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.

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.