September 10: Can There be Faith After Doubt

Can There Be Faith After Doubt?

Galatians 1:11-2:2

September 10, 2023

          How have your views about God and faith changed over the years?

          That was the question the leader asked us.

It was less than three weeks ago. I was sitting around a campfire with nine others. We were together for a church camp called Kayak Camp for Adults. A few of my pastor friends were a part of the group. We were at a public campground near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We had just eaten supper and were sitting around the campfire sharing about ourselves.

How have your views about God and faith changed over the years?

Some talked about being raised in a Roman Catholic Church. Others told of growing up in a conservative evangelical church. They talked about how they used to believe in a harsh God who kept track of each of their mistakes. They told stories about crisis of faith in their lives when a priest or pastor let them down or when something bad happened that caused them to question and doubt. They told about how they found new understandings of a God of love and grace and inclusion.

When it came my turn, I shared about my life. I grew up in a United Methodist Church, but during my youth years I found a deep, profound faith through people in the Church of the Nazarene denomination. I became a conservative evangelical, maybe a bit of a fundamentalist. I believed strongly that God spoke through every word of the Bible, that many people were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus and that I needed to be perfect in my obedience to a male God who had many rules for my life.

I shared around that campfire that over the years my understanding of God and faith have radically changed. I too have come to discover a God of love and grace and inclusion. I concluded by saying that this past year, I’ve been forced to re-think everything I believe. When I started interviewing for this pastoral job here in Coloma, I realized that this church believes in an Open Pulpit. A pastor is free to preach whatever they feel led to share. The past 40 years of ministry I felt I had to preach within the confined box of what was considered orthodox by the people in the churches I served. Now I was free to preach what I believed. But what was that? What do I really believe?

          How have your views about God and faith changed over the years? At the end of this message, I’m going to invite you to answer that question aloud if you’re comfortable sharing.

          Let’s go back to our Scripture today.

          Imagine Paul and Peter and James sitting around a campfire. Paul came to see the two leaders of the Jerusalem church: Simon Peter and James, the brother of Jesus.

          Paul says, “I’ve come to Jerusalem to talk with you about what’s been happening in my life. I know that people from your church have been talking about me. I want to clear up any misunderstandings or fears people might have about me.”

          Peter says, “Thanks for coming. You’re right. Our people have been afraid. You used to harass us and try to get us arrested.”

          James says, “What happened Paul? Did you change?”

          Paul says, “Let me tell you my story. I grew up in the synagogue. I was always a faithful Jew. In my young adult years, I became even more passionate about my faith.

At that time, I felt that your movement of Jesus followers was leading people astray. You were more open to non-Jewish Gentiles. I felt that the teachings of Jesus didn’t exactly match the Law I was taught as a child. I harassed you Jesus followers.

I did this until that one day, Jesus came to me. It was like a vision or dream. I resisted at first. There was no way I was going to have anything to do with this Jesus. Jesus was just wrong. Jesus’ way was not how I was taught.

But Jesus wouldn’t leave me alone. I went out to the desert in Arabia for a period of time to get away to pray to God and get my old faith back. But my doubts about that faith wouldn’t go away. It was like my former faith just didn’t fit anymore. Like it was some clothes I’d worn when I was younger, but I had grown out of. It was like a box that I couldn’t fit inside anymore.

Jesus persisted in revealing himself to me. Jesus was saying to me, “You need to move forward, not backward in your faith.”

I asked God, “What does it mean to truly follow you going forward?”

 The next thing I know, I’m feeling called by God to share the good news of God’s love to non-Jews, to Gentiles. Can you believe it? I went from persecuting those who connected with Gentiles to actually reaching out to Gentiles myself.

I go back to Damascus and start talking with non-Jewish Gentiles. As soon as my old friends hear about this, they come to me and tell me to stop. They insist that I’ve gone off the deep end or joined the enemy.

But I just can’t help it. I feel like God is calling me to share the good news of Jesus and the good news of God’s love for all people, including the non-Jewish Gentitles.

So that’s what I’ve been doing in Damascus. I’ve been telling about this newfound understanding to anyone who will listen to me. I’m still a Jew. I’m still a God follower. But I’ve come to see that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection means good news for everyone, including the non-Jewish Gentiles. I’ve actually come to believe that you don’t have to be a Jew to follow God and be one of God’s people.”

Peter and James say, “Paul thank you for telling us your story. We’re thankful for how Jesus revealed himself to you. But we’ll have to ponder and pray and discern about this new understanding you have about non-Jewish Gentiles being God’s people. That is not what we’ve been taught and that’s not what we Jewish Jesus followers teach right now. We’ll get back with you.”

How have your views about God and faith changed over the years? At the end of this message, I’m going to invite you to answer that question aloud if you’re comfortable sharing.

As I ponder the spiritual journeys I heard about around that campfire a few weeks ago, as I consider my own spiritual journey over the past 65 years and as I hear about Paul’s spiritual journey – I’ve come up with two different analogies.

They each involve three stages or phases.

The first stage is Construction. It’s one of simplicity and order and orientation. It’s a time to stack up the boxes. (stack the three boxes)

The second stage is Deconstruction. It involves a lot of words that start with “D”. The most important word is ‘doubt’. Doubt is the main portal out of the stage of construction. It also might involve other “d” words – dissent (d-i-s-s-e-n-t) and the other word descent (d-e-s-c-e-n-t); disorder, disorientation, disarray and darkness. It involves the unstacking of these boxes or the knocking down of these carefully constructed boxes. (knock down the stack)

The question we’re pondering this Sunday and the next five weeks in this series is this: Can there be faith after doubt and deconstruction? It’s accompanied by the question: After doubt, should you return to your original construction or should you move on to some new construction?

Should you put these boxes back in the same way you had them originally or do you put them back in a different way?

The third stage is Reconstruction. This stage involves words that start with “Re” like Reorder and Redefinition and Redirection. It’s about a new orientation. This stage of reconstruction means that we go deeper and broader. It’s a faith after doubt. But it’s usually a faith involving more love and more humility.

The boxes come back together but they are constructed differently than what you started. (Show this new construction)

Another analogy that tells this story is imagining yourself in one of these boxes. You start in this small box. It seems like you have enough room at first. But eventually it doesn’t fit you anymore. You need more space to breathe. You need more space to fit who you are and what you believe.

So you break out of the original box. And find yourself in a larger box. Eventually, that box does not fit who you and what you believe, so you break out of that second box to find yourself in a third box.

Maybe that third box has an open lid on it so that you can keep growing and maturing and expanding your understanding of God and yourself and God’s love for all.

In both analogies, there is some sense that you don’t leave the previous stages totally behind, you just add on to what you learned in the earlier stages. So maybe you were taught the song, “Jesus loves me” when you were a seven year old. You don’t leave that song behind as you grow up, you simply understand that song in deeper and more profound ways.

The good news I’d like to share today is this: There can be reconstruction after deconstruction. There can be faith after doubt. Doubt is not something that is contrary to faith. Instead, it is the portal to greater and deeper faith.

The next five weeks I’m going to lead us in exploring in greater detail the ways we might be led to reconstruct our faith. We’re going to look at how our views of the Bible might have shifted over the years. We’re going to talk about who God is and how that might have expanded. We’re going to look at the life and death of Jesus. Finally, we’re going to talk about what we believe about salvation. What does it mean to be saved?

Each week, I’m going to conclude the message with an invitation for you to share. I believe that God has been at work in your life over the years – constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing your faith. I would like for us all to hear a brief snippet of that story of yours. Tell about some way that your understanding of God and faith has changed over the years.

I know that telling your whole spiritual story would take a while. So just share a brief snippet or story or example of how you’ve changed or been changed.

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