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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Meehan » James Meehan - Doubt, Deconstruction, and Discipleship

James Meehan - Doubt, Deconstruction, and Discipleship

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    James Meehan - Doubt, Deconstruction, and Discipleship
TOPICS: Doubts, Discipleship

Well, hello, there, my name is James Meehan and I'm really excited that you're taking some time to go on this journey with us together at "Switch" of becoming more like Jesus for the sake of others, because that's what this movement we call "Switch" is all about, rallying together students from across the country and around the world on this beautiful mission of discovering who God is and what that means for us. Now, what I wanna do today is step into a conversation that is pretty common in our world today that can also be really difficult to know how to navigate wisely.

So what we're gonna be talking about are doubts, deconstruction and discipleship. And at first glance, you look at those three words and it seems like maybe one of them is not quite like the others. It's easy to see how doubt and deconstruction are similar, but they almost seem opposite of that other word, discipleship. What I wanna do, though, today is talk about how both doubts and deconstruction are an integral part of this beautiful journey we call discipleship, this process of becoming like Jesus for the sake of others.

Now, I wanna just take a moment to acknowledge the reality that there are a lot of things that have been said about doubting and deconstructing, and what I wanna do to the best of my ability is enter into this conversation with as much humility as possible, because I know that this is not an easy conversation to navigate, because depending on our own past experiences, our own perspective, and where we're entering into this conversation from, we have a lot of different ideas about what those words mean and the emotions that are associated with them. And what I can say is that for some of you who would identify as somebody who is deconstructing, I just wanna honor the fact that you're on this journey because you are committed to figuring out what's true and what's good.

And there's likely something that's taken place in your journey of following Jesus of investigating the claims of Christianity where you realized, that doesn't sound like, that doesn't look like, that doesn't feel like what I've been told this Jesus thing is all about. And so, to the best of my ability, what I do not want to do is demonize any of you who are a doubting and deconstructing, but instead honor the journey that you're going on as you are committed to pursuing truth wherever it leads and hopefully provide a little bit of wisdom from my own journey and from the different people I've talked to about this whole idea that will help you navigate it with as much peace and confidence as possible.

So before I go any further, because I know that my words will be imperfect and the conversation I'm bringing to the table will be incomplete, and there will likely be many things that I say that I just get wrong, and I want you to know that it's absolutely okay for you to disagree. My goal is not to present the final answers on everything, but just to simply contribute to the conversation, so with that being said, I wanna pray, and then we're gonna dive into the teaching text for this message.

Heavenly Father, we come before you right now and we thank you that you are a God who invites our questions, that you are in this process of deconstruction with us, that you want to guide us as we navigate this journey of discipleship so that we can land on what is good and what is true, that we can discover more and more of who you are in this beautiful life that you've invited us into. We pray all these things in Jesus name, amen.

So what I wanna do is I want to start this journey at the end of Matthew's Gospel, Matthew was one of Jesus' disciples who after having spent three years walking with Jesus, learning from him and then Jesus dying on a cross, rising from the grave, ascending into heaven, later on in his life, Matthew decided to write down the accounts of what he had seen Jesus do, what he had heard Jesus say, so that he could pass that wisdom on to preceding generations, the people who would come after him, and at the very end of Matthew's Gospel, in chapter 28, we read this portion that is known as the great commission, it's like this final marching orders and send off for Jesus' disciples before he leaves them by ascending into heaven.

And picking up in Matthew 28:16, here's what we read, "That the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go". "When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted". So let's pause for a second. At this point in the story, these 11 disciples had spent the last three years with Jesus. He was one of their closest friends, he was their teacher, their guide, and they had seen him be killed on a cross, and they had spent time with him after he rose from the grave. And so, as they are on this mountain side, seeing Jesus post resurrection, they worshiped him, and also some of them doubted. Picking up in verse 18, "Then Jesus comes to them, and he says, 'All authority in heaven and on Earth has been given to me, therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I've commanded you, and surely, I am with you always to the very end of the age.'"

So here's Jesus, talking to his 11 disciples about this mission he's entrusting them with to go and make disciples. And what we read is that they worshiped him. Oh yeah, and also some of them doubted. And for some reason, those doubts did not disqualify these disciples. And what we're gonna discover as we go back earlier in Matthew's Gospel and follow the story of Peter, one of these disciples of Jesus, is that doubt and deconstruction are a part of this journey called discipleship. Because if the doubts of those disciples in that moment did not disqualify them for the mission that Jesus was asking them to go on, then I think we can have confidence knowing that our doubts don't disqualify us. So what we're gonna do is trace the story of Peter through Matthew's Gospel, touching down in a few key moments to help us understand how doubts and deconstruction are a part of discipleship. So let's rewind back to the 14th chapter of Matthew's Gospel where doubt shows up in Peter's story, this is part one, doubt.

Now, the thing you needed to know about Peter is before he was a disciple, he was a fisherman. He was called by Jesus to be one of his followers, one of his disciples, and Peter got to see Jesus do incredible things, perform miracles, teach with authority, cast out demons, confront the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and literally, in this chapter that we're about to read, this is the same chapter where Jesus performs the miracle of multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish to feed more than 5,000 people, that's what happens at the beginning of this chapter in Matthew 14. And then after these miraculous feeding of the 5,000 people, what Jesus does is he sends his disciples in a boat across the lake, and then he goes up on a mountain side to pray and spend time with God. The next morning, what we're told is that Jesus comes down from the mountain, and he begins to walk on the water across this lake that he had sent the disciples across.

Now, at this point, the disciples are in the middle of the lake, in a boat with a raging storm around them, and then all of a sudden, they look outside of the boat and see Jesus walking on the water. And they think that Jesus is a ghost, so then in verse 27, what we read is that Jesus says to them, "Take courage! It is I, don't be afraid". And right after, Jesus says, "Hey, it's me". Peter says, "Hey, if it's you, tell me to come onto the water". And so, Jesus says, "Come". And then Peter, in a ridiculous act of faith, gets down out of the boat and he begins to walk on the water, taking steps toward Jesus in the middle of this storm. But then he sees the wind, he becomes afraid, he begins to sink, and he cries out to Jesus, "Lord, save me"! And then what we're told is that immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and catches Peter, and here's what he says, he says, "Peter, you have little faith, why did you doubt"? "You of little faith, why did you doubt"?

Here's my question for you, when Jesus asks Peter that, "Why did you doubt"? What do you think the tone of his voice is? What's the expression on his face? For a long, long time, longer than I'd like to admit, when I read this question from Jesus to Peter, I sort of read it as if Jesus was taking the posture of that teacher who's disappointed in you because you didn't do the homework that you were assigned. It's like, "Hey, you knew the assignment, it was due today, where is it"? "Why didn't you do the work you were supposed to do"? Or like the parent who's upset because they asked you to clean your room, and instead of cleaning your room, you stuffed everything into the closet or under the bed, it's like, "Come on, you know better". "I've taught you better than this". "Why did you put everything in the closet"? "You know I'm gonna check the closet, I check it every single time".

But this is the thing that has been stirring in me recently, and I admit that I could be wrong here, but the more that I spend time studying the gospels and looking at the life of Jesus, the way that he lived, in the different interactions that he had with people, the things that Jesus said about himself, I'm starting to wonder, what if I've been misreading Jesus's tone in this question? What if when Jesus is asking Peter about why he doubted, instead of it being an accusation, it was actually an invitation? What if Jesus genuinely wanted Peter to tell him why he doubted? What if Jesus genuinely believed that Peter had everything he needed to walk on the water. And instead of it being, "Hey, bro, why are you such a dumb disciple"? It was, "Hey, man, why'd you doubt"? "I was with you the whole time". "I'm always here to pick you up when you fall". "I've been with you on this journey and you've gotten to see me do incredible things, what questions are still haunting you"? "What things can I help you walk through"? "What doubts are holding you back from fully trusting that I have what's best in store for you"?

I know that for me, in my own journey of following Jesus, I grew up in a Christian home, and it was one of those homes where... Like, we were Christian, but kinda mostly in name only, like, we would go to church because we were supposed to, but we didn't really take any of this Jesus stuff seriously. And I remember, when I was in middle school, having a lot of different questions, because life in my home was falling apart, my parents were separating, they were filing for a divorce, middle school was just really miserable in like almost every way for me, and I remember as a young sixth and seventh grader, crying out and praying to God, asking, hey, God, can you make this better? Can you fix these things? And things didn't get better.

And so, I started to have these different doubts and questions about why God wouldn't answer these prayers. Because my understanding of God was that, hey, if I pray to him, he's gonna answer that prayer. If I ask God to do something, he's gonna show up and he's gonna do it, and when God didn't, those doubts began to spread, they began to lead to other questions that I didn't know how to answer, questions about... Like the age of the universe, and how it seems like science and scripture are in conflict, questions about how a good and loving God could allow evil and suffering to exist, questions about how there could be so many Christians that are judgmental hypocrites, that abuse their power and position and take advantage of others instead of being anything like I was told Jesus was like.

But my view of God, my view of Jesus was that if I had doubts and questions, that I couldn't share those with anybody, because that would be a bad thing, that if I did, that instead of being met with compassion, I would be met with condemnation, and it took years to begin to discover that who Jesus says he is is the good shepherd, that he is lowly and humble in heart, that he is gentle and compassionate, when the apostle Paul defines love, the first word he says is that, "Love is patient". And he says, "Love is kind". And I was always afraid that if I was open about my doubts, that instead of being met with patience and kindness, I would be dismissed and pushed down. And that's why I think this moment is so important for us to wrestle with.

What is the tone of Jesus's voice? What's the expression on his face as he says to Peter, "Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt"? What if Jesus is generally inviting Peter to open up about his doubts? Because it is through opening up about our doubts that we can actually discover we aren't the only ones with those questions. That we can actually begin the process of finding better answers to those questions. It's been said by a lot of people that the problem in the Christian journey isn't doubt, the problem is unexpressed doubt, because for so many of us, we're afraid that if we are honest about our doubts, then people will look down on us.

And so, we bottle them up, and we stuff them down inside. And then what ends up happening is those doubts just begin to fester and spread, and instead of us being able to find freedom from those questions, they just continue to gnaw at us and eat away at us until those doubts have become so large that it becomes way harder to do something about them. I love what Frederick Buechner says about doubts, he says that, "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith". "They keep it awake and moving". Now, what I wanna do before we go on to the next part is acknowledge that sometimes, our doubts, these questions, are an indicator for us that there's actually something wrong with how we've begun to understand God. If we think of faith as this house that we build and that we live in, then doubts are almost like that indicator that there's something wrong in the house.

Maybe there's some mold that seeped in, maybe there's some termites eating away at the walls, maybe there's a crack in the foundation because of something that's happened, and as we begin to have these doubts, it's almost like these doubts can invite us to explore and examine some of those things that we've just looked over for far too long. And then when we begin to explore and examine those things, sometimes what happens is those doubts lead us to the realization that there is something fundamentally broken about this conception of faith that we've built, and that brings us to part two of this journey, deconstruction.

Now, this is a word that gets talked about a lot, and it's one of those things where I think it's important for us to define what we mean when we say deconstruction, because while deconstruction can be used to mean a lot of things, specifically in the context of this conversation, we are defining deconstruction as the taking apart of all the bad ideas, false conceptions, and ugly beliefs, that distort our understanding of God and what it means to be Christian. Because the truth is that there are a lot of us who have an idea about what Christianity is all about, that just is not consistent with who Jesus says he is. And again, those ideas can come from a lot of different places, they can come from well-meaning Christian leaders who are just doing their best to teach what they think is true, but they get something wrong. Like, I know that there are plenty of things that I've said years ago that I'm like, ah, I don't know if I even agree with what I said two years ago, if I were to say that same thing today, I'd probably say it differently.

And then there's some things that we have to deconstruct, not because of well-meaning Christians making a mistake, but because of people who abuse their power, abuse their position and took advantage of others. Because instead of actually humbling themselves and giving Jesus rule of their lives, they saw an opportunity to elevate themselves by taking advantage of others. Let me just say that that is never okay. And sometimes, when we are deconstructing, we are deconstructing the systems and ideas that were put in place around us that actually made it possible for us to experience the wounds and abuse that we went through, and for those people to not be held accountable. And this is why deconstruction, while it can be scary and difficult and painful, can be such a vital process in this journey of discipleship. And there might be some of you who you're hearing this and you're still uncomfortable about this idea of deconstruction, and you're wondering, like, what would Jesus think about deconstruction?

And I actually think he kind of invented it. In the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5, Jesus gives us a masterclass in what deconstruction really looks like. He goes on this series of teachings where he talks about, "Hey, you've heard it said..". Fill in the blank, "But I tell you..". Fill in the blank. Because what Jesus acknowledged is there were a lot of his Jewish audience who had these different ideas about what faithfulness to God was supposed to look like that were very, very different than the life that God wanted for them. And so, when Jesus shows up and he begins his ministry, he's taking steps to intentionally deconstruct, take apart the false ideas that some of these early Jewish people had that were not in alignment with what God wanted, and he began to replace those bad ideas with better ones.

So I think that Jesus is actually really for deconstruction in a lot of ways, and what's interesting is when we zoom back into Peter's story, we see this beautiful moment where Jesus is taking intentional steps to deconstruct his disciples understanding of who the Messiah was going to be and what the Messiah was going to do, because later on, in Matthew 16, we read, starting in verse 24, that, "Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he, Jesus, must be killed, and on the third day raised to life". What is Jesus doing here? He's deconstructing his disciples understanding of who the Messiah was going to be and what he was going to do.

Because at this point in the story, the disciples had this idea of the Messiah as someone that would show up as a conquering king in the line of David, who would show up to Rome and defeat the Roman oppressors through military might. But what Jesus had in mind was less conquering king and more suffering servant, who would go to Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish nation, and be sacrificed on a cross willingly for the sins of humanity, not just for the Jewish people, but for all people. And that's not exactly what the disciples were hoping for. We now know, looking back, that that is so much better than what they were hoping for, but in that moment, to begin to hear from Jesus that what he was going to do was go and die, that would have been really difficult for them to wrap their minds around. And so, this is why Jesus is slowly and patiently helping them get their minds wrapped around this is what was going to happen when he got to Jerusalem.

Now, this was so difficult for these disciples to wrap their minds around that we read, "Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him". He says, "Never, Lord"! "This shall never happen to you". "And so, Jesus turns and says to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan!'" "You are a stumbling block to me". This is Jesus talking to Peter, one of his disciples, and saying, "Get behind me, you are a stumbling block to me, you don't have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns". You see, what Jesus understands is that Peter is sort of thinking about this whole Christianity thing as what he can get out of it. Like he knows that if he is a disciple of Jesus, the Messiah, that when Jesus comes into his power, there's gonna be a really nice place for Peter. But that's not what any of this is about.

Following Jesus isn't about what we can get from God, but it's about how we can live for God. It's not what God can do for us, it's about what God wants to do through us, and sometimes, that looks radically different than what we envisioned. This is why the apostle Paul talks about this idea of not being conformed to the patterns of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our mind. Paul David Tripp, who was like a pastor to pastors, recently said that everyone must deconstruct, because if we do not, then our understanding of Jesus will be so entangled with our culture and the values of the world we grow up in that we will end up with a version of Christianity that is so much less than what Jesus introduced, we have to let Jesus be Jesus. And not just the version of Jesus that we really like and want him to be.

And so, then after this moment, Peter... sorry, Jesus says to his disciples, "Hey, you wanna know what being my disciple is all about"? "It's about denying yourself, taking up your cross and following me". It's not about getting more power and privilege and money and fame and status, it's about letting go of what you want. It's about taking up your cross, a symbol of torture and death in their original context. And it's about following me wherever I lead. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, summarizing these words, once said that, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die". Because as we're going on this journey of following Jesus, there are bad ideas, false conceptions, ugly beliefs, that maybe we've taught, maybe we've been taught, maybe we've thought were true that just aren't true that need to die, in for order for us to understand who Jesus really is.

And so, Jesus would continue on this journey towards Jerusalem, where he would eventually be arrested for crimes he didn't commit. He would be tried and found guilty in a total sham of a trial. He would be led outside of the city, hung on a cross and killed. The death of a slave, the death of a terrorist. And this is supposed to be the son of God. There is nothing more deconstructing than the idea of God becoming man and dying in the position of a slave on a cross, nobody had a framework for that in Jesus's time, and that's exactly what Jesus did. While he was hanging on that cross dying, the disciples understanding of who Jesus was and what he was supposed to be, for a lot of them, likely died with him. And so, they found themselves in this place where they didn't know where to go from there. They had these questions that they didn't know how to deal with. They found themselves in this place where everything that they thought was going to happen had been torn down, and what they were left with was a rubble, like the remains of what was their faith.

And this is what's so beautiful about discipleship, that's part three of our journey. Sometimes it starts with doubting, there's usually some deconstructing, but all of it is discipleship. Because yes, Jesus died, but then he rose from the grave. And sometimes, it is from the ruins of our faith that God will bring about something that is so much better than we ever could have envisioned on our own. Without a crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. Now, what is discipleship? Discipleship is the process of becoming like Jesus for the sake of others. It's not about us, it's all about him, it's about using what we have for the good of others. Dallas Willard, who is one of my favorite authors, actually defines discipleship as a renovation of the heart. It's every part of the deepest part of us being renovated, what does that mean? Renovation is the process of improving a broken, damaged, or outdated structure.

Discipleship requires renovation, because what Jesus wants to do is to take the ideas that have shaped us, that are not good and true, and replace those with what is good and is true. This is what discipleship is all about, becoming like Jesus for the sake of others. And what's so beautiful about Peter's story is it didn't end with Jesus dead on a cross, it didn't end in this moment of deconstruction, because after Jesus rose from the grave, he went to go find Peter, one of his disciples, back at his old job, fishing, and Jesus invites him to have breakfast on the beach. And in this sit-down breakfast conversation, Jesus asks Peter three different times, "Hey, Peter, do you love me"? And three different times, Peter says, "Yes, you know that I do".

This is significant because that's the same number of times that Peter denied Jesus. And so, in Peter's journey of deconstructing, it went so far that he denied he even knew Jesus, if that's not the closest thing to deconversion we can find in the Bible, then I don't know what it is, but what's so beautiful about Peter's story is that wasn't the end of his journey, Jesus was still inviting him back to himself, inviting him back into the family that he came to create, this is what's so beautiful about Jesus, is he showed up here on Earth to bring us home. And sometimes, that home looks very different than what we originally envisioned. But what I've experienced, and I know so many other people have experienced, is that this new home that Jesus invites us into is so much better than anything we could have imagined.

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3 says that, "No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ". When we are going on this journey of discipleship, doubt and deconstruction will be a part of the journey, but it's all a part of it, it's all working together to help us become more of who Jesus has created us to be, to live the life that he wants us to live so that we can experience the joy and the truth that comes from knowing him and following him. And so, maybe you're in this journey right now, and this whole idea of discipleship and renovation and coming back to Jesus sounds really, really nice, but the things that you've gone through make it way much easier said than done. Because you've been wounded deeply, you've experienced significant trauma at the hands of Christian leaders.

And so, maybe your process of healing actually requires you to take time away from the community where you were hurt, to find a new home, to actually go out and get professional help to work through the pain that's been inflicted on you. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, I actually think that's incredibly wise, because there are some things that we walk through that are way too difficult for us to navigate on our own. And that's why it's so good to involve other people in this journey to help us sort through the rubble of what we have that we used to call our faith, and now, we don't even have a name for. Because deconstruction can be really messy. It can be really, really difficult. And so, my hope and my prayer for you would be that no matter where you find yourself in this journey, that you would continue to press in, to do the hard work of letting go of everything that maybe you used to think was good and true, but now, you're acknowledging that it isn't. And continue to pursue Jesus wherever he lives.

A quote that I heard recently is from a French philosopher, Simone Weil, and she said something to the effect of, "I don't think that you can ever wrestle enough with God, because as long as you are pursuing truth, even if that pursuit of truth leads you away from Jesus for a time, eventually, that pursuit of truth will bring you back into his loving arms, because before he was ever a person named Jesus, he was truth". So keep wrestling, keep questioning, keep pursuing truth wherever it leads. And my hope and my prayer is that eventually, you will find and discover the peace that comes from following that truth all the way back home to Jesus, into his open arms.

Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for the fact that you love us enough to be patient with our questions, that you are big enough to handle them, to put people in our lives when we need them, to process through our deconstruction, to navigate it in a way where we don't have to do it alone, and that your son, Jesus, cares enough about us to be with us every single step of the way.

Maybe you're hearing this message right now, and you would say, "Yeah, I'm somebody who's doubting, I'm somebody who's deconstructing". "And I don't really know what to do with this". What I wanna do is I just wanna pray that God would give you the wisdom and courage to talk to somebody about it, to be honest about your questions, and that God would be with that person who you're expressing that to, and that they would receive it with grace and with compassion and with kindness, just like I believe Jesus would.

God, be with these people right now, help them to know that you are big enough for their questions, give them the courage to express their doubts, and prepare the people that are going to receive those questions and doubts so that they can receive it without judgment and with so much grace just like you would.

Still in the attitude of prayer with heads bowed and eyes closed, maybe you're hearing this message and there's always been something holding you back from putting your trust in Jesus. And maybe you have a really clear idea of what that is, or maybe it's something that you can never really put your finger on. But for some reason, you're finding yourself interested, you're curious, you're open to the idea that maybe there's more to life than what I see in front of me, that maybe there's something more, and for whatever reason, that something more is sounding more and more like what Jesus offers.

You see, Jesus came announcing the gospel, which is good news, it's this beautiful announcement that the God of heaven has not abandoned humanity, that in fact, what he wants is a relationship with every single one of us so that we could experience fullness of life through unity with him, the problem is that all of us, in our lives, we've sinned, we've done things that hurt selves and others, and that sin actually created a separation between us and God, and this is why the gospel is such good news, because through Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, his resurrection from the grave, anybody who chooses to put their trust in him and receive the gift of grace can have that gap that was created by sin closed, we could be united with Jesus, we could experience the life that he offers for us, where we will be forgiven and we will be made new. And maybe that's what Jesus is inviting you into today, to begin a relationship with him, to be made new by faith.

And if that's you, and you're saying, "Jesus, I wanna turn to you". "I want to trust you with my questions". "I wanna trust you with my life". "I want to take a new step, and I want it to be towards you," if that's you, would you simply type it in the chat down below and let somebody know that you're saying yes to Jesus, something as simple as, "Hey, Jesus, I wanna follow you," that's all it takes, to begin that journey of becoming one of his followers. And as you go on this journey, what we believe is that God will be with you every single step of the way to guide you into all truth. And so, as people are making that decision, saying, "Jesus, I want to follow you," I simply wanna pray with you, and I'd invite you wherever you are to pray out loud in support of them. Repeat after me:

Heavenly Father, forgive me. I'm turning from my sin. I'm turning towards you. I need your love. I need your grace. I need your mercy. I give you my life, in Jesus name, amen, amen and amen.

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