Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Book Review - - Forgiveness: A Gift from My Grandparents by Mark Sakamoto

Mark Sakamoto is a Canadian of Japanese and Scottish descent and that means everything in the true story he tells. Sakamoto’s maternal grandfather was captured and imprisoned for five years by the Japanese in World War II. His paternal grandparents, including his Canadian citizen grandmother, were detained by the Canadian government after the attack on Pearl Harbour and placed into an “internment program” until four years after the end of the same war. All of their belongings and property were sold in order to fund the program.
In other words, both sets of parents experienced unjustifiable hardship.
And then their children fell in love.
You must imagine what it would be like to have your daughter bring home someone of the same race that tortured you not twenty years earlier. You must imagine what it would take to allow a white Canadian girl into your family when it was her race that had abused, stolen from and strongly urged you to leave your country of birth.
There is really only one option to finagle your way out of this situation: forgiveness. And according to Sakamoto, that is exactly what his grandparents decided to do. They forgave. 
Although it is not explicit on the Sakamoto side, it was the Bible that prompted Ralph MacLean to forgive. After getting a Bible sent to him in a Red Cross care package, he took to heart the words of Mark 11:25 “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Now as a Christian reader of this book, it was at this point I felt the story needed much more development. In fact, the remarkable meeting of the MacLean and the Sakamoto parents gets barely a few pages of description. The author alludes that very little was ever spoken between them about the past, but there remains so much more to be told. How exactly did the relationship flourish? Were there ever any faltering’s? Did MacLean’s spiritual motivation stem from an authentic religious experience? Was he a faithful churchman? So many questions.
Sakamoto (the author) chooses to conclude the book with a description of his own life, which centered very much on the downward spiral of his alcoholic mother. In the end, we presume, it was the model of forgiveness seen in his grandparents that helped him to forgive her.

This is a wonderfully written book and captures much of what it means to be a Canadian. It opened my eyes more to the suffering of the Japanese in Canada during the war and increased my fondness for those who served my country in the past. My only hope is that Sakamoto will consider writing more about the unique relationship of his two sets of grandparents.

Monday, July 14, 2014

To Kindle or Not To Kindle: That Is My Question

I am getting ready to do some summer reading on vacation and wondering about buying a Kindle. I currently read my Kindle books on the free iPhone app, but I have been wondering about buying the $79 machine for a larger screen experience.

Do you own and use a Kindle? How would you compare it to reading on your iPhone or iPad?

Feel free to comment below.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

For Your Faith: Why George Muller Built an Orphanage

"I longed to set something before the children of God, whereby they might see, that He does not forsake, even in our day, those who rely upon Him... 

It needed to be something which could be seen, even by the natural eye. Now, if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an Orphan-House, there would be something which, with the Lord's blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God, besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted, of the reality of the things of God.This, then, was the primary reason for establishing the Orphan-House. I certainly did from my heart desire to be used by God to benefit the bodies of poor children, bereaved of both parents, and seek in other respects, with the help of God, to do them good for this life; -- I also particularly longed to be used by God in getting the dear orphans trained up in the fear of God; -- but still, the first and primary object of the work was (and still is:) that God might be magnified by the fact, that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith without anyone being asked by me or my fellow-laborers whereby it may be seen, that God is FAITHFUL STILL, and HEARS PRAYER STILL. 

- George Muller, Autobiography, Chapter One.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Danger of Trusting Your Own Good Life

"My Brothers and Sisters, it is a grand thing to have led a virtuous life. It is a matter for which to praise God to have been kept in the very centre of the paths of morality. But this blessing may, by our own folly, become a curse to us if we place our moral excellences in opposition to the righteousness of our Lord Jesus and begin to dream that we have no need of a Saviour! If our character is, in our own esteem, so good that it makes a passable garment for us and, therefore, we reject the robe of Christ's righteousness, it would have been better for us if our character had been, by our own confession, a mass of rags—for then we should have been willing to be clothed with the vesture which Divine Love has prepared!"
- C.H. Spurgeon, from a sermon entitled,  A Business-Like Account (Volume 23, 1877) (Italics mine.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Book Review: What's Best Next by Matt Perman

I want to commend to you Matt Perman’s new book, What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
WBN is a really helpful look at how to get your life organized so that you end up doing what matters most. Perman has culled the best from classics like, First Things First and Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and other productivity thinkers. But, as helpful as resources like this are, they lack the one thing that matters most to Christians – Jesus! Perman corrects this and not in your typical “slap the word ‘Gospel’ on it” way. He takes a rather Biblical-theological approach to both time and the purpose of our existence and shows you how to funnel this into your daily planner.

The chapters are well laid out and the progression of thought is easy to follow. A lot of readers will likely find themselves ignoring some of the minutae on lesser matters, but jumping in with both feet when it comes to the big ideas.

It is amazing how much you can get done in life when you learn a few of these big ideas and start to implement them in ways that actually work. It may sound counter-intuitive to read a book like this on your vacation, but I loved it during my week away. Buy a copy and get our your notepad. You will not be disappointed.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Free Summer Reading

Just noticed that The Great Gatsby is available for FREE at Amazon.ca for your Kindle.

Fitzgerald's turn of phrase is second to none in my estimation. I like to read this one just for the sheer joy of seeing the English language used so well. And the story will serve to help you contemplate heart idolatry of various kinds and what it gets you. David wisely wrote of all idols:

Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them.
(Psalm 135:18 ESV)

If Gastby is too dark for you, then there is always Anne with an "e" Shirley! Looks like 99 cents will buy you the entire collection. Anne: The Green Gables Complete Collection (All 10 Anne Books, including Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and 8 More Books)

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Poison of Suspicion in the Life of the Church

When my son was only four months old he contracted a virus that led to a failure to breathe. In the desperate effort to re-start his respiratory system, Will started seizing as they intubated. The paediatrician was flummoxed. Thankfully, God answered prayer and the boy started breathing again with manual assistance.
Doctors from Sick Kids Hospital arrived and were perplexed by the seizing and the resultant comatose state. It was throwing off a diagnosis. After questioning the attending paediatrician and nurses, they thought Will might have been given an overdose of morphine when they had attempted the intubation. There was one way to find out.
The doctor administered Narcan, an opioid antagonist that quite suddenly nullifies the effects of drugs like morphine or heroine. Will went from a comatose state right back to a crying baby in seconds. The effect of the morphine was totally negated.
We were thankful for a great doctor team from Sick Kids and a clear diagnosis.
I have often marvelled at that Narcan. It is strange to watch a drug work so quickly and decisively. If you think about it, there are very few changes in life that come about that suddenly. But there is one evil element of church life that can be reversed almost as quickly with a kind of spiritual Narcan.

We live in a suspicious society. We don’t trust politicians, the police or clergy. We tend to think there is always more to the story than others are letting on. It is the age of the conspiracy theorists – just watch your TV tonight and you will see what I mean. And that suspicion can easily ooze into the life of a church. Last time I checked, however, suspicion was not a fruit of the Spirit. Thankfully, there is a spiritual Narcan to suspicion.
Love is a suspicion antagonist. Why?
Love hopes all things.
Fundamental to real Christian love is thinking the best about everyone. Love dwells on truth, not fiction. It anticipates that Christians will respond and live like Christians, even if they haven’t in a while. Love dismisses every conspiracy theory as rubbish and chooses to live with the happy anticipation that a brother will come around soon enough. Love lives in reality. Love is eager to forgive. Love is willing to be wronged. And love deals with the presenting facts, not the imagined motives or schemes of others.
If a church faithfully loves one another, suspicion flies out the back door. This is virtually instantaneous, because you cannot be skeptical and trusting at the same time.
I can hear my critics already – even Jesus said be as shrewd as serpents! I hear you. But he also told us to be as innocent as doves. How can those two co-exist? The only explanation is Gospel-motivated love. Plus, Jesus gave this dual-command to his disciples as they were about to take the Gospel out into the world, not into the church dinner.
The Apostle Paul knew what it was to be betrayed (2 Timothy 4:10), abandoned (Acts 15:38) and forgotten (2 Timothy 4:16); but he moved on, forgave (2 Timothy 4:11) and persevered… in love. Even as he was instructing the Philippians in love, he mentioned how some, out of their own selfish ambition, were neglecting him in prison and trying to get the premier position in that day’s celebrity pastor circuit. What does Paul say of them? Only what a heart set free by love could say: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…” (Philippians 1:18)
I fear that we are not doing enough in our churches to curb the growth of suspicion. The poison of suspicion can only be drawn by love. And that means we need to be preaching on, thinking about and living out love in our own lives. Erasing suspicion starts with you, not your neighbour. 
The Bible does not say, “Beloved, let us be leery of one another.” Nor, “if we are cynical of one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
If you are going to err in this life, err on the side of love. You may find you end up being a lot more like God in the long run.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Justice in the Face of Oppression and Suffering

I enjoyed some sweet time in the Biblical prophetic book of Nahum this week at the Simeon Trust Workshop. One of the themes of that book is the justice of God.

On Sunday night I will lead us in a brief study of that justice as it relates to our suffering.

What is a Christian supposed to feel and think when they are victimized? Is there anywhere to go? What do we do with all the troubles of life from our past that still haunt us? I think this prophet gives us direction and it may surprise you.

The Bible has an answer to atrocities like the raid by those Boko Haram militants that resulted in the kidnapping of 200 girls. We don't need to be afraid of those answers.

Monday, April 28, 2014

We’re Moving!

In January 2013, we began holding two morning worship services at Grace Fellowship Church. We were out of room and had to do something.

We have never been big fans of the double service model. We think there is an inherent “separating” that takes place when it is adopted and we were not interested in that. Less we sound like some mega-church (such a strange name!), we are still not numerically large. Our problem was the space limitation that restricted our worship services to about 160 people in our meeting room.

In order to push back against the pressure to become “two,” we maintained our Sunday evening and Wednesday night services, kept both services identical in presentation and urged our folks to capitalize on the overlap period between services. This all helped, but one cannot replace actually being together.

With this in mind, the elders proposed to our membership that we close down our morning worship services for a while… and replace them with one morning service at a local high school auditorium. The members were all for it!

So, beginning this coming Sunday, May 4, 2014, we will be holding one morning service at the Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School (2 St Andrews Blvd, Toronto) at 9:30AM.

It has been a number of years since I have felt this excited about something. That may say more about me than anything else, but I do feel this is a unique and pivotal time in our church’s history. We have decided not only to move to the school so we can be together, but we have also dedicated this season to a concerted evangelistic effort. We want to tell more people about Jesus Christ and what He has done for them. Therefore, we will be preaching a series we are simply calling: Good News. And we hope both there and in our daily conversations to present the Gospel from both testaments.

I have pastored long enough to know that God typically honours effort. We have tried lots of things in the past, and God always brings blessing. Pray for us as we attempt to make further inroads into the most culturally-diverse city in the world and bring the Gospel to the nations. I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

I Did Not Know I Was in Debt

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:13-14 ESV)

When I was in college a friend approached me the day we were packing up to go home for the summer break. With some embarrassment, he asked if I could pay him back the $50 I owed him. My face flushed with shame. I had completely forgotten about my debt and its payment was long overdue. I was in debt and didn’t know it.

The Bible makes clear that all of us were born in debt. God held an I.O.U. against us, which resulted in making us like dead men walking. In the eyes of the only court that really mattered, there were legal demands and decrees against us. By our sins (our actions that violated God’s instructions) we had effectually signed our own death sentence. But by sending Jesus to the cross, God did two things in our favour.

First, He cancelled the record of our debt. Perhaps you have written a lovely birthday card only to ruin it at the end as your hand smudges the wet ink. When the apostle wrote to the men and women in Colossae who had converted to Christianity, he told them that the ink on God’s I.O.U. against them had not just been smudged, but completely washed off. The record of debt was erased. Gone forever by something Jesus did. There was no more record of it.

In a second metaphor, he told them it was as if God had taken that I.O.U. and nailed it to the cross right along with Jesus. It was a sign that Jesus’ death had paid the debt in full. Imagine a large invoice with every one of your sins written on it and then this word written over top in blood: PAID IN FULL.

This is why Jesus came into the world – to alert us to our debt in the eyes of the Holy God, and to make the payment for it on our behalf. Converting to Christianity is not about doing better or trying harder, it is about having your death sentence lifted. It was more serious than mere moralism.

There is an old Gospel song that captures this thought simply:

He paid a debt He did not owe
I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace, all day long
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never

Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus for this reason. We know that every person who believes on Christ for their salvation and rejects all their attempts at self-justification will be finally set free from their guilt – whether they felt that guilt or not.