God and pepperoni pizza

In A Divine Way to Resist Temptation, Jonah Lehrer tells of how he was raised to observe kosher rules that included a ban on cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza. Though an impulsive and unrestrained eater in general, he found it easy to observe the pepperoni and cheeseburger ban, even at friends’ parties.

Of course Lehrer’s not alone; lots of usually indisciplined people manage to obey incredibly strict food rules during Ramadan or Lent. As Rabbi David Wolpe told Lehrer: “The world is full of people who are fastidious about Biblical rules but can’t say no to fast food.” The Rabbi’s conclusion? “There’s something about rules from God that make them easier to follow.”

The science of temptation
And the scientists back him up. In a series of experiments Psychologist Kevin Rounding found that, “People are better able to resist their desires when thinking about God.” Even triggering subconscious thoughts of faith increased self-control and the ability to delay self-gratification. In fact, even atheists or agnostics in the studies were influenced in a similar way by subconscious thoughts of God!

Why should this be so? Well, here’s the scientific explanation:

The scientists describe thoughts of God as providing the mind with “important psychological nutrients” that “refuel” our inner resources, much like Gatorade replenishes the body after a long run. The scientists think that faith-based thoughts may increase “self-monitoring” by evoking the idea of an all-knowing, omnipresent God. If God is always watching, we better not misbehave—he knows about the pepperoni.

Three takeaways (pardon the pun!).
First, this is encouraging for Christian parents who have trained up their children in the way they should go, and are not yet seeing any visible fruit for all their prayers and teaching. Be assured, your labor has had an impact, it is impinging on the conscience, and it is affecting choices, even though your son or daughter may not admit it or even be conscious of it.

Second, Proverbs 16:6 is confirmed: “By the fear of the Lord, one departs from evil.” As the Rabbi said, “Thinking about God makes it easier to do the right thing.” When facing temptation, use the divinely provided “Gatorade” of thinking about God to refuel your resistance.

Third, although the Rabbi says, “We need a system of rules to live by,” we actually need much more than that. Yes, let’s use all the external rules and internal helps we can to do the right thing. But we don’t always do it, do we? What then?

Thankfully as the other half of Proverbs 16:6 tells us, God in His love has also provided an atonement to purge away our sins. Christ’s blood is the most powerful sin-resisting fuel in the world.

You can read Lehrer’s article here. He’s also authored a fascinating book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Check out

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Work as worship
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Why we “care” instead of “counsel” one another
“In the fall of 2011, I (Robert Cheong) made a strategic decision to replace the word “counsel” with “care” within our church culture. I didn’t send out a memo or make campaign signs. Rather, I began using the terms “care/caring” everywhere I would have used the words “counsel/counseling” in my conversations with others and in training material developed to help ministry leaders shepherd those under their care at each of our campuses.”

Brain training helps treat depression
A brain training technique which helps people control activity in a specific part of the brain could help treat depression, a study suggests.

Why smart people are stupid
Loved the cartoon here.

A new breed and a dying breed

Deepak Reju is the Pastor of Biblical Counseling at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. In A New Breed: Pastors who Love Counseling, Deepak highlights the welcome upward trend of interest in pastoral counseling in the local church, and lists some examples of churches who have hired a Pastor of Biblical Counseling.

I’ve only heard good things about Deepak’s counseling ministry and I’ve always enjoyed what he’s written on counseling. However, I wonder if his article highlights a growing and worrying division of roles into pastor-preachers on the one hand and pastor-counselors on the other?

For example, consider how Deepak describes himself as a pastor, but then draws two contrasts between himself and other pastors:

  1. “But I am also a counselor.”
  2. “Yet, I’m different than most pastors. I love counseling.”

Now, the church definitely needs men and women who are called specifically to pastoral counseling; some pastors are so overwhelmed with the number and complexity of counseling cases, that specialist pastoral counselors are needed to ease the load. But this article seems to envisage pastors who are not counselors, or at least pastors who do not love counseling. And that seems to fit what I perceive as a growing and widespread withdrawal of pastors from counseling ministry.

Serious questions
Which raises some serious questions: Can you really call yourself a pastor without constant counseling involvement in people’s messy lives? Can you really be an edifying preacher of the Word without regularly getting your hands dirty in personal ministry?  To be blunt, can you be a pastor and not love counseling? Is that not an oxymoron? Surely a love for ministering the Word to individual needs and problems is a basic qualification of a Gospel minister. If a man told me that he felt a call to pastoral ministry, but didn’t want to counsel people, I’d show him the door.

Pedigree or mongrel
Now it’s possible that I’m drawing the lines too starkly here. Perhaps pastor-preachers are also doing hours of personal counseling every week. But, from what I can gather from various churches going down this route, it doesn’t work like that. The two roles are growing further and further apart, with serious adverse effects on the tone and content of pulpit ministry – more academic, more distant, less “real,” less “human.”

It might appear logical that a person’s preaching will improve if he’s given much more time to study. However, there’s nothing like the stress and strain of daily involvement in people’s lives to put life, vitality, and gritty realism into a preacher and his sermons.

I’m afraid that pastoral ministry is being split into two pure pedigrees – the preacher breed and the counselor breed. I much preferred the old “mongrel” breed of the pastor who both preached to and counseled his flock (Acts 20:20). I hope they’re not dying out.

Check out

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Bringing African back to life: The legacy of George W. Bush
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More lessons I’m learning from other preachers
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Why boredom is good for your creativity
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Black and gay leaders form an alliance
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