Saturday, January 29, 2011
Dr. Christina Fosarelli, head of the George Washington University Institute for Spirituality and Health, says “… prayer is like a placebo. How can something we know is totally worthless work? Placebos [work] and we don't understand why. It is clear that to some people, faith matters a great deal and seems to be effective and we don't know why." Those of us who believe in God do, in fact, know how these interventions work.
In psychotherapy a placebo may be an inert medication such as a sugar pill or a therapeutic intervention that is known to have no research support. Despite this fact, many times placebo can actually cause the patient to get better. However, a placebo must be consistent with the patient’s beliefs, values and religious convictions to be effective. Alternatively, to suggest treatment that is contrary to a patient’s values can lead to a reverse placebo effect. When the client’s mind develops anxiety or fear, harmful results occur. In the same way that the Placebo Effect brings a positive influence on mental, emotional and physical life the Reverse Placebo Effect can cause the opposite to occur.
Prayer, worship or Holy Communion has a therapeutic placebo effect in a believer. We believe that these faith practices also provide supernatural interventions thereby doubling the impact on body and soul. Additionally, taking part in these activities also engages the patient’s family and church fellowship support system. Thus, acts of faith combine three of the four factors of healing. No wonder church attendance is so wonderfully therapeutic.
However, two ways of bringing religion and spirituality into treatment can be harmful to the client or patient. First, spiritual interventions that are inconsistent with the patient’s faith can cause a reverse placebo. Whereas the placebo effect brings peace and physical improvement its reverse can have the opposite effect for it brings anxiety, fear, condemnation and inner conflict along with all the accompanying negative physical ramifications.
For example, some health care programs suggest that Christian clients practice Yoga as part of an exercise and stress reliever regimen. However, Yoga with meditation on a Hindu god would cause non-Hindus to suffer a reverse placebo effect that could damage the client physically, mentally and emotionally. To Christians and Jews the worship of false gods is idolatry that our bodies and minds automatically reject.
Second, to refuse a client’s request for prayer, communion or a religious rite is malpractice. A person in need often turns to God and religion because the result is a Relaxation Response and a positive Placebo. Rejection of such a request may cause anxiety, guilt feelings, shame and fear. These acts are deleterious to the patient and his family.
A very important factor for recovery is the patient’s motivational level. Without a desire to get better we who minister can do little. Second, hope is also essential to recovery. To refuse a client’s request for religious and spiritual assistance can damage both motivation and hope. Most destructive, however, is the erosion of a third factor; trust between client and therapist.
As I posted above, Dr. Herbert Benson, a well-known researcher on whole person medicine and the Relaxation Response at Harvard University, has carefully researched stress and health. The Relaxation Response is his name for a physical response to deep breathing and calmness. After researching the effects of Eastern Meditation he was challenged to include research on the addition of religion and health.
As a result, he changed his mind about meditation. He writes, “I thought that the Relaxation Response (with its emphasis on secular practices alone) was enough but I have come to see that the effects of this simple technique combined with a person’s deepest beliefs can create internal environments to help the individual reach an enhanced state of health and well-being.” (Beyond The Relaxation Response, Berkley Health, 1985)
Prayer and other spiritual approaches can be particularly beneficial for people with stress-related disorders. Dr. Herbert Benson reports that meditative prayer can ease anxiety, mild depression, substance abuse, ulcers, pain, nausea, tension and migraine headaches, infertility, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr Benson’s entire approach to relaxation was changed to include religious practices that are consistent with the patient’s faith. A patient who asks for Christian prayer or Holy Communion is denied them at the risk of severe psychological and medical harm. This is, by definition malpractice.
Why would Christians practice Eastern Meditation when it is less effective than focused prayer? I think it is because we Christian leaders have failed miserably in teaching our people how to pray from the heart. We have also failed to tell the world how beneficial prayer is to the whole person and how to combine prayer, worship and physical exercise. In short, we have failed to make disciples and instead replace practical spiritual practices with talk.
Friday, January 28, 2011
My wife and I just returned from a five day cruise in the Caribbean. It was wonderful with sun, warm air, great food and time to rest. One of the main events on the ship was health care. They had a big workout room with classes, exercises and a lot of ways to spend your money. Yoga was promoted everywhere.
That is not odd or different. I find Yoga, a practice of Eastern Mysticism developed by Hindus and taken up seriously by various Hindu sects such as Buddhism. It promotes meditation though emptying one's mind and focusing on making the sound of a Hindu god. It also promotes stretching and relaxation to relieve stress and build one's body. The health benefits are touted almost everywhere, including the Mason Community Center where I belong and work out.
I have always been a bit uneasy with Yoga and share my discomfort with those who practice it for its health benefits. It promotes meditating on a Hindu god which is contrary to the Bible's insistence that "You shall worship the Lord your God and have no other gods before you".
Many who practice Yoga insist that it is a purely secular and even a physical event. But I am not satisfied that is true. Nor do I believe that Eastern Mysticism, Yoga, is as good for us as is prayer and exercise from a Christian point of view. For example, I saw this research and was impressed that Christians can do better than Yoga.
Dr. Herbert Benson is a well-known researcher on whole person medicine and the Relaxation Response at Harvard University, has carefully researched stress and health. The Relaxation Response is his name for a physical response to deep breathing and calmness. Then he was challenged to include research on the addition of religion and health. He writes, “I thought that the Relaxation Response (with its emphasis on secular practices alone) was enough but I have come to see that the effects of this simple technique combined with a person’s deepest beliefs can create internal environments to help the individual reach an enhanced state of health and well-being.” (Beyond The Relaxation Response, Berkley Health, 1985)
Prayer and other spiritual approaches can be particularly beneficial for people with stress-related disorders. Dr. Herbert Benson reports that meditative prayer can ease anxiety, mild depression, substance abuse, ulcers, pain, nausea, tension and migraine headaches, infertility, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Dr Benson’s entire approach to relaxation was changed to include religious practices that are consistent with the patient’s faith. A patient who asks for Christian prayer or Holy Communion is denied them at the risk of severe psychological and medical harm. This is, by definition malpractice.
Why then, do many hospitals with Christian origins promote Eastern Mysticism such as Yoga and yet do not practice Christian prayer, meditation and worship?
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The Bible has a good bit to say about anger. In fact, other than money, anger is possibly a top topic in the Holy Writ.
Back in about 1975 I spoke to Friday Morning Men on several occasions. I did one series on sex and we had a record setting number of males turn up. I was not surprised and was very pleased that my choice of subjects was so well received.
A few months later I spoke on anger and almost twice as many men came. When I expressed my surprise that this topic out pulled sex, one of the men said, "We get a whole lot more anger than we do sex."
I suppose that is why God inspired His authors to write their Spirit led thoughts on the topic. First, let me tell you about my family and how we tried to deal with anger and other negative emotions. My Great Grand Father had been a Holiness Minister and Evangelist. He believed and taught that once a Christian had been "Baptized in the Holy Spirit" he or she could live above sin. This meant that anger, lust, coveting and so forth could be eliminated from our lives.
His daughter, my Grandmother, was a true follower of this philosophy and, as far as i could tell, she did a pretty good job of living without anger and lust. This brings me to my mother who was a fiery, red headed Irish woman who did not live her life without anger, but she had an enormous guilt complex about being imperfect in that regard. She insisted that Christians did NOT get angry. "I get frustrated," she would say, "but Christians do not get angry."
So, we had some very unhealthy ideas about how to deal with the reality of anger and what the Bible actually teaches about it and other negative emotions. For example, until I was an adult who learned to study a bit of Greek and actually understand that there are very different Greek words translated with the same English term anger. This means that the Bible is often precise and clear that the FEELINGS of anger are natural, normal and acceptable. However, resentment, bitterness and revenge are forbidden.
In fact, in Ephesians 4 St. Paul says, "Go ahead and get angry but do no let the sun go down on your anger." The first term translated as anger means "Feel the emotion of anger" but the second term means "bitterness and resentment". It is not possible by an act of the will to stop feeling anger. It is, however, possible to stop thinking about revenge.
More on this topic later.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Unless you live in a cave with no electricity you are well aware of the tragedy that occurred some nine days ago in Tuscon, Ar. A young man shot and killed six persons and wounded several more. The news media have been filled with speculation about his motives. If political rhetoric spurred him into such evil, awful acts.
The Bible has many passages on how our words can have a powerful impact on the people around us. One of my favorites is "Death or life are in the power of the tongue and those who love (to use their tongue" will eat the fruit of what they say." I did a doctoral dissertation on developing a systematic human relations model in 1975. Since then I have been preaching, teaching, writing and training people how to minister life instead of death.
Having said that, I am not suggesting that the young killer was influenced by political speech. There is no evidence that he was. As soon as I read his statements in the paper I knew he was deeply troubled and probably suffered from paranoia. It was listening to his own deeply broken heart statements that led him to kill.
My friend and mentor Dr. Richard Walters did some research on the power of the spoken word to impact listeners. He had actors read prepared statements on tapes and brought in students to listen to them. Some statements were harsh and others warm. Others were neutral.
As the students listened to the tapes Rich had their pupils measured to see what happened. Amazingly, when the students heard a harsh statement their pupils opened wide as they would when under attack. When they heard a warm, caring statement the pupils relaxed as in safety. He discovered that indeed, physical harm was in the spoken word as was physical health.
As you read this reflect for some moments about your speech patterns. Are you a blessing or a curse to those around you? The Bible says, "Do not let anything come out of your mouth that does not build up the people who hear you..." EPH 4:29
How are you doing as a person that is building up the people around you?
Scale yourself: Zero is Destructive and Ten is Fantastic Life
Church People: 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
People you dislike: 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
Friday, January 07, 2011
So far I have posted three times on this topic and it has received a good bit of interaction for which I am thankful. Most of the comments come on Face Book. My last post focused on the fact that many people in the church suffer from deep emotional, relational and spiritual wounds that lead them to be reactive to people, events and ideas that are similar to the things that initially wounded them.
Many years ago a researcher by the name of Dr. Penfield wanted to better understand how our memories worked. He opened up the skulls of several patients and gave very, very slight electrical charges to different parts of the brain. Each time he stimulated one of the patent's brains, a memory was brought back. Interestingly enough, that patient upon remembering had similar or same memories and feelings as he/she did originally.
What does that mean? One important implication is that our current memory bank contains locked in it almost every event that has ever occurred in our life. Not only that, but the feelings that accompanied the event is also lying in wait of something in real time to awaken it.
Now fast forward to the present church where Pastor Johnson is readying his sermon for Sunday morning. During his preparation the Pastor decides to come down very hard on sexual sin and shouts that such people will not inherit the Kingdom of God. In the church that morning is Gina Thompson, a young mother of three who has been struggling with low grade depression and burn out.
Gina has never told anyone that she had been dating a man who practically raped her while at college. Afterward, thinking she was a ruined woman, Gina had sex often with her boy friends and got pregnant and had an abortion. She had carried a terrible weight of guilt, shame and condemnation ever since. The scars of her terrible experience were deep and well hidden until Pastor Johnson's exposition that day. As soon as he began to share Gina became extremely uncomfortable and agitated. Memories of her sad experiences are forced to the surface and are mixed with guilt, shame and anger.
What should she do?
1. Go see a Christian Counselor who could bring healing to those deep heart wounds;
2. Go see Pastor Johnson and confess her sins;
3. Tell her unsuspecting husband of her past behavior;
4. Accuse Pastor Johnson of being a cruel legalistic hater for his harsh sermons;
5. Push her guilt and shame farther down and hope it goes away;
6. Drop out of church and never go back;
7. Add a couple of glasses of wine to her nightly regimen of ice cream and cake;
8. Withdraw from any more sexual relations with her husband;
9. Get more angry, depressed and difficult to deal with;
10. Any combination of the above options.
Unless churches become a "safe place" for people such as Gina Thompson, they will never be able to be free from the past trauma. So much current toxic anger actually arises from pain of the past that has never been healed. Jesus came to heal the body, the soul and the spirit. Gina Thompson's soul was deeply wounded as a young woman and desperately needs the church to be a place of healing. Otherwise, how will she ever be able to be a healthy parent, healthy wife and healthy Christian?
We can easily see the current symptoms of earlier trauma. Gina may be depressed, angry, sexually frigid, overeating, etc. And, these will continue and even worsen unless God's people actually follow in the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus commanded His followers to "Do everything He did" but I do not see many churches actually helping people with wounded souls.
And, until seminaries start training new Ministers how to "Care and Cure the Souls" their flocks will go on carrying the pain of past assaults with little relief. No wonder so many Christians give up and try Yoga, meditation and secular psychology.
I challenge all of your Christians who want to help others to learn how to share God's truth, love and power with mercy, grace and the fruit of the Spirit so people like Gina Thompson can be set free from those past traumas.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Jesus said, "Come unto me all of you who are heavily laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me because my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt. 11:25-30.
The promise to sinners is freedom from heavy burdens of guilt, shame and emotional pain. So, why are we surprised when the people who come to faith in Jesus act like people who have been traumatized, hurt, beaten and battered? I was appearing on a TV station near Columbus, Ohio. A Pastor from a large congregation was also appearing and we chatted while waiting to go on.
During the conversation revival and church growth came up and I asked, rather innocently, "Are you seeing the possibility of a revival in the near future?" He looked at me with surprise and said, "Oh! I hope not! My church is filled with a lot of neurotic, emotionally distraught people now and a revival would bring more into my church. I don't think I could handle another revival. Every dysfunctional, wounded Christian in Columbus comes to my church and I do not know why."
"Well" I said,"I see you are talking about healing tonight. Do you offer prayer for healing at your church?"
"We sure do, and hundreds come for prayer and we in the leadership are overwhelmed. Why do I have so many wounded people coming to my church?"
I pointed out that it seemed pretty obvious why to me. He was like a hospital that promised free medical care to the community and so all the sick people showed up. The problem was, his church had no one to provide the care, counsel and prayer for all those who came.
He was shocked because he had never thought that he was advertising free health care to the masses or that he needed to train a corps of Peer Helpers and Counselors to minister to those who showed up at his church. The result was chaos, conflict, complaints and contempt for the Pastoral staff by disgruntled people.
What about your church? Do you preach Jesus saves? Do people come expecting to be saved from childhood wounds and relational hurts left over from home and family life. Do you know how to help angry, difficult people? Have you trained Lay Helpers and Lay Pastors to meet with these folks and bring them them peace?
Many people come to faith and stay stuck in the Baby Stage of spiritual/emotional growth. They are often "Battered Babies who know nothing about the Bible or healing except how to cry, complain and create conflict. They were rejected and abandoned emotionally at home and often find the same kind of harsh treatment at their new church family, thus ripping the childhood scabs off their sores.
In Ohio there are some 12 million people of which about 60% or 7 million are unchurched. Of that number at least 50% have met Christ personally and been in church but have been hurt, bored or abandoned.
They would LOVE to find a caring, welcoming, warm congregation that would help them receive God's healing love. Like children, they may cause conflict just to get some needed attention and test the staff to see if will show them love or judgment.
Will your church put Humpty Dumpty back together again or push him off another wall?
Monday, January 03, 2011
A few thoughts before I go to bed.
I read an email message today that I regularly receive from a wise man. It sparked some thoughts about conflict. Read the statement from Graced Again by Tom Wood, Church Multiplication Ministries, a non-profit, whose mission is starting, strengthening, multiplying grace-centered churches through consults and coaching church planting pastors, leaders and emerging leaders.
Then read my thoughts and see what you think.
“A special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work and office is the life, heart and mainspring of the Christian character. He sees by faith and unseen Saviour, who loved him, gave Himself for him, paid his debts for him, bore his sins, carried his transgressions, rose again for him, and appears in heaven for him as his Advocate at the right hand of God.
He sees Jesus and clings to Him…..He sees his own many sins, his weak heart, a tempting world, a busy devil; and if he looked only at them, he might well despair. But he sees also a mighty Saviour, an interceding Saviour, a sympathizing Saviour—His blood…..His righteousness, His everlasting priesthood—and he believes that all this is his own.
He sees Jesus and casts his whole weight on Him. Seeing Him, he cheerfully fights on, with a full confidence that he will prove more than conqueror through Him that loved him…Habitual lively faith in Christ’s presence and readiness to help is the secret of the Christian fighting success fully.”
by J C Ryle, Holiness
Why did I write what I did as a result of this powerful statement?
We are all deeply broken, deeply flawed and blind to our sinful natures. Sin is not just "skin deep" but bone deep. Our flaws seep out of every pore and every possible action step we take including our thoughts.
To make matters worse, we actually think we can live without sin and expect others to be sinless. If they don't we grow angry, attacking and judgmental. The slightest mistakes, errors, sin or misstatement by others allows us to think we are superior and unleashes a deeply felt desire to crush our former friend, spouse or child. We attack because the weak, sinful and error prone person deserves our wrath and so we unleash our shame, guilt and punishment on him or her without mercy and certainly without grace.
Saturday, January 01, 2011
I had quite a few readers who answered this question by writing me. It has been a good discussion and I am grateful that they focused mainly on the sin of PRIDE. In fact, several proposed that the major sin issue is pride and it leads to other deceitful tendencies in our humanity.
Here is some of the passages about pride from the Bible.
II Kings 19:20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. 21 This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him:
22Whom have you mocked and reviled and insulted and blasphemed? Against Whom have you raised your voice and haughtily lifted your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel! 23By your messengers you have mocked, reproached, insulted, and defied the Lord, and have said, With my many chariots I have gone up to the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon. I cut down its tall cedar trees and its choicest cypress trees. I entered its most distant retreat, its densest forest. 24I dug wells and drank foreign waters, and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all [the defense and] the streams of Egypt.
25[But, says the God of Israel] Have you not heard how I ordained long ago what now I have brought to pass? I planned it in olden times, that you [king of Assyria] should [be My instrument to] lay waste fortified cities, making them ruinous heaps. 26That is why their inhabitants had little power, they were dismayed and confounded; they were like plants of the field, the green herb, the grass on the housetops, blasted before it is grown up 27But [O Sennacherib] I [the Lord] know your sitting down, your going out, your coming in, and your raging against Me.
II Chronicles 26:16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. 18 They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God.”
In each of these instances we see that pride is the core problem that then lead to other problems.The Lord says to King Hezekiah ... you have mocked, reproached, insulted, and defied the Lord..." as if to make sure the readers understand that the garden variety of pride is not the focus here. Instead it is the fact that the pride is disrespectful of God not just other people.
Then King Uzziah got power and forgot to humble himself before the Lord. Not only that, his pride led him to try to offer a sacrifice in the temple; an act that was restricted to priests only.
Both kings acted as though God was not involved in the affairs of state. They were wrong. They failed to be contrite toward God and His power, authority and activities. They blasphemed against God and that is serious business.
So pride is an attitude of narcissism and of acting like I can do anything. Have you ever done something that was rebellious toward God or your parents or an authority because you thought you were too big to fail? I have. I became "Too full of myself" and made foolish mistakes and suffered from them.
Is pride the core weakness in humanity that leads to all of the other sins. I don't think so. It was the great sin of Adam and Eve. It was the great sin of Satan that led to his being kicked out of heaven. It is a basic weakness of humanity. But, ....? What say you?