The Christian Life

Dying Well

Recently I was given two reminders of the reality of my own impending death. I say impending, because I have a disease that will at some place, at some time, in some way, do what God did not intend – separate my spirit from my body. This disease is known as mortality, and the cause of it is sin. And while I am so thankful to God for his amazing grace in the Lord Jesus, that my eternal future is secure, these reminders were powerful none the less.

The first reminder was a funeral that I did. It was for a 96 year old woman. The second was watching one of the last vlog posts of Nabeel Qureshi, who entered into the joy of his master, Jesus Christ, after enduring a year-long battle with cancer.

It has given me pause to ponder the questions:

How do I die well? What does it mean to do well?

I remember hearing of a Bishop’s wife who was at a women’s prayer meeting and the women were praying for a Christian woman who has a terminal illness. After many ask God to comfort her and to heal her and to give the doctors wisdom as they treat her, she asked God to enable her to ‘die well’.

There was some disquiet amongst the prayer meeting, how could she be so insensitive? How could she even mention the ‘D’ word? How could she give up hope?

Yet I believe these questions say more about the problem in Australian culture (in fact I would say the problem with Western culture) than it does with the Bishop’s wife’s prayer.

The problem that was highlighted to by Assoc. Prof. Richard Chye, who is the Director of Palliative Care at Sacred Heart Hospice in Sydney, who in the SBS 3 Part Documentary in which three terminally ill people talk about Living the End said this (at the 22:30 mark of the vid)

Culturally I don’t thing we deal with dying well…even more so now with the westernisation of our culture has put death into a much more secretive too hard basket…and we drammatise dying as being something that does not happen often”.

From my observations, I believe our culture dramatises dying as if it won’t happen at all. We live as if life is permanent; as if we won’t die, and if we ignore it, deny it, then someone how, some way, death will pass us by. We never see it and this is deliberate. If we are honest death frightens us, it puzzles us, it angers us, it confuses us and it hurts us.

Christians are not immune from death, Christians acquire the same illnesses as the non-Christian, Christians are killed from accidents and mishaps just as the non-Christian is.

However observing the responses from the prayer meeting and the request to God that a fellow believer die well, is it possible that us Christians in the west also don’t deal with dying well?

Why is this the case? Here are thoughts I have:

We imbibe this world– We all know the story about the frog in the pot – the theory goes that if you place a frog in boiling water it will immediately jump out, but if you place a frog in warm water and slowly bring it to the boil it will die. The reason is that the frog does is so immersed in the warmth of the water and comfortable it does notice the changes, changes that will lead to its demise. We live in the pot of this world, and swim in the water of our culture, we feel the pull and currents of the various loves, passions, pleasures and morés of our culture. And therein lies the danger, if we are not discerning, if we don’t critique our world in light of the Scriptures, we don’t notice that we change with the culture, we become like our culture and we like our culture…and we dislike those things our culture dislikes…things such as death, the use of the D word, so we end up ignoring death also, not thinking about it and become offended when a fellow Christian prays for that another Christian will die well.

Our grip on this world is too tight – There is Christian singer named Colin Buchanan. He writes very funny and entertaining songs for children, but they are songs that are packed with the Scriptures and good theology. In one of the songs the chorus goes: “Passing through, passing through, on the way to heaven. Don’t let this old world get its group on you. God’s children are only passing through”. Although I agree with Colin, perhaps one of the reasons we baulk at thinking about what it means to die well, is because we grip onto the world so tightly that we see Heaven as the consolation prize, and this life is the main thing and as a result don’t see as ourselves as temporary residents on this world.

We are vague about what happens when we die – We tell our children that when we die we go to Heaven. Which of course is right and proper, but as adults we become vague on the details. We don’t notice what the Scriptures says about Hades/the place of interval, we don’t think about the fact that Heaven is our final destination, that Heaven will be on a redeemed earth where our bodies and spirits are reunited into a perfect resurrected body. We don’t think about the end times, and perhaps have a panmillenial approach to Jesus’ return (i.e “Who cares about the details, God has it sorted, it will all pan out in the end”). Vagueness I think can lead to uncertainty, which can lead to doubt, which can turn into fear, a fear that feeds our culture’s fear of death, of talking about death, which prevents us from dying well.

Compartmentalisation – So we compartmentalise dying from our thoughts, and heaven, we reserve heaven to being that place we go to when we die (which hopefully will not happen for a very very very very long time), so I can get on with living my life now, enjoying my family, church, work, etc now.

So what does it mean to die well?

Dying well means dying:

Full of faith – Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. (Heb 1:1). The Christian’s faith is not an empty faith, not wishful thinking, but is a faith based on real promises, fulfilled in the real death and real resurrection  of the real saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, who has conquered the death and is preparing the place for us that we can never prepare for ourselves (John 14:1-6). This same Jesus who is the first fruits of the resurrection, who will then in turn resurrect our bodies when he begins his millennial reign! (1 Corinthians 15:20-24). Of course, like the rest of humanity, I do not know when and how I will die, but I do know that I want to be full of this sort of faith when I do, and it is my prayer that I will.

Full of thanksgiving – There is always something about living in this world that leaves us unsatisfied, it does not matter how much money we have, or have had, how successful we have been in our career, or in our families, or our marriage. There is something about living in this world that leaves us wanting it – it…that something more….that something that will satisfy us perfectly and permanently…that it, is the world that we are made for. We will never be fully at home in this world. Our world is a pale reflection of what is waiting for us.  The author C. S Lewis knew this about the human condition and wrote these words:

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

Why do we not feel at home here? It is because Heaven is our ultimate destination. We are made by God and for God, and to abide with God. We have an eternal longing for our eternal home. C.S Lewis also wrote:

 “Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Of if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures?                                                                                                                  

The Church Father Augustine knew well that all of us are made for God and he wrotes these words:

 “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”                                                                                               

So our most profound fulfilment, completion and joy cannot be found on this world. Each day of life is one day closer to that most profound fulfilment, completion and joy and all this because the grace of God found in the Lord Jesus, that he has redeemed us, justified us. This is something that should fill us with thanksgiving! Dying often gives opportunity to reflect back on one’s life. There are many things that the Christian can be thankful to God for, not only our salvation, but for family, for those who brought us to Christ, for opportunities to tell others of Christ, for all the good gifts that God gave us for our enjoyment in this life.

Full of Prayer – Dying is the final time God’s people have to speak with God through the eyes of faith, that is to speak with him before we see him. I like to think that dying well means dying with a prayerful heart. Thanking God, praising God, asking for forgiveness for leaving undone those things in our lives that we out to have done, and for things we have done that ought not to have done. Committing to God those we are leaving behind, praying for unbelievers that we know, perhaps even hospital staff (if that is we are when we are dying).

Full of excitement – Each day of life brings us closer to being with the Lord Jesus where we will no longer battle with temptation, with sin, the world, the flesh and the devil. The act of dying brings this reality home for us. We have nearly arrived. When we die we will be the Lord, and although not in body (that will happen when He returns). But we will be with the Lord Jesus Christ and enjoy beautiful fellowship with him and all of God’s people, including all those great saints of the past and Christians whom we have known and loved who are already there. We will be with Abraham (Luke 16) – we will meet all the people of faith, including the Apostle Paul. For this is the King’s garden party. Angels will also be there. If you die alone, or unwanted or uncared for, or in a tragic accident, God has his angels waiting for you on the other side to care for us! It is wonderful! (Luke 16:22). This is why Paul says, he longs to depart. We will be with Jesus the moment we die. What the Lord Jesus said to the thief on the cross ,“Today you will be with me in paradise”, will be our experience too! And while we are there, we will have that indescribable expectation of knowing that there is even better still to come, when the Lord Jesus will resurrect our bodies at his return and we will meet all God’s people in the air as Christ begins his reign. This is something to be excited about!

So how can we die this way, full of faith, thanksgiving, prayer and excitement – to die well?

Pray – Pray that God by his Holy Spirit will enable us to die well. Contrary to popular belief, dying is not natural. We are not meant to die. The separation of our souls from our bodies is not natural. Physical death is due to sin and no human being is shielded from sin’s physical consequences. So it makes sense I think to conclude that if dying is not natural then dying well is not humanly possible. It is not a human trait. But the good news is that the ability to die well is a divine quality. We can die well, because of the presence, power and enabling of the Holy Spirit, who remember indwells us and is a guarantee of what is coming!

Walk with the Lord – Read God’s Word, really read it, inwardly digest it, cherish it, make it the normal part of your life, so much so that a day without reading God’s Word feels like a very weird and strange and odd day. Pray, (I know I just mentioned this above), but pray daily in your life. I use the BCP daily, and I like to think that if God’ grants me long life, yet I lose my memory, that I will still remember the wonderful prayers of Cranmer and will pray the prayers of Cranmer! Walk with the Lord, praying that your life will be one that is full of faith, thanksgiving, prayer and excitement.

I have heard many people who work with the dying say that people often die the way they have lived. So for the Christian, if one lives well (as the God defines living well), they will most likely die well and I think that is the heart of it.

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Your Spiritual Barometer

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There are many things that we use in life to measure other things. A barometer measures atmospheric pressure; a speedometer measures speed, a pedometer that tells you how many steps you have walked, a thermometer measures tempertature. But is there a device that measures one’s spiritual temperature? Is there such think as a spiritual barometer? Sadly there is no such device, however there is such a practice that measures one’s spiritual temperature.

Now before I go further, you may be thinking, “What do you mean by spiritual temperature? I just made the term up, it means the quality of your relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It means your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no device that measures this, but there is a practice that measures your spiritual temperature, your faith and that practice is prayer.

In writing an article on prayer, I was challenged in thinking “Where does one start when writing about prayer?” and I think a great way to start is to look at Jesus ‘teaching on prayer, and so I think it is helpful to look at Luke 11:1-13 and these verses make up something that Anglican Christians pray weekly which is known as the Lord’s prayer. Though it needs to be said that this prayer should be called, The Disciples Prayer. There is no record any where in the NT of Jesus ever praying this prayer or anyone else in the NT praying this prayer. I must confess that for many years I believed and taught that this prayer is model for prayer and while I think it still is, I had resisted the notion that this is a prayer that we are to pray. But I think differently because if you look with me at v.1 and 2 a disciple asks Jesus to teach them to pray just as John the Baptist taught his disciples. Jesus responds by saying to him, “When you pray, say.” In Matthew’s Gospel Matthew records Jesus saying “Pray then like this”- which I think reveals that this prayer is both a prayer to pray and a model of how to pray.

And it is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to this beautiful Christian prayer so that you can see things about what the Lord Jesus is teaching us, and perhaps you may discover something about the Lord’s Prayer, that you have been praying for a very long time that you did not realise.

In this section of God’s Word, the passage can be broken into three sections, the first is vv.1-4 where Jesus teaches a prayer to his disciples. Then vv.5-8 Jesus tells a parable on prayer, and then from vv.9-13 Jesus gives a wonderful encouragement and promice to his disciples so that they will pray.

First we are going to look at vv.1-4

1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: ” ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. 

Let’s look at this prayer, section by section: First of all:

“Our Father”

Now in case you are wondering how this prayer is a Christian prayer and only the Christian can pray this prayer. Only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ has the right to call God ‘Father’. Turn with me to John 1:12

12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

It is only through faith in Christ alone, by grace that we become adopted as the children of God. Only when that happens to do we have the right to be become children of God and therefore have the right to call God Father. And this is not because we have earned the right, it is all by grace, through faith. We did not earn the right, God gave us the right. What a privilege we have, to call God, Father. To be his children. My children call me Dad, I call my Dad, “Dad”. What a privilege to call my Dad Dad, my brother can. But no one else. Even greater is the privilege to call God Father. So it is no wonder that as we are now the adopted children of God, his sons and daughters, that we are to pray that God’s name, our Father’s name will be hallowed.

Hallowed Be Your Name…

Now I must confess that apart from this prayer, I never use the word “hallowed”. In fact the only time I have heard this word was in the form of a noun rather than a verb and that was in the Harry Potter Movies. Hallowed is a word that we don’t use very much . To ask God that his name be hallowed is asking God that his names will be honoured and revered, by his people, by us, and by you and by me. God is holy and he has revealed his holiness to us in his creation, in his Word and in his Son. We are called to be Holy, but often we are not holy. Sadly if you like me, we often don’t reflect God’s holiness and character in our lives. By praying to God, Hallowed be your name –we are asking that God’s name and character will be revered and that his people will reflect God’s name and character in thought, word and deed. And that God will do this in his people.

Your Kingdom Come

Part and parcel of what I do as a Anglican Minister is ministry to the bereaved. At funerals I speak about how the Lord Jesus is God’s rescue package. As it is through the Lord Jesus that people are saved from sin, death and eternal death (which the Bible calls Hell). Some people have said to me funerals must be hard to do. But I see funerals as a wonderful opportunity to tell people about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is how God is building his kingdom – through the proclaiming of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified. So it is a very timely that the Lord Jesus when teaching us to pray tells us to say to God your kingdom come. When we are praying this, we are asking God that more people will become Christians.

Give us each day our daily bread. 

Two years ago at the church in which I serve we did a four week series on Stewardship and one of the things I have been reminded of powerful is that we are stewards of what God has given us, not owners of what we have provided for ourselves. God provides our needs, and when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, this is what we are acknowledging to God in prayer. In asking God to give us our daily bread – we are acknowledging our daily dependence on God to provide for our needs. And we need God just as much today as we did yesterday, and we will God just as much tomorrow as we do today. God is the creator, we are the creatures. God is the sustainer of life, and we are dependent on him

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against u

Did you notice the relationship between being forgiven by God and forgiving others? They both go hand in hand. We confess our sins to God daily because we sin daily and we forgive others when they sin against us. For the person who loves Jesus and has been forgiven by him and confesses their sins daily, if that person withholds forgiveness, holds a grudge is to be a hypocrite. Jesus people are required to forgive others. I have been alive for 42 years one thing I have learnt is this…the longer you live, the more you will have been hurt – that is part and parcel of living life outside the Garden of Eden. I have also learnt in that time that there are many people who are hurt, who refuse to forgive – Christians included. Sometimes the hurt is serious, but sometimes it is due to pride and/or having a thin skin. In either case, we are to forgive. Now perhaps you are reading this and right now Now I am not trying to dig up the past or stir up old wounds, but unforgiveness is like a poison. Perhaps someone of you need to spend time with God and perhaps some of you need to forgive those who have hurt you. I say this because the Lord Jesus Christ assumes that you will forgive and have forgiven others as you pray this prayer.

Now you may be thinking,

“But why would Jesus tell us to pray this? If the Lord Jesus has dealt with your sin and my sin once for all by his death and resurrection, why should we pray for ongoing forgiveness?”

The reason that Christians are to pray for ongoing forgiveness is because we still sin. We sin daily, intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. We sin in ways we don’t always recognise, and sometimes we forget the sins that we have committed.

By asking God for his forgiveness we are applying Jesus death daily…we are not re-justifying ourselves. As Christians we don’t stop being a Christian when we sin, we don’t ask God to forgive us in order that we re-convert. When we ask God to forgive us we are acknowledging to God our sin, our reliance on his grace shown to us in Christ and this makes us more like Christ. It is all part of the process of God changing us to become more like Jesus Chris and that term is called Sanctifcation.

Isn’t it wonderful that God not only in his Son, has saved us, but he is actually doing a continuous work in us, making us more like His Son! This is why the things we used to love doing before we came to faith, we no longer like doing. That is what happens to people when we become Christians. We see sin for what it is. We see sin in all its raw ugliness. But… we still live here! The battle against sin, the world, the flesh and the devil is a battle we all face. We all face temptation and in ourselves we are weak and without God’s power we will easily and naturally yield. And the Lord Jesus which is why he tells us to pray

And lead us not into temptation. ‘

The word in the Original temptation but it also means testing or trial. So what are we praying to God when we pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation’? Well, we are not saying to God, please don’t tempt us. Because does not tempt us. We are told this by the Apostle James, in James 1:13 which says:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

So what do is mean to pray “Lead us not into temptation”?

It means we are acknowledging our sinful weakness, and just how easy it is for us because we are so week to give way to the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Temptation is not a sin, imagine you are in a social setting and your friends start gossiping about someone behind their back and you know a juicy piece of gossip that your friends to love, and the thought of saying it is so sweet, that you can taste it, and you feel the temptation to say it. You have not sinned at this point. But temptation does make obedience difficult. That is because we are weak. This is why asking God not to lead us into temptation is such an appropriate thing to pray. We are asking God, please keep me away from anything that will lead me to sin. And friends that is the Lord’s Prayer!

Prayer – A Wonderful Gift from God.

What a wonderful gift we have been given by the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t know how to pray. It is not in our nature to pray. This prayer is a gift, it is prayer to pray and it is model for prayer. So when we pray this prayer, never say it. Never just say it. Pray it! And remember that the only reason we can pray to God, the only reason he hears us and the only reason we can call him Father is because the Lord Jesus death on the cross gives us access to God. And because of the cross, Jesus death in our place, we can approach God in prayer confidently. As the parable that Jesus gives us in vv.5-8 shows. If a friend gives his mate what he need due to his boldness, or more accurately because of his impudence, how much will God respond to our prayer, God who is much more caring than any friend or neighbour.

So can I encourage you, make prayer a daily habit. As the Lord says to us, when it comes to pray in vv.9-10:

 9″So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Ask, seek, knock. And that is what we are doing everytime we come into God’s presence in prayer.

So pray boldly! Pray daily! Pray habitually! Remember, because of the cross, God is now your Father. So pray! Pray the Lord’s prayer, model your praying from the Lord’s Prayer.

Ask, seek, Knock!

A Not so Cool Acronym

 

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Something I have noticed in our Anglican Culture is how we often we use Acronyms. We seem to have acronyms for everthing! Sydney Missionary & Bible College is SMBC (which some think stands for Sydney Matrimonial & Bridal College), Moore Theological College (MTC), Ministry Training Scheme (MTS), and there is the strange one, Katoomba Youth Convention (KYCK – though for the life of me I have no idea what the ‘K’ stands for).

But there is There is a new acronym that has gained popularity in recent years, particularly amongst baby –boomers and it is an acronym that is increasingly becoming disliked amongst Gen X ers and Gen Y and that is the acronym which is a also a verb for sliding down a snow covered slope and it is the acronym SKI. And it stands for:

Spend

Kids

Inheritance

So when a retired couple say “we are going skiing”, they may not mean that they are going down to the snow, but rather, they are going to blow their money on a mobile home and travel around Australia, then go on a cruise in the Pacific, then followed by a trip to South America led by the famous Alpaca Whisperer Bruce Maclean to learn his techniques and then finish up with a week of fine wine and dining at Doyles on Watson’s Bay in Sydney.

As a Gen Xer it is easy to think about retirement and cultural stereotypes and present a picture of retirement which is ridiculous as it is inaccurate, just like the one I have given above, but something that is not inaccurate is how easy it is to let our culture dictate how we as God’s people should use our retirement and at the same time be blind to God’s Word on the issue.

So what does Godly retirement look like? Does God want me to use my retirement to rest, and spend and play? Is God really concerned about my retirement?

As helpful and as appropriate as these questions are, the first thing I think is important to acknowledge is that retirement as we know it not mentioned in the NT. Historically the majority of people worked until either they could not work due to illness of injury or until they died. Secondly it is also important not to deduce from this that Biblical silence on this issue equals Divine apathy.

The Lord Jesus Christ is Lord, and because he is Lord, this means his rule permeates and is to govern not only all aspects of life but also all aspects of life in every stage of life.

Secondly, retirement as we know it means we that we retire from paid work, but we do not retire from the work of the Lord.

Thirdly, retirement is a blessing from the Lord. Why? Because it offers time for ministry where previously perhaps your paid work took up the time. Have a look at these counter cultural Scripture from the Lord Jesus Christ:

Matthew 6: 19-21

                  [19] “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, [20] but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It is very easy for us in this world to clutter up our lives with material things, and to starve our place in Heaven because we had not invested in things of eternal worth because we get so caught up with career, yet retirement grants us the opportunity to work in a different way, to work for eternal treasure. There are many ways in which the Christian can use their retirement for work of the Lord, prayer, Bible studies, (hosting or leading), perhaps doing an online Bible course (through Ridley College or Moore College), encouraging the young adults in your parish, opening up your home for hospitality, being part of the service where those saints who are in the thick of work and kids, whom you can befriend, love and support; or even finally being able to make yourself more available to be on the roster at church for the plethora of ways in which one can serve.

There was once a very selfish and wealthy old lady who died and reached Heaven and was told that she would taken to the house that had been prepared for her. She passed many beautiful mansions and saw in them people whom in this world she had known and despised. Finally way on the outskirts of the suburbs of Heaven, she was shown a very small and undistinguished house and she was told that it was hers. She complained and protested but was told quietly ‘ That is all we could do for you with the materials you sent ahead’.

There is an old hymn entitled Consider Christ, I suspect most of you know it, but have you considered your retirement? Have you considered how you can use it for Christ? When one yields their retirement to the Lord Jesus, what a wonderful blessing awaits!