we are at birth separated from God and incomplete. Because God created men and women as physically different it is understandable that the effect of original sin on our bodies and minds varies between the sexes. Through faith in Christ, we are transformed spiritually, but like all the physical creation, our bodies still long to be redeemed and made new (Romans 8:20-23). While salvation occurs in an instance, sanctification (the process by which our bodies and minds are formed into Christ’s likeliness) is a lifelong process that will only be fully realized at Christ’s second coming.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mental Health Grace Alliance

I would like to officially announce the start of a new organization, the Mental Health Grace Alliance (MHGA). MHGA is a faith-based non-profit organization started by myself and Joe Padilla to assist mentally individuals and their families. Presently we offer individual family counseling, a bi-weekly support group, workshops, seminars and published mental health resourses, pastor/church training and mental health ministry development. For more information or to offer support please contact us at mhgracealliance@gmail.com.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ministering to the Mentally Ill

What is a ministry to those experiencing mental illness?
A ministry that addresses mental illness is one that provides compassion, love, support, education, counseling and acceptance to people who have symptoms of a mental illness. Individuals experiencing psychological distress often seek out religious leaders for assistance with the struggles associated with mental illness. A mental health ministry provides holistic care through the application of both biblical truth and psychological resources.

Why is there a need?
Mental illness can affect anyone, male or female, young and old, and from different socioeconomic, religious and cultural backgrounds. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 26.2% of Americans 18 years old or older suffer symptoms of a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. NIMH cites mental illness as the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada for individuals between the ages of 15-44. People suffering from mental illnesses experience difficulty with the activities of daily living. Thinking, concentrating, remembering and relating to others are only a few of the many challenges. Similar to physical illness, if there is no intervention, mental illness causes difficulty with coping and functioning in life. Some well-known examples of mental illness are depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Too often mental illness still carries with it a social stigma. A study I conducted in 2007 found that approximately one-third of the study’s participants diagnosed with a mental disorder reported having a negative experience with a church when they sought help for a mental health issue. However, years of research indicates that mental disorders are the result of biological and environment factors no different than cancer or heart disease. It is not the result of personal weakness or character flaws. Mental disorders, like other diseases, are treatable. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) states that between 70 and 90 percent of individuals suffering from mental illness see a significant reduction in symptoms through effective psychological or pharmacological treatment.

The failure to address mental illness can have a negative impact on society, leading to an increase in unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, unnecessary disabilities and incarcerations, and suicides. According to NAMI, the cost for untreated mental illness is more than $1 billion annually. As with all illness, early identification and intervention significantly increase the likelihood of a successful recovery.

Stepping out in faith
Here are some “first steps” to consider before your congregation begins a ministry to those with mental illness:

• Participate in assessments designed to discover the scope of the need in your community and the resources your congregation possesses to meet that need.
• Based on the outcomes of the assessments, both internal and external, determine the level of interest in your congregation in this ministry and what, if any gaps exist in community care for this population.
• Learn about the factors contributing to poverty, unemployment, housing, and school drop-out rates in your community.
• Research existing programs and development projects in your community; find out as much as you can about existing programs.
• Look for ways your church can partner with a program or organization to meet a need.
• Once the interest for this ministry has been confirmed and research completed, begin educating the congregation and recruiting volunteers.
• Research local and national statistics.

What this ministry might look like in your church
There are many levels of ministry engagement that are available to your congregation. Here are just a few ideas:

• From your research and assessment information, develop and implement an educational campaign for your congregation about mental illness and its impact on families, communities and churches.
• Begin a support group for those individuals suffering from a mental illness; if you have a licensed counselor in your congregation, ask him or her to facilitate, or to recommend another professional from the community.
• If you have the resources, offer individual counseling, several support groups, Bible studies, and fellowship meals.
• Begin a benevolence fund to help pay for the costs associated with treating mental illness.
• Post emergency hotline numbers on bulletin boards in your church, church bulletin and newsletter that people in crisis can call.

Monday, July 12, 2010

When Sin is Called Disorder

One question I am commonly asked by Christians is, “Can sin be considered a disorder?” Typically what the person who asks this question wants to know is, “Can behavior associated with psychiatric disorders (for which there may or may not be a treatment) be considered sinful or wrong?” Of the behaviors I have written about in the past, many presently are (rage, lying/stealing, addiction) or were at one time (homosexuality) associated with specific psychiatric disorders. But does calling a behavior the Bible considers sinful, a disorder, somehow make that behavior no longer sin? Absolutely not!

In the context of medicine, a disorder is a condition in which there is a disturbance of normal functioning. To be disordered is to be broken; thrown into a state of disarray or confusion. In no way does labeling a behavior as disordered cause one to assume that the behavior is normal or accepted. In fact just the opposite is true; disordered behavior is abnormal and implies the need for change. Sinful behavior, like all behavior, is a complex interplay between physical (biological), mental and spiritual factors. I find that the choice of label, disorder or sin, often results from one’s perspective. If one focuses on the external or physical (biological), ignoring the spiritual, then one may call an abnormal behavior a disorder while a focus on internal or spiritual aspects may result in the same behavior being labeled as sin. One label does not somehow change or limit the other; both describe the same behavior from different vantage points or perspectives.

The labeling of a behavior as both sin and disorder also results from the availability of effective treatments or interventions that temper or limit the expression of the problem behavior. Given that all behavior is rooted in biology, it is understandable then that some sinful behaviors (e.g., addiction) can be altered through the use of physical remedies. The fact that there is such an overlap between behaviors considered disordered and those considered sinful is further proof that both biological and spiritual factors are involved. This having been said, it is important to realize that while some sins may rightly be thought of as disorders, not all disordered behaviors are sin.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Up Coming Presentations

I just wanted to let everyone know about some up coming presentations on faith and mental illness I will be giving in July and August.

July 27, NAMI Waco
Location: 7:00pm, Providence Hospital (classrooms 3 & 4), Waco, TX
Topic: Faith & Mental Illness
Information: Cynthia Cunningham (ccollision@hot.rr.com)

August 6-8, Comfort and Hope: An Ecumenical Conference Exploring
Christian Responses to Suffering
Location: Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada)
Topic: Viewing Mental Illness Through the Eyes of Faith
Information: http://www.comfortandhope.ca/

Please come if you are in the area.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Life With Bipolar Disorder

Lately I have been receiving a number of calls from individuals who have a family member struggling with Bipolar Disorder. Mostly they just want to ask questions and get some understanding of this destructive disorder. I thought this week I would post the story of a woman that is living with Bipolar to help everyone appreciate just how difficult and destructive life with this brain disorder can be.

Rachael is thirty-six years old. She lives with her husband of thirteen years and their three children in a beautiful home in a quiet neighborhood near the lake. If you were to meet Rachael, you would find her to be an attractive, energetic person. She is a talented artist and is often thought of as the “life of the party.” She is active in her church and regularly volunteers to help at her children’s school.

What you might not realize is that Rachael has bipolar disorder. The disorder began to manifest during her freshman year in college. Away from home for the first time, she began to slip deeper and deeper into depression. She attempted suicide on three different occasions that year. Surprisingly, Rachael was not hospitalized, but she did begin to receive counseling.

Rachael got married soon after graduating, and noticed that the depression would become worse during her pregnancies. She saw a psychiatrist a few times over the years, but “felt that God was enough” and really never pursued treatment. She told me, in fact, that on several occasions she had believed herself divinely healed and stopped taking her medication, only to realize later that she was still having problems. After her third pregnancy, Rachael felt that her moods had finally leveled out; but then the hallucinations and nightmares started. She began to have terrifying nightmares in which she would murder her family. The nightmares were so vivid that the line between dreaming and reality became distorted, and Rachael would wake up with the fear that she had actually killed her family. She also began to hallucinate, seeing demons. Concerned that she might hurt herself or someone else, Rachael called her psychiatrist, who recommended she go to the emergency room. She was admitted to a local psychiatric hospital and, for the first time, given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. That was one year ago.

Now Rachael is constantly on the go and unable to relax. She says the world moves too slowly for her and she is never satisfied. She cleans her house continually but never feels it is good enough. She makes out schedules for her children so that she will not be frustrated by the speed at which they get ready for school. Over the years, the disorder has taken a toll on Rachael’s marriage. Thinking that “there must be something better,” she has left her husband twice, only to return a few days later. She still has thoughts of death and dying once or twice a week, but says the fear of going to hell for committing suicide keeps her from hurting herself. Rachael often wonders if God may be using the disorder to humble her. Since she doesn’t fully agree with her bipolar diagnosis, she has stopped taking most of her medication and says it is her faith that keeps her going.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Homosexuality and the Church

Caitlyn first noticed she was attracted to girls at age 12. It bothered her; she knew that she was somehow different. In an attempt to suppress her same-sex attraction, she became very promiscuous with boys. “I knew it was wrong; I was trying to over-compensate with guys, it made me feel even guiltier.” After years of trying to suppress her thoughts and feelings she eventually came out to her best friend, and shortly thereafter, she told her parents. Neither handled it well. In fact, that was the last time she spoke to her best friend, who told her that she would need to change if they were going to continue to be friends. Now 21, Caitlyn lives openly as a lesbian with her girlfriend of one year.

Caitlyn grew up in a Christian family. She was homeschooled through high school and then attended a small Christian college. Since coming out a year ago, she has only returned to the Bible church she grew up in a few times. “They have basically shunned me. To them, I have committed an unforgivable sin, so I just don’t go to church anymore. I still believe in God, I pray, I’m just not in church.”

Caitlyn sees her parents about once a week. They will not let her bring her partner to their home, and she has never told them where she lives or her phone number so that they cannot interfere with her life and relationship. On the other hand, her partner parents, who are not believers, have accepted the couple with open arms, and Caitlyn wishes she could have the same type of relationship with her parents. “I’m not asking them to accept my homosexuality, I know that it is wrong, I know what the Bible says. I just want them to love me like they used to.”

I asked Caitlyn what she would tell other Christians anything about homosexuality, and she said, “Why is this sin different than all the others? The church accepts people back that commit every other sin - adultery, divorce. Why not homosexuality? Jesus hung out with sinners, but I’ve been shunned by the church. Once you admit that you’re gay, you’re an outcast in the eyes of the church. If this is the Christian way to reach homosexuals, then it is the wrong approach. I’m not asking that you accept my behavior, but at least care about me as person; be my friend. Isn’t that what Jesus would do?”

We treat it like no other sin. We want those involved in homosexuality to first clean themselves up, before they come to the church … before they come to God. The sad truth is that when we say that, we pervert the gospel (Romans 5:8). Christ is in the business of transformation, and we need to trust that just as He saves, He sanctifies. We do that for other sins such as divorce and addiction. A generation ago, divorce was taboo and rarely spoken of. Today we live in a culture that allows divorce for any and all reasons. Jesus taught that if a person divorces and marries another, he commits adultery and is involved in an ongoing sinful relationship. Divorce is a rebellion against the very will of God (Malachi 2:10-16; Matthew 19:8-9), yet the church’s response to those that are divorced has been an out-stretched hand of redemption and grace, as it should be! The sin of addiction is a constant cycle of struggle, relapse, repentance and renewed struggle, yet the church supports those men and women as they slowly make the journey towards freedom. But that is the process of sanctification, empowered by the indwelling Spirit; we struggle against our sinful flesh. If that same process doesn’t work for the homosexual then there is no place for any of us in the family of God. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, says it this way, “Our ministry to homosexuals is not as the sinless ministering to sinners, but as fellow sinners who bear testimony to the reality of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Life transformation for individuals struggling with homosexuality happened in the 1st century church (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), and it can still happen today. As a church, we must be more accepting of gay men and lesbians. They should be received into our fellowships with no questions or strings attached, as others are. When they are moved by the Spirit to seek a more intimate relationship with Christ, in love we need to encourage change to the extent that it is possible and chastity outside of marriage. The fact is that men and women struggling with homosexuality are already in the church. Some are celibate and struggling to suppress their homosexual desires and feelings alone and in silence, while others are married to an opposite sex spouse and struggling to suppress their homosexual thoughts and feelings, again alone and in silence. I see this as the great spiritual challenge of our generation. We will either rise to the challenge, extending grace and allow Christ to draw these men and women to Himself, or we will continue to stand as a barrier between Christ and His lost sons and daughters.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Christ Centered Home

In my writings I try and emphasize that mental disorders result from an interaction between biological vulnerabilities and environmental factors. Risk factors such as family conflict, physical or sexual abuse, low self-esteem, and a negative outlook on life are common to a number of psychiatric disorders. I would suggest that, in addition to offering help to those presently suffering with mental disorders, we in the body of Christ also have an opportunity to help prevent or limit the development of these disorders. We may not be able to do much about our biology, but we can certainly alter our environment. We can do this by making Christ the central focus of our families and teaching our children how valued they are in the eyes of God.

While there is no special formula for developing a Christ centered home and family, I would like to give you a simple set of characteristics that I believe are helpful. To make these characteristics easier to remember, I have formed them into an acrostic: CHRIST (C–Commitment, H–Humility, R–Responsibility, I–Intentionality, S–Safety, T–Transparency).

In the development of a Christ centered home, the parents must be fully committed to one another (Matthew 19:6). Divorce is not an option (Malachi 2:14–16), and the children need to know that. You must recognize that there are many trials in a marriage, but that through the power of Christ those trials are actually opportunities to grow closer together (James 1:2–4). As parents, we must be humble before God and recognize that we are powerless without him (John 15:5; James 4:6–10). Trying to do it all on our own will only lead to frustration and failure. God has given us a great responsibility as parents, and we must accept our role as guardian and teacher (Proverbs 22:6). If we don’t, the world is all too ready to train our children in its way of living. Be intentional in teaching your children about the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). Read the Bible and pray with them; have family discussions about the faith. Some of my best memories are conversations with my daughter about science and faith. Fill your home with the sights and sounds of God. It is our duty as parents to teach our children the things of the Lord, and we must be proactive in doing so. Make your home and family a safe haven. What I mean by a “safe haven” is a place in which your children are loved and accepted for who they are, not for how they perform. Children will be drawn to that type of environment and they will have a better appreciation for the unconditional love and acceptance that is offered to us through Christ (Romans 8:1–2). Finally, be transparent in your faith. Let your children see that Christ is your life. Show them that while the life of a Christian may have its ups and downs, Christ is steadfast in His love and an unmovable foundation on which to build our lives (Luke 6:47–48).

Just imagine a young girl who grows up recognizing that she is unconditionally accepted and loved by God. She sees God the Father reflected in her earthly father and the image of Christ and the church reflected in her parents’ marriage. She is constantly reminded by her family that their love and acceptance are not based on her performance. She has a real hope and a real future. It is not impossible for her to have a problem—even a mental disorder—but many of the risk factors have been removed. Much like Job, she is prepared when the storm comes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Psychiatric and Developmental Disorders in Children

For me the emails and phone calls are now a regular occurrence, happening several times a week. Desperate parents seeking help for a child suffering with a psychiatric or developmental disorder. Today my post is mainly for those parents who struggle daily to support and care for a child afflicted by a brain related disorder.

You have most likely doubted your ability to effectively parent your child. You may have blamed yourself for your child’s problems. What did I do wrong? You may have even questioned your ability to love your child. I don’t have any more to give! Let me encourage you from the Word of God. Your child with all his problems was created by a loving, almighty God just as he is, disorder and all. God doesn’t make mistakes (Genesis 1:31). He knew him before his birth (Jeremiah 1:5), He formed him in the womb (Psalm 139:13; Isaiah 44:2, 24) and He brought him into the world (Psalm 22:9; 71:6). God has given him to you as a gift, a reward (Psalm 127:3). He is no less of a gift because he has a disorder, nor is he any less loved by God. God chose you to be his parent. And as a believer in Christ, He has equipped you with all the love and patience necessary to raise him (2 Thessalonians 3:5). At times that may seem impossible, but remember, you have been transformed. You are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God has placed His very Spirit within you (Galatians 4:6). And the same power that raised Christ from the dead is working within you at this very moment (Ephesians 1:19-20). Since God chose you to be his parent and He poured His life into you, don’t you think He will support you through this trial? This is an opportunity for you to grow closer to Him! Your son may have greater cognitive and physical needs than most children, but he has the same spiritual needs that everyone has --- to know the Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus Christ. You have been given the honor of training him up in Christ. God has a great purpose and plan for his life, just as He does for yours. Do not let the world define your child for you. See him for who he is; the beloved creation of God, made in His image and given to you as a gift.

So what are we, the church, to do? As a community of believers, we must not withdraw from the problem of psychiatric and developmental disorders in children but instead choose to face it with God’s grace and wisdom. Our children are struggling and we, the disciples of Christ Jesus, have adopted a cold, judgmental approach to dealing with these problems. This is not who we are! Christ said that they would know we were His disciples because of our love for one another (John 13:35). Where better for a child, whether they have a brain disorder or not, to look for love and acceptance than the church? Where better for parents to go for support and comfort than the Body of Christ? As a community our approach to these disorders, should be one of love and grace. We must lead by example. So let us love one another, because love is from God (1 John 4:7).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Developing a Mental Health Ministry

As part of my work with the Center for Family and Community Ministries at Baylor University I have been working on material for churches describing how to start a mental health ministry. As an example of what such a ministry might look like below is the description of the counseling / mental health ministry at my own church written by Kelli Hepner and Vicki Smyer.

Mental Health Ministry-Antioch Community Church, Waco, TX
Vicki Smyer spent a decade working as a marriage and family therapist in private practice before she entered the somewhat uncharted realm of professional counseling within a church setting. Vicki joined the staff of her church, Antioch Community Church in Waco, TX, after they recognized a need for individual and family counseling within the congregation. The ministry that evolved sought to strike a balance between a counseling center and pastoral guidance. Through the use of trained congregants, the church now offers a biblical approach to counseling/pastoral care. This approach incorporates the use of lay persons, trained counselors, and professionals in order to meet the emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of its members. The cornerstone of this ministry is reliance upon the Holy Spirit as the Counselor. Vicki says, “Change doesn’t really happen when you talk to someone. It happens when you experience God in a powerful way.”

Goals of the Ministry
Antioch Community Church desires “to see men and women manage the rough waters of life in the context of a loving and wise community of believers.” The church wants “people to be set free from sin patterns, to walk in healing of emotional wounds, and to enjoy healthy relationships with family and friends.”

The ministry seeks to:
• Reach out to the hurting within the congregation with resources and support
• Utilize lay leaders to provide for the needs of church members
• Equip members of the church to provide pastoral care/counseling
• Promote healing through the work of the Holy Spirit

Funding the Ministry
The funding for this ministry is minimal. Vicki’s salary is paid out of the church budget for staff members. Her office is located within the church building along with the other staff. As lay ministers and volunteers provide the remainder of the counseling, there is no additional cost to the church.

Recruiting Volunteers
The process for selecting team members for this ministry is very intentional. The volunteers are specifically chosen and trained. The first group of volunteers, who are called Life Group leaders, is composed of the regular leaders of the church’s small groups who interact consistently with congregants. Therefore, they are the first line of defense when crises arise. A second tier of volunteers are the Pastoral Care Team, leaders who are given regular training on how to help people with such issues as depression, grief, relationships, conflict management, addictions, etc. Some of these individuals hold a professional degree in counseling, although most are laymen.

Structure of the Program
The model of this ministry is three-pronged (with a possible fourth step). Life Group leaders are naturally the first ones to address any issues that arise as members are already familiar with them. If the situation is especially difficult, section leaders step in to provide backup help in pastoral care. If the problem is more serious, the church will provide three free counseling sessions with Vicki, a Licensed Professional Counselor. It is expected that church members are involved in Life Groups and use their leader as their first resource.

If the problem is outside the scope of Vicki’s expertise, chronic, or a serious mental illness, Vicki will make an outside referral to a professional in the community. The ministry is designed to handle acute crisis management, not long-term therapy.

Promoting the Program to the Community
The program is for individuals who are already members of the church. It is not designed to be a community outreach but an outreach to the individuals struggling within the congregation. If someone from the community calls seeking assistance, Vicki will provide a referral to another counselor or social service organization.

Program as Evangelism
The foundation of this ministry is reliance upon the Holy Spirit as a Counselor and based on the belief that “the Holy Spirit comes with His gifts of wisdom and discernment and healing to personally tend to his children who are suffering.” Scripture is heavily incorporated into the counseling process as a tool in the healing process. The program is a response to the Biblical mandate to carry the burdens of Christian brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Dr. Benjamin Rush, a founding father of the United States and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is credited with first describing alcoholism as a “disease” in 1784. Prior to Dr. Rush’s writings on addiction, drunkenness was viewed as a moral defect and solely a matter of choice. Rush believed that the alcoholic lost control of his behavior or had what he called “an illness of the will”. He identified the properties of alcohol, rather than the individual's choice, as the causal agent. He also proposed that alcoholics could be treated by weaning them off of their addiction using less potent substances (similar to the way that methadone is used for heroin addiction today) and that total abstinence was the only effective cure.

Over a lifetime, many people use substances that have the potential for dependence, but most people do not become dependent. What is it that causes recreational substance use in some people to become uncontrolled, compulsive drug taking in others? The answer may have to do with how our brains respond to pleasure and rewards.

Have you ever wondered why you enjoy certain activities and aren’t particularly interested in others? Things you enjoy are rewarding to you. In other words, they bring you pleasure, a sense of well-being and reduced stress. All thoughts and behaviors have some biological component, and reward and pleasure are no exception. God has created within our brain a system that brings about a pleasurable experience when it is activated. Because we enjoy pleasurable experiences, we are more likely to repeat actions that activate our reward system. Many things can activate our reward system, from food to sex to alcohol and illicit drugs. For instance, food has been shown to increase activity in the reward system by 45 percent, whereas amphetamine and cocaine increase the activity by 500 percent. Commenting on this result, my graduate school pharmacology professor once said, “Cocaine takes your brain to a place it was never supposed to go, a place you will always try to get back to.”

Imagine a person with a dysfunction in his or her reward system that causes the system to be under activated. Things are not as rewarding to that individual as they are to the normal person. In neuroscience we call this condition Reward Deficiency Syndrome. Reward Deficiency Syndrome can result from an inherited genetic abnormality or from environmental factors such as trauma or stress. Research has shown that individuals with Reward Deficiency Syndrome begin to seek out experiences that will increase activity in their reward system. If they experiment with alcohol or illicit drugs, initially they find the pleasurable experience they were seeking. But after some time, which will vary across individuals and substances, a vicious cycle develops in which the consumption of alcohol and/or illicit drugs is no longer a choice or a pleasure but a necessity. The person becomes physically dependent on the substance and must take the drug to keep from experiencing painful and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. While the positive, pleasurable state produced by the drug may have motivated initial use, continued use results in another motivation: relieving the negative, painful consequences of not using the drug.

While brain chemistry clearly plays a part, the underlying biological causes of the substance use disorders are much broader than any one neurotransmitter system. The reward system I have described above involves a number of brain structures, including the hypothalamus, amygdala, ventral tegmental area, substantia nigra, and nucleus accumbens. The nucleus accumbens, a structure deep within the middle of the brain, is considered by neuroscientists to be the brain’s central reward center. The cells in this brain structure are activated by the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA). When DA is released in the nucleus accumbens, the results are increased feelings of well-being and reduced stress. Substances such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, PCP, marijuana, and nicotine all cause DA to be released in the nucleus accumbens, and thus they are potentially addictive. In addition, the neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) also appear to play a role in the brain’s reward system. Substance abuse and dependence involve a complex interaction between the physiological effects of drugs on the brain’s reward system and the learning of compulsive patterns of drug-seeking behaviors, both of which have a biological basis.

Research suggest that, much like the other behaviors I have discussed thus far, a genetic predisposition for addiction can be inherited from one’s parents and grandparents. Several studies have found that the child of an addicted parent is about four times more likely than the general population (where the risk is 1 in 12) to develop substance abuse or dependence themselves. This holds true even if the child of the addicted parent is adopted early and subsequently raised by adoptive parents who do not use alcohol or drugs.

As might be expected, a significant amount of genetic addiction research has focused on genes that are associated with the brain’s dopamine system. Alcoholism researcher Ken Blum and his colleagues have shown that a defect in the gene that codes for the dopamine D2 receptor is associated with the presence of substance use disorders. There research found that an individual with such a genetic defect has a 74% chance of developing Reward Deficiency Syndrome. It is important to remember that unlike diseases such as hemophilia, sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis, which are caused by a defect in a single gene, behaviors like addiction are genetically complex and are likely to result from defects in many different genes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jesus Center Benefit

For those in the Chico, CA area I will be the guest speaker at the Jesus Center benefit dinner this Saturday, April 17th (6:00pm). My talk will be titled Viewing Mental Illness and Homelessness Through the Eyes of Faith. Here is a link to a local article with information about the event.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Broken Lives

Adultery (infidelity as the media calls it) has been in the news a lot recently. Senator John Edwards, Governor Mark Sanford, Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock’s husband Jesse James all choose to break their marital vows for momentary pleasure and as we have unfortunately all seen, thanks to the media, proven that the effects of sin are far reaching. The suggestion that an individual only hurts himself through his poor choices is simply not reality (Exodus 20:5; 34:7). Hidden sin is destructive; it undermines relationships and debilitates families. Once exposed, sin produces a violent shockwave that damages everyone in its path. In many instances the resulting physical, psychological and spiritual wounds are so deep that they will be felt for a lifetime. This post is about the results of adultery; an innocent woman and her children whose lives have been broken by a selfish, sinful choice. As I listened to her story, I was reminded of how desperately we need a Savior, and I pray that as you read it, you also will be.

Like all little girls, Susan had dreamed of what her life would be like when she grew up. Those dreams often included the picture perfect family: a handsome and strong husband who would love her forever and beautiful, healthy children that they would raise together. When Susan met Kevin in college, she believed that those dreams were beginning to come true. He was everything she had dreamed of … handsome, strong and athletic. Kevin was part of a college military training program that was preparing him for service after graduation in the elite Navy SEALs.

Although raised in a strong Christian home, Susan was living the “normal” college life of too many parties and too much drinking when she met Kevin who was living the same way. Susan described their dating relationship as “up and down”. “Kevin was very hot and cold. Some days his affection was all consuming. He couldn’t get enough of me, he couldn’t see me enough, talk to me enough or be with me enough. He was also overly jealous. Other times he would ignore me and say ‘I don’t know if really I love you”. Susan’s parents were concerned about her relationship with Kevin and cautioned her against marrying him. “They had seen how he treated me and they also questioned his Christian commitment.” They dated for two years before getting married in their senior year. Susan became pregnant and shortly before they both graduated she gave birth to their first child, a daughter.

After graduation they moved to California so that Kevin could begin training for his service in the Navy. “The first year after graduating was great. I had the husband that ever woman wanted and together we had the perfect family.” After one year in California, the family moved to Virginia, and Kevin began his service. “He went from being home everyday to being gone over 200 days out of the year. He also started to be hot and cold much like he had been when we were dating in college. Sometimes he would call or be home and smother me with love and attention, while other times he was distant and cold. He never missed our daughter when he was away. Once he even told me after being away for several months that he had not missed us. He was drinking heavily and would regularly visit strip clubs with the other men in his unit when he was gone.”

It was during this difficult time in their marriage that Susan became pregnant and gave birth to their second child, a son. Much like their first child Kevin didn’t really want the baby and was absent and distant as a father. “I was so depressed, especially after the birth of our son. Kevin would call and say that he didn’t love me anymore and that he didn’t want to be married. I felt worthless and started blaming myself for our problems. I was also starting to have thoughts about hurting myself, so I called my parents for help.” Susan’s father drove to Virginia and moved her and the children back home. “I stated having recurrent nightmares that Kevin would abandon us; I feared that I would be unemployed and unable to care for my children.” Within the first month of living with her parents, Kevin began calling. “He said he wanted me back. He wanted to fly me to Spain to be with him. When I asked him why he had said such hurtful things before, he just said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Susan’s visit to Spain went well, and when she returned to the States, she and the children quickly moved back to Virginia. Susan told me that during this difficult time she started crying out to God to restore her marriage. “I had moved far from my faith. Since getting married, I had tried several times to get involved with a local church, but Kevin was never supportive. I decided that I was going to give my all to God. I started praying regularly and attending a bible study. I also (wrongly) blamed myself for our marital problems and dedicated myself to being a better wife.”

After a short time in Virginia, the whole family moved to California, so that Kevin could attend the Navy’s language school. “Everything changed for the better. Kevin was always home while he was going to school. He became the perfect family man. He showed more attention to me and the kids. He was drinking less, and we were attending church as a family. I started thanking God; I really believed that my prayers had been answered. God was restoring my family. It was the happiest time of my whole life.” After a year of language school, Kevin left for a six month deployment. “I had to choose whether to stay in California during Kevin’s deployment or move back in with my parents. I wisely chose to move back to my parents’ house. It was Christmas time when Kevin came back. He was like a different person. He was angry, depressed and drinking heavily. He made it clear that he didn’t want to be with our family. After three days, he said he needed some time alone, so he left to go skiing. He was away from us for six months and after three days he left. I now know he went to meet a girl, but at the time, I didn’t know what was going on.”

Kevin moved back to California while Susan and the children chose to stay with her parents. “On the phone everything would seem great. He would say that he loved me and that he missed me. He would visit us about once every six weeks. When he visited, he showed no emotion. He was like two different people.” Susan started getting counseling to help with her depression. She also continued to fast and pray for her marriage. “In desperation, I remember begging God to release me from my marriage. I knew that I couldn’t live like this forever.”

It was soon after that Susan received a call from an old college friend who lived in New York. “She said that she had heard Kevin and I were getting a divorce, and she just wanted to check on me. I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about. She then told me about Kevin’s girlfriend. I immediately called Kevin, and he of course denied that there was another woman. I knew he was lying, so I searched through our old cell phone bills, found a suspicious number and called her. She said that Kevin had not told her that he was married. While she did know about the kids, Kevin had lied and told her that he had a great relationship with them and was a dedicated father. I told the woman that we had a family and she needed to back off. She told me that she loved Kevin and was not going to stop seeing him. I confronted Kevin again after I spoke to the woman and he no longer denied the affair. He just said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ Then he hung up on me.

I had always held out hope that he would change, but it was at that moment I finally realized that he was never going to change. My marriage was over. My nightmare was coming true and I felt worthless. It was the lowest point of my life.”

Soon after Susan filed for divorce, and Kevin did not contest it. “He just walked away like we never existed.” The divorce has finalized 13 months ago, and Susan says Kevin has visited the children sporadically. “He comes around maybe once every couple of months. My four year old son has no relationship with his father. Our daughter who is nine longs to know her father. She gets so excited when she knows he is coming to visit only to be disappointed by his lack of interest and affection. She has problems expressing her feelings as a result.”

I asked Susan how the affair and divorce have affected her. Struggling to speak through a flood of tears she said, “It would have been better if he had died during a mission, at least then we could have moved on. Right now I’m just existing, nothing more. I’m depressed and angry. This has changed my view of God. My faith has been shaken. I can’t pray anymore. I haven’t had a quiet time in six months. I now see God as cold and distant. To me God seems more interested in furthering his kingdom than concerning Himself with the problems in my life. Kevin did us wrong and he walked away with no consequences. We are the ones that are suffering. Why would God allow that?”

I hope that this story has put a more personal face on the devastating effects of adultery. It is important to understand that Kevin openly professed Christ as Savior at one point in his life, yet he was drawn away, enticed by his own lusts and desires. He chose the pleasures of sin over his wife, children and faith. This story demonstrates that sin is an ever-present problem even in the church today. It is time that we, the body of Christ, move away from the “us vs. the world” mentality. This mindset has crippled our ministry to the world and to one another. Instead we need to seek to develop a truly transparent and open community of faith, fully dependent on the transforming power of Christ. In such a community, men and women do not struggle in silence with sinful lusts and desires, but openly share and confess (James 5:16) to a body willing to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Women, Depression and the Church (Part 2)

So what should a woman struggling with profound sadness and depressed mood do to determine the best course of treatment and healing? A good place to start is with a physical by your primary care physician (PCP). During that office visit the PCP can order testing and perform a physical exam that will rule out many other potential disorders that may be causing the problem (e.g., hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, pancreatic cancer). In addition, the PCP can likely make a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist who will further evaluate the person once a non-brain related disorder is ruled-out.

If a psychological assessment shows that the individual meets criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder the person should then begin treatment. Treatment may include antidepressant medication and some form of talking therapy (psychotherapy). It is imperative that an individual diagnosed with major depressive disorder receive some form of psychotherapy. Medication alone is typically not effective in fully managing the symptoms of major depressive disorder. In combination, psychotherapy and medication have consistently been found to be a more effective treatment than either alone.

What if a physical illness is ruled out and the person does not meet criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder after a psychological assessment? At this point antidepressant medication should no longer be considered an option and some type of counseling is the most appropriate course of action. Personally, I would recommend some type of pastoral counseling either through the church or a local Christian counselor. Spiritual healing and wholeness only come through an understanding of who we are in Christ. In addition, during a time of psychological distress the person’s friends and family have the opportunity not only to remind their hurting sister of the truths of God, but also to love them, walk beside them, and encourage them. Two sets of verses that I have found helpful in doing this are Philippians 4:11-13 and 1 Peter 1:3-9. These verses teach us that while difficulties and trials (like depression) will come into all of our lives, contentment in Christ is learned through a process of daily submission to God and ever increasing dependence on the great hope laid before us, Jesus.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Women, Depression and the Church (Part 1)

After the birth of our second child Caleb, my wife Julie became co-coordinator of a women’s outreach ministry at our local church. She was on a steering committee of 10women, all of whom were married and had young children. Julie knew all of the women well but quickly found out something she didn’t know, 7 out of the 10 women (70%) were taking antidepressant medication. This came as a shock to us, not because someone would be on an antidepressant medication but because of the sheer number of women in the group taking them.

All of the women in the group were very open about their antidepressant use and the struggles that had lead them to get the medication. Many said that they felt like they couldn’t handle life, that they were overwhelmed having to meet so many people’s needs. They felt like they were not good mothers and wives. They described feeling a lack of fulfillment in their lives, they were exhausted and it was taking a toll on their marriages. One woman said “I couldn’t stand to be around myself”. So they all sought out something from their family physician that would help them feel better about life and themselves.

We all know someone who is taking an antidepressant medication. And I certainly do not want to deny the potential benefits of these medications in individuals who truly need them. But while it is generally accepted that 5% of Americans suffer from clinical depression (women more than men) a far greater percentage of the population is being treated with antidepressants. This dramatic increase in the prescribing of psychiatric medications over the last two decades has caused some in the Christian community to question the legitimacy of depression as a psychiatric disorder and the use of antidepressant medications by those in the church.

In a recent study I conducted to investigate this problem I found that Texas pastors perceived biological causes as more important than psychosocial and spiritual causes for all mental disorders. There was however, significant variability in how much of a contribution the pastors believed spiritual factors influence various disorders. Spiritual factors were perceived to make a significant contribution in major depressive disorder but thought to have little influence in cases of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This may result from the fact that depression has a sub-clinical manifestation, as mentioned above, not seen with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A sub-clinical manifestation of depression could rightly be perceived by a pastor as resulting from spiritual factors (e.g., guilt over sinful behavior, poor marital relationship). Exposure to these types of sub-clinical problems might cause an over generalization of spiritual influences to all “depression” regardless of the severity. This same type of type of generalization would not be possible in disorders without sub-clinical manifestations like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

It is important to realize that being “depressed” or having the “blues” is different than meeting criteria for major depressive disorder. To limit confusion and facilitate appropriate treatment I recommend that an individual not begin taking antidepressant medication unless they have undergone a full psychological assessment (which takes several hours and is usually done by a clinical psychologist) to determine if they truly meet the criteria necessary for a diagnosis of major depression.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Support Group / Bible Study Resources

I am often asked if there is material available for individuals interested in starting faith-based support groups or Bible studies for individuals struggling with mental illness and their families. Two resources that I highly recommend are Dr. Steve Waterhouse’s Depression Recovery According to the Bible and Steve and Robyn Bloem’s Christians Afflicted with Mental Illness. Both of these resources come from pastors who have experienced the pain and suffering associated with mental illness first hand.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Trauma and Suffering

There are five key truths that the scriptures teach us about trauma and suffering. First, that God is present and in control of our suffering. In times of great suffering and pain, we often feel the farthest from God. Where is He? Has He forgotten me? How could He let this happen? This was also the case in the lives of great men of faith in the Bible. Look at David (Psalm 13:1), Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:8) and Job (Job 9:16). Even Jesus at the height of his pain cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) From our limited human perspective, pain and suffering seem contrary to our idea of a sovereign God who is good and loving. We think that God blinked and wasn’t able to stop this traumatic event or He isn’t really a loving God. We forget that Adam chose to sin and that we live in a fallen world, full of suffering. Suffering should not cause us to question God’s sovereignty, as Job so clearly understood (Job 2:10). God is sovereign despite our circumstances. He created all things and He controls all things (Deuteronomy 4:39;
1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalms 103:19; Daniel 4:35; Colossians 1:15-17). He allows us to experience the consequences of sin while remaining fully in control of all things including Satan, who can only bring suffering into our lives if God allows it (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31). God is in control of our circumstances, and He wants to transform us into the very image of His Son.

Secondly, we learn from the scriptures that God is good and cares for us. We have all heard this statement, “How could a loving God allow __________?” Fill in the blank with any horribly traumatic event that occurs here on planet Earth. People often use this statement to argue against not only the love of God but also the very existence of God. But God does love us and that is evident in our redemptive history. The creator of the world made a way for disobedient, powerless creatures to come into an eternal relationship with Him. He is patient and gracious. He became one of us (John 3:16) and then sacrificed Himself for us (1 John 3:16). Self sacrifice is the ultimate act of love (John 15:13). God is indeed good and He longs to be in an ever deepening relationship with us.

In James 1:2, we are told to “consider it pure joy” when we go through difficult times. What kind of strange mental gymnastics does God want me to do? I’m supposed to be happy when I’m in pain? No, not at all. Even Jesus was sad when he went through difficult times -- at Lazarus’s grave, in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross. The third truth we are called to recognize is that through our trails and suffering we have an opportunity to draw closer to God. During the easy times we often become self-reliant, forgetting our need for God. It is in the hard times, when our faith is tested, that we recognize our need for complete dependency on Him. James tells us that persevering through the difficult times develops a mature and complete faith (James 1:4). We are ever being conformed into the image of Christ and suffering is a necessary part of that transformation (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21).

Jesus understands what it is to suffer is the fourth truth. We do not worship a distant, unapproachable God. We worship a God that knows what it is to be human (Hebrews 4:15). He knows what it is to suffer (Hebrews 2:17-18). Just think about Jesus’ life for a moment. He didn’t experience just one traumatic event during His time on Earth. His whole life was full of suffering. The prophet Isaiah told of His suffering hundreds of years before His birth (Isaiah 53:3-5). He was born into unimaginable poverty in a country occupied by a cruel army (Luke 2:1-7). He narrowly escaped a mass slaughtering of children that was ordered because of His birth (Matthew 2:16). He was physically assaulted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11), persecuted because of His teachings (Luke 4:28-29), thought insane by His family (Mark 3:21), betrayed by His own disciple (Mark 14:43-45), deserted by His friends (Mark 14:50), falsely arrested (Mark 14:56-59), publicly humiliated (Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:8-12), beaten to the point of death (Matthew 27:26), and then slowly and painfully publicly executed by crucifixion as a common criminal (Matthew 27:33-39). We can take great comfort in the fact that God can relate to us on our level, He understands what it is to suffer.

Finally, our identity is not defined by traumatic events or suffering but is grounded in Christ. God does not see you as a victim. He sees you as His child. The scriptures tell us that as children of God, we were chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless adopted sons and daughters, lavished with grace, redeemed, forgiven, given spiritual wisdom and understanding and marked with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:4-14). We are in Christ! We sit at the right hand of the Father! We have His righteousness! We must not allow tragedy or circumstances to define who we are or how we live. We have His very life within us and we must choose to live out of that truth.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Global Missional Community

I’d like to draw your attention to a new online mission minded community. The global missional community is a place to find thoughts, insights and wisdom from global voices struggling to be and live missional and incarnational lives for God's glory among all peoples. Founder Mike Dworak will be managing a blog themissionalmind.blogspot.com and a monthly newsletter along with free mission e-books can be obtained by going here. I am very supportive of Mike and his vision and will be contributing some of my own writing to the newsletter from time to time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lust and Adultery

As a scientist, it never ceases to amaze me just how accurate and complete the scriptures are in their description of natural phenomena. The neurobiological processes related to attraction and attachment can clearly be seen in verses discussing marriage and adultery throughout the Bible. For instance, the sex drive is seen as a God-given biological instinct that must be controlled in order to avoid sin (1 Corinthians 7:5, 9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). Descriptions of this sexual drive causing an individual to “burn with desire” or have “lustful passion” appear to be rather colorful metaphors for surging testosterone levels. The marital relationship is seen as the only place that this drive can be brought under control and expressed in a Godly manner (Proverbs 5:15-19; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5; Hebrews 13:4).

The scriptures also suggest that a sexual relationship physically alters a couple in such a way that they become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6; 1 Corinthians 6:16). This reference can be understood and explained by increased levels of oxytocin and vasopressin in the brain that bring about emotional bonding. When a sexual relationship is sinful (such as in adultery or fornication), the scriptures imply that the adverse effects can be both physical and long-term (1 Corinthians 6:18). Paul writes that sexually immoral practices such as these cause us to “sin against our own body”. This references neurochemical changes that occur during the act of adultery or fornication which alter the individual’s brain in such a way that their other intimate relationships are damaged. In Christ, we have been spiritually transformed, but sin still has a physical strangle-hold on our bodies (Romans 7:22-25). It is only through the power of the indwelling Spirit that sin can be mastered (Genesis 4:7).

We were created for relationship with one another (Genesis 2:18). God made us male and female so that we might be involved in the creative process of conception through physical intimacy. He designed within each of us a set of biological systems that prompt us to seek out a companion and form long-term emotional connections. Unfortunately, our bodies have been scarred by original sin and we live in a fallen world. Our sinful state has resulted in an epidemic of problems related to lust. Men and women that are dissatisfied with their lives and seek fulfillment through adulterous sexual relationships or others who seek comfort and control through sexual fantasies and self-gratification find that sexual sin comes at the expense of real intimacy.

All men (and many women) struggle with lust. Our “feel good” culture tells us to follow our primal impulses with little thought of the consequences. Stephen Arterburn describes it this way, “our society helps condition us toward addictive sex. The media have helped make the unusual appear to be norm. Multiple sex partners, repeated affairs, sex on every first date: these behaviors no longer shock the regular viewer of primetime television. Many who grow up in such an environment will be predisposed to sex addiction …” The sinful culture we live in takes our normal, God-given biological drives, and turns them against us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Unlike like depression or anxiety the Bible says nothing specific about schizophrenia. However, in Daniel chapter 4 there is a description of a psychotic disorder with symptoms very similar to schizophrenia. This disorder is called boanthropy.

You are most likely familiar with the story. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, has a dream about a great tree being cut down that he is unable to understand. He calls the magicians, diviners and wise men of his kingdom together but they are unable to explain the dream to him. Finally, the prophet Daniel appears on the scene and interprets the dream for the King. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that because of his sin, God is going to remove his kingdom from him for seven years. He will do this by changing Nebuchadnezzar’s mind from that of a man to that of a beast, specifically an ox. The King will be driven away from mankind, eating grass and living out in the elements. And that is exactly what happens. For seven years, Nebuchadnezzar believes himself to be an animal. In the seventh year of his delusional state, Daniel 4:34 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar’s “reason returned” to him and he blessed, praised and honored the Most High.

Now you may have never thought that this was a mental illness, but it is and it still occurs today. As I said above, it is called boanthropy when the person, in a delusional state, believes themselves to be an ox or cow. It is called lycanthropy when they think they are a wolf (this may be where we get our werewolf legends). There are many other variations depending on the animal. But the basic symptom is a delusional state such that the person believes themselves to be an animal and begins to live and behave that way. In this particular instance God used the mental illness as discipline, but we should not generalized that to every case of mental illness. While God certainly could choose to bring mental illness into our lives as discipline (Deuteronomy 28:28), if we were to mistakenly generalize that it is always the result of God’s discipline then we would also have to consider common problems such as boils, scabs, itching (Deuteronomy 28:27) and tumors in the groin (hemorrhoids; 1 Samuel 5:9) to always be signs of God’s discipline.

While Nebuchadnezzar’s boanthropy is not the same as schizophrenia, it is a great example of a delusional state which can be a symptom of schizophrenia. As people of faith, what can we learn from this story about delusions? I believe that Daniel 4:34 gives us an amazing truth that we can apply to those with delusions. Nebuchadnezzar was not able to bless and praise the Most High until his “reason returned” to him. In other words, until his hallucinations and delusional state were removed. Hallucinations and delusions can disconnect an individual from the reality of acknowledging God. As those ministering to schizophrenics with hallucinations and delusions we should guide them towards treatments (e.g., antipsychotic medication) that will effectively minimize or remove these symptoms so that the individual, through pastoral care, can re-connect with the Father.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The topic of uncontrolled anger is common throughout the scriptures. One needs to look no further than the Wisdom books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) to find a detailed description of the rageful person and the dire consequences of this sinful behavior. These verses describe the impulsive aggressive individual as a “fool”. In the scriptures, foolishness is often contrasted with wisdom. The “fool” is one who is self-sufficient and does not truly know God for life (Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 17:1) while the “wise” man is dependent on God and knows Him intimately (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). The explosive individual is also described as having no honor, hated by others, one who exalts sin and causes harm to all those he encounters. Ultimately, uncontrolled anger leads to death, both spiritually and physically.

We feel anger when we perceive an injustice or see evil. God’s purpose for human anger is “to motivate us to take positive, loving action … to set the wrong right.” Human anger was created in the image of God’s anger (Genesis 1:26). As author Gary Chapman writes “when God sees evil, He experiences anger. Anger is His logical response to injustice or unrighteousness.” God’s righteous anger is an overt expression of His holiness and justice which are attributes of His glory. Righteous anger is slow to develop (Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3), fully controlled (Psalm 78:38; 85:3), limited in duration (Psalm 30:5; Micah 7:18) and always fulfills its intended purpose which is transformation (Psalm 90:7). Human anger, while originally created in the image of God’s anger, has been tainted by sin.

Rather than expressing righteous anger towards injustice and evil we display anger when we believe that our selfish wants and desires are not being fully satisfied. This is the definition of flesh, selfishly trying to meet our wants and desires rather than depending on God for our provision. Add to this a lack of behavioral control (possibly resulting from a brain dysfunction) and you have an individual who lives at the mercy of his fleshly feelings and emotions (Galatians 5:19-21). Feel angry, explode! Feel anxious, blow up! Feel fearful, lash out! Rage then is the exact opposite of godly righteous anger. It develops quickly, is uncontrolled, lacks purpose, and because of its selfish nature results in long-lasting fear and anxiety.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Body, Mind and Spirit

You and I are not an accident or a chance biological occurrence (Psalm 139:13). We were created for the sole purpose of glorifying God (Isaiah 43:7), and He has laid out a divine plan for each of our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 10:23; 29:11). The scriptures teach us that we are a complex being having both physical (material) and non-physical (immaterial) natures (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We are the union of a physical body with an immaterial mind and spirit. To be able to fully understand the role that biology plays in sinful behavior, it is necessary that we have a better understanding of the three-part being of man: body, mind and spirit.

We exist in a physical body so that we can interact with the material world around us. Our bodies have been specifically designed to take in information from the environment and relay it to our brains. We see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around us. The processing of sensory information by our brains produces thoughts, feelings and emotions which then result in some outward behavioral display. Paul refers to the body as an “earthly tent” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 4) and makes it clear that we are more than physical (2 Corinthians 5:8). Indeed, we are more than simply a brain riding around in a body. There is an immaterial, nonphysical aspect to our being, what some would call our soul or mind.

Are our thoughts, feelings and emotions merely the product of neurochemical changes and electrical discharges in our brain or is our mind something more, something immaterial, more than the sum of our parts? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. While the functioning of our brain is integral to the existence of our mind, that alone is not sufficient to explain it. Similarly, to imagine our mind as completely separate and unrelated to the physical does not seem correct either. Mind and body are intimately connected and each affects the other.

It is in our mind that we interact with God through prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15), receive divine revelation (Luke 24:45) and are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2). It is also in our mind that we choose to sin (Romans 8:6-7; 2 Corinthians 10:5). A physical body formed by the hands of the Maker in union with an immaterial mind which controls and plans our behavior is a truly miraculous and perhaps a difficult idea to grasp. But the scriptures teach us that we also have a third and even more amazing level of being, a spirit.

God created us as a three part being, much like himself. In our inmost being we are spirit, the very breath of God placed into a shell of dust (Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:1). As a spirit being, it is possible for us to be in an intimate spiritual union (Proverbs 20:27; Romans 8:16) with our Creator who is also spirit (John 4:24). No other living creature, not even the angels, has been given such an opportunity.

Let’s look at a simple visual representation to better understand the interaction between body, mind and spirit. Figure 1 shows the body, mind and spirit in relation to one another, each separate but interacting with the one above and/or below. The brain, via the body’s sensory systems, is in contact with the earthly environment (outside) and the mind within. The middle ellipse is the mind which is connected to the body through the functions of the brain and nervous system but also in contact with our immaterial spirit (the inner most rectangle). The body senses and reacts to the external environment and the mind uses that information to perceive, understand and interpret our surroundings. The mind also forms our thoughts and plans out our actions. The spirit, when connected to God, works to transform the mind into the very image of Christ which results in an ever increasing display of godly behaviors through the body. We are the masterpiece of creation (Ephesians 2:10)! The physical interacting with the immaterial; the Creator of the universe in communion with His beloved creation.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eating Disorders

Eating is a biologically driven behavior that involves a number of brain areas and systems. While scientists understand a great deal about how our brains tell us that we are hungry or when to stop eating, they actually know very little about the biological basis of eating disorders. While a number of brain areas and neurochemicals have been found to be abnormal in persons with eating disorders (particularly anorexia nervosa), most of these return to normal once a healthy weight and diet have been obtained through treatment. This suggests that these differences were most likely the result of malnourishment related to the disorder rather than an underlying cause of the problem. In addition, the causes of the eating disorders are not as simple as a single brain area or a given neurotransmitter system but reflect a complex interaction between biology predispositions and environment factors.

One system however that does appear to be involved in eating disorders is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The HPA is part of the endocrine system and is made up of the hypothalamus (a structure on the lower aspect of the brain), pituitary gland (a small pea shaped gland below the hypothalamus in the middle of the head) and the adrenal glands (which are located on top of the kidneys). The HPA is involved in the control of our reaction to stress and the regulation of appetite, weight, digestion, mood and immune system response. It has been suggested that a dysfunction in the HPA, most likely brought about by a combination of early life experiences (e.g., sexual abuse) and genetic factors, leaves the adolescent female vulnerable to chronic stress. This vulnerability is further exacerbated by the hormonal changes that occur at puberty (this event occurs just prior to the most common age of onset for the eating disorders). It is suggested that exposure to a significant stressor during this period results in a dysregulated HPA response leading to a chronic reduction in appetite and weight.

From a spiritual perspective an eating disorder is rightly recognized as a disorder rooted in deception. Women (and to a lesser frequency men) with eating disorders believe they are overweight, unattractive, inadequate, unaccepted and unloved. They believe the lie that only women (and men) of a specific body type are beautiful and accepted. While all mental illness has physical, mental and spiritual aspects, I believe that in the eating disorders we can more clearly see the spiritual effects than in any other disorder. This is not to say that biological and psychological factors do not play a role in the eating disorders, but this disorder has a deceptive quality to it that is different from all the others. It is somewhat ironic that the original sin described in the scriptures involved the deception a woman about food which brought about shame related to her body (Genesis 3:1-7). Of course, I’m not trying to imply that Eve had an eating disorder or that having an eating disorder is sinful, but believing a lie can be destructive. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). The lie that he promotes in those that struggle with an eating disorder is that their bodies are not good enough. Paul tells us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives within us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We have been purchased with a price and set free by the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), and it is only that Truth that can bring about full healing in those who have believed the lie.

It is in the eating disorders that we clearly see how a spiritual deception (e.g., your worth is based on your physical appearance) can take advantage of a physical vulnerability (e.g., HPA dysregulation, over active serotonin system) and result in the symptoms of a mental illness (e.g., negative self-image, purging, self-starvation). Eating disorders aren’t really about food, but instead about how a person views herself. The Bible has a great deal to say about who we are as children of God. The scriptures teach us that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) in the very image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). He formed us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), planned out our days (Psalm 139:16) and brought us into this world (Psalm 22:9). By faith we have received spiritual birth (John 3:3-6). His Spirit has taken up residence in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we are without fault in His eyes (Ephesians 1:4). Indeed we are the very children of the living God (1 John 3:1). These are the truths that we must continually pray and speak over those who are struggling with an eating disorder. The lie that is at the core of this disorder must be replaced by the foundational truth of who we are in Christ. It is only then that true healing can begin.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pornography and the Brain

It is impossible to pick up a newspaper or magazine, watch television or log onto the internet without being exposed to highly sexual entertainment and/or advertisements. Images used in marketing today would have been considered pornographic by the average person just a generation ago. The pornography industry which includes internet sites, videos, strip clubs, cable TV and magazines generates approximately $13 billion dollars in annual revenue in the United States. World-wide pornography revenue estimates exceed $90 billion dollars per year. Every second 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography. This is not just a problem for men either; one out of every three visitors to internet pornography sites is a woman. Seventy percent of female internet users report that they keep their online activities a secret, while 17% report struggling with a sexual addiction. Perhaps the most troubling part of this is how vulnerable home internet access has made our children. The average age of first internet pornography exposure is 11, and 80% of 15-17 year olds report having had multiple exposures to hardcore pornography. This societal preoccupation with sex has also had a detrimental effect on our marriages and families.

I want to direct you to an exciting new book on the subject, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by Wheaton neuroscientist Dr. William Struthers. From the product description – “In this book neuroscientist and researcher William Struthers explains how pornography affects the male brain and what we can do about it. Because we are embodied beings, viewing pornography changes how the brain works, how we form memories and make attachments. By better understanding the biological realities of our sexual development, we can cultivate healthier sexual perspectives and interpersonal relationships. Struthers exposes false assumptions and casts a vision for a redeemed masculinity, showing how our sexual longings can actually propel us toward sanctification and holiness in our bodies. With insights for both married and single men alike, this book offers hope for freedom from pornography.”