Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Marijuana debate ….

 

A recent survey at the Public Religion Research Institute dated April 25, 2013, Survey | General Public, Christian Young Adults Divided on Marijuana Legalization:

Link to the article (survey):


Before I make any comments or thoughts on this heated topic I must make some of my personal demographics clear. I’m a 53 year old, white male, married (for 27 years) with two children (in their early 20’s), living in small town America (the Midwest). I hold a PhD in Psychology and Christian Counseling and I’m a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor-Clinical Supervisor, currently working in the field of addiction counseling (for over 23 years), and working with a small church in my community. As well as having written widely on the topic of addictions, grief, stress, and pastoral ministry.

·         This survey is showing that “50% of Christians between the ages of 18 – 29 said they “favor” or “strongly favor” legalizing recreational marijuana use. When you consider all Christians, though, 54% are against legalization while 39% support it.”

·         In another survey quoted by the article: “70% of American said that recreational use of marijuana is not a sin, compared to 23% who said they believe using the drug is sinning.”

Now with all that said, this article which quotes this recent survey scares me.  The arguments being used for discussion are the same ones that have been used in the church for centuries to justify alcohol use. “It is not that big of a deal, people that don’t use it don’t understand, it is given to us by God, it is good for my health, it can be taxed so therefore will be better controlled, and when are these religious fanatics going to learn to butt out of my business.”

There are physical and psychological effects of addiction to marijuana, even though not as defined and obvious as some other drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and hallucinogens. There is clear evidence that marijuana has negative consequences both physically and mentally.

Short Term effects of using Marijuana:  sleepiness; difficulty keeping track of time, impaired or reduced short-term memory; reduced ability to perform tasks requiring concentration and coordination, such as driving a car; Increase heart rate; Bloodshot eyes; Dry mouth and throat; Decreased social inhibitions; Paranoia; and possible hallucinations.

Long-term effects of using marijuana: enhanced cancer risk; decreased in testosterone levels in men, lower sperm counts and difficulty having children; increased in testosterone levels for women, also increased risk of infertility; diminished or extinguishing sexual pleasure; psychological dependency requiring more of the drug to get the same effect (referred to as tolerance).

As a pastor and drug and alcohol counselor I have dealt with the question for over two decades and to be honest this survey doesn’t surprise me as it has some of my pastor friends or professional colleagues.  When I did my doctoral research and wrote my dissertation in 2005 for my PhD in Psychology and Christian Counseling at Louisiana Baptist University, my research was on the “Alcoholism in relationship to the Doctrinal Beliefs of Assemblies of God and Scripture.” In that study I looked at the changing tide of thought concerning alcohol use and dependency over the course of several decades in America and compared it to scripture. Some would argue that the scripture has less to say about Marijuana.

As the church approaches this topic and has an open dialogue about the legalization of marijuana, I believe that it is important that we base the information on facts, and not personal preferences or assumptions.  Please avoid the preference among many to take scripture out of context in attempt to justify your point of view. I love the use of the scripture "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body," (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

As I talk with my clients I listen with an open ear to hear what they are saying, and share with them about how marijuana can have a negative impact on their lives. I attempt not to argue with them or condemn them.  I make it clear that I personally would not support the legalization of marijuana and that I believe that it is a dangerous road to walk down for the following reason:

·         It has a negative impact on the family dynamics of the home

·         It has a negative impact on the physical health of the individual using, as well as those around them as a result of the second hand smoke.

·         It has negative effect on the thinking process, and can interfere with the individual’s attempts to read and focus on scripture.

·         May have a serious impact on the individual’s perception of what they are reading and studying resulting in a misinterpretation or distortion of scripture.

As a closing thought …

I don’t believe that we should hide are head in the sand as a church and think this issue is going to go away. However, I do believe that we should stand tall, state the facts as we understand them from history, scripture, personal experiences, and not allow the world to dictate what the individuals in the church are taught.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pastors Coping with Stress



Pastors Coping with Stress

            Over the past 35 years of my involvement in pastoral ministry I have found stress to be the one constant factor that I have had to deal with. I realize that some church members feel that stress should not be a factor in a pastor’s life. However, when you work with people and address their life issues, stress will enter the conversation.

            I was recently asked: In your personal life, what have you seen as the key factors leading to stress in pastoral ministry? I have attempted to answer that question by compiling my list of top five stressors (not in any particular order).

            When we address the stress we fill in our lives, we need to understand that there are two contributing factors: 

The FACT - these are things that are really happening and causing anxiety and stress and,
The PERCEPTION - things that I believe are happening that create stress for me.

Member’s expectation: The expectations that I accomplish or do certain things in the church, either spoken or unspoken. A great example is the requirements to be at the hospital to see a member or member’s family, when I was not informed the individual was in the hospital.  

Financial issues: When the finances of the church are in trouble or their does not seem to be enough money to cover the bills. Especially when many churches have concluded that cutting the pastor’s salary is more important than cutting programing at the church.

Family and Children: For most pastors, the balance between family time and pastoral responsibilities is one that creates a great deal of stress. There is an expectation that pastors will be at meetings, do weddings, and provide for the needs of the church members. However, at the same time there is an expectation that the pastor will be at the children’s school functions, attend the sports game, etc.

Limited time to prepare for Teaching & Preaching: From the other pastor’s I have discussed about ministry, this comes up as a top issue for them.

Pastoral expectation that the individuals will do things in the church: Every pastor has his own personal expectation of what people will do in the church, from helping visit the sick, singing in the choir, helping teach a Sunday school class, and so on. When these expectations are not met, the pastor often feels stress.

Tools for coping with these and other stressors in the church:

Establish a support system of individuals to talk with when feeling the stress:  I have developed a group of three men from various walks of like, a pastor, social worker, and college instructor that I attempt to touch base with at least twice a week and talk about how I am feeling and any stress I am feeling. I allow them to ask the tough questions and search if the stress is fact or perception, and then look at solutions to resolve it.

Set priorities and state each priority from the pulpit clearly. This means discussing and defining the priorities within the family, and coming up with a plan to accomplish them in a safe and appropriate way.  I have been blessed with a great wife, and have two kids in college. I have learned the hard way, that before I accept any speaking engagement or plan to attend a conference, I check with all three to see if they have something on the calendar that they would be upset with if I missed. This is also essential in the church, that folks know what your priority is, and that you do certain things first for the church members.

Plan your personal devotional time and prayer: To me the apostles set the ground work for this very thing, when they appointed deacons so they could focus on the word.  Having been an Associate Pastor for many years, this is the one major stressor I see pastors’ having that is self-created.  Find men in your church that can do what you need them to do, and be willing to use them.  I recently talked with a pastor that was extremely stressed and asked him if he allowed the men in his church to help. He made excuses and said they didn’t know how. My question to him was, “did you ask?” and then my follow up question was “did you offer to teach them.” If we want help as a pastor we have to help people learn to minister, and give them to tools and opportunity to do so.

I have noticed for many pastors that having more than one service on a Sunday Morning or the weekend is a very stressful time.  My experience is that this can be eliminated if we are willing to plan ahead and work the plan.  Finding volunteers, training them, and encouraging them to accomplish their task relieves a lot of the stress during the service. 

Pastor’s, it is important to understand stress can be avoided and overcome if we are willing to work at it, and take precautions. My prayer is that you will find peace within your relationship with Christ to help you accomplish the goals HE has set before you and be stress free.

Loving History



Since elementary school I have loved to read and study history, especially biographies of famous people. Understanding the circumstances in which they lived and the events that formed their life, and how they became an individual that someone would want to write about is amazing to me.
I have especially enjoyed reading the biographies of some of the great spiritual leaders of the past. The encouragement to me to remain faithful despite the challenges I face, how they were able to remain true to the word of God despite the possibility of being exiled or even killed, and how their personal relationship with Christ has changed history.

I need an understanding that these individuals have coped with all the same struggles that I face today, and some of their struggles make mine look like a cake walk. The challenge in reading a great biography is realizing that it is about learning from the past, applying it to the present, and seeking to remember it in the future. These men and women of the past did not start out wanting to be famous, they simply wanted to survive in a world that was in turmoil just like it is today.  The reason I gravitate towards Christian biographies is simple, to strength my faith through their testimony.
As a pastor, minister, college professor, men’s minister leader, and Sunday school teacher I have found reading biographies have provided me some of my greatest illustrations. It allows me to remain fresh in my preaching and teaching, and add some clear insight into the word of God by showing people that they are not the only ones living for Christ.

Pastors/friends I would like to challenge you read a biography, better yet not one, but let’s make it a real challenge. How about reading 12 biographies this coming year (one a month), and lets see if our preaching, teaching, and witnessing is not enhanced.