Sean Nolan's To Those Who Suffer
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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Sean Nolan, twenty-eight, was the youngest elected member of the executive branch of a local Christian political party in Sydney, Australia. Nolan resigned last year, but using his political experience he lobbies on behalf of abused children and consults to national leaders at a federal and state level for the development of Christian care in government.
Having completed his theological studies at Emmaus Bible College, Nolan spent many years in youth ministry before joining Glorious Hope Baptist Church in Sydney as an ordained minister. Working with this eight-year-old church plant that reaches out to the most marginalized in the community, Nolan ministers to those he has a passion for—the deeply suffering—and provides pastoral care to people trapped in extreme cycles of abuse and dependency. As a primary home caregiver for both his parents, the author has an intimate understanding of living with pain and is working to develop resources including social media tools to minister to those who are hurting.
Nolan lives in Sydney, Australia with his parents. He is soon to be married and enjoys rugby, cricket, and sci-fi. To Those Who Suffer is Sean Nolan’s first book.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: VMI Publishers (May 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” 1 PETER 4:1, NIV
God Loves You.
My prayer for you at this point is not that you know that God loves you. All Christians ‘know’ this; my prayer is that you will understand that God loves you. There is a huge difference between knowing about something and understanding it. When I was at college I sold suits for a living. When I started the job all I knew about a suit was what one looked like. However, after four years of selling suits I understood everything there is to understand about a men’s business suit. I had such an understanding of suits that I could tell you what fabric a suit was made out of just by looking at it, or if a garment had been dry-cleaned just by touching the fabric. I found that in my early Christian years I knew of God’s love for me, but I had not known God’s love in a deep and meaningful way. It is not healthy for us to have an academic knowledge of God’s love; we must have a deep personal understanding of God’s love for us.
Sometimes we get so angry and upset with God because we cannot believe that He loves us when He has allowed us to go through so much in our lives. After much anguish, I have realized that my personal frustration with God was a result of my lack of understanding about God’s love for me. The most important thing that anyone can understand is God’s love for him or her. Living the Christian life without an understanding of God’s love is like driving a car without any understanding about how the car operates. I have ‘crashed’ my life many times because of my warped perception of God’s love for me and my misguided unbiblical view of how I thought God should have been manifesting his love in my life. This chapter contains some hard truths about God’s love and I do not encourage you to read it lightly. In it we will discuss misperceptions about God’s love and the true Biblical nature of God’s love for His children.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOD’S LOVE
There is a story from the days of the early church that involves the apostle John. The story says that the apostle John would constantly tell the people in the church that they needed to ‘love one another.’ At first the members of the congregation saw this as good advice, but the apostle persisted in his dispensing of this vital piece of wisdom. The story holds that John would constantly speak about their need to ‘love one another’ in his sermons and that the apostle would constantly instruct the people to ‘love one another’ during their day-to-day interaction with him. This constant repetitious advice made the people wonder why their leader constantly told them to do the same thing over and over again. The people in the church got so perplexed with John’s fixation on their need to ‘love one another’ that they approached him and asked him why he was continually instructing them with the same piece of advice. When confronted with the question of why he was continually telling the people that they needed to ‘love one another’ the apostle John answered by saying: “because that is what the Master
(Jesus) told us!”
The way of our Master was and is the way of love. The Lord Jesus Christ said that the entire Old Testament hangs on the truth of love: Matthew 22:37–40 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” The foundational truth of the entire Bible is love; if we fail to understand the love of God then we will never understand any part of God’s Word. No chapter or verse in the entire Bible should be interpreted out of the context of God’s love. This truth extends beyond the Bible and engulfs every aspect of human life. Every moment of every day in our lives, whether it sees us in church on Sunday morning, in a coffee shop with friends, in a hospital bed, or in a pub getting drunk should be viewed in the context of God’s love. Without this foundational truth in the forefront of our minds we will never have the ability to understand God’s working in our lives.
The Lord Jesus understood the integral part that love plays in our understanding of Him and His message for us. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that they should interpret the entire Old Testament, every sentence and word in light of God’s love. We need to use this truth as a filter for all that happens to us. Everything we do and all that is done to us as well as all that comes to pass in our lives has to be comprehended and understood in relation to God’s love. Every thought that we allow into our minds has to pass through a mental filter that checks and analyzes it in relation to God’s love. If we do not do this then our perspective on what is taking place in our lives will be distorted. We will never be able to understand why God allows such suffering in the world and especially in the lives of those who follow Him. The apostle John understood this truth and tried his hardest to convey it to the Christians around him; we learn this from his writings in the Bible, particularly the book of First John. I believe that the reason why John taught the people about love to the point of frustration was that he knew how desperately they needed to understand it. I am sure that the majority of the people in John’s churches never really understood the power of God’s love for them. If they did then they would have never asked him the question that they did. John, like all great church leaders, understood something that he so desperately wanted the Christians around him to understand. He knew the power of a mind that understands all things in light of God’s love. Through his persistent attempts to pass on an understanding of God’s love, John conveyed the same truth the apostle Paul wrote about in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he divinely penned these words: “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19).
The love of God needs to be the foundation upon which our entire understanding of life is built. A comprehension of the love of Christ needs to be mixed into all the areas of our lives. If this is not done then we will never be filled with “all the fullness of God.”
Love is an attribute brought to this world by God from heaven. Faith and hope, however, were introduced to mankind by God because of sin. If there were no sin then they would not be needed; love, however, predates sin. Mankind knew of the love of God before sin entered into the world; and the whole purpose of God in the world and individually in our lives is to bring us back into his complete love. This purpose will be completely fulfilled when we arrive home to be with Him in heaven, but while we are on the earth, the Lord is teaching his children a heavenly lesson, that lesson being His love for us.
THE ROLE OF THE KING IN OUR LIVES
So many Christians look at Jesus as the all-conquering King of their lives, which He is. However, many fail to recognize that Jesus had another role that He fulfilled while on the earth. Jesus has two roles to play in history, His first appearance on this earth was as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). The second role will be fulfilled when Christ returns as the Lion of God who comes to judge the world (Rev. 5:5). These roles, like the animals that represent them, are very different and they are symbolic of the different ways in which God acts towards His children.
It is said that many Jewish people at the time of Christ thought that there were going to be two Messiahs. The reason for this is that the Old Testament speaks about the coming King in two different ways. Firstly, it refers to Him as the suffering servant of Israel. This is highlighted in the passages of Scripture famously known as the suffering servant passages of Isaiah (42:1–9, 49:1–6, 50:4–11, 52:13–53:121). These passages, particularly 52:13–53:12, have been made famous because of their vivid prophetic description of the ‘suffering servant’ that parallels the account given in the Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, the Old Testament talks about the coming king as the all-conquering King of Israel who will come to deal with their enemies and bring about a time of great prosperity for the nation (2 Sam. 7:16; Jer. 23:5–6; Zech. 14:5–17, etc.). The point here is that the Jews were right and wrong at the same time. The passages do describe the Messiah (Jesus) in different ways, but they were not describing different people; they were describing the same person in different roles. I have found through my own experiences that Christ can and does act in my life as an all-powerful King. However, these times have been few and far between. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn is that Jesus has called me many times to follow in His footsteps and to suffer as my Master’s servant. I said above that the way of our Master is the way of love; however, the way of our Master is also the way of suffering.
When Jesus came to earth two thousand years ago, He came for one purpose and one purpose only, to reconcile mankind back to God. This first coming of the Lord to the earth dealt with the spiritual problem of mankind (Matthew 18:11). The return of Christ will see the Lord deal with the final spiritual problems of mankind but also the physical circumstantial ones. What I mean by this is that the primary purpose of the cross was not to remove the suffering from our lives, but to provide a way for people to be redeemed back to God and to give us victory over sin. The Jews wanted their coming Messiah and King to conquer their Roman oppressors and remove all the suffering from their lives. They were imagining a return to the days of King Solomon where silver was as common as wood and the nation and all its inhabitants lived in the lap of luxury. However, the Lord was much more concerned with the problem of sin and the atonement that needed to be made to free Israel and all people from the bondage of sin. This is why the Jews did not recognize Christ; they were looking at Jesus with human expectations of what the Messiah should be and do, whereas God had sent his Son to fulfill the role of the Messiah according to the divine perspective. I cannot speak for you but I can say from my own journey down the road of suffering that I have had this same problem. I thought God is loving, good, and all-powerful therefore He has come into my life to bless me with comfortable circumstances. Only in the last few years have I realized that God’s greatest purpose in my life is to conform me into the image of His Son, not to ensure my personal comfort. God is more interested in my character than He is my comfort!
Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, many of us do not understand the role of God in our lives and the purpose of Jesus’ dying on the cross for our sins. Jesus came to save you and me from our sins, which does not necessarily mean that He has come to save us from suffering. In fact Jesus suffered extensively while He was on earth and the apostles followed in His footsteps. All of the apostles except for John were martyred (and John might as well have been, he suffered so much) and the early church suffered horrendous persecution. The Roman Emperor Nero dipped Christians in hot tar and then put them up on poles. He would then have the poles with the believers attached set alight and he would use these poor saints as human lanterns at his parties. The Lord Jesus came to earth to suffer and his disciples
followed him down this path as do many Christians today in countries that persecute believers. It was a hard truth for me to accept when I realized that I am called to serve the all-conquering King but also follow in the footsteps of the great Suffering Servant.
The love of God and the suffering of Christ go hand in hand. God’s love for us cannot be viewed outside of Christ’s suffering for us; God loves us so much that He is allowing us to follow in the footsteps of His Son. If we gladly accept the blessing that comes from following Christ the all conquering King, we must also accept the hardship that is allowed in our lives by Jesus the Suffering Servant. We must always remember that the cross comes before the crown!
MISUNDERSTANDING GOD’S LOVE
In the church today there is a huge misunderstanding of who God is and what His purpose for our lives is. In my early Christian years I viewed God as a divine vending machine. I thought that praying to God is like putting money in a drink machine. I put my prayer in and through that prayer I would be making my selection of what I wanted God to do in my life and then God was obligated to give me what I wanted. So many Christians have ceased praying to God and asking Him for His will to be done as instructed to in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). Instead we spend most of our prayer life counseling God and instructing Him on how He should be dealing with us in our lives. God does not want our advice; He wants our devotion; one of the most valuable commodities that the Lord values is trust (Proverbs 3:5–6). God wants us to trust Him with our lives; the reason that the Lord wants this of us is that He knows what is best for us. The Lord wants to implement a foundation of love in your life. This may not be easy and it may even be uncomfortable but it is essential for your spiritual growth. When we think of love, many of us conjure up images of roses on Valentine’s Day and long walks on the beach; our view of love has become narrow and distorted by the secular society that we live in. We see on TV people talking about ‘making love’ when in fact they are simply making lust. No one can ‘make love’ because God was and is the creator of love. Our society swaps love for lust and then has no comprehension of what a loving relationship or action is. Lust is Satan’s substitute for God’s love; so many Christians have bought into the lie of Satan that love is a lustful state of euphoria that is comprised of a constant ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling that should never end. This view of love is not the image of love that the Bible portrays. The Biblical view of love is strongly tied up with the area of suffering.
The cross was the most amazing manifestation of God’s love that the world ever has seen and ever will see. We know that the cross is amazing, we sing about it, read about it, and talk about it all the time. When we go to church we are told to be thankful for what the Lord has done on the cross for us, we remember the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ through communion. However, very few Christians understand exactly what took place on the cross; we think we do understand the cross but really we do not. Many people think that the suffering the Lord endured to save us was the physical suffering seen in movies like the Jesus Film and the Passion of the Christ. However, the physical suffering of Christ was just a drop in relation to the ‘ocean of suffering’ that Jesus Christ had to pass through to purchase our salvation. The real suffering that saved us was Christ’s separation from His Father in heaven and the spiritual torture that He endured during the hours of darkness while He was on the cross, when the wrath of God was being poured out upon Him for our sins. People have asked me how Jesus knows about them and I tell them that one reason why He knows all about you is because while He was on the cross He was made aware of all your sin in an intimate way as He suffered on your behalf. We focus on Christ’s physical suffering that He endured on the cross; however, the suffering that caused the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer beyond measure was His spiritual suffering. No one can understand exactly how the Lord suffered spiritually because the only person capable of suffering in this way was the Son of God. Jesus was the only one with the spiritual qualifications needed to fulfill this task and therefore any attempt to analyze His spiritual suffering and understand it would be woefully inadequate. The point that I am making here is that the cross was not only the greatest act of love that the world has ever seen and ever will see; but the cross was also the greatest act of suffering that the world has ever seen and ever will see. God loves you so much that He forsook, renounced, and abandoned His own Son so that He would not have to forsake, renounce, and abandon you. The love of God and the suffering of Christ go hand in hand. It has been said that loving another person is doing what is best for him at any given time. This does not mean that you are constantly being nice to others but it does mean that you should constantly be good to others. There is a big difference between nice people and good people. Nice people are loved by everyone whereas good people get nailed to crosses! Jesus was not always ‘nice’ to people but He was always good to them; there is a big difference. God’s actions in your lives may not always be pleasant or nice; however, they are always loving and good. Just like the cross was not pleasant for Jesus, our suffering is not pleasant for us. The suffering of Christ on the cross was the most productive and loving thing that has ever been done for the human race. Just like our Master’s suffering, our suffering is also the most productive and loving thing that will ever happen in our Christian walk (after our salvation). I realize how stupid and even cruel that statement seems; however, it was true for Jesus and His disciples and it is true for us. I find that in my own life I am happy to accept the part about God the Father allowing Christ to suffer out of love for me. However, I find that I am less willing to accept the part about God allowing me to suffer because He loves me. We need to remember at this point that God allows us to suffer at the expense of our physical lives so we can grow in our spiritual lives. The reason that our good, loving, holy, just and righteous God permits suffering in our lives is that He has a good, loving, holy, just, and righteous purpose for allowing this suffering in our lives, just as He did for Christ. It is not my intention to outline the good, holy, loving, just, and righteous things that God brings about in our lives through suffering and the reason why He cannot use another means to accomplish this. These things will be covered later on; however the point that I want to establish here is that God’s love for us is not made void because He allows us to suffer. God’s love for you is as real as the pain from your suffering. The thing we have to understand is that the suffering God allows in our lives is just as much a part of God’s love for us as the blessing that He brings into our lives. We need to have the perspective that Christ came to free us from our sin not necessarily our suffering. And that there is an amazing, loving, joyous peace to be found even if the Lord does not give us the removal of the painful circumstances that we so desperately seek.