Sunday, July 03, 2011

Death is Not Dying, A Faith that Saves

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.
After four and a half years of vigilantly fighting breast cancer, the 37 year old wife and mother of two was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
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.

Rachel Barkey's Testimony Transcript: (it's quite long, but if you'll read it, I guarantee you won't regret doing so)

Although there are many, many friendly faces among you, most of you don’t know me, but I would gather that most of you know that I am dying.

Six weeks ago I was given the news that my liver and bones are full of cancer. Just this past week I found out that it’s spread to my skull, and today even I went for an MRI to see if it’s gone to my brain. Estimates vary, but barring a miracle, it is likely that I will not be here in six to eighteen weeks, or 42 to 126 days. It sounds like a long time when you’re waiting for Christmas or something that’s on back-order, but when it’s the time that you have left to cuddle with your kids or spend with your husband, it’s terribly, terribly short.

Cancer’s been a big part of my life for several years now.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly five years ago. Quinn, our son, was just two years old, and Kate, our daughter, was only seven months. I was just weaning her when I found the lump. I always wondered how you’d know when you found a lump, but when I found it, I knew.

Because of my age, I was 32, things moved quite quickly. I had a partial mastectomy within two weeks and then began six rounds of nasty chemo. Right after finishing chemo, I had more surgery, this time a bilateral mastectomy—removal of both breasts—and reconstruction. A few months later, I discovered that my cancer was genetic, and so I opted to have my ovaries removed in an effort to prevent the cancer from returning or new cancers from developing.

I have taken medication every day for the past four years to reduce my chances of occurrence.

In short, I did everything I could, and more than even my doctors recommended, to avoid the situation I find myself in today, but for some reason, what bothered me was the fact that all of a sudden people were defining me by my cancer. I was a cancer survivor—and I am. Well, I was. But cancer does not define me. Neither does being a wife or a mother.

All of these things are a part of who I am, but they do not define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus, and that is why I am here tonight, to tell you why Jesus defines me, to tell you what I have learned about what is really important in life, and to share the four things, the four principles that have helped shape me into who I am today and give me hope.

I have shed many tears over the past week as I grieve the reality of my death, and I will no doubt shed many more. But in the midst of my sadness, there is a deep and abiding peace and hope, a peace and hope that I would like for you to have, too.

So here’s the things I have learned, the important truths I want my kids to know:
  1. Know God.
  2. Know yourself.
  3. Know the gospel.
  4. Know your purpose.
In Romans 12, verse 2, it says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect [which is to say we are changed by what we know]."
Before we go any further, I want to establish something as a starting point. I am going to quote from the Bible, and I am doing that because I believe it to be the very words of God for you and for me because, as charming as I’d like to think I am, what I say means very little, but what God says means everything. So here we go:

The first thing I’ve learned: Know God.

Now, I don’t even like to admit this, but I am a bit of a celebrity hound. I have to admit. When Neal and I were first married, we lived downtown Vancouver, and many evenings we would go for walks on Robson Street. Of course, of all the places in Vancouver where one is likely to see celebrities, it’s Robson Street. Neal likes to tease me because I often think I see someone famous only to find out it’s not.

Case in point: There was this one man that I would see often, and he was the spitting image of Tom Selleck. Remember him—Magnum, P.I.? Anyway, this guy looked exactly like him. He was tall like Tom Selleck. He had the thick mustache like Tom Selleck. One day we—me and Tom—were standing in the lineup at London Drugs, and I got a really good look at him. I still thought it might be him, and then I heard him speak—and it wasn’t him.

We often do this with people, don’t we? I think I kind of know Stephen Harper. I have friends who work for him. I have friends who are friends with his wife. I read what other people have said and written about him, and I make assumptions about him about what I think he is like—mostly based on my political leanings. Your opinion of him may be completely different than mine, especially if our political preferences differ. But in either case, it may or may not be who he really is because the reality is, neither of us know him personally.

On the other hand, I know my husband Neal. I know what is important to him. I know what he likes and doesn’t like. I know his character. I know his strengths, which are many, and I know his weaknesses, which are few. I know him because I want to know him. I spend time with him. I observe him. I ask him questions.

There is a natural tendency within us to try and make God who we think He is or who we think He ought to be. If all is well in our world, our view of God is unchallenged. He is good. He is loving. He is fair. But when things start to go awry, that is when our true view of God is revealed.

We think God is not good or that He is unjust, or that He is not in control because hurricanes destroy whole cities. Children are mistreated and abused. Wars break out and innocent people are killed, or women get cancer and die, leaving their children without a mother and their husbands heartbroken. We try to fit God into who we want Him to be rather than seeking Him for who He really is.

As someone said to me recently, “Rachel, I don’t believe in your God. I don’t believe in a God who would let this happen.” The problem is, there is only one God, and we can’t make Him who we want Him to be. He is who He is.
In His book, Made in His Image, Steve Lawson agrees saying,
Whenever we lose a right view of God, everything else gets out of perspective. Essentially, our view of God will inform our view of everything else. It will be the lens through which we perceive reality, and it will shape our thoughts, worldview, attitudes, and perceptions.
God has revealed Himself to us so that we can know Him, and He has done this in two ways: He has revealed Himself through nature. Psalm 19 says,
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor other words, whose voice is not heard. . . . [Their voice] goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4). 
All of nature speaks to the amazing character of God.

I always laugh when I read news articles or when new animal species are discovered or some major scientific breakthrough shows again how complex and amazing our world is. We think we know it all when in actuality we know very little.

Just as art is a reflection of the artist, nature is a reflection of its creator. So God has revealed Himself in nature.
He has also revealed Himself through Jesus. The book of John begins like this, speaking about Jesus:
In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-4).
And in Hebrews 1,
In these last days [God] has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (verses 2-3).
That is Jesus. Jesus is God.

When we learn about Jesus, we are learning about who God is. The whole Bible points to Jesus and teaches us about who God is.

God, of course, has many characteristics, but the one I will mention here encompasses many others and describes Him and only Him. He is holy.

Charles Hodge, the Princeton theologian defines it by saying,
The holiness of God is not to be conceived of as one attribute among others. It is rather a general term representing the conception of God’s consummate perfection and total glory. It is His infinite moral perfection crowning His infinite intelligence and power.
This is to say that He is perfect, and because He is moral perfection, He is separate from us because none of us—no matter how much we volunteer, or how much we give at the office, or how much we sacrifice for our kids, or how much we convince ourselves that we are good by saying, “Well, I’m not a bad person because I’ve never killed anybody,” none of us can claim moral perfection much less infinite intelligence and power.
Which leads me to my second point: Know yourself.

Here is where I hope you’ll permit me a few minutes to rant. I intend for it to be a gracious rant, but it’s going to be a rant nonetheless.

Everyone has pet peeves, and mine are very well known to those near me. I’m very particular about smells, so people who drench themselves in perfume and cologne—not my favorite. So I’m particular about smells.

Other pet peeves: I really have to bite my tongue when I get poor customer service. When someone in the service industry is thoughtless, lazy, or just plain rude, everything in me wants to get in their face and say: “People, this is your job.”

But my current pet peeve, the one that makes me rant, is the lie of self-esteem. It is everywhere. Oprah is its champion, but what distresses me most is how prevalent it is in the church today.

The lie of self-esteem is this: If I believe that I am good enough, or that I am worthy enough, I will be happy.
  • In the secular world, it sounds like this: Believe in yourself. You deserve it. Learn to love yourself.
  • In the Christian world, it sounds like this: If you just believe that you are loved by God, you will be happy. Or, accept yourself because God has already accepted you.
They all sound pretty good, actually. Nothing wrong with that—right? But there is. Do you hear it? Me, me, me. The lie of self-esteem is that I need to do something. I need to believe something, or I need to accept something in order to be happy or complete.

Several people have asked me lately: “Why would God take you away from your family when a murderer or a rapist gets to live a long life?”

The implicit assumption there is that I am a good person, and I deserve better. But I am not a good person, and I do not deserve better. Bear with me as I explain.

I have done wrong things—we all have. True, I have not murdered anyone, but I have done things that are wrong. In Romans 3:23, it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

I know that if I did not get praised or avoid punishment for doing good things, I would choose to spend all of my money on me. I would make decisions about how to spend all my time and activities around what was best for me. Isaiah 53:6 confirms this: “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his [or her] own way.”

The sad thing is culture tells us that this is a good thing. “You can do whatever you want if it makes you happy.” And sometimes, but not always, we throw in the caveat, “and doesn’t hurt anybody else.”

Left to our own devices, our sinful nature cannot help but express itself. Sure, we try to do the right things, but doing things on the outside does not change the inside. Our hearts are still the same. Be honest with yourself.
Our natural tendency is not to do good things.

I’ll use my kids as an example. Since last fall I have thought that I really need to be a nicer mother. Now most of you who even know me fairly well would say, “You’re always so nice to your kids.” Not true. Just ask them. I have found that I say, “No,” an awful lot, and when I took an honest look at myself, I realized I was saying, “No,” because it was inconvenient to me.
  • I don’t want them to jump on the bed because that means I will have to tidy it again.
  • I don’t want to give them a snack because that means I have to get up from checking my email to get it for them.
  • I don’t want to do that craft right now because it will be another mess for me to clean up.
Hear it? Me, me, me. And now when I know that the days I have with them are few, I find myself saying, “Yes,” a lot more.

It is a subtle difference, but it is one I encourage you to listen for because the focus of life is too often ourselves when it should be God, and this is the essence of sin.

I am already unable to be out of bed for more than a few hours a day. This evening has required a full day in bed, which was disrupted by the fact that I had to go and have an MRI, and a lot of drugs to make it possible for me to stand here right now, and that frustrates me.

The other day Kate asked me to pick her up. She’s five. This doesn’t happen very often by the sheer fact that she’s just too big. But there she was, standing in front of me with her arms outstretched, asking, “Mommy, will you pick me up, please?” I thought, hoped, rather, that she was asking for something else, something I could do, because I couldn’t pick her up. I had to tell her so because if I do, the bones in my back, which are riddled with cancer, are so weak that they will collapse onto my spinal chord. I understandably got frustrated and angry. I reel against the fact that I can’t do what I want to do.

The worst moments of each day are the ones right when I wake up, the moments when I’m just coming out of a deep sleep, and I’m becoming aware of what time it is, what day it is, and then I remember that I’m dying.

My frustration and anger are normal. They are even right—some would say. But at their root, they are unbelief. They are my sinful heart saying, “I don’t believe that this is the right thing for me, God. You must not know what You are doing, or if You do, You are not good, or You are not in control, or You are just being unfair because I don’t want this, and You are not giving me what I want.”

That is what my heart naturally says, and what yours does, too, when faced with circumstances we don’t like—when someone at work is making things difficult, when someone in our family doesn’t do what we would like them to do, when accidents, natural disasters, or disease happen. But God is good. He is in control. And He is fair. When I try to make Him into a God who serves me, I sin. Our natural bent is to sin, and it is our greatest problem.

Know the Gospel. The Gospel, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, means “good news,” the good news that, in light of God's perfection and our imperfection, God has made a way for us to know Him, and that way is Jesus.
Paul, speaking in his letter to the church in Corinth says,
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
When I was a kid, I must have prayed a bunch of times for Jesus to come into my heart. I thought that I had asked Him to come in, but I was afraid He might have left.

Then when I got older and was sure that He hadn't left, I didn't really understand the difference that it made for me now. I had my ticket to heaven, so to speak, but what difference did this good news make to me now, today? All the difference in the world, and let me tell you why.

What happened on the cross at Calvary was that every sin of every person was placed on Jesus, and God the Father poured out His wrath on His Son. God looked at Jesus, His Son, as if He had committed the sins of horrible men and women and was punished for it, not just the murderers and the child molesters, yes, them too. But my sins and your sins, all the pride, all the selfishness, all the lies, all the unkind thoughts and actions.

The second part of Isaiah 53:6 talks to this. The first part we read earlier is about our sin, and then we find out what God has done with it.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his [or her] own way; and the LORD has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.
When you know the Gospel, when you know what has been done for you and you remind yourself of it every day, you don't get offended when someone criticizes you because you realize that you actually deserve much harsher criticism, but you've avoided it because of Jesus.

You forgive your husband or your friend when they slight you or treat you unkindly because you realize how much you have already been forgiven because of Jesus.

The Gospel is not just a ticket to heaven. It is a whole way of living. Some of you who know Jesus still struggle to understand how this applies to your daily life, and even if you do understand, my challenge to you is this: talk to yourself.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself?” We do it to ourselves every day. Every morning, we wake up, and it begins.

“What day is it? Wednesday, oh great, another day of laundry and errands. It is never ending." C. J. Mahaney says in his book, The Cross-Centered Life.
On a daily basis, we are faced with two simple choices. We can either listen to ourselves and our constantly changing feelings about our circumstances, or we can talk to ourselves about the unchanging truth of who God is and what He's accomplished on the cross for us in His Son, Jesus. 
I realized that I was spending more time listening to myself rather than talking to myself. But because I knew God, I knew myself, and I knew the Gospel, I began to remind myself of these truths daily. If you haven't already:
  • Make and stick to a plan to read the Bible.
  • Join a small group Bible study.
  • Read good books, and I mean books that might even make you uncomfortable.
  • Choose friends who want to know Jesus like you do. I have great friends. I don't do many things well, but the one thing I have done well is to pick good friends.
  • Choose a good church that talks a lot about Jesus.
Because I have done these things, in the midst of conflict, I am able to remind myself of the Gospel.

The final thing I have learned: know your purpose. The Westminster Catechism (a lot of you probably haven't heard that one before) states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him.” This seems at first blush a rather odd thing to have as our purpose. It goes against everything our culture tells us that we should want or live for.

First of all, to glorify God, what kind of purpose is that? Is God arrogant, selfish, or meglomaniacal to want things for His glory? I wish I could answer that for you in depth. Time does not permit, but ask it. Ask it and seek the answer.

Don't just dismiss God or assume that you know who He is because you don't understand Him. He is knowable. If you seek the truth, it will stand under the hard questions.

As a brief answer, we start where we began. Know God. We know God is perfect, and so His desire for us to glorify Him is rooted in this perfection. One author explains this when he says,
When a human glorifies himself, he robs others of joy, but when God displays and exhibits His glory, He shares joy with His creatures and wholeness with all creation. Put most directly, without the knowledge of God's glory, we would be robbed of true joy.
How do we glorify God? The answer is in the second part of the equation—by enjoying Him, by knowing God, by being like Jesus. What did Jesus do? He served. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He came to serve us, and He did it joyfully.

A few years ago, I was struggling with the daily grind of constantly cleaning and tidying, laundry (which I detest), trying to meet project deadlines, cooking meals and washing dishes, replying to work emails, refereeing disagreements with the kids, homeschooling, only to turn around the next day or even the next moment to have to do it all over again. I thought, “Is this it? Is this all that I'm supposed to be doing?”

Right about that time, I came across a blog of someone who put it so succinctly, it has stuck with me ever since. They said, “I am here to serve with joy.” Up until that point I had been serving. Believe you me, I was serving and serving and serving—meals, sippy cups, snacks, housekeeping, diaper changing, toothbrushing, organizing.

I was serving—just like Jesus, but I wasn't doing it with joy. Big difference. Being here tonight is part of fulfilling my purpose to serve with joy because I know that one of my roles is to encourage and challenge other women in the church. Titus 2 says,
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (verses 3-6).
Now, there is a lot in there to talk about, but the point is that I am an older woman, despite the efforts of Oil of Olay and some serious concealer. One of my God-given roles is to help other women serve with joy.

Another role in which I serve with joy is to share my faith with those who are not Christians. First Peter 3:15 says,
Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
I hope that I have done that tonight for those of you who do not yet know Jesus. And it is for my children.
Deuteronomy 6:7 says,
You shall teach them [talking about the things of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 
I asked that tonight be videoed so that some day Quinn and Kate would be able to watch this and to hear my heart. I have been blessed to be their mother for these years.

I have many roles, including others not mentioned here, most noteably being a wife, but in all of these I have one purpose—to be like Jesus, to serve with joy.

Many have asked why. Why is this happening to you, to Neil, to Quinn and Kate, to your family and friends? I don't ask why because I know the answer, and here it is. We live in a sinful world. Bad things happen, but it was not supposed to be this way, and it will not always be this way.

God has a plan. He has made a way for sinful people, you and me, to be with Him in a perfect world. The way is Jesus.
  • Acknowledge that you have sinned and that you have a serious problem before you in light of a God who is perfect and just.
  • Recognize that there is nothing you can do to save yourself.
  • Trust that Jesus, who died to pay the penalty for your sin, has risen from the dead and given you His righteousness.
This is the way to know God and someday be free from this world of disease and pain.
Second Peter 3:9 says this,
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
So God is being patient, patient so that everyone has the opportunity to repent and to make things right with Him. That is why there is evil and suffering in the world, because when He does return to bring judgment, there will be no second chances.

I am dying, but so are you. Neither of us knows if he will even see tomorrow, and perhaps the reason that I am suffering now, the reason that God is waiting to bring judgment against all the evil in this world, is because He's waiting for you, for you to acknowledge your sin and to turn to Him for forgiveness. Maybe you are the one we are waiting for.

Jesus suffered. God did not spare Him. Why would He spare me if my suffering would result in good for you? If my suffering is the means that God would use to bring even one person to Himself, it is an honor for me to suffer.

Does that seem strange? I suppose it does, but really, it is the only way that all of this makes any sense at all. A God who sees my suffering but is unable, or worse, unwilling to spare me? A God who sees my suffering but allows it with no greater purpose or hope? My God is able to save me, and He will; but save me from what? From a life without Him.

There is a place where there is nothing good, not even a gentle rain or a child's laugh. It is a place where everything that we despise about this world, the evil, the injustice, is the rule with no exceptions.

Hell is a physical place where God is not. Instead, He will bring me to a perfect world where He is, heaven, where life is full of wonder, adventure, and joy, everything good, for all eternity. My God is able to save me, and He will. This suffering is temporary, and the life I will live in eternity will make all this seem light and momentary.
As one speaker explained, “God allows in His wisdom that which He could easily prevent by His power.”

I chose the title of this talk, Death Is not Dying: A Faith that Saves. The first part came from one of my favorite preachers and authors, Charles Spurgeon, and the second came from another of my favorite teachers, our Pastor at Westside, Norm Funk, when he recently posed the question from James 2:14, “Can that faith save?” He pointed out the most important word in that verse is the word, that.

Can that faith save? We all have faith in something, but not all faiths save. The faith I have saves, so when I say that death is not dying, the part of me that will die is only a shell.

The next few weeks or months will not be pretty. Bone cancer is intensely, intensely painful, and I am already bedridden for almost the entire day, taking three, sometimes four different medications to control the pain.

Liver cancer causes intense nausea. Last Saturday I woke up, and I instantly had to run to the washroom to throw up. I did not stop throwing up all day, and just last week when we learned that the cancer has spread to my skull, it made sense because it has started affecting the nerves in my face.

I have not felt hungry in more than two months. Any food I do eat is forced down, but it will not always be this way. Soon I will become too weak or in too much pain to get out of bed at all. It will become harder and harder to eat and drink. My body and the cancer will fight over the few calories that I do consume. Eventually, the cancer will win, and I will starve to death.

That is the most likely scenario. I have lived a seemingly picture-perfect life from the outside looking in. In truth, I have been very blessed, but in my life there have been many difficult things that the Lord has allowed.

I have known the shame of being sexually abused. I have made poor decisions in relationships and have hurt others and have been hurt as a result of them. I have known the searing pain of loss with the death of a loved one. I have been diagnosed with cancer twice now, and this second time, barring a miracle, will end my life before I reach my 38th birthday.

In His providence, God has used the tough things in my life to draw me closer to Him, to show me His great love, and to teach me many things. I have learned that I am not perfect, and I have the scars to prove it, 13 of them. They serve as a physical reminder of a spiritual reality that I can never be perfect on my own. I need a savior.

I have learned that the greatest evidence of God's love is seen when I stand at the foot of the cross. He took my shame upon Himself and rescued me. I have learned that being a Christian is not just hope for the future, although it is most definitely that, but that it is the joy of knowing and trusting in a God who is loving and faithful no matter what the circumstances.

So, when I say that death is not dying, death will not kill my soul. It is eternal just like yours. It is just this physical body that will die, but even it will be raised again just like Jesus. It will be better than the one I have now.

Like everything, it will be better because God is going to make everything new, and I know this, why? Because I know God. I know myself. I know the Gospel, and I know my purpose. I know I have a faith that saves because my faith is in Jesus alone.

*  I can't help but ask you, do you have the kind of hope that Rachel Barkey described in that message? She knew her time was limited, and she went home to be with the Lord on July 2, 2009.

Whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, the fact is, your time is still limited. None of us knows how many years or months or weeks or even just days that the Lord will allow us to have here on this earth. Like Rachael, however long or short your life may be, you can have true hope through faith in Jesus Christ. Don't put off finding that hope.

credits to: