Psychology

So, I Married A Lion

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Beaver_LionWhat do you know about your personality? Are you introverted? Do you enjoy being around people more than being alone? Adventurous? Perfectionistic? What are you like? Are you a thinker or a feeler?

There have been numerous personality tests developed to give us insight into what our overall personality is like, such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the Jung Typology Test, and a score of tests based on what is known as the Five Factor Model. Before my wife and I got married, we made each other take the MMPI-II, which is the mother of all personality tests. It consists of 567 true false questions and takes quite a while to complete. When scored, it indicates whether one struggles with any psychological or emotional difficulties. It even indicates if a person is lying, trying to appear more normal, or trying to look crazy. We both passed enough to know that the other person wasn’t a serial killer.

This weekend, my wife taught a class and administered spiritual inventories and a personality test. The personality test she offered was one developed by Gary Smalley that bases personalities around animal characteristics. The categories are: lion, otter, golden retriever, and beaver. It had been a while since we took the test and we laughed as we looked at the results. My wife is a Lion, and I am a Beaver. Our secondary result was Golden Retriever.

As you may suspect, Lions and Beavers are not very similar creatures. Lions, like my wife, tend to be goal oriented, direct, decisive, competitive, and enjoy a good challenge, but they are often too blunt and must temper their aggressive, goal-oriented behavior. Beavers, like myself, are orderly, respectful, have high standards, are problem solvers, steady, creative, and take their own sweet time. On the downside, Beavers often have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others, try to be to perfect, and are often inflexible.

In our household, whenever I am in true Beaver mode and my wife is being a Lioness, it looks like an episode on the Discovery Channel. Sometimes I chew on her and she growls! I say that in jest, but our differences are often what cause our conflicts.

I think there are a couple of things to remember about personality differences in marriage. Until recently, it was believed that personalities are fairly locked across one’s lifetime. That has recently come into question. I agree, I think some facets of our personalities do change, but I feel they are unlikely to dramatically change.

When it comes to marriage we often hear clichés such as “opposites attract”, but this is also contradicted by sayings like “birds of a feather flock together.” So which is it? From my experience doing a great deal of marital therapy, when couples differ greatly on important core issues this turns out to be a detriment to their marriage. Now, I am not saying if your core beliefs differ greatly from your spouses that your marriage is doomed to fail. I am simply saying it takes a great deal more work.

So marrying someone very like you when it comes to your values, worldview, and what you view as most important in life is very important. Yet, having differences in how you relate to and view the world can have its benefits. The fact that this beaver married a lion brings a set of advantages to our relationship. We temper each other. I bring some order and calm into her world and she brings adventure into mine.

You see, God uses marriage to help change us in certain areas. Marriage is like a mirror that reflects where your strengths and weaknesses are. It shows you areas of your personality that are strong, but also reveals your weaknesses.  I firmly believe that God uses marriage to make us more like Him.

I also think we should remember that we didn’t marry someone exactly like us, and this is a good thing. While sometimes our differences might be frustrating, this is how we grow and change. We must remember that we can’t change our spouse’s personality. We have to learn to accept and love their strengths and weaknesses. We must also learn to accept influence from one another. At times I need my wife to tell me that I am being too rigid and she needs me to temper her at times.

Don’t spend your marriage trying to turn a beaver into a lion or a golden retriever into an otter. Instead, appreciate what your spouse brings to the table and remember that marriage is a lifelong process where our different personalities sand the rough edges off of one another allowing us to become better people.

So what are you, a lion, otter, golden retriever or beaver? Take the test here for yourself and share your results!

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Zombies, Porn, and Your Kids

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Zombies_Porn_StatsThis past weekend my son so generously shared his stomach virus with me. This was no run of the mill stomach virus. It was brutal. So, I did what I usually do when I am sick. I rented a sizable stack of movies, did some reading, and ate crackers to assuage the nausea. One of the movie highlights was World War Z. I am not typically one to jump on the Zombie bandwagon, but the realism of the movie had some appeal to me.

It certainly was not your typical Zombie film. There were not copious amounts of blood, and it had an engaging plot. I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t seen the film, but the plot in a nutshell is that some source causes an isolated group of people to become “undead” and this rapidly spreads though being bitten. The turn from being a thriving person to the upright dead takes about ten seconds. Needless to say, majority of the world turns into zombies in a short amount of time. Things unravel quickly.

While the movie certainly seems far-fetched, there is another pandemic that has spread around the world with devastating consequences. In fact, it leaves a wake of “un-dead” in its path. I am speaking of porn.

Recently, Martin Daubney, ex-editor of the smut magazine Loaded, wrote an article about his upcoming documentary called Porn On the Brain. In the documentary he discusses how readily accessible pornography is to children and the effects of porn on kids.

In the article he writes about asking a group of teenagers, “On a scale of one to ten, how likely would you say it is that boys and girls your age are watching porn online? The reply was a chorus of tens, nines and one eight.” His small-scale survey coincides with current statistics. We know that 90% of kids are exposed to porn online between the ages of 8-16. Research shows that 80% of 15-17 year olds are exposed to hardcore pornography multiple times. The average age of first exposure to pornography is around the age of 10 or 11, and this will continue to creep downward as the pandemic spreads.

Wait a minute; you are just being an alarmist. Kids that view porn come from broken homes or have been abused. That doesn’t happen in good, little Christian homes. Wake up parents. It is happening in every kind of home around the glove. It doesn’t discriminate. Daubney writes, “When I asked the children if there were parental controls on the internet at home, they all said no, their parents trusted them. They all admitted their parents had no idea what they were watching, and would be shocked if they did know.”

Parents, the time for naiveté is well past. Pornography may have been more difficult to attain when you were young, now it is difficult to avoid. We have the tendency to minimize the statistics. The fact of the matter is there is a 90% chance your child will come into exposure with porn. Would you send your kid out somewhere if you knew there was a 90% chance they would be harmed? Of course not. That would be insane. Yet, I see so many parents are taking a gamble when it comes to porn. Do we want to trust our kids? Certainly! Does that mean we give them unbridled access to outlets where porn is readily available? The obvious answer is a resounding no. You must talk to your kids about porn and go to incredible lengths to put some barriers between them and the world of pornography.

Again, maybe you think, lighten up. Boys will be boys. What is the big deal? Why get so worked up? Because the consequences are devastating. Porn is to emotional, psychological, and relational health as a zombie apocalypse is to world health. I cannot count the number of grown men that have sat in my office and wept uncontrollably over the effects of porn in their lives.

Daubney states, “I feel as if an entire generation’s sexuality has been hijacked by grotesque online porn. To find out what porn is doing to young men, and the girls they have relationships with, we spoke to them via online forums and discovered that there were many young lives seriously blighted by an excessive, unhealthy relationship with pornography that can begin when they are as young as 12.” It is a known fact that pornography functions as an addictive substance. Does everyone that views porn become an addict? Certainly no. Yet many do. Again, the gamble is not worth it. Daubney captures this point well when he states, “If porn does have the insidious power to be addictive, then letting our children consume it freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house, or handing out vodka at the school gates.”

Pornography is shaping the way a new generation of males view women, sex, and intimacy. It creates a sexuality in men that divorces sex from emotion. Healthy sexuality is meant to be deeply emotional. It was designed to be one of the most emotionally charged connections a man and woman can have, yet pornography creates “undead” sexual machines. Why? Because one is behaviorally conditioned repeatedly to have a sexual encounter with an image. The brain continually ingests sexual imagery, pleasure, and sexual release. Neurons (these are the cells in your brain) that fire together wire together. When sex is practiced correctly, sexual stimuli and positive emotions become melded together in the brain. We don’t see that with kids brought up on a steady diet of pornography. Does this affect their marriages? Does it ever! They often lack the ability to be emotionally intimate with their spouse and this leads to a host of difficulties.

Repeated exposure to porn in the lives of young men (and just because I am primarily writing about boys don’t forget that 1 out of 3 viewers of porn are females) gives them an extremely distorted picture of what real sexuality is. They often expect sex to be what they see acted out in porn and women to look like what they view in porn. They create an appetite for what is not real, for what will never be real. This often leads to desire difficulties because they cannot find their wife sexually desirable. Porn also leads boys to depersonalize women. The female sex is not seen as a person. They become objects designed solely to titillate the rampant sexual desires of men.

There is so much more to say about this topic. As parents, we need to educate ourselves. We need to talk to our kids about things that might not be so comfortable to us. We need to shed the naive notion that our kids would never look at porn or be tempted to keep looking. We need to add as many checks and balances in the lives of our children as possible. We need to promote a healthy understanding of sexuality.

We may never face a zombie apocalypse, but we can stave the porn pandemic from creating more emotionally undead men.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Marriage Monday: Snuggle Much?

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snuggle muchThink back to when you first began dating your spouse? How often did you hold hands? Practically every spare second, right? How often did you hug or have your arms around each other? Often, no doubt. How often did you kiss, well, we won’t get too personal, but you get the point. Physical touch, especially non-sexual physical touch is often employed heavily during the dating relationship and through the honeymoon, yet as the years go by the physical touch wanes for many couples.

We should note that physical touch is an incredibly important part in relationships. It is, in fact, one of the five love languages according to Gary Chapmen. Interestingly enough, there are people out there that will even pay for it. A woman by the name of Jackie Samuel from Penfield, NY runs a business that sells “snuggles”. If you thought the guy that invented bottled water struck a gold mind (low overhead, it’s water folks) then what about Ms. Samuel’s snuggling entrepreneurial enterprise (talk about low overhead)? She charges $50 for 45 minutes of snuggle time. You can also purchase the “double cuddle” at $100 for 45 minutes and have a three way snuggle. Sounds ridiculous I know. Perhaps you are thinking the same thing I thought, “This has to be some form of prostitution.” Yet, Ms. Samuel is adamant that all clothes must stay on. It is time for snuggling only. Why? Because she believes in the power of human touch.

This is not to say that Jackie Samuel does not have her critics. Some view her as taking advantage of “lonely people”. Maybe it’s wrong to charge for a hug? Others salute her ambition and pioneering of a market that has remained untapped. Yet, the very fact that she manages to make some money doing this says something to the fact that people crave physical touch.

Back in the 1950’s, a psychologist by the name of Harry Harlow conducted some ground-breaking experiments. He took newborn Rhesus monkeys and separated them from their mothers. He then placed them into cages. Within each cage were two surrogate mothers. One was made of heavy wire mesh and held the infant monkey’s source of food, and the other was made of cuddly terry cloth. Each of the surrogate mothers was warmed by an electric light placed inside them. Guess which mother the baby monkeys preferred? It was the one with the soft, cuddly terry cloth. Even though the other wire mesh mother offered them food and warmth, the baby monkeys spent more time clinging to the soft, terry cloth mother. At times, they would even hold on to the mother made of terry cloth and stretch to the other wire mesh mother in order to drink their bottle. It lead researches to conclude that the need for closeness and affection is more than just needing warmth or sustenance.

Physical touch is a vital part of every marriage. We aren’t talking sex here. Guys, you see the words I am typing here? Your wife needs physical touch just for the sake of it. Not physical touch that always leads somewhere. Men need it as well. Yet again, often it goes out the window as schedules fill, children make demands, and chores pile up. Nights snuggling on the couch are often exchanged for a quick peck on the lips as one partner flies out the door.

So what am I saying? Guys, hug your wife. Ladies, hold your husbands hand. Spend some time snuggling. We need it. It is healthy. It relieves stress. It promotes intimacy. Five out five monkeys agree.

Oh, and it should go without saying. Your kids need it too!

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Apologetic Wednesday: Morality According to Lady Gaga

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born this way“I was born this way”, a phrase that continues to drum louder and louder in these postmodern times. Two years ago the infamous Madam Monster, Lady Gaga, wrote a song by the same title. She sings, “Ooh, there ain’t no other way, baby, I was born this way.” This echoes the ideology of our day, that we are somewhat trapped by our biology. That is, you are who you are, and you act the way you act because you were biologically determined to do so. J. Reid writes, “The whole culture is metaphorically awash in genes, which are depicted as pervasive and powerful agents central to understanding both everyday behavior and the secret of life. Foraging through countless specialty periodicals and mass-culture sources, [one uncovers] references to selfish genes, pleasure-seeking genes, violence genes, gay genes, couch-potato genes, celebrity genes, depression genes. Everything but the kitchen sink gene.”

Not too far in the distant past, the field of psychology continually emphasized the idea that we are products of our environment. Our upbringing, social history, tragedies, and trauma was the impetus to our behavior. Yet now, we are locked in by our genetics. So which is it? Quite frankly, whichever allows us to eschew personal responsibility for our actions. Society clings to whatever explanation of human behavior that will strip them of their moral culpability.

It is imperative that we keep in mind that our biology is but one facet of our behavior, as is our social environment. There are incredibly diverse networks of factors that contribute to our many complex behaviors. To reduce human behavior to mere biology strains the limits of credulity and reduces man to an animalistic automaton. We are bigger than our biology. Nor can our choices be reduced to respondent conditioning within our social environment. We are able to override our biology when it comes to our decisions and behaviors. Neither does our social past define our future. To argue to the contrary one must be comfortable with the ramifications of such a statement.

If we are slaves to our genetics, then can anyone be held responsible for any action? Can society be reformed? What is the purpose of law and prohibiting certain behavior? Would change even be possible? Will people one day be genetic liabilities that must be managed by society, government, or law enforcement?

Gaga gets it. She understands the results of her argument. She says, “Don’t hide yourself in regret, Just love yourself and you’re set. I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.” In other words, don’t worry about your moral transgressions. You’re a slave to the way you were “born”. It is here that I will affirm her lyrics, yet not in a way that is consistent with her intent. We are all “born this way.” We are all born into sin. Actually, we are all slaves to sin at birth. Paul reminds us in Romans that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” We are all born dead thanks to the very first man choosing to turn away from God. Now, we have no choice but to serve sin because we are born as slaves to that sin.

Yet, just as sin entered through that one man, grace came into the world through another, Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we no longer have to live as slaves to sin, though sometimes we choose to because we have become so use to living in bondage.

Mankind is not a slave to biology, we are slaves to sin. Yet, we can freely choose to overcome our enslavement through Christ. Mankind has the ability to discern right from wrong because God has written a universal, binding, moral law upon the heart of every living soul.

We can know right from wrong. We have a choice. Biology does not control us. Our environment does not determine our actions. We are “born this way” as slaves, but we can choose to overcome through Christ.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Why New Year’s Resolutions Lose Their Resolve

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ResolutionsThe New Year has pushed us into day four already. Roughly a week or two ago, individuals were laying out their goals for a new year. Countless people have uttered the term “this year will be different. 2013 is the year.” “This year I will __________ “ (fill in the blank). Maybe you decided to lose weight, start saving for retirement, exercise, read through the entire bible, watch less television, break a bad habit or spend more time with family.

I wonder how many resolutions for 2013 have been broken already? We would probably be surprised by the amount of shattered hopes, disillusionments, failures, and scrapped goals that have already taken place this year. So often, the tasks we resolve to do within the year, or the behaviors we hope to change gradually fade off into oblivion. Why is this? What keeps us from actualizing the ambitions that we lay out for ourselves at the beginning of a fresh year? There are several things that can sabotage us.

One of the largest ways we get thrown off the tracks is by a lack of defined goals. When people set goals they tend to do so in a global manner. “I want to lose weight.” “I want to be more intelligent.” “I want to be closer to my children. These are all admirable goals, but they lack definition. How much weight needs to be lost? How will you improve your IQ? What is indicative of being closer to your kids? The weight loss goal should become. “I want to lose 25 pounds. I will do this by limiting my caloric intake to 1500 calories a day. I will keep track of my calories in a log book I will purchase. I will exercise three times a week on Monday mornings, Wednesday nights, and Saturday afternoons. I will stay away from a list of restaurants I will make because they will easily undercut my goals.”

Let’s try another one. Instead of I want to become more intelligent. We might define our goal in this way. “I will improve my intelligence by reading 20 books this year. I will make a list of the specific books that will be read. I will read 30 minutes on my lunch break at work daily. At night I will devote an hour to reading in my reading chair in my bedroom at 8:00 P.M.  I will also audit a class of interest at the community college on Thursday nights at 5:00 P.M. every week.

When setting goals we must lay out the specifics. What will I do? What will the end result look like? How will I do it? With whom will I do it? When will I do it? How often will I do it? There must be some way to track the progress of the goal. If you cannot measure your success then there is no way to manage the objective. So get specific.

Another thing that short circuits our resolve is the mental power short term benefits have over long term gains. If a person wants to lose weight the payoff is a long way down the road. A piece of cheesecake is gratifying in the here and now. Guess which one often wins? CHEESECAKE PLEASE! The same is true with exercise. Who gets excited about waking up extra early, sweating for 30+ minutes, and being sore the following day? Certainly not me! The immediate benefit of extra sleep, no sweating and lack of fatigue or soreness wins out over having a slim and trim body months down the road. To counter this problem, we need a physical reminder of what the long term benefits are. It could be a token, a picture or a phrase you remind yourself of. We need something to keep our focus on the long term gain instead of the immediate gratification.

To accomplish goals we also need accountability. Who else have you shared your aspirations with? We are more likely to stick to our guns if someone else knows what we are working toward. Knowing that someone will ask, “How are you doing at accomplishing your goal” helps sharpen our focus and resolve. When someone else is seeking to accomplish the same goal you are this helps even more because you both challenge one another and spur each other on. Find a buddy!

Some goals are doomed from the start. When making plans, we should put God in the mix. What does he want from us? If God isn’t in it, then good luck! As Psalm 127:1 reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it.” Have you made God a part of your plans this year?

Your life is either moving closer to what you hope to accomplish or further away from it. We are never stuck in neutral.  It is easy to make plans and dream about where you want to be at the conclusion of the year. We can read everything there is about a topic, buy the equipment to succeed, and share our dreams with others, but we actually have to apply what we know. Often, people will plan and dream, and this leads them into thinking they are moving somewhere. Yet, you must implement the plans or you are not getting anywhere. This goes back to having a way to track your progress through specifically defined goals.

So let’s review:

  • Make specific goals that can be measured.
  • Find a way to bring the long term gain into the immediate present.
  • Enlist someone to hold you accountable.
  • Make your plans based on what God wants.
  • Do it. Don’t just plan, dream, or hope. Apply what you know!

I hope at the end of the year we can breathe a sigh of relief having accomplished what God desires for us.

Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us,  keeping our eyes on Jesus,the source and perfecter of our faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

What do you hope to accomplish this year?

Best of 2012: Pornography, Bravery, and Freedom

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Best of 2012This was the seventh most viewed post of 2012 and was originally published on August 14th. This is a topic that is very dear to my heart because I see the pervasiveness of pornography, cavalier sexual attitudes and sexual addiction present in so many lives. The consequences of removing sexuality from it’s proper context and desacrelizing is monstrous. Yet, there is always hope. What better time of the year to be reminded of the hope we have over the things that so easily entangle and beguile? It is my hope that this post will provide someone with hope and push them into taking action. Merry Christmas!

I hope you found that video both sobering and heartbreaking. Sexual addiction/pornography addiction has become pandemic. It can no longer be ignored. It destroys marriages, families, friendships, careers, and lives.  Let me share some statistics with you.

  • 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography
  • 70% of porn visitors online admit that they keep it secret
  • Ages 12-17 are the largest consumers of internet pornography
  • 62% of parents with teenagers are unaware they have accessed objectionable website
  • 90% of children ages 8-16 have viewed pornography on the internet
  • 1 in 3 porn viewers are women
  • 70% of men, aged 18-24, visit porn sites in a month
  • 12% of websites on the internet are pornographic
  • Nearly 25 million pornographic sites are in existence
  • Every second, over $3,000 is spent on internet pornography
  • Over 28,000 internet users are viewing porn every second
  • 40 million Americans are regular users of porn sites
  • 25% of all search engine requests are pornography related
  • 68 million searches are conducted a day that are pornography related
  • 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic
  • There are 116,000 searches for child pornography daily
  • The average age at which a child first sees porn online is 11
  • Every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the U.S.

Most people have no idea how addictive pornography actually is. They think that it is just looking at pictures or videos. How can looking at pictures be addictive? The addictive process is multifaceted. The more one continues to view pornography he or she becomes behaviorally conditioned to continue doing so. The sexual drive is a natural drive that God created and it is extremely powerful. The brain also chemically reinforces the addictive process because the use of pornography provides the brain with potent chemicals. Eventually the use of pornography is the brain’s primary way of getting its needs met, and the addiction becomes extremely ingrained. The addiction to pornography is also promoted through a social context. Many would say this is part of “being a man” and that it is perfectly healthy. All of these factors coalesce into a powerful addiction.

So just how powerful is the addiction to pornography? One experiment was conducted where rats were habituated to the drug Heroine. The rats were then given the option to receive a dose of Heroine or an electrical impulse that stimulated the sexual pleasure centers in their brains. The rats chose the electrical impulse every time. That is extremely telling.

So why has pornography become such a problem? Because the addiction is rooted in shame and shrouded in secrecy. No one wants to come out and admit they have a problem. The shame and secrecy actually feed the addiction. The only way to break free is to take the first step and admit it is a problem to someone else.

You probably noticed from the statistics that the church is heavily impacted by this addiction. Christianity clearly teaches that lust and pornography are wrong. Pornography is prohibited along with every other form of sexual aberration. So with the Biblical proscription against pornography, why is it such a raging problem? Could it be that people are afraid to approach the church with this problem because they are scared of being condemned and judged instead of helped and loved? Have we created an environment in church that actually feeds the problem? What if the church promoted the teachings of Christ? That people are broken and desperately in need of some loving people to hold their hands and walk them through dark nights of the soul. Maybe more people would find the strength to be removed from the bondage of pornography if Christians would create an atmosphere of safety in churches, where we promote the idea that we are all sinners. Where we take off the masks instead of pretending like our outer Sunday best is a reflection of what is inside.

Parents, did you notice the statistics about kids? Don’t bury your head in the sand and assume that your child would never look at pornography. On the contrary, the weight of the evidence says that your child will look at pornography or be approached to do so. Talk to your kids about this topic. Let them know the dangers. Give them the freedom to come tell you when they mess up. Don’t punish them for being honest. Instead, praise them for their bravery to admit there is something in their life that shouldn’t be there.

Chances are extremely high that someone reading this struggles with pornography. Let me promise you something. You will never kill this monster on your own. It is like fighting a nine-headed hydra. Cut of one head and two grow back. I have worked with enough people to know this is a fact. Do not lie to yourself and tell yourself you will stop or that you can quit. It will not happen. Instead, tell someone. It is the brave thing to do. Know that there are probably people you know that struggle with the same thing. Maybe if you are brave they could be too. Would you take the first step and tell someone? Would you do yourself a huge favor and deal with this immediately? I hope you will.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

If you read this and know that you struggle in this area but are too scared to tell someone you know, would you send me an email? You don’t even have to give me your name. Just start there. I would love to give you some information, resources, and ideas of where to go from here.

Apologetic Wednesday: Demons or Delusions?

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The Bible is rife with accounts of supernatural activity. One can read about encounters with demons, along with angelic host. Scripture clearly promotes the idea that there is a God and angelic beings, and conversely, Lucifer and demonic beings. Many argue that modern psychology has done away with the demonic. Can we really believe demons exist? Are the accounts in the Bible accurate that describe people being possessed and under the control of dark spiritual forces? Were the writers just attempting to make sense out of what they experienced? Could these accounts be describing people with psychosis rather than possession? Is belief in the demonic akin to believing in fire-breathing dragons, elves, and unicorns?

Only meager amounts of information can be found on this topic. There is a lack of credible evidence put forth against demonic possession, we instead simply find  musings that mental illness must surely account for what has been labeled as the activity of demons. Why must this be the case? Is there any evidence to the contrary? Having an extensive background in both Psychology and Theology I feel somewhat qualified to put forth some thoughts about this issue.

It is certainly understandable that demonic possession could be confused with psychosis, especially the more severe schizophrenia. Often, psychotic episodes are religious in nature. I have had dealings with people experiencing delusions of grandeur who believe they are Jesus Christ. I have also worked with people that claim they see demons and angels or have communicated with such beings. It is tempting to read the accounts in scripture of demonic activity through modern eyes and attempt to psychologize the text, but we do so to our detriment.

First, we must lay the groundwork and understand what psychosis is. It is a break from reality where the individual has a distorted picture of what is real and lacks the ability to ground himself with an accurate picture of his world. When we examine the DSM-IV’s (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for schizophrenia we find that the following symptoms may be present:

  • Delusions – A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary
  • Hallucinations – False or distorted sensory experiences that appear to be real perceptions. These sensory impressions are generated by the mind rather than by any external stimuli, and may be seen, heard, felt, and even smelled or tasted.
  • Disorganized speech – Language may be difficult to understand. Ideas presented may be incoherent. The person may switch quickly between unrelated topics. The person may be long winded or have difficulty reaching a conclusion. Some may use made up words.
  • Disorganized behavior – This could range from child-like silliness to unpredictable agitation.  There could be a problem the tasks of daily living or maintenance of hygiene.  The person may be inappropriate, unpredictable, or easily agitated.
  • Catatonic behavior – A marked decrease in reactivity to the environment, sometimes reaching an extreme degree of complete unawareness, maintaining a rigid posture and resisting efforts to be moved, active resistance to instructions, bizarre postures, or purposeless and unstimulated motor activity.
  • Social or Occupational Dysfunction – There is a failure to achieve interpersonal, occupational or educational achievement that is within the grasp of the person. Interpersonal relationships and self care often experience decline.

Now that we have a general idea of some of the symptoms of psychosis, we must examine biblical accounts of possession and see if they coincide with a psychotic break. We will also do well to notice how the text attempts to distinguish between the two in its descriptions.

First, let’s focus our attention to passages like Matthew 4:24, “Then the news about Him spread throughout Syria. So they brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics.” Here a distinction is made between disease and possession. Psychosis is a neurological problem rooted in biology. Though the exact cause of psychosis is unknown, many believe there may be certain genetic factors that predispose one to psychosis along with biological risk factors that may contribute to the onset of the disorder. There is obviously a problem with certain levels or interactions of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that are part of the problem. We also notice in this passage that epilepsy is contrasted with demonic possession as well. Why would the writers not mistake this as the work of demons?

We find a psychotic disorder present in Daniel 4. This passage is told in first person by Nebuchadnezzar, king of ancient Babylon. He experiences a psychotic break and believes himself to be an ox. He lives outdoors and behaves like a wild animal. He eats grass and his hair and nails grow long. This is a psychological disorder that has been documented in modern times and still occurs today. It is called boanthropy, and the person who experiences this disorder believes they are a cow and act accordingly. Some people are deluded into believing they are wolves and this is known as lycanthropy. Many believe that the legend of werewolves arose from people experiencing lycanthropy. The symptoms that King Nebuchadnezzar exhibits very much indicate that psychosis is present. A delusion is active, disorganized behavior is noticeable, and social and interpersonal dysfunction are implied. He was relieved of his position temporarily and lived in the fields. Here we see no appeal to label his symptoms or behaviors to the credit of demons.

When we examine the interactions of Jesus with those possessed, such accounts as can be found in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 4, we find information that one would consider as aberrant with a psychotic disorder. During the interactions Jesus has with those possessed there does not seem to be any disorganized speech or problems communicating. We find that the demoniacs are rational in their interactions with Christ. This does not seem to line up with psychosis.

It is interesting that the ones experiencing demonic possession have direct knowledge of who Christ is, and it coincides with who Christ claimed to be. They also exhibit special knowledge and superhuman strength, which would coincide with supernatural activity being present.

We also notice in the account of the man possessed by many demons in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8, that when the demons are exorcised they are transferred to pigs, which in turn behavior erratically, run into the sea and drown themselves. Psychosis would not be considered transferable in such a manner. We can note that the pigs act in the same self destructive way as the man did while he was possessed. Would any modern mind be tempted to say that these pigs were schizophrenics? Hardly!

If one does deny that these accounts in scripture are the result of the demonic and ascribe them to diseases of the mind, one still has to account for the fact that Jesus heals them. Or should we now ascribe Jesus as being brilliant in psychiatry?

I would also like to posit experiential evidence, as well, that these accounts are accurate, and that a distinction can be made between psychosis and the demonic. I spent a considerable amount of time working in a psychiatric hospital. I encountered vast amounts of psychosis. Some of the individuals I worked with experienced spiritual delusions and hallucinations. Majority of the time it was simply psychosis. Yet, on few occasions  I met individuals that raised an awareness within me that something was  present that naturalistic explanations could not account for.

A close examination of the text leaves no room for skepticism about spiritual agents at work. The explicit testimony of scripture is that spiritual beings do exist. When read the accounts of these beings at work in the Bible, and we can see distinctions made between illness and demonic activity.

We would do well to pay attention to these distinctions. Many Christians today see demonic presence where it is not. They see the demons behind depression, psychotic disorders,  substances abuse, etc. They find demons hiding behind every door and under every rock. We must have a correct understanding between mental health and spiritual activity. We should seek a correct understanding of reality by not attributing to the work of demons that which we do not understand, but neither using psychology to account for things we also do not fully understand. C.S. Lewis gives us a proper perspective when finding this balance. “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.” We mustn’t ignore the existence of demons, but we err when we see them hiding in every alley way.

Walk good. Love wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Have any thoughts? I would very much be interested in hearing them!

Pornography, Bravery, and Freedom

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I hope you found that video both sobering and heartbreaking. Sexual addiction/pornography addiction has become pandemic. It can no longer be ignored. It destroys marriages, families, friendships, careers, and lives.  Let me share some statistics with you.

  • 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography
  • 70% of porn visitors online admit that they keep it secret
  • Ages 12-17 are the largest consumers of internet pornography
  • 62% of parents with teenagers are unaware they have accessed objectionable website
  • 90% of children ages 8-16 have viewed pornography on the internet
  • 1 in 3 porn viewers are women
  • 70% of men, aged 18-24, visit porn sites in a month
  • 12% of websites on the internet are pornographic
  • Nearly 25 million pornographic sites are in existence
  • Every second, over $3,000 is spent on internet pornography
  • Over 28,000 internet users are viewing porn every second
  • 40 million Americans are regular users of porn sites
  • 25% of all search engine requests are pornography related
  • 68 million searches are conducted a day that are pornography related
  • 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic
  • There are 116,000 searches for child pornography daily
  • The average age at which a child first sees porn online is 11
  • Every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the U.S.

Most people have no idea how addictive pornography actually is. They think that it is just looking at pictures or videos. How can looking at pictures be addictive? The addictive process is multifaceted. The more one continues to view pornography he or she becomes behaviorally conditioned to continue doing so. The sexual drive is a natural drive that God created and it is extremely powerful. The brain also chemically reinforces the addictive process because the use of pornography provides the brain with potent chemicals. Eventually the use of pornography is the brain’s primary way of getting its needs met, and the addiction becomes extremely ingrained. The addiction to pornography is also promoted through a social context. Many would say this is part of “being a man” and that it is perfectly healthy. All of these factors coalesce into a powerful addiction.

So just how powerful is the addiction to pornography? One experiment was conducted where rats were habituated to the drug Heroine. The rats were then given the option to receive a dose of Heroine or an electrical impulse that stimulated the sexual pleasure centers in their brains. The rats chose the electrical impulse every time. That is extremely telling.

So why has pornography become such a problem? Because the addiction is rooted in shame and shrouded in secrecy. No one wants to come out and admit they have a problem. The shame and secrecy actually feed the addiction. The only way to break free is to take the first step and admit it is a problem to someone else.

You probably noticed from the statistics that the church is heavily impacted by this addiction. Christianity clearly teaches that lust and pornography are wrong. Pornography is prohibited along with every other form of sexual aberration. So with the Biblical proscription against pornography, why is it such a raging problem? Could it be that people are afraid to approach the church with this problem because they are scared of being condemned and judged instead of helped and loved? Have we created an environment in church that actually feeds the problem? What if the church promoted the teachings of Christ? That people are broken and desperately in need of some loving people to hold their hands and walk them through dark nights of the soul. Maybe more people would find the strength to be removed from the bondage of pornography if Christians would create an atmosphere of safety in churches, where we promote the idea that we are all sinners. Where we take off the masks instead of pretending like our outer Sunday best is a reflection of what is inside.

Parents, did you notice the statistics about kids? Don’t bury your head in the sand and assume that your child would never look at pornography. On the contrary, the weight of the evidence says that your child will look at pornography or be approached to do so. Talk to your kids about this topic. Let them know the dangers. Give them the freedom to come tell you when they mess up. Don’t punish them for being honest. Instead, praise them for their bravery to admit there is something in their life that shouldn’t be there.

Chances are extremely high that someone reading this struggles with pornography. Let me promise you something. You will never kill this monster on your own. It is like fighting a nine-headed hydra. Cut of one head and two grow back. I have worked with enough people to know this is a fact. Do not lie to yourself and tell yourself you will stop or that you can quit. It will not happen. Instead, tell someone. It is the brave thing to do. Know that there are probably people you know that struggle with the same thing. Maybe if you are brave they could be too. Would you take the first step and tell someone? Would you do yourself a huge favor and deal with this immediately? I hope you will.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

If you read this and know that you struggle in this area but are too scared to tell someone you know, would you send me an email? You don’t even have to give me your name. Just start there. I would love to give you some information, resources, and ideas of where to go from here.

What Can We Control?

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One thing that is pretty consistent among people is the need to be in control. No one wants to feel as though they are on a burning stage coach, with no reigns, as it goes barreling down the open road. So we do our best to try and control the course of our lives. The problem is, we live with the illusion that we can control more than we actually are able to. We feel as though we are in control of our health. While we are able to make good choices, we have no guarantee how long we will live. One of us could have a terminal disease right now without being aware of it. I hope it is you and not me (just kidding, okay, maybe I am not, or am I? Who knows?). We think we are in control of our careers. We believe we have financial security and can control our future. We think we are in control of our families. At times, we even think we are in control of other people. But in reality, much of what we think we are in control of is illusion. We like to think we are in control because it makes us feel comfortable.

So the question is, what can we control? We are in command of very little actually. Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Yea, me too. The good news is, while much of our life is beyond our capacity to control, there are two very significant aspects of our lives that we can control. Just as a caveat, if you think one of these two things is other people, then you are deceived. We cannot control or change other people. The sooner we learn this lesson the better our lives will be.

The first thing in our lives we can control is our thinking. Some feel that we are subject to the whims of our thought life, but in all actuality we control what we think about. When thoughts come into our minds that are problematic, negative, destructive, sinful, or damaging we can choose to change the channel in our minds. The more we address our thought life and practice changing our thoughts, the easier it is to command what is going on between our ears. We can choose how to perceive things. We can challenge our own assumptions. We can see the glass half full instead of half empty. We can fly our attitudes at higher altitudes. Yes, we have control over our thought life.

The second thing that we have full control over is our behavior. This is closely linked with our thought life, because thoughts often lead to behavior. The longer we entertain an idea the more apt we are to act on that idea. The easiest way to change our behavior is to change our thoughts. So many people blame others or their circumstances for their actions. The truth is, we have no excuse for how we behave. Now certainly our history, environment, and other people can influence us, but only we are responsible for what we do. When we act as fools we have no one to blame but ourselves.

When we try and control the world around us we are met with frustration. We simply cannot change things outside of what we think and what we do. At times, we even use worry as an attempt to control things. We may not be aware of it, but we worry about things because it feels that somehow it keeps us in some form of control in situations that seem ominous.

What if instead of worrying, trying to control others, and fruitlessly trying to bridle the world around us we focused on the only things we can control, our thoughts and behaviors. I think this would be a much better use of our time.

Viktor Frankl recounts in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, about his time spent in several Nazi death camps. He was a prominent Jewish Psychiatrist and Neurologist who had everything in life stripped from him. Everything one might be tempted to think they have control of was taken from him. Yet, when all seemed lost, he realized he could still control his thoughts and his behaviors. Listen to the way Frankl elegantly expresses this idea. “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Jesus also reminds us in the book of Matthew, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Let’s forget trying to control the things we can’t. He would prefer we put our energy into changing what we think about and who we are becoming.

While we are limited to these two things that we have control of, God is in control. We can work on our thoughts and behaviors and allow God to handle the rest. He reminds us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Those things that we attempt to control with no avail, what if we just let God deal with those? He has got it covered.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

What things in your life do you try to control?

Marriage Monday: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Part 4

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Over the past four weeks we have been examining what John Gottman labels “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in marriage. Each of these unhealthy marital interactions inflicts deadly wounds to the health and stability of any marriage in which they are present. Thus far, we have seen the damage that can be done by criticism and contempt. We also noticed where these first two horsemen are present; defensiveness does not linger far behind.

When criticism, contempt, and defensiveness have remained present over long periods of time, the marriage reaches a potent toxicity level that allows the fourth and final horsemen to stroll into the relationship. This last horseman is known as stonewalling, and he is very capable of giving marriages a death blow.

Stonewalling takes place when one partner completely unplugs and tunes the other out. It occurs when one spouse becomes so overwhelmed by the amount of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness in the relationship that the need to be removed from the hostility becomes of utmost importance. When stonewalling makes its way into a marriage, the couple has reached a point where little opportunity for change can take place without immediate and extreme intervention.

When one simply blocks out what the other is saying; here is born a negative cycle of marital interaction. One partner criticizes the other, and the other retreats. The less one partner pays attention and the more aloof they are, the greater the other spouse screams, attacks, and criticizes.

Ray Stedman asks, “Hear about the fellow who had the nagging wife? ‘Talk, talk, talk, talk, he said to his friend. ‘That’s all my wife ever does is talk, talk, talk, talk.” His friend responded, ‘Well, what does she talk about?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘she don’t say.’” It is likely the reason he no longer hears what she says is because he is stonewalling her. He has heard enough of the nagging that he no longer listens. As we said before, this leads to more nagging. The cycle perpetuates itself until either the couple goes their separate way or they become roommates living under the same roof that rarely interact.

Besides the obvious problems they create, the reason criticism, contempt, and defensiveness are so deadly is because they lead to stonewalling. When stonewalling attains s a presence in the marriage, avoiding conflict at all cost through disengagement becomes the priority, and as a byproduct, one spouse avoids the partner altogether.

It is imperative that we continually monitor our own hearts, the hearts of our spouse, the way we interact, and what we say toward one another. Let’s keep these four poisonous interactions out of our marriages and avoid Armageddon in our homes.

Are you critical toward your spouse? Have any feelings of contempt? Feel the need to be defensive? Find that you want to avoid conflict? Does your spouse seem to not want to hear what you have to say? Maybe there are some things we need to change. Let’s look deep inside. If we find any of these present in our marriages, let’s send them out. Our marriages are far too important to let unravel, and our lives are too short not to enjoy the person we are committed to.

And be kindand compassionateto one another, forgivingone another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. -Ephesians 4:32

Walk good, live wise, be blessed.
Josh

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