Message Mondays (Suffering, and What It Really Means to be a Christian):

…Now I saw in my dream that the bit of road they were on was very broad, and as they were having this conversation they caught up with a bloke who was walking in the same direction as themselves, but rather more slowly on the far edge of the road.

 ‘G’day sport!’ yelled out FD (just to be friendly). ‘You headed for God’s Own Country?’

 ‘Too right,’ replied the bloke, who’s name was Gasbag.

 ‘Good-o!’ said FD. ‘We can keep each other company.’

 ‘That’s fine by me,’ Gasbag replied. ‘I’m always in for a chin wag.’

 ‘We could even learn things from each other and keep our spirits up,’ suggested FD

 ‘Just what I had in mind,’ agreed Gasbag. ‘I just love a good yarn with the people I meet- it’s better than buying a newspaper I reckon. Mind you, you’ve gotta watch out for those blokes and sheilas who just flap their jaws in the wind when they’ve got nothing to say. Dead waste of time they are.’

 ‘Couldn’t agree more,’ said FD. ‘Let’s stick to the good stuff and talk about this top spot that we’re headed to. Or we could, if you like, talk about the Bible­-’

 ‘Yeah,’ interrupted Gasbag. ‘A great book! Packed full of wisdom. The world would be a better place if more people paid more attention to the Bible.’

 ‘Or,’ said FD, ‘we could talk about how important it is to believe in God-’

 ‘Another top topic! I couldn’t have suggested anything better myself. Anyone who doesn’t believe in God is a bit of a galah in my book. You’ve got to give a nod to the Big Bloke who designed the world we’re walking in, I reckon.’

 ‘So what would you like to say then, about these and other worthwhile topics?’ asked FD.

 ‘Well,’ said Gasbag confidently, ‘I know for an absolute, dead cert fact that what goes on inside your head matters. There’s lots of empty-headed types around who never give a thought to anything important. Personally, I blame the younger generation. They’ve been spoiled. They’ve got much more than we ever had when we were their age. And what do they do? They run around complaining, “We’re bored.” I’d stick ‘em all in the army for a year. That’d make ‘em see there’s more to life than just running around and enjoying yourself.’

 ‘Well, I will at least agree,’ said FD, ‘that it’s a terrible mistake to be so busy in life that you never stop to think about the bigger picture, why we’re here, and where we’re going, and what life is all about.’

 ‘Exactly!’ snorted Gasbag. ‘I can see that you’re a man after my own heart. Life is serious, life is earnest. But can I get my idiot son to understand that? No, I cannot! Sheilas and booze is all he ever thinks about. No me, I’m a responsible citizen. When I meet my friends at the pub, or when they come around for a barbie, we talk about important things- things that really matter.’

 ‘Such as?’ prompted FD.

 ‘Such as why the country’s going to the dogs; and why the moral fibre of the younger generation is rotten; and why the churches are pretty empty these days (except for Christmas and Easter); and how television is full of sleazy rubbish. Why, I’ve seen things on TV that would curl your hair! Disgusting, that’s what I call it!’

 ‘Maybe,’ suggested FD, ‘you shouldn’t have seen them.’

 ‘Eh?’

 ‘I mean- perhaps if there are sleazy things on television, the right response is to use the Off button. Surely it’s better to just turn such things off.’

 ‘I see what you mean, yes, I see what you mean. Interesting thought. However, we have to know what’s going on. We have to know what rubbish is being poured into the minds of the younger generation. On top of which I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I wasn’t broad-minded. Oh no, don’t make that mistake! I’m as broad-minded as the next bloke.’

 ‘Perhaps our minds should be less broad,’ suggested FD cautiously. ‘Perhaps they should be narrowed down to focus on those things that are true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper. Wouldn’t that be healthier?’ Gasbag made no response but gazed off into the distance with a knowing look on his face.  ‘So,’ said FD, ‘you would classify yourself as a Christian then?’

 ‘Of course,’ snorted Gasbag. ‘My parents took me along to the church as a baby to get done. And I used to go to Scripture classes when I was at school. I even went to Sunday school for a little while. I met my wife at a dance at the church hall, and we’ve taken each of our kids along to get done just after they were born. Not that it’s been much use, of course! The stupid mugs have got no idea of hard work. And they never stop to think about the important things of life.’

 ‘Maybe you should have taken them to church each week yourself. Perhaps that would have made a difference-’

 ‘Now, don’t misunderstand me,’ cut in Gasbag. ‘I think Christian values are what made this country great. But at the same time I don’t want my kids turned into God botherers or Bible bashers. Good grief, they might have even ended up as…as fundamentalists!’ At this Gasbag gave a shudder of horror. A little confused, FD said, ‘But you’re a Christian, yourself?’

 ‘Of course I am!’ replied Gasbag with a hearty laugh. ‘I always try to do the right thing. Mind you, I’m what I’d call a very tolerant Christian- I have no objection to Buddhism or Mormonism or Scientology or atheism or any other sort of weird belief. I don’t interfere with what they think, and they don’t’ interfere with what I think.’

 ‘Then how can you talk about the really serious things about life?’

 ‘But we do! These petty differences in the names of our beliefs don’t get in the way. We talk about what matters: like who’ll win the next election, and what’s happening to marginal tax rates…things like that.’

 ‘But you are a Christian?’

 ‘That’s what I said, isn’t it? Look, I was born in a Christian country into a Christian family- of course I’m a Christian!’ At this point Chris drew FD to once side. ‘Look, mate, I know this Gasbag character,’ he said. ‘He used to live not far from me back in the township of Incendiary. He doesn’t have a good reputation.’

 ‘What do you mean?’

 ‘Well, he often uses all the right words- or what he thinks are the right words- but his actions are centred entirely on himself. When his children were young, he almost ignored them so that he could build his career and his business. At one stage he fairly blatantly had an affair with his secretary. His wife seemed to be the only one in the neighbourhood who didn’t know. As he gets older he becomes more serious about what he calls ‘religion’- but at the same time, he tries to ignore the shadow of approaching death.’

 ‘But does he never seriously investigate the claims of Jesus Christ?’

 ‘No never. Although he wants things to work out ok for him in the end- and he’s certainly hoping for eternal life- he’s not prepared to lose control of his life, to turn to Jesus as his Captain, his Commander-in-Chief. He still wants his life to revolve around himself.’ After this hushed conversation, FD turned to Gasbag again.

 ‘So, here we are travelling down the True Track towards God’s Own Country,’ he said. ‘Do I take it that this means you’re being guided and led by the Lord of the Road himself?’

 ‘I am being guided and led,’ said Gasbag, ‘by my own intelligence. I use the brains God gave me. If God intended me to follow his orders all the time he would never have given me brains. I’ve got my own priorities and values- priorities and values that I’ve carefully fashioned over a lifetime. So I don’t want anyone else imposing their priorities and values on me.’

 ‘Not even the Lord of the Road himself?’

 ‘Certainly not! Why would he want me to? I’m sure he wants me to think for myself!’

 ‘Yes, think for yourself, but not about yourself. The Lord of the Road wants us to focus on him and his plans and purposes for our journey through life. Surely we can’t please him by thinking about ourselves!’ Gasbag drew himself up indignantly. ‘I find your attitude both narrow-minded and offensive. If you don’t mind, I think I’d rather continue my journey on my own, without your company. Now, clear off, there’s a good chap.’ With those words Gasbag dawdled by the side of the road until Chris and FD had walked on out of sight.

Chapter 11: Gasbag; from Kel Richards’ Aussie Pilgrim’s Progress;

Adaptation of Pilgrims Progress written by John Bunyan

The ‘important’ issues in life…according to Gasbag in the extract above, were stuff like the election, tax rates, watching ‘rubbish’ on TV so that the younger generation won’t get affected; yet he never acknowledged Jesus as his Saviour. Though I don’t want to be judgemental, it seems that in today’s day and age, many people who profess to be ‘Christian’ are in fact gasbags. They, like the character in the extract above, often use all the right words- or what they think are the right words- but their actions are centred entirely on themselves. While at first glance, they appear to be Christian-like, have all the right friends, go to church, give a tithe in the offering, however, when all is stripped away, there is nothing, no substance. However, there is a baffling thought that I have realised the more I am a Christian. I have realised that God, in essence, doesn’t care about what you do, but rather whether or not if you believe in His Son’s death and resurrection. He is looking into everyone’s heart, rather than outward appearances, or behaviours on the outside.

Yet there is another issue at hand, on the flipside. Believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection is just the start- the only way to let people know is to live it out, through actions. While on one hand, actions alone won’t get you into heaven; faith without actions is equally detrimental. There are some bits about the Bible that seem bizarre, and this is one theme. How can God claim that you can get into heaven by faith, but then say that faith is dead unless it is backed up with actions? James, the earthly brother of Jesus Himself, wrote a whole book in the Bible about faith, works and the rest of it. It stirred the people then, and is still stirring people now in this society. Because no matter how one does ‘church’, it has to be comfortable for you, and in no situation must you feel compromised and pressured or obligated to fulfil duties so that God can give you a tick in all the right boxes. Doing the right things is good, yet our motivations have to be right. It has to be out of a love for Christ that we achieve good works, rather than any other motivation. It’s not as if at the end of the day, God is scoring you on how much you do, determining if you will get into Heaven or not. It is only by God’s grace given to us when He died on the cross alone that saves us- nothing more. So if someone commits their life to Jesus, believes that God has washed their previous life and slate clean, and tries to live for Him, he will go to heaven. It’s obvious. That’s the easy stuff.

Christianity is not a works theology based faith. Some denominations such as Catholicism and the Greek Orthodox religion may have strict rules and guidelines, saying that you have to sit in pews, have communion every Sunday, sing from the hymn book, read the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, and the list goes on and on. Nevertheless, it isn’t really whatever we express on the outside- it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Someone could easily go to church every week, recite all the hymns and know every bible verse inside out- at the end of it, they’d still be like a ‘gasbag’- knowing all the right things but never really realising that that is all it ever was to them- a knowledge test rather than a heart transformation and a relationship between the creator and created.

James has communicated that faith without actions is dead. If you say, ‘I believe’ but don’t live it out, is it even worth it? Sure, you will get into heaven, but have you made the most of the opportunity that God has given you on this earth? God has given every single one of us talents and gifts, things we’re good at and are passionate about, and it is our choice to use them or not. Jesus used many parables and allegories to prove his point, that when we become Christians our lives are changed through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We should be changed from the inside out, and the ‘Christian’ should act that way. But sadly, there have been people, like Gasbag, who have used all the correct words and correct jargon, however, when it all comes down to it, the ‘meaningful’ things in life weren’t more than the tax rates or what’s on TV. Just like how Gasbag nearly fooled FD before Chris explained his real motives, society can be fooled, hook, line and sinker by the ‘ethical agnostic’ and mistake them for the Christian. Just because they say the right words, doesn’t mean a thing if when we look a little deeper, their lives aren’t changed as much as it should be if Jesus was in their lives in the first place. ‘Gasbags’ do all the right things; yet miss the crucial fact that God wants people’s hearts, with all the blood, sweat and tears.

So if this is true, if actions won’t get you into heaven and faith will, why do we have actions? Is it purely on the basis that faith without actions is dead? If so, that’d be the law wouldn’t it? True, so let me ask you this question, once we have accepted Christ, why do we live it out? Does it really matter since actions won’t get you into heaven? People have argued with this thought, but from what I have realised, you gotta live it out because that is the only way for people to realise that change we have experienced inside of us. If we don’t have actions, we will be keeping quiet about Christ. No one will know about the One who we live for and follow. No one will know about the joy, peace and love that we receive when we follow Christ. James even painted a vivid picture in a passage in his book, about this faith v actions issue and how faith without actions is like us being deceived- that we shouldn’t ‘…deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead put it into practice. If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice, you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like. But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it, and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice- you will be blessed by God in what you do…’ (James 1: 22-25).

We need to back up what we say. We all do. Whatever we believe, we need to put it on display, we need to convince others that the God we declare that we follow is a God worthy enough for them to follow, by them seeing the positive changes He has made on our lives since our declaration of dependence upon Him. The way we live our lives should be the living proof, that in fact there is some order in the midst of chaos, that in fact God does make a difference in someone’s life. That in fact there is hope in the midst of suffering. Yet people in society right now have often misunderstood what it has meant to follow God. They’ve even questioned whether Christians are ‘in touch’ with society, because of the ‘love, joy, and peace’ that we all receive as benefits of following Jesus. It seems, on the surface, that the Christian life doesn’t have any turmoils and trials. That once we follow the Lord of Lords, all our suffering and temptation dissipates from our lives, and we are left with a rosy life. Yet this is not so. We all have trials and testing, Christian and non-Christian alike. In fact, God has promised that this life as a Christian wasn’t supposed to be easy, and that trials, testing, and the riddle of suffering will always continue til the day of judgement. God doesn’t tempt, the devil does. But that doesn’t mean that God won’t use the temptation to shape our character as we become more reliant upon Him.

Just because temptation doesn’t come from God, doesn’t mean that God can’t use our own trials, tribulations and difficulties as opportunities for us to delve deep within ourselves and look at issues we may never have looked at, had these trials or tribulations not come into effect. We ought not to be discouraged even if we are tempted. We all have and will continue to be tempted. It’s not the temptation that is sinning; it is giving in to the temptation. We all go through turmoils and hardships in life. I know in my life, I’ve had my fair share of suffering. But it is during those times when the devil attacks us the most. When you have surrendered every part of your life over to Christ; that is when we are the most vulnerable to circumstances that may lead us away from the creator if we’re not careful. Remember Job? He was still praising God after all the turmoil that he had suffered. I guess Satan thought that if the circumstances changed, Job would curse God. Even now, much of humanity would act not like Job did, but like how the devil wanted him to act- they have asked God the question ‘why’, whenever things don’t go their way. But, Job still praised God. And as far as I know, everything happens for a reason. Though God doesn’t approve of suffering, he knows that in order to enjoy the highs, the lows must come with it. And it is during those lows when life lessons and epiphanies can be sought after. It is during those times when life gets put into perspective. Suffering, while it is detestable by God, can be used as a tool by Him to work through each of us. He does keep his promise. He does deliver us out of the pit. It is during those times that God carries us; it is during those times, that when we are in the pit, and everyone around us are laughing and saying that we should accept that the pit is our life, God is right in there with us. He gives us his hand and pulls us out of the pit.

There have been numerous times in my life where I thought of such issues of suffering, and that if my modern day version of ‘servants and livestock’ were taken away, whether I would still praise God through the tough times, whether I would still praise God through the suffering. Stuff that I do hold dear, like my music, this website and all the blogs and reviews on it, that has helped me see more of God than I have ever known, are such precious things, more so than the gaming consoles that I enjoyed and considered to be my ‘servants and livestock’ in the past. Throughout my years, my attitude has changed. God made for everything to be in moderation- not enough of a good thing as well as too much of a good thing can be physically and maybe even spiritually unhealthy for the average person. Since my shift in priorities, from computer games to actually reading God’s Word way back during my teenage years; I’ve realised that such changes haven’t really come easy. And then at the end of it I start to think, with my new-found ‘treasures’, will I still praise God if those stuff were taken away by forces that I cannot control?

If this website and all the content on it is wiped off this computer tomorrow- if the computer crashes, or if my DVDs are stolen, or CDs scratched, if all those stuff happen instantaneously like how Job’s fortune disappeared at the end of Job Chapter 1, will I still be able to praise God? It will be a difficult thing to do, like how I’m sure it will be difficult to welcome the prodigal son home, or how it will be difficult to accept that you have bone cancer. Stuff like that, that require courage and wisdom, input from God to say that you are not alone, that there are heaps of people around the world faced with decisions that would make or break them every single minute of the day. Going back to the question that I hypothetically asked myself, when I think about it, even though I maybe wouldn’t like the situation, even though I probably wouldn’t understand ‘why’, I would probably understand that God knows best. I maybe wouldn’t actually praise God per se, I guess no one can, if their ‘treasure’ was taken away, but it’s a learning process. You will in the end understand that everything in this world, our consoles, games, houses, cars, even this website here, will fade away when we die, and only we and we alone will go to heaven. Our possessions won’t come.

I’ve been taught that at an early age, by my parents, and also by listening to Christian role models around me, so for me, I have learnt that you can’t focus your energy and time into the stuff that will have no meaning in the end. Sure, this website and my reviewing of albums has encouraged me in my walk with God, and has provided answers to questions that I myself have been struggling with and that we all struggle with, yet this website is still of this world. It won’t go into heaven with me, but what I learn will. So going back to the question that most of us ask, will I survive without this website? Sure, I’d cry for a bit, ask God ‘Why’ but when I calm down, and at the end of it all, I’ll look back and think, ‘God knows best’ and throughout my years of being a Christian, I’ve learnt that you cannot hang on to the stuff of this world.

Even the best of Christians, the pastors, the musicians, the authors; they all have their moments in the pit. Those moments when their suffering is answered with ‘How come they haven’t done a concert in yonks?’ or ‘Why do they keep on writing about the same issue all the time?’ Well, of course they keep on writing about the same issue because they feel strongly about it. But I have realised that if it can happen to well known people like Max Lucado and Michael W. Smith, it can happen to anyone. But sometimes suffering can also come a part of too much of a good thing. A good thing, you say. How? God has given us gifts and talents, and everything He put on the planet has a purpose, but sometimes as humans do normally, we think we have the better of God and that we know better in using the things in life that are supposedly good for us. If God has given us a gift to evangelise, we should be all for it, but we should never abuse the gift, and wherever God leads us with the gift, we should follow. It’s not our job to say ‘No God, you’re wrong on this area, and you should trust me because this area is my gift and I know things all better than you, just in this area’. In fact, I reckon God never likes it when we play ‘God’ especially on our strengths. Control is a funny thing. God lets you have it, but not too much, because too much control means that you may think you may not need God in your life, because you have excelled in this area. It makes us think that we may not need God anymore. And if we believe that we don’t need God because we have ‘control’, we need not call on Him in times of trouble. And if we didn’t call on God, if He didn’t lend a helping hand, we’d be far from where we are today. You just need to look outside at creation to know that God is alive working in our lives, even through the simple things. Though it may not mean that much to you, or in fact to any of us; we’d surely see the difference if it was all taken away. We should not keep things for granted because we all do not know when it will all be taken away from us. We should treasure it all as if there is no tomorrow.

It’s pretty easy to blame God for this messed up world. But through it all, through the times in which we feel as if we cannot go on any further, when we feel like Job with all his livestock taken away, God is carrying us, building us up, making us stronger so that we can cope, knowing that earthly things do not last so we shouldn’t hang onto them so much. Yes, suffering is bad, but we must not dwell on the fact that it should go away. God can rid us of our suffering and He often does. But suffering isn’t a sign that God doesn’t exist. For me, suffering proves that we all need a saviour, as everyone is broken. The world is broken, and it needs to be fixed. God will fix it at the end of the age, but when something terrible or drastic happens, remember that God will teach us something out of it. Whether He calms our storms or rides them with us, we should always give God praise, through thick and thin, when all is well with the world, or even when our circumstances are telling us that God is far away. We should know that our help comes from God, the maker of the heaven and the earth, and that we can praise God, knowing that He has a better plan for us, even if we may not see it in the moment.

As I finish off this post, let me pose a few questions. Are you like a gasbag, always trying to have all the right answers, or are you really going to the heart of it, and believing that sometimes having all the right answers may not be having the answers at all? Is there a moment in your life where you felt like Job- everything you loved was taken away? If someone were to ask you about the suffering v. God debate, what would you say? Let us know in the comments, and here’s to you all having a great week, hopefully we all can delve deeper into what it really means to pick up our crosses and follow the Lord this week. Til next time!

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