Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why You Should Go to Church Even if You Don't Believe In Jesus

Message Title: Helps us Last
Text: Hebrews 11:1 - 12:3
Message Audio: Listen HERE

Over the past month I have unashamedly tried to convince TCOC members and friends to sign-up for Connect Groups...unashamedly, because I believe you need it! I believe you need human connection, and I believe you need human connection the church offers even if you don't believe in God. In this post I try to explain why.

"Dislike" Button

Facebook could make one small change to drastically reduce the PPD (Posts Per Day) percentage. Add a Dislike button. Many of us regularly and perhaps even obsessively check the Like tally of our posts because we crave love and acceptance. We feel good when the number of Likes hits our optimal "self worth" quota.  At some point you've leaned over to your spouse, significant other or friend and declared, "Hey, I just got 65 (or whichever number it is for you) Likes." We'd second guess our posts with the addition of a Dislike button, 

"Why did she Dislike that? Does she dislike me?"
"Did I misspell something?"
"Yeah, I guess that does sound kind of stupid."
"If he doesn't like my posts, then why is he even my Facebook Friend?"

Facebook succeeds because it scratches our perinnial itch to belong. That's why Likes and Friends matter. Despite all the virtual affirmation Facebook will eventually leave you wanting. It can scratch the itch but ultimately fails to relieve it. It provides the perception of acceptance because perception fuels it. In the world of Facebook, I control who I am. You see exactly what I want you to see. (Granted, some people lack the gift of discernment.) But, your deepest desire is not for someone to love the perception of you but for someone to love and accept the real you.  In his book The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg says it this way:

When Someone knows the embarrassing, humiliating truth about me and still accepts me, I come alive.

And that's why you should go to church whether you believe in Jesus or not! Thomas, one of Jesus' closest friends, helps explain this further.

Doubting but Belonging Thomas

Between his death and resurrection the world was absent of Jesus. During these three days, his closest friends must have lost their minds. They had given up careers, friends, and homes to learn from this guy and then he dies. They were left with a repitoire of good stories and some useless teachings (at this point). Then unexpectedly he shows up at their pad...alive! They lost their minds again...but in a good way. During his first appearance Thomas, one of the inner circle, was gone (probably picked to make the late night burrito run). When he returns his friends tell him, "We have seen the Lord." If they were in Colorado, I'm sure he'd have made some accusations about their activities during his absence. He responds to their ridiculous claim with...

"Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25b)

Fair enough! We could say, at this point, Thomas did not believe! He says so himself. But the very next line in the story reads: A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. (John 20:26a) A week later and Thomas still does not believe but he is "hanging out" with the group that does!? He is not there because he believes in the resurrected Jesus but because he needs the relationships in the room. That group loved him and knew him. They accepted him and Thomas needed that. Just like you do.

Doubting But Belonging You

If you are a Thomas, doubting this whole Jesus thing, you should come to church because you need us. You need us not because we've got things figured out, or because we've got our act together, or because we are "good." We are not. Church people are "jacked-up!" That's why we go to church, because we know we have problems. You need us because you need to be loved in spite of who you are or who you have been. You need a place where you can check the facade at the door; where you can be the real you. Church is supposed to be that place. Yes, we, church people, mess it up...a lot. But we try.

Church is a place where you are welcome, not because you share a common hobby, have a particular income, or are of a certain race or nationality. The church is a place where you are welcome because you are human, and our belief in God tells us that all humans have value and worth. The church is a place that offers connection. It offers belonging. It is a place where we will accept you in your embarrassing and humiliating truth because Jesus has accepted us in our embarrassing and humiliating truth. If John Ortberg is right and you are fully alive when you are loved in spite of YOU, then church is a place where you can become fully alive.

Yes, I want you to believe in Jesus because I think he will radically change your life for the better. But, even if you don't you can belong. You can belong because you NEED to belong. We all do. I will give you one word of caution: if you come to church to belong, in time you might find yourself believing. Thomas eventually did. He eventually encountered the risen Jesus and declared, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28)

Now What?

  1. To the Non-believer. Try us out, or try another church out! Go to church because you need people. You know you do! Churches are in the people business because God is in the people business. Let us love you and accept you.
  2. To the Casual Attender. Get involved. It's great to sit on a pew, to worship and to listen, but take a step of faith. Take a small risk and join a small group, serve in a ministry, fill out a spiritual gifts survey, introduce yourself to someone. You need people and they need you.
  3. To the Member. Be the physical manifestation of acceptance and love. Seek out new faces. Find the faces of those who seem most uncomfortable in your church. Welcome them. Smile at them. Learn their names. Invite them to lunch. 
  4. To Pastors and Ministers. Be intentional about creating an environment and community that allows people to belong before they believe. Let your community know you love them because they are God-made and that is enough.

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