Death Is Not Dying (Rachel Barkey)

I met Rachel Sawyer in the Fall of 1991 when I began attending a Christian gathering at the University of Western Ontario. At the time, Rachel was the president of the group—already a mentor among her peers.

I confess that, even with the onset of facebook, I have lost contact with many of my friends from that time. The same might be true of my relationship with Rachel if she hadn’t married my friend, Neil Barkey. (Neil was my counselor at Muskoka Woods when I was a teenager). I haven’t seen Neil or Rachel in many years, but have tracked their lives with interest through our mutual friends.

On March 4, Rachel delivered a message to nearly 600 women at the River Rock Show Theatre in Vancouver BC. The title of her message was, “Death is not Dying: A Faith That Saves” (sponsored by Westside Church).

Rachel Barkey is dying of cancer, but as she wrote in a January email, “God will use this for His glory. There is no doubt. And, in the depths of my sadness, that makes my heart glad.”

As a preacher, I sometimes field comments about the length of Sunday messages–mainly from those who wish them to be no more than 20 minutes in length. Rachel’s message was 55 minutes long, and I hung on her every word. Her message oozed with sincerity, integrity, and biblical truth.

Rachel’s message has 4 prongs: 1) Know God, 2) Know Yourself, 3) Know The Gospel, and 4) Know Your Purpose

Rachel’s perspective of God demonstrates a thorough understanding of the Scriptures and an unshakable faith. In the midst of suffering, she persists, “God is good. He is in control. And He is fair.”

In a message saturated with grace and wisdom, one of my favourite sections was Rachel’s response to those who have been asking ‘Why?’ ‘Why would God allow a young mother of two young kids to get cancer?’

In Rachel’s words:

I don’t ask why because I know the answer: 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 to be with Him in a perfect world. The way is Jesus.

Suffering has tested, but not shaken the faith of Rachel Barkey. Her testimony is nothing short of inspiring. Rachel’s message (below) is one of the best explanations of the Christian message I have ever heard. Moreover, her message is one of the best explanations of why things are the way they are that I have ever heard. Listening to Rachel Barkey this morning was an outstanding way to spend an hour of my day. The least I can do is encourage those who read this blog to have the same opportunity to spend an hour well.

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The video of this message has been added recently and may be viewed here.

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Rachel was recently a guest on The Drew Marshall Show and her interview can be heard here.

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Rachel Barkey went to be with her Lord on July 2, 2009.
Rachel’s testimony continues to be the most read post on this blog.

Calvinism: Is It Changing The World?

Just when I thought the non-Christian world was oblivious to John Calvin’s 500th birthday…

A colleague directed my attention to an online TIME article which identifies “10 Ideas Changing The World Right Now“. Interestingly, #3 on that list is “The New Calvinism“.

The article seems to be predominantly tagging Reformed Baptists (John Piper and Albert Mohler are named) and noting their influence within the United States.

I was sorry to see the only Presbyterian reference in the article received a “liberal” tag (Presbyterian Church U.S.A.). From my limited standpoint, I would argue that R.C. Sproul (Presbyterian Church of America) has raised the profile of Calvinism/reformed theology more than any other individual in my lifetime.

This brief read is worth the time (no pun intended!). Would love to hear you chime in on this in the comments section.   

Are You Salty Enough?

Jesus wanted His followers to make an IMPACT in the world, and to this end He exhorted His disciples using two metaphors: SALT and LIGHT.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. (Matthew 5:13). 

In the ancient world salt was a hugely valuable commodity. Historians have suggested that, in Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers were paid (at least in part) with salt. 

The value of salt essentially comes from two qualities: 1) Salt preserves, and 2) Salt flavours.

Thinking of the first characteristic, followers of Jesus should exert an influence that preserves godly standards within a context that is threatened by moral or spiritual decay.

Unfortunately, some followers—some churches have sought to preserve from a distance. Christians have sometimes reduced their preserving influence to shouts of protest and political maneuvering. But if we stick with the metaphor we remember that salt preserves by attaching to the thing it is meant to keep from decay.

I reckon that our ‘saltiness’ is our Christ-likeness. Attaching to the world then is not becoming like the world. Rather, our close proximity to the world is for the express purpose of sprinkling on Christ-likeness. This cannot be done at arms length.

Salt not only preserves, but it adds flavour. Salt improves the taste of food—it adds value. Translation: followers of Jesus should ‘add value’ to this world. The world should be a better place because of the influence—because of the flavouring that comes from the Church.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could measure this? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to determine whether our ‘saltiness’ was helping to preserve and/or add flavour?

I think there is. I think we can measure our saltiness by thinking about another characteristic of salt.

What happens when you eat a bag of salted potato chips? What happens when you eat a bag of salted popcorn?

You become thirsty.

I would maintain that when followers of Jesus are salty, and when followers of Jesus attach themselves to others, it makes those around them thirsty for Jesus.

That’s the IMPACT I’m aiming at. I’m not interested in force feeding ‘living water’ to those around me. If I can succeed in being salty, then I expect I will succeed at making others thirsty for what Christ offers.

Have a listen to the audio message on this subject—delivered at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well on Sunday, March 8. 

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John Calvin: Inspiration for Modern Day Reformers

John Calvin, born July 10, 1509 turns 500 this year. Many congregations, seminaries, and denominations are marking the occasion with special John Calvin ’days’ and conferences. I’ve had the prvilege of presenting on Calvin at a two day conference in Ottawa this past September, and a one day conference in Toronto this past Saturday. 

I am one-part grateful for these particular speaking opportunities, and one-part curious. I am not a Calvin scholar. I have no special credentials to teach on 16th Century theologians. My best guess for why someone like myself would be asked to make such a presentation is that my passion for the current relevance of John Calvin’s theology might have leaked out.

Ask me which book, outside of the Bible, has most influenced my theology and the answer is Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ask me my preferred commentary series to help my sermon prep and my answer is Calvin’s Commentaries. In short, John Calvin continues to have a huge influence on how I think about God and how I think about the role of the Church in this world. Indeed, his writings are impressively relevant nearly 500 years later.

Leading up to Calvin’s 500th birthday, I will endeavour to post a number of articles celebrating the Reformation and Calvin’s ongoing influence on Christian ministries today.

In his early years, Calvin might have been voted the most unlikely candidate to bring such substantial leadership to the Reformation in Europe. I say this thinking of Calvin’s upbringing and early academic training. You see, John Calvin was raised within the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin’s father had actually intended him to enter the priesthood. John Calvin’s brother, Charles, did become a Roman Catholic priest but was later excommunicated. Moreover, Calvin’s primary area of study was in Humanism. But as a testament to God’s sovereignty, Calvin, the Roman Catholic humanist, was transformed into a Reformation leader engrossed by a passion for God’s glory.

In my presentations on Calvin I identified 4 primary emphases with the Institutes:

GLORY (God’s)

GUILT (man’s)

GRACE (God’s)

GRATITUDE (man’s)

And sewing these emphases together is the Providence of God.

One of my favourite quotes from the Institutes comes in ‘book 1′:

Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty. (I, II, III)

One of the enduring features of Calvin’s ministry is his capacity for expressing in words the majesty of God. This God-exalting emphasis within Calvin’s writings has indelibly marked my own ministry. Calvin continues to remind me that a passion to promote God’s glory ought to drive and animate all that we do. And I am indebted to Calvin for the reminder that I best understand my guilt not by looking within but by gazing at the majesty of God. To regard Calvin’s theology as simply man-abasing is to skip a vital step. Calvin’s God-exalting theology brings man’s predicant into clear focus. For this, I am ever grateful.  

Impact = Relational Strength

It’s probably safe to say that we all want to make a difference. To some degree, we all long to be world-changers. We desire to make a positive, and lasting, IMPACT.

To this end, we work hard. We study hard. We save money. We donate money. We volunteer…and the list goes on.

What I’ve found is the IMPACT that I bring about is hugely varied, and usually short-lived. Wouldn’t it be great to have some assurance that our efforts will produce enduring results? 

The New Testament gives us this assurance. Jesus gives us this assurance when He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).

Translation: The IMPACT we make corresponds with our proximity to Jesus Christ.

I have to avoid the temptation to leap into action apart from enlisting Divine strength. If I seek to make a difference merely by my own efforts, the IMPACT I make will be diminished, and will be effectual for this world only. Thankfully, Jesus presents us with a way to make an IMPACT that ripples into eternity. That’s what I want!

So how do we get that proximity to God? How do we even approach Him? And what role does the local church play in our making an IMPACT?

Looking at Hebrews 10:19-25, I addressed these questions this past Sunday in a message delivered at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well. I encourage you to have a listen. As always, comments/feedback are welcome and greatly appreciated. 

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