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I hear this a lot these days: “I can love Jesus without going to church.”

I suppose you can. But you won’t get very far.

If you’re one of those people, don’t tune out. There’s something you need to hear.

When I was in college, I saw a tshirt that said, “Jesus is not a religion.” I loved it. I thought it was so perfect. That’s right, Jesus not a religion! What a revolutionary thought!! It was that mindset that set me down the path to the version of Christian “spirituality” I sported for many years.

I loved to say that I loved Jesus, I just wasn’t sure about some of His followers. I loved saying I wasn’t “Christian,” I was “spiritual.” I loved feeling like I was on the fringe. I loved feeling like I was on to something revolutionary.

All I was really on was a watered-down, self-help, “Christianized” version of hedonism. If you’re unfamiliar, hedonism is the religion of self. It is the concept that if it feels good, do it. It is based on the idea that we shouldn’t be discomforted, we shouldn’t have pain, we shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable in life.

Of course, this is a great idea except for the reality that we’re usually discomforted, usually have pain, usually uncomfortable in life. It’s a fact of life. Life stinks. Things are hard. People hurt us. We get sick. We lose things. We lose people. We lose everything. It’s the way of the world. Don’t believe me? Please show me what rock you’re under – I’d love to know what it’s like to live life without problems.

No, life is painful and things happen. But that doesn’t mean we have to live in misery. See, I think the spiritualized version of Jesus was rooted in the right idea. Jesus wants us to live a blessed life. He TELLS us not to worry. He tells us to trust in God and cast our cares at His throne. So shouldn’t that mean that life should be good?

Well, yes and no. You see, the truth is, when you really know what it means to have Jesus in your life, it’s not that you don’t have the problems, it’s that you know the problem-solver. It’s not that you don’t have the pain, it’s that you know the doctor. It’s not that you don’t lose things, it’s that you know the Guy who has (and made) IT ALL. And you trust Him for it. Daily. Hourly. Minute-by-minute you choose to trust. That takes training. That takes discipline – more discipline than I have on my own, I’m afraid. I NEED encouragement to keep that up. I need people around me encouraging me just by the fact that they love Him, too.

The blessed life is NOT void of problems. It’s just a life that trusts those problems to our loving Father.

How can we do that when we’re not learning about Him? How can we trust Him when we’re not getting to know Him more everyday? How can we do that if our preconceived notions aren’t challenged?

I’ve heard people say that they can love God without going to church. Yes, you can. But you won’t get to know Him very well without a little guidance. I’ve heard some say that’s what the Bible is for. That is absolutely right. The Bible is our SOURCE for the voice of God, the truth of who He is, and His Will for our lives.

But I don’t know a single person on planet earth who knows everything there is to know about the Bible perfectly.

I don’t know anyone who has it all figured out. Not a pastor, not a theologian, not even Billy Graham himself. We’re human. We all interpret things erroneously from time to time. We all view the Bible through a bias, whether we admit it not. That’s why we NEED each other. That’s why God DESIGNED us for community. That’s why He CREATED the church.

Iron sharpens iron. It’s that simple. If we become Christian recluses, we are putting ourselves in danger of creating our own religion. We are putting ourselves in the path of the enemy. Without help, without accountability, without the edification of believers around us, we CAN’T GROW IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. Yes, we can grow. Yes, we can love the Lord. But without help, we WILL misinterpret the Lord. We WILL create our own theologies. I see it all the time. Friends, family, acquaintances – all around me, I see people who have formed their own version of Christian “spirituality.” Maybe it’s based around politics. Maybe it’s based around self-help “Oprah-isms.” Maybe it’s based on their pain and hurts. Maybe it’s based on bad theology. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. But it’s NOT the heart of the Father. And it’s causing them to wonder why they’re not experiencing that “peace that passes understanding.”

The truth is, the enemy does NOT want us in the House of God. He does NOT want us to experience a community of believers who are all in the same pursuit. He does NOT want us to grow in the Lord. He does NOT want us to be challenged in our faith so that we grow in the knowledge of the Father. He does NOT want us to be encouraged by someone who has been where we’ve been. He does NOT want us to encourage someone else with our story.

All I know is, knowing that the devil doesn’t want those things for me only makes me want them more. And the more I’ve immersed myself in the church, the more blessed I’ve been. I’ve seen Jesus in a friend who opened herself up to tell her story of a wayward sister. I’ve seen Jesus in a pastor as he told his story of a past he regrets. I’ve seen Jesus in an acquaintance as she told her story of redemption with more power in the tips of her fingers than I have in my whole being. I’ve seen Jesus in the broken. I’ve seen Jesus in the joyful. I’ve felt Jesus in the music. I’ve felt Jesus just being in the presence of others who are feeling Him too.

It’s (and I hate to use this word) almost magical, this thing we call church. It’s miraculous. That’s what it is. To be gathered with a body of believers, lifting up the name of Jesus, every knee bowing, every tongue confessing, is a blessing beyond words. And if you’re not there, you’re MISSING IT. Stop robbing yourself. Stop making excuses.

I’ve heard it all.

“I don’t like the way my pastor preaches.”

“I don’t like the worship style.”

“I don’t like that there’s no Sunday School.”

“I don’t like that there is Sunday School.”

“I don’t feel comfortable in crowds.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I’m tired.”

“I don’t like Christians.”

You can make up a thousand excuses to NOT be there. But what’s your excuse for your soul? If you’re as desperate for the Father as I am, if you want His presence, His miracles, His blessings as much as I do, what’s stopping you?

The truth is, no one is stopping you but you.

Go to church. You deserve it!