“Death Is Not Dying” – Hope in the Face of Death

It’s Monday – and that’s means Biography Day on this blog.  Today, I will share with you a remarkable story of a woman who faced death with great hope and courage.  Her name is Rachel Barkey who died on July 2, 2009 right here in Vancouver. BC.  Rachel is survived by her husband Neil and her children Quinn and Kate, parents Ben and Cathy Sawer, brother David (Johanna) Sawer and sister Andrea Sawer.  Please remember them in your prayers.

After four and a half years of vigilantly fighting breast cancer, Rachel Barkey, a 37-year-old wife and mother of two was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Joshua Harris wrote on his blog when Rachel was still alive and battling cancer:

Rachel’s story is not unlike what thousands of women around the world have experienced. A diagnosis that changes a woman’s life and inevitably takes from her what we consider to be most precious.  But for Rachel the essence of life is found in her relationship with God through Jesus. And that’s why Rachel is convinced that death is not dying.

In the video below, you will get a chance to meet Rachel herself as she shares her story of trusting the LORD as she faced death.  You will hear her make bold statements about her faith and her identity in Jesus Christ.  Just to whet your appetite, you will hear her say with great boldness and confidence, “Cancer does not define me…Neither does being a wife or a mother.  All these things are part of who I am, but they do not define me.  What defines me is my relationship with Jesus.”

“…Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:13

Visit Rachel’s Website

“Holy, Holy, Holy…!”

Holiness is the most distinctive character of God. We are not ready to serve Him until we come to see His holiness which reveals to us our sin and misery; and embrace His mercy which offers us forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. Once we have a clear vision of His glory and receive cleansing from our sins through Christ and His atoning blood, we are inspired/moved to tell the world about Him that the whole world might come and bow before Him who is the King of kings and the LORD of lords!

Click on the PLAY button below more of this in a sermon about the holiness of God from Isaiah 6:1-8.  This sermon was preached at Liberty Bay PCA in Poulsbo, Washington, USA on January 8, 2012.

Play Audio!

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

‘Why I want the right to die’ in Scotland

I was greatly shocked when my wife shared this article with me this afternoon.  Al Jazeera published this article on their website.  I encourage you to read it here.  Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Margo MacDonald has launched a fresh attempt to give terminally ill people in Scotland the right to choose when to die – which in my mind is outrageous and grossly immoral, cruel and careless.  It totally degrades the intrinsic value of human life as given by God the Almighty, who is our Creator (Genesis 1:27) and the Creator of heavens and earth!  This “End of Life Assistance” Bill sets out that anyone over the age of 16 could request assistance to die if that person was diagnosed as terminally ill and that he/she finds life unbearable.  Ms. MacDonald tried to get this bill passed in December 2010 but it was defeated.  According to the Huffington Post (UK), “A series of scrutiny sessions were held at the Scottish Parliament, taking in evidence from doctors in countries where forms of assisted suicide are permitted.”

I find Ms. MacDonald’s arguments flawed and unconvincing – but that’s not all that disturbs me.  The bill that she is pushing is in direct violation of the Sixth Commandment:  “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).  This bill seeks to give man the legal freedom to take one’s life or that of another with impunity.

Here are some quotes from the article:

Assisted Suicide (“Mercy Killing”) – currently banned by law in Scotland & the UK:

In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, it is currently a crime to help someone end his or her own life. A doctor who injects a patient with lethal drugs in order to kill them could be prosecuted for culpable homicide or even murder.

Margo MacDonald wants that legal ban repealed:

“If it came to the worst and I was faced with a very bitter and protracted end, I should have the right to ask for help to end my life earlier than nature intended,” Macdonald told Al Jazeera.

She added: “I would like the insurance policy of knowing that if it gets near, and I would like to shorten it, I would not be putting my family at risk. It is not about pain, it is about making sure you are still yourself.”

Margo wants autonomy not dignity – She has a warped view of “dignity” according to what she says here:

She told Al Jazeera that the same debate is going on all over the world and if her bill is passed: “Scotland would be seen as a place where humanity, above all, and individual autonomy is respected. This legislation is really about the right of a person to see their life through and keep their dignity to the very end.”

Some church leaders are fighting against this:

When this issue was last debated, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, told a special Mass for Healthcare workers: “Laws need to be objective in their statement of principle. It is wrong in principle for someone to take their own life; it is wrong in principle for someone to help them to do so.”

Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, told Al Jazeera: “Nothing has changed. Deliberate killing, even when assisting someone who is in a state of despair, is always wrong.”

Many doctors are concerned:

Many doctors are also concerned that legalizing assisted suicide could lead to frail or elderly people being coerced into taking their lives.

My Thoughts:

I hope that this bill is defeated once again in the Scottish Parliament.  I also hope and pray that Christians in Scotland and around the world will continue to speak out against this and similar violations of God’s law and order for His people.  From a human stand-point, Ms. MacDonald seems “unstoppable.”  She probably thinks so.  She is quoted as saying:

Since the defeat of my original proposal in December 2010, the volume of correspondence I’ve received on the matter, coupled with the continuing public interest, stimulated in part by some high-profile statements in favour of the general principle of assisted suicide, indicates to me a consistent level of support for individuals suffering a terminal illness or condition, for whom life becomes intolerable, to have the legal right to request help to end their life before nature decrees.

But those of us who believe in the Sovereign LORD who rules over the universe, know that the LORD is ultimately in control and that He has the power to stop this and all ills that have plagued Scotland and the world (see Proverbs 21:1).

Why Am I So Concerned for Scotland?

Just for the same reasons that I would be concerned if this was happening in any other country primarily because it goes against the will – it goes against the Law of God clearly stated in Scripture.  That’s the main reason why this disturbs me.  But there is more:

As one who has not in the least sense benefited from what the Lord has done through Scotland over the years, I cringe when I read this kind of stuff about Scotland or coming out of Scotland.  I feel a special affinity to Scotland for various reasons.  Let me mention three:

1.  The first missionary to bring the gospel to my home country (Malawi) was Scottish.  His name was Dr. David Livingstone.  Malawi is replete with monuments in honor of Dr. Livingstone and his work there – not the least of which is Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital which was named after Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland where Dr. Livingstone was born.  I had the privilege of visiting Blantyre (Scotland) a few years ago and saw the house in which Dr. Livingstone was born and raised.  This house is now the home of the David Livingstone Center.

2.  As a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian and church minister, I owe a lot of that to what the Lord has done through Scottish men like John KnoxSamuel RutherfordRobert Murray McCheyne, Professor John Murray, from centuries gone by (just to name a few) – but also from contemporary theologians and preachers like Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. Alistair Begg, etc.

3.  I am now a gospel minister with a denomination that is rooted in Scotland, the Associated Presbyterians Church (APC) – and I feel for so many of my dear brothers and sisters in Scotland as I consider all the challenges and the spiritual battles that they face in their pursuit of Christ, His will and purposes.  I am concerned and this moves me to pray more fervently for the work of the gospel across Scotland and the UK.

Let’s Pray for Scotland, the UK and the World

Prayer is ultimately the answer – and our sure hope.  “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Please join me in praying that God’s will may triumph over evil and that Scotland may be turned back to the Lord.  He has done it before, He can do it again.  Even though it seems like a dark cloud is hanging over Scotland and much of the western world, the LORD God can change that.  May the Light of Christ once again shine in Scotland even from the “farthest” corners of the world (like Malawi and such places where the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is now flourishing).  Perhaps it’s time to send missionaries back to Scotland!  Our God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we can ever ask or imagine according to His power which is at work in us (see Ephesians 3:20-21).

8 Profitable Ways to Read the Bible by J. C. Ryle

I found this tremendously encouraging and helpful! I hope that you will too as you go for GOLD! Mine the Bible and dig deeper for the PURE GOLD of God’s holy, inspired, infallible, inerrant, living and life-giving WORD!!

What Constitutes Saving Faith? Part 2

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:1 & 6).

Faith by its very nature has to do with unseen realities.  Realities that are outside of us and beyond us.  Nowhere else is this more true than in the matter of our salvation through the gospel.  The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to receive and rest in a salvation that has been worked out outside of us, apart from us and in spite of us.  I find the F.A.I.T.H. acronym below is helpful in this regard:

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him

This is essentially what happens or what needs to happen for the sinner to receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Everything must be forsaken!  The sinner must turn away from his sins and his supposed righteousness and embrace Christ alone for salvation.  He must rest in Christ’s perfect righteousness and atoning sacrifice for sin on the cross.  That is what is meant by saving faith!  Remember our definition from Q & A 86 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:  “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.”  But we must also note that this faith is given to us as a gift from our gracious God and Savior.  What saves us is not our faith (our act of believing), but God who gives us that faith and offers us eternal life in Jesus’ Name.  Thus faith is only but the hand (or channel) by which we receive God’s salvation.  I like what Alistair Begg once said in his sermon on Titus 3:3-7.  He said:

This is one of the reasons that people hate the gospel.  The average person if you tell them that they can go to heaven based on philanthropy or based on their endeavors in some way, they might actually step up for that.  But if you tell them that the message of the Bible is that we are entirely dependent upon God’s grace and upon His goodness and that we contribute nothing to our salvation save the sin from which we need to be forgiven, they say, ‘Uuh, I don’t really like the sound of that.’

Our salvation is not based upon our act of believing, but rather on God’s mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.  We look away from ourselves to the perfect righteousness of Christ and His atoning death as the only sure basis for our salvation.  As Begg further says, it’s “all of grace, all in Christ, all of faith, all of God.”

The 16th Century Reformers employed the following three Latin words to define and describe saving faith:  Notitia, Assensus, Fiducia.  I am not a Latin scholar and I am not trying to be one.  So I will try to explain these terms in a layman’s language.

Notitia (Knowledge):  This refers to the intellectual aspect of saving faith.  Faith is not the antithesis of fact.  Faith is based on historical, accurate and reliable information.  Saving faith is not a blind leap into the dark as the Danish philosopher/theologian, Søren Kierkegaard said.  One does not have to lose his mind to win God as Kierkegaard suggested.  True, saving faith is founded on facts.  True, saving faith is rational.  B. B. Warfield, the old Princeton theologian was right when he said, “We do not believe even though it is irrational, we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ because it is the most rational thing that we can do.”  God, through His Word, has provided everything that we need to know in order to make a credible profession of faith in Him.  Some of these facts include:  the virgin birth of Christ; His sinless perfection; His duo nature (God & Man at the same time); His death; His resurrection; His ascent into heaven; His Second Coming, etc.  For those of you who would like to explore this further, I recommend Tim Keller’s book, A Reason for God.  In that book, Keller writes about the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith.  Among other things, he gives examples of former atheists who are now Christians because they examined the facts about the Christian Faith and found that it is credible and rational.  C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity is also helpful in this regard.  But one could have the right knowledge about Christ or the Christian faith and still not be saved.  The second element (assensus) is necessary and it builds on the first (notitia):

Assensus (Assent):  This refers to the emotional aspect of saving faith.  At this stage, one is caught up in the facts of Christianity and personally acknowledges them to be true concerning himself.  It’s like walking into a room and you see a box sitting in the corner of the room.  The box contains a gift for you, but you don’t know that yet.  You notice the box, you analyze it, but you have no personal attachment to it.  It’s just another box.  But when the owner of the house takes that box and gives it to you and says, “This is for you,” everything changes!  You are now all of a sudden personally involved with the box.  The gift remains impersonal until it has been given to you.  You are not personally involved with it until it has been declared yours.  So you take the facts about Christ and make them personal.  You come to a point of saying:  Christ’s virgin birth was for me; He lived a sinless life for me; He is God and became Man for me; He died for me, He rose again from the dead for me; He ascended into heaven for me; He is coming again for me; etc.  It’s like the Psalmist saying in Psalm 56:9, “…This I know, that God is for me;” or Thomas saying to Christ in John 20:28, “My Lord and My God.”  The Apostle Paul expresses this very clearly in Galatians 2:20 where he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Archibald Alexander (first principal and professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary) said of his conversion, that as he read more and more, his heart was hardened.  Then he says, “I had a vision of the Crucified One as has never been paralleled in my experience.  The grace of God came to me as clear as day and I understood, God accepted me.”  He had personally come to believe that these things were true for him.  But, a personal belief in all the right facts about Christ or Christianity is not enough to save anyone.  The third aspect (fiducia) is also necessary and builds on the first two (notitia and assensus).

Fiducia (Trust):  This refers to the volitional aspect of saving faith.  Trust is a required, personal response to the truth claims of Christ and of Christianity.  It’s an act of the will.  Without it, everything that you believe remains outside of you.  Until you trust in Christ, you are not born again, you are not going to heaven and you are not saved.  Trust says, “I accept Jesus Christ; I give myself to Christ; I look to Him alone for my salvation; I accept God’s forgiveness and invite Him into my life.”  If Christ is not living in you today, you are not a Christian.  I have a friend who is so afraid to fly.  The funny thing about him is that he works for Boeing.  He actually has worked in the department that manufactures and services the parts of a plane.  He knows how all the parts of a plane fit together so that it can go up in the air and be safe.  But the problem is that he can’t trust any of the planes to fly him!  Saving faith in Christ requires us to put our whole weight on Christ and trust that He will carry us through this life into a joyful eternity with God our Creator.  It is faith, faith and faith from beginning to end!  Without this third aspect of faith (trust), salvation is absolutely impossible.  The rich young ruler (in Mark 10:17-22), knew the facts about Jesus Christ and the Christian Faith.  He was even personally involved at some superficial level.  But he stumbled and failed at this third and very important step.  He could not get himself to “trust” the Lord Jesus Christ and forsake all that he had.  His wealth was too precious to him.  Christ was right there before Him.  In Christ, was his only hope for salvation!  Yet he missed it!  At Christ’s words, his face fell and “he went away sad because he had great wealth.”  May the Lord grant us the grace to trust Him alone for our salvation that we might truly “receive and rest in Christ alone as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Forsaking       All          I       Take             Him

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7

“Not Ashamed of the Gospel”

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

Over the next few days, I would like to focus our discussion on the gospel.  A few days ago, I posted some videos by John PiperMichael Horton, and Jefferson Bethke talking about this very important subject.  I encourage you to revisit them if you haven’t already or if you simply don’t have enough time to read this blog.  But I hope that you will take some time to consider with me Paul’s words recorded for us in Romans 1:16-17.

“Not Ashamed of the Gospel” – Paul begins verse 16 by making this bold statement that he is “not ashamed of the gospel.”  O, how we need such courage and bravery today.  It is a terrible blight in our day that there are not enough men whose backbones are strong enough to stand up for anything.  There are not enough men who are bold enough to stand up for their convictions regardless of the cost!  That’s tragic!  Paul was a different kind of man.  It is worth noting that he was writing these words from Rome where he had been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel before his death!  Even though he knew that this bold statement would be considered outrageous by many in his day and that it would get him into further trouble, nothing could stop him from declaring his position on the gospel.  He was unstoppable!  He was the kind of person who would just make his opponents mad!  They couldn’t silence him!  For as long as he could breathe, he was determined to make this gospel known to the nations!

A Bold Statement:  The gospel “is the power of God for salvation!”  Here is the crux of the matter!  The reason Paul was so bold and unstoppable with respect to the gospel was because he so believed that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation” for all men (Jews and Gentiles alike).  Paul had been given this conviction by the Holy Spirit.  He once was lost but now was found.  Once, he was blind to the glories of the gospel and its liberating power through Jesus Christ.  But now he could see because the Lord was pleased to remove the scales from his eyes (Acts 9:1-19).  He personally experienced this very truth – that the gospel is indeed the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (emphasis added). 

A Sincere Confession:  Some background to Paul’s life as a Jew would be helpful here because for him as a Jew, this was not only a bold statement.  It was also a sincere confession.  As a Jew, he had been taught that his salvation rested in his personal obedience to the Torah and all its stipulations as set forth at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19).  He once considered himself “blameless” with respect to “righteousness under the law” (Philippians 3:6).  Paul, with permission from the Jewish high priest, was determined to persecute Christians.  Any good Jew, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified for sinners, was a “stumbling block” (1 Corinthians 1:22).  Anyone who endeavored to preach this gospel was not only weak but also a great enemy to the entire Jewish establishment.  But when Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, he was radically changed and by the grace of God, he wholeheartedly embraced the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ for himself!

First, the focus of his life changed!  From that point on, he learned to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).  From a purely legalistic, moral and physical perspective, Paul had more than enough reasons to boast (glory) in the flesh.  Yet, he considered all that “loss for the sake of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:7).   In verse 8 of Philippians 3, Paul refers to this as “refuse” or “dung!”  That’s how disgusted he was with his own righteousness according to the law?  Why?  Was it because the law is bad?  Of course not!  In Romans 7, Paul himself makes a very strong defense of the law.  No!  It was not because Paul thought that the law was bad.  Rather, it was because Paul had discovered that his “righteousness according to the law” was like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) before God.  He realized that all those “good things” (i.e. his Jewish descent and his adherence to the law), were not good enough to commend him before God for salvation (Philippians 3:1-14).

Secondly, the passion of His life changed!  He was willing even to suffer for the sake of this gospel.  He was changed from a persecutor to a preacher of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ had now become the singular passion of his life as he himself writes in Philippians 3:8-9, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (emphasis added).  That was Paul’s confession as a changed Jew!  Praise be to the Lord for that!

So when Paul writes in Romans 1:16-17, he knows exactly what he is talking about because he was personally a beneficiary of this wonderful gospel of God’s grace.  He wants to tell us that God has put His saving power in His gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and not anywhere else!  Thus, we may safely conclude that salvation does not, cannot and will not come to us (as sinful creatures) through any other way but through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which tells us that nothing in us or about us can commend us before God for salvation.  Even our very best deeds, are “like filthy rags” before God, yes “dung” – so ugly, worthless and disgusting!  But thanks be to God that that’s not the end of the story!

“The Just Shall Live By Faith”- By trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are given a new (yes, a REAL) righteousness, a “righteousness from God!”  Paul writes, “For in it (in the gospel), the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (parenthesis added) – Romans 1:17.  In other words, this gospel announces to us that a new kind of righteousness which does not depend on us but on God Himself is being offered to sinners like you and me!  This gospel announces to us release from bondage to the law.  This gospel calls us to trust God for our salvation.  This gospel offers us salvation by faith alone in Christ alone!  This gospel is the world’s best news!  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)!   We need to hear and believe it as does every person on the face of the earth!  As it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).  It’s only by trusting in Jesus Christ that one is saved from sin and from the eternal wrath of God.  That’s why the gospel also called “Good News!”  Praise the Lord through Jesus Christ!

In my next post, I plan to move our discussion on this important subject along.  Lord willing, I shall attempt to answer the question, “What Constitutes Saving Faith?”

Rejoicing in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!  I pray that you are too!  See you tomorrow, God willing!