The Surprising Grace of Disappointment
by John Koessler
Ch.10, Koessler, “Happily Ever After”
Rev 21:4, five sidequotes
A. “Although a majority of Christians still believe heaven exists, their primary field of interest seems to be earth.” (p.153) Many have taken the church to task for being too heavenly-minded and not concerned enough about earth. They don’t condemn the church for believing in heaven so much as chiding it for failing to integrate divine hope with God’s intent for here and now.
B. “Earth is the dominion of Christ as much as heaven, but in this realm we don’t see everything subject to him.” (p.156) The spatial language of the bible emphasizes the proximity of heaven and earth as much as it underscores their separation. If God’s omnipresent he’s not far from either.
C. “Redemption is not merely rehabilitation. Jesus meant it when he said ‘His kingdom is not of this world.'” (p.159) One’s a kingdom of entropy (continually winding down) and the other eternity (continually renewed). We live at the intersection of overlapping domains in the place of action, waiting, and birth pains.
D. “The church has tried to use hell as a spiritual measuring stick to motivate us to do right and shun wrong. This hasn’t been very effective.” (p.162) Culture’s caricature is hell as the devil’s heaven, where demons wreak havoc on souls of the damned. An empty threat. The Bible portrays it differently – both are God’s dominion. The difference is, hell’s the place of unmitigated justice. There’s no grace there.
E. “Those who belong to Christ are not merely transported into the kingdom, we’re changed by it.” (p.164) In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes about a fictional bus trip from hell to heaven. Near the 1/2-way mark, Lewis meets George MacDonald who says we’ve got it backwards. “Not only this valley, but all the earthly past will be Heaven to those who are saved,” MacDonald explains. “Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will be seen by the damned to have been Hell.” Lewis includes in the Prologue, “I think earth, if chosen instead of heaven, will turn out to have been all along only a region in Hell; and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”
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That’s it for the summary,
thanks for reading with us ☼
Ch.9, Koessler, “Trajectory of Worship”
Rom 12:1, three sidequotes
A. “What happens when we hope to be worshipers, but instead leave church as curmudgeons? chastened and repentant, but still curmudgeons.” (p.138) Our problem isn’t aesthetics, it’s vertigo. We view worship moving here to heaven, originating with us as a gift to God. When style and music don’t jive, it doesn’t feel like worship. It may be someone else’s – the worship leader or majority’s – but not ours. The biblical picture of worship moves the other direction, beginning in the heavenly sanctuary, then resounding throughout the domain of God, where it’s taken up by those on Earth. With a multitude of instruments and dancing “everything that has breath praises the Lord.”
B. “Pressure for Christians to always present a bright and cheery face to the world doesn’t come from God. If you doubt this, read the Beatitudes.” (p.143) It’s a short list of the world’s most miserable, the despised, forlorn, and ignored. They’re not told to cheer up. Jesus urges them to draw near, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I’ll give you rest.”
C. “We don’t have to like the same worship style but we do need to show respect for our differences.” (p.147) We’re part of a much larger congregation, who’s invited to join a chorus that began on the first day of creation. All that remains is for us to add our voices to their song.
Ch.8, “Take this Job”
Gen 3:16, four pullquotes + last line
A. “Jesus didn’t call his disciples away from their normal jobs to pursue a life of leisure, or even one of holy seclusion, but to engage in a different kind of work.” (p.121) His teachings demonstrate a high regard for ordinary work: the parables are full of farmers, household managers, builders, and laborers. His stories help convey the nature of their new ministry. Their work will be their ministry and their ministry work.
B. “God’s Spirit is as comfortable in the place of work as in the church.” (p.122) Sometimes we consider work an obstacle to spiritual growth, saying, “if I didn’t have to ___ I could devote more time to ___.” The enabling of day-to-day work is part of what theologians call “common grace.” Work is a universal gift that reflects the goodness of God who “shines sun and sends rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike.”
C. “According to Jesus, evaluation and reward are consistent with kingdom values.” (p.127) The parable of the 11th hour suggests the owner’s free to extend generosity beyond what’s contractually expected, while the parable of the talents assumes a certain level of performance.
D. “Pausing from work serves a dual purpose in the spiritual realm. It’s an expression of our dependence on God and a reminder that our greatest hope lies in the future.” (p.130) Work is part of the way God meets our basic needs. It can give life purpose, and can be overwhelming too if we lose focus on priorities. Work’s important but some things are more important.
“In the end the difference between a career and a vocation is really a matter of perspective. In a career we look for the sort of work we’re best suited. In a vocation we look to find God in our work.” (p.133) What does that mean?
Ch.7, “Eat, Drink, and Be Hungry”
Mt 5:6, four pullquotes
A. “We’re tempted to think righteousness is the condition we need to be in to be blessed. Jesus says the opposite.” (p.106) We prefer to focus on what we have rather than what we lack. It’s better to approach the kingdom empty, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
B. “The desire to be filled is itself desirable.” (p.107) We remember our moms saying, “You can’t have that, you’ll spoil your appetite!” Of course, isn’t that the point of eating? Her reasoning implies appetite as a good thing.
C. “Hunger and longing serve as a goad, prodding us toward a table spread with a better fare.” (p.110) Each of us stumbles through our own private wilderness, trying to suppress the gnawing desires that eat at our hearts and turn to unhealthy substitutes. Ours is a hunger no earthly bread can satisfy.
D. “The promise of righteousness is offered to those who are empty and belongs to those aware of their lack.” (p.113) In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus links daily bread with forgiveness. Alexander McLaren says, “Forgiveness is the first want of our spiritual nature and it’s constantly recurring.” The connection underscores an important dimension that righteousness has to be a gift received before it can be become a practice. We receive it like beggars and let it transform us from the inside out.
Ch.6, “Expectations: Delusion or Grandeur?”
Mk 9:19, four pullquotes + bonus
A. “What’s certain is the SUBSTANCE of the disciples’ disagreement. They argued which disciple should be considered the greatest.” (p.92) It’s sounds petty, because we’ve come to the table as observers. Take our own seat among them and everything suddenly changes. It’s a mirror and x-ray that penetrates our Sunday manners and naked ambition. This prompts us to ask, “why him and not me?”
B. “Under Jesus’ rule the way up is the way down. The greater my status is the lower my seat.” (p.94) Jesus compares the disciples’ ambition to pagan kings. Not surprising, they’re destined for thrones, but he kingdom he confers operates by a radically different rule than any kingdom they’ve experienced.
C. “We who are immersed in the everyday are often blind to its spiritual value.” (p.98) We believe: because it’s common it’s not holy, and because it’s ours it’s not significant. Instead of sanctifying the present, we dream of a more dynamic reality. We ignore the ordinary in hope of being called to a higher purpose. We’re dismissive of the small thing he actually intends us to do.
D. “Jesus has a keener eye than we do when it comes to our estimate of what we’ve done.” (p.100) The author entered a kite-flying competition and badgered his dad to make his kite. It looked the best and he thought it flew the highest too, but he didn’t win. Even if he did the glory would have been his father’s. He made the kite.
INTRO. “Mary I know what I’m doing tomorrow and the next day and next year and the year after that. I’m gonna leave this town far behind and see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then I’m coming back here to go to college and see what they know – and build things. I’m gonna build airfields. I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high. I’m gonna build bridges a mile long” – George Bailey, in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (p.89) We want to do something extraordinary too. That’s how our parents, pastors, and teachers encouraged us. Shake loose that little Christian lasso and aim as high as possible! The moon’s not what God has in mind for many though. His purpose is more down-to-earth.
Ch.5, Koessler, “Asleep at the Wheel”
Luke 8:24, 5 quotes + 1 bonus
A. “When Jesus speaks the wind goes quiet, but a different storm begins to brew in the disciples’ hearts.” (p.77) How can you sleep? The effect on the storm was immediate. Who is this!? Jesus directed the voyage, so what did they really expect in return for waking him? Where’s your faith?
B. “God’s normal course is to provide through normal means, even when it’s answer to prayer.” (p.79) Harry Emerson Fosdick noted, “some things god only provides when people work.” He multiplies loaves but uses disciples to distribute food to the crowd. It doesn’t just appear on the plate. Peter’s chains were loosened but Rhoda unlocked the door. When the disciples reached the end of their resources they did the right thing by bringing their problems to Jesus.
C. “Jesus doesn’t always quiet the wind and waves. Sometimes the ship goes under.” (p.82) We question god’s disposition toward us when skies darken, especially if we thought we were on a godly path. “Things should be going more smoothly!” We mistakenly interpret trouble as a sign of displeasure though “it’s not always a blessing to get what you want. Sometimes it’s a curse.”
D. “The Father’s refusal to grant our requests isn’t an arbitrary decision.” (p.83) Disappointment rarely means god’s turned his back on us. Hope deferred is not the same thing as hope denied. When he thwarts our desires it’s always for a good reason, for our good.
E. “Although Jesus may seem removed from our circumstances he’s not unmoved by them.” (p.88) Jesus was distressed at Gethsemane. As his friends slept he prayed for our peace, not his own. Henry Drummond, 19th-century Scottish evangelist said, “Christ’s life outwardly was one of the most troubled lives that was ever lived: tempest and tumult, tumult and tempest, waves breaking over it all the time, while the inner life was a sea of glass. The great calm was always there.” Where’s your faith? Ours isn’t in the wind or waves, the sails or ship, nor the charts, maps, or our skill as sailors even. Our faith is in Christ.
BONUS. “Although I would sometimes like to be rich, I don’t really envy Donald Trump and his millions. I don’t see the things he has as being realistic aspirations for my life. No, it’s my neighbor’s slightly larger house or my colleague’s promotion that sets me off. My friend seems to lose weight easier and their daughter made the team. Alain de Botton noted, ‘we only envy our peers.'” (p.85)
Ch.4, “Awkward Conversation of Prayer”
Mk 9:19. four pullquotes
A. “We’re tempted to think that faith operates like the laws of physics.” (p.66) It’s not necessary for faith to match the size of the request before God will respond. Does this fit your experience or expectations?
B. “A mere grain of faith is sufficient in prayer, not because my faith is more powerful than my need, but because God is more powerful than my faith.” (p.67) Faith’s not the same as confidence, it’s more like dependence. Just because we put faith in something doesn’t make it dependable. It’s easy to put trust in what’s not ultimately trustworthy. Have you encountered this?
C. “The prayers of the bible are marked by a bluntness that most would blush to hear in our own prayers. There’s lament and at times even accusation.” (p.70) Prayer’s part of our daily routine, but isn’t natural for us, despite our good intentions. We use tired slogans and phrases to arrive at the end without knowing how we got there. Eugene Peterson says, “many think of prayer as a harmless but necessary starting pistol that shoots blanks to get things going.” When did you most feel like prayer was actually working? what about those other times?
D. “Prayer isn’t easy. But it ‘is’ simple. It’s as simple as the beggar’s cry or the infant’s reach.” (p.73) If the Psalms are a good model for prayer, it’s not so much a two-way conversation as a one-way conversation that moves two directions. We concentrate on God but neglect ourselves in response. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “You have to take yourself by the hand, address yourself, preach to yourself, and question yourself.” It’s a moment-by-moment declaration of our dependence in him for our being. Huh?
Ch.3, “Jesus Disappoints Everyone”
Mt 11:2-3. three pullquotes + last line
A. “If the Gospels are any indication, we might say disappointment is a certainty.” (p.48) The context is the starry-eyed freshman who turned into a sour graduate by commencement. What happened? Will their disposition improve? It might not.
B. “Good theology sometimes leads us to confuse God’s reliability with predictability.” (p.51) Context is: unexpectedly owing the IRS, being served the wrong dinner, weather delays, people can be fickle, but God’s not like that. He’s reliable and “not a man that he should lie”. We think God’s mind and our own are the same, so we set goals for God.
C. “Hell’s the awkward truth of the Christian faith. It sticks in the craw, even of those who believe in it.” (p.54) Many young evangelicals aren’t sure this is consistent with God’s grace. “Couldn’t he think of a better way to teach us a lesson?” More than care to admit are practicing universalists, and very few sermons are preached on Hell.
D. The whole last page is good, ending with, “Jesus disappoints everybody. Everybody except one.” (p.60)
Does something else you read pique a question?
What do you want to talk through?
Ch.2, “As Good as His Word”
Lk 4:29, 4 pullquotes + discussion
A. “If Jesus really did have the power that others said was it too much to ask him to prove it by healing His own in Nazareth?” (p.35)
B. “If we are too honest, even the most spiritual will admit that there have been times when Jesus hasn’t treated us as we expected.” (p.37)
C. “We have no right to command, much less to make demands of God. We are at his beck and call. He is not at ours.” (p.40)
D. “The Bible’s list of those whose requests were refused by God is impressive.” (p.44)
Pick one. Do any one of these quotes evoke a striking response, reflection, or question from you? Do you feel another line points to the main idea of the chapter? Where do you think Koessler’s headed next?
“Like Peter Pan urging the audience to will Tinker Bell back to life, we are told that we just need to believe harder and everything will work out. The other approach is more like the Marines. This line of reasoning basically says, ‘Life is hard, suck it up and get over it.’ I do not find either approach especially helpful.” – John Koessler, Intro
“How does Koessler’s view of Christ differ from your own?” – Cheryl