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The Surprising Grace of Disappointment: Finding Hope when God Seems to Fail Us

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    NEWSFLASH! Jesus is a huge disappointment to most Christians. Su

    NEWSFLASH! Jesus is a huge disappointment to most Christians. Surprised to hear it? Probably. But only because you know its true. And finally an evangelical has stepped up to the plate to say it loud and proud while grounding us in the truth that even though Jesus may be disappointing at times (or even most of the time), we still have a lot of hope in him. You may not have heard of Dr. John Koessler. Though he is a frequent contributor to large evangelical outlets like Christianity Today, Church Leader Gazette, and Preaching Today, he is best known as an incredibly humble mentor and professor to hundreds of Pastors and aspiring Pastors who have passed through the Pastoral Studies program at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Dr. Koessler is one of my favorite professors (and I am not just saying that) because of his honesty, openness, and wit. He doesn't hide or sugar coat the truth about things in the Christian and specifically evangelical world. One of his books is entitled Stranger in the House of God which is a perfect description of John Koessler- an amazing professor and preacher who just doesn't really fit into the evangelical mold and yet stays anyways because of his commitment and convictions. And that's precisely how I have felt over the last 7.5 years of my Christian journey- so I have always connected with Dr. Koesslers teaching/work/perspective. For a few years he has been talking about writing a book called Why Jesus Disappoints Everyone. No one actually believed that he'd actually do it...but here it is. And boy am I excited that this resource is available to the evangelical community (under a slightly less shocking title, of course)

    The thesis of the book is that many Christians have bought into a consumeristic image of Jesus that has no real basis or biblical support. We believe in, as Christian Smith says, a therapeutic, moralistic, deism that is not at all reflective of the faith of Christ. And so often, we find ourselves demanding and expecting things out of Jesus that he simply does not give us. We have an image of Jesus as the guy who is there whenever we need stuff and content to stand-by when we don't. And this false image of Jesus leads us to a lot of disappointment and unfulfillment in our lives. But this disappointment, according to Koessler, is a surprsing grace from God that we can learn to cherish and be thankful for, even through the times of profound disappointment with God. Koesslers first chapter is entitled False Hope and Unreasonable Expectations and centers around the idea that many in the Church have made cheap the promises of God in the Bible when "it resorts to clichés and the rhetoric of spiritual marketing to describe its experience and its ministries." (pg. 20) By embracing the "hyperbolic white noise of marketing", we make the church just another business seeking to sell its product by making it look and sound better than the next. And frankly, we do a bad job at that as it is. By adapting and embracing consumerism as a Church, we make hype up Jesus in a deceptive and untrue way that brings people in the doors of the church, and right back out with the taste of cheap disappointment. Because lets face it- the real Jesus is no where near as appealing or fun as the Jesus we try to sell to the world. Whether our fake Jesus is the one that promises health, wealth, and prosperity, or one that will fill the hole in you heart and make you happy all the time, the real Jesus simply doesn't live up to these promises. In fact, we often find the exact opposite of what we promised- instead health we have sickness, instead of wealth we have poverty, instead of fulfillment we have a heightened awareness of our profound emptiness. But its not him whose failing- its us. And Koessler goes great lengths to point that out.

    Koessler progresses with this theme as the basis for the book and touches on issues dealing with how we relationally relate to God in light of our false view of him- often commanding and demanding that he answer our prayers or keep his "promises" that aren't actually promises to us, pointing out that "The Bible’s list of
    those whose requests were refused by God is impressive." (pg. 44) and included Jesus Christ himself! He touches on the issue of God's "reliability". In this section, Dr. Koessler states: "Failed expectation lies at the heart of every disappointment... Disappointments like these are such a common experience in life, you would think that we would be used to them. But things are different when it comes to God. We expect better treatment from Him. We know that people can be fickle... God is not like that. We may not know much about theology, but at least we know this much: God is not a man that He should lie (Num. 23:19). Yet this good theology sometimes leads to bad practice. It causes us to confuse reliability with predictability. Because we think that God’s mind and ours are the same, we set goals for God. We know what we want and so we put it in the mouth of God. We let our desires govern our expectation." (Pg. 51-52) In other words, just because God is faithful doesn't mean he is predictable and just because he is reliable doesn't mean he will always answer our prayers the way we want him too. This doesn't seem all that revolutionary- but as Dr. Koessler points out, when it comes to situations like these with God, we just can't seem to stomach that God would do anything but give us exactly what we want. Which leads us to...surprise! More disappointment.

    Throughout the book, John Koessler hits on just about every major cause of disappointment in the Christian life and holds a mirror up to us to show us our glaring hypocrisy and the total beauty and faithfulness of our God- even when we don't like what that practically looks like. Koessler hits the nail on the head on many of the underlying presuppositions we have about how God works. In his chapter The Awkward Consersation of Prayer, he addresses the topic of the "amount" of faith one has in praying and how that effects the results of our faith. "A mere grain of faith is sufcient in prayer not because my faith is more powerful than my need, but because God is more powerful than my faith." (pg. 67) Koessler also poignantly confronts the issue that our "moral standing before God" has anything to do with how God responds and relates to us as his children: "We are tempted to think that righteousness is the condition we must be in to be blessed. Jesus says the opposite." (pg. 106) I think my favorite chapter in the book is Chapter 9: The Trajectory of Worship: When We Hate the Music at Our Church. I love this chapter simply because it so clearly shows Dr. Koesslers honesty about an issue that I have heard him "rant" about dozens of times in class. And it's fantastic. Koessler talks specifically to the past generations in this chapter who may be disappointed by the direction church worship has gone in. He says: "...I find that I have reached a stage in life where most of the music I hear in church is “their” music, whoever “they” are. That is to say, I have reached that stage in life where most of the music I hear in church annoys me...Indeed, I think of myself as an eclectic...The stations on my car radio are set to classical, country, oldies, rock-‘n’-roll, and even Christian music. I think of myself as someone who has been baptized by immersion in the waters of musical diversity. Yet somehow when Sunday comes, all my musical sophistication dissolves and I am reduced to that most primitive test of aesthetic values: “I may not know what art is, but I know what I like.” ...When the worship leader reminds me that worship “isn’t about me,” I try to take it to

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