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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
Looking for a church in the Omaha area? Come check out ours on Sunday mornings at 11!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review: Atlas of the Bible by Carl G. Rasmussen

I have always loved maps. Remember the game "Are we there yet?" as a kid? Yeah, that was my favorite game until the day I discovered I could add all the little red numbers between the cities on my parents' atlas together and find out exactly how long till we were there.

So when I got the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible by Carl Rasmussen in the mail I was like a kid in a candy store. And this isn't your grandma's Bible Atlas either. The multidimensional and three-dimensional maps add a new layer to the context of many biblical accounts. My personal favorites are the maps that detail some of the Old Testament battles; the three-dimensional maps give a new understanding of how the terrain may have played a role.

However, this is not merely an atlas. Fully half of this book is text in addition to the maps, chronological charts, full-color photos and graphics. All considered, this book is a solid Bible history book in and of itself. Some of the pictures are more relevant and helpful than others, but the whole book is so beautifully put together one can hardly blame them for including some vivid imagery of the Middle East countryside.

I foresee this book being indispensable in the near future as Redeemer Church is planning to work through the Pentateuch together in nine weeks for a series we're calling the Old Testament Challenge.

Rating: Five of five stars

Recommended for: Anyone wanting to study the history of their Bible deeper; all cartophiles

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sermon on Jonah 3 & 4: Part 1, The Forgiven People

After being puked up on the shore near Nineveh, Jonah finally obeys God in this dreaded assignment—dreaded because Assyria is a growing superpower in the middle east that is threatening the the norther border of Israel. Dreaded because Jonah cannot imagine how this will end in his favor: either the Ninevites reject his message and kill him or they receive his message and repent.

The one consolation left for Jonah is small. His message isn't one of repentance, only judgment. His only recorded words to the Ninevites is "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

Yet the Ninevites seem to come to all the right conclusions: fasting, sackcloth, dust and ashes, calling urgently on God, and giving up evil ways. No infant sacrifices or self-mutilation which was common in many pagan practices. We see universal conviction on the part of the Ninevites. The king issues a royal decree of repentance and mourning, but the text points out that the people already "believed God" and were in the process of fasting and mourning before he said a thing. This is nothing short of the hand of God on the hearts of the people.

Biblical scholars seem to be divided about whether the Ninevites truly repented and were saved in the book of Jonah, but the argument is strong that they were for three reasons:
  1. In verse 3:5 it says they "believed" (NIV) or even that they "believed in" (NAS) God. This is the same phraseology used describing the faith that Abraham had that was reckoned to him as righteousness.
  2. Obviously their repentance was of the substance that God had compassion on them and relented.
  3. Jesus seemed to consider their repentance to be of note: "Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here." Matthew 12:38-41
Though God destroyed Nineveh just a few generations later (as chronicled in the book of Nahum), this does not rule out the true repentance and turning of heart by an earlier generation.

In summary, the Ninevites:
Respond with belief toward a God who was not a god of Assyria.
Respond with humility toward a prophet who was not a prophet of power.
Respond with repentance to a message that was not a message of repentance.

Why is this relevant? Because centuries later, one came to the Jews who was a prophet of power, who was from the God of the Jews, and with a message of repentance. And the result? The Jews rebelled and killed that prophet. And Jesus knew this would be their response. When he told the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Abraham said to the rich man "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:31)

What do we see through the repentance and salvation of the Ninevites? First, we see that the God of the Old Testament was not just a God of wrath, judgment and jealousy. God was a God of mercy and forgiveness. Above and beyond that, He loved, sought, and saved those outside of the covenant of Israel. Certainly this was not his normal operating procedure, but God demonstrates here (as Paul delineates later) that salvation has always been a gift from God for Jews and Gentiles alike, through faith, and not from ourselves, not by works so that no one may boast.
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me." But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."
- Rom. 10:20,21 ESV
This post is the first in the three-part series of excerpts from a sermon delivered at Redeemer Church in Omaha, NE on July 25th, 2010.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Many thanks to BibleCo for sponsoring this post and sending me an imprinted Bible as an example of their fine work. A brief skim of the site showed many of the Bibles I was looking at marked about 20% off the retail prices and, unless I'm mistaken, the personalized imprinting is free for most items!

This is a company I am happy to recommend to my readers as they have been a pleasure to work with. I know I am promoting the personalized Bibles a tad too late for the graduation season, but I am giving you plenty of time to look into the large print Bibles for National Grandparents Day on September 12th. I know, I know, "phew" you say, "I didn't know what to get them." You're welcome!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: Wired For Intimacy by William M. Struthers

I felt compelled to write my review for this book immediately after Anatomy of the Soul because both are dealing with the areas of neuroscience, Christian spirituality and moral transformation. William M. Struthers is also a neuroscientist and his theoretical research is in the area of neuroethics, the biological bases of spirituality and personhood, and the nature of integration of psychology.

According to the latest numbers I've seen, 53% of Christian men consume pornography and 37% of pastors say it's currently a struggle (stats from Clearly, according to the numbers, it is a much bigger problem than is being talked about, and being a pastor of a church virtually guarantees that I (and many of our readers) will deal with someone in the cross-section sooner or later. Thus William Struthers has done the entire believing body a service in writing Wired For Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain.

Perhaps the most interesting and helpful information Struthers provides is on the fact that pornography acts on the male brain much like drugs (such as cocaine and heroin) do. Both cause the body to release dopamine and, with repeated use, the body develops a tolerance and needs greater stimulation to get the same dopamine high (thus the law of diminishing returns is equally true of pornography). Just as a path in the forest becomes wider and more defined as more hikers use it, so do the neural pathways with repeated pornography use until, as Struthers puts it, one has created "a neurological superhighway where a man's mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed . . . they become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed".

Struthers, however, resists the temptation to color pornography use in particular and sin in general as simply a problem of the mind. He writes a book that plays to his strengths, but balances his expertise with the proper biblical picture of sin and temptation. While this book is not for everyone (obviously the subject matter is explicit), given the stats cited earlier, I cannot recommend this book enough for every Christian male, especially those in ministry.

Recommended for: Christian men; especially pastors and counselors

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Book Review: Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, M.D.

The balance between the body and the soul—the material and immaterial—has been a perennial tension for Christianity, dating all the way back to the early Christians dealing with Gnosticism. In Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson is treading the same waters. However, the subtitle is a more accurate description of the book: "Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships".

The strengths of this book are not a surprise. As a psychiatrist, Thompson shares many accounts from his counseling sessions and shows how changing how we think about certain things—or don't think about them—can change the way we live. I imagine those who might benefit from a counseling session would benefit equally from reading this book.

There are weaknesses present however. Thompson seems to overemphasize the area of neuroscience—the brain and the mind—when speaking of of the Christian life. Chapter after chapter seems to present the Christian's lack of spiritual growth as primarily knowledge-based. Sin, fallenness and human depravity are often put in the context of problems of the mind rather than the heart and then whole person.

While this book may be helpful for some, I feel the author treads dangerous waters in portraying the Christian life as one of simply overcoming misinformation with right information.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Those seeking Christian counseling

This book was a free review copy provided by Tyndale Publishers.