“Don’t stop meeting together with other believers.”
See Hebrews 10:25
“I don’t need church to love God!” This was something I said for a very long time, and yeah, it is true, I don’t need church to love God. I love Him organically, without any effort (see Ephesians 6:24). He also taught me church attendance isn’t always just for me. My presence there could be beneficial to someone else. We are a body of Christ, and body parts need one another to function at their highest levels.
For so many years I thought church was a place specifically reserved for the perfectly-behaved people. You know, the ones who never make any mistakes? The people whom God loved more than me because they did everything just right? Those who loaded up on brownie points with our Creator through all of their Scripture memorization, mission trips, fried chicken dinner fundraisers, and youth group organization skills?
I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. I’m no preacher’s kid and my family life growing up was destroyed by adultery, divorce, addictions, and foster homes. As a boy, my siblings and I were split up like real estate, eventually being abused by employees of the State. It was very bad. No kid should ever have to deal with what we went through. The system is really messed up, and it wasn’t fair.
So when it came to “acting” perfect and attending church, I fell short. My unrenewed mindset was not adjusted to this type of environment. It was like trying to enter a junk-yard dog into a Prettiest Poodle Contest—this was not natural to my old way of thinking. My spirit? Yes. But my mind had yet to learn the facts of my spiritual perfection. My true identity in Christ, I did not fully understand because of bad teaching. So the parts of my thinking which was really messed up had no clue what to do in church or with church. I stuck out like a turd in a punchbowl.
Eventually, because I couldn’t seem to live up to their cliquey standards, I resented those who went to church and eventually disregarded them all together. However, that felt strange. I now know it was Jesus in my spirit, prompting me to think of them with love. But back then, I didn’t know it was Him.
I constantly thought to myself, “How am I supposed to go to church with people who put on such a front?”
Jesus knew this, He kept saying, “Matthew, forgive them and love them.” My reply was usually to the effect, “But they make me feel like dirt!”
I would continue to put up a fight, “I do not want to hang out with them, much less be taught by them!” Jesus replied, “Trust me. Just keep letting me mature you in this. You don’t have to go, but forgive them and think of them with love.”
“Fine. I will.”
As my relationship with Jesus grew deeper, He taught me that He loves everyone, even those who struggle with legalism; those who have their theology off kilter by making a geographical location the end-all be-all. The whole reason He was trying to get me to forgive and love them was to teach me how to show them grace.
This also resulted in Him revealing something else in my spirit: we’re exactly the same. We believers have all been perfected because of our faith in Him (see Hebrews 10:14). WE ARE EQUAL! (See Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).
Jesus continued to knock off the rough edges in my thinking as I continued to think of them gracefully. The reality was, I had been hurt badly by people in the church. So many of them tried to use the Bible to manipulate and cause fear that I didn’t even want to shake their hand. Yet that’s not the behavior of a perfect, holy, blameless saint (see Colossians 1:22, Romans 8:9).
I’m not saying you need to make a law out of forcing yourself into a situation where the unconditional love of Jesus is not present. No, not at all. Leave if that’s how it is, and don’t feel condemned about it because you’re not (see Romans 8:1). What I am saying is, ask God to send you to the locations focused on Christ, if there are any available locally.
And most of all, while you’re searching, don’t feel guilty about searching. Your identity is not found in a building but in Christ. So be sure to enjoy your life in the process. The devil wants you to feel terrible about not being settled “in a church,” don’t give that idiot his way. You are the church, and you are settled, in Jesus.
So today, my friends, know this: Is going to church really necessary? No. Anyone can go to church, even non-believers. Being the church is necessary. And you are. God’s grace is necessary. And you have it. You’re free to go, and free to not go. You’re free. It was for freedom that Christ has set you free! (See Galatians 5:1)
A prayer for you: God, I want to thank you for making all of us the Church. What a great idea! Thank you for destroying the need to enter a physical building to be in your presence! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them have been hurt by people in church, today I speak healing and forgiveness over their minds and lives! Help them begin to understand we are all constantly growing in the knowledge of your grace! Teach them to GIVE your grace away to those who don’t deserve it because that’s exactly what grace is! In Jesus’ name, amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 1. Get your copy here!