Sunday, August 31, 2014

Human Animal Christian

These, like unreasoning animals,
…born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed,
…reviling where they have no knowledge,
… will … be destroyed
(2 Peter 2:12)

These men revile things they don’t understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.
(Jude 10)

The study of science and nature is a joy.  The world God made for us is a witness to His power and wisdom.  Sadly, many who share my love of science have come to believe that the entire universe sprang from a teeny speck of magic stuff that exploded into all the universe.  From that one speck of stuff came Hydrogen, which then magically morphed into the entire periodic table of elements, many of which then combined to form molecules and these molecules in turn began to reproduce and from a pool of chemicals, life was born. 

Christians struggle with this, too.  Many seek to merge the atheist explanation of origins with those of the Hebrew Scriptures.  For a moment, let’s pretend this doesn’t insult both God and science.  Let’s pretend that the days in Genesis were not an evening and a morning, but rather were zillions of years during which humans evolved (with some help from God) from lower species.  If that is true, what are the consequences? 

Or to put it another way – if humans exist for a reason other than that God created us in His image – what does that have to do with our everyday lives?  If humans are merely intelligent apes with opposable thumbs, then we are NOT “superior” to other species.  If we’re special because we’re intelligent, then the ox is special for his power, the cheetah for her speed and the worm is special for the ability to tunnel through earth. 

The scriptures at the top of this article are extracted from two different letters, written by two different men, but they’re writing about similar groups of people.  They are writing about men who are church leaders.  And they are warnings to the people to take heed not to follow their example or be like those men who have several things in common in both groups.  Let’s focus on one of those things now.  They are said to be “like unreasoning animals,” who behave from “instinct.” 

Remember that when these were written, there was nothing like our modern science, so don’t get too hung up on words like “reasoning” or “instinct.”  Instead, focus on the essence of these men, and the writers’ objections.  They are obedient to the desires of their flesh. 

Sometimes the word for “desire” is translated as “lust,” and that’s too bad because for most of us “lust” has only to do with sexual things.  But the truth is that our bodies want several things, and they are all sensual – which is to say, they have to do with our senses. 
We want to look at pretty things, smell good smells, taste good tastes, hear great sounds and of course feel good feelings.  This is what our senses, or our bodies, want.  This is our evolutionary master – the “desires” of our bodies, or flesh. 

So the question is … are you the master of your domain? 

Throughout the scriptures, but especially in the New Testament, we are taught to be the masters of our bodies, and not to let the body master us.  When my flesh gives me orders, it tells me to eat – because I love the taste of food, it tells me to seek good music and comfort.  My body never tells me to go outside and exercise and to limit my food intake.  My body is a greedy and foolish thing, and so is yours. 

Most “Christians” these days seek to merge more than science and scripture, they also want to merge the demands of their true lord (their flesh) with the demands of the Lord they claim to follow with their mouth (Jesus).  But as Jesus himself said, we cannot serve two masters. 

Now back to our original issue.  If you serve your body/flesh/instincts like an unreasoning animal, then you ARE nothing more than a smart ape.  But if you seek to let Yahweh and His son Yeshua be your Master, then you are behaving like someone re-created in the image of God. 

It’s a choice.  It’s not a fact of evolution or creation, it’s a choice.  We are all animals physically, but when we choose to be born again in baptism, Paul wrote that we change in our very nature!  He wrote that we become “new creatures.”  That’s a lot more than a mere metaphor – it represents a choice we make to be different than our nature.  We no longer want to be slaves to our body’s cravings.  Now we want – we have – a new Boss, a new life, and new desires.  We answer to no one, and no thing, including our own appetites – but Yahweh alone is our God. 

So now consider the deeds of the flesh.  They result in all the things we think of as sin, and they start with nothing more than something “we” want.  But is it really something you want, or is it something your body wants? 
Are you going to let it boss you around? 
How many gods are there in your life? 
Are you REALLY born again, or is it a lie you and your friends tell yourselves? 

Choose you this day whom you will serve.

Speaking out arrogant words of vanity
…they entice by fleshly desires,
…by sensuality,
…those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,
…promising them freedom
….while they themselves are slaves of corruption;
for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.
(2 Peter 2:18–19)

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect … even to those who are unreasonable! …
You wives, be submissive to your husbands in the same way….  just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”
(1 Peter 2:18–3:6 excerpts)

Wives, submit to your husbands, just like slaves submit to their owners

No one wants to preach that sermon.  No one wants to talk about submission these days – even Jesus’ disciples!  Jesus: the single greatest example of submissive service in human history. 

No, these days we are taught to “stand up for our rights,” and never let others tell you what to do.  If a woman is submissive to her husband, you can bet she will be mocked.  If an employee is submissive to his boss, he’s seen as a kisser of unmentionable body parts.  And woe to the poor minority person who is seen as submissive to authority, especially authority of a different race, gender or sexual orientation.  The world cries out to dominate – never submit.  Brag, never be humble.  We defensively refuse to ever “allow anyone to take advantage” of us.  We prefer the philosophy of Conan the Barbarian:
What is best in life?
To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women

Or we constantly seek revenge disguised as justice like gangsters, mobsters or the Hatfields & McCoys.  Nobody better wrong us, or we’ll wrong them back. 

And so there's never a time when preachers say: "submission is a virtue," or "let others take advantage of you" or "turn the other cheek means exactly what Jesus said it meant."  Audiences today would lynch any such preacher.  

I believe this is a huge problem in God’s kingdom.  I’m not so much concerned with the world, but within the kingdom, we’re supposed to understand that submissive service is not only honorable, it’s powerful. 

Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. So he came to Simon Peter who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.”

So when he had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined again, he said to them,
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord;’ and you are right, for I am. If I then, the Lord and the teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.   For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
(John 13:5-7; 12 –17)

Jesus was not putting on a show, like we so often see these days in silly foot-washings.  Jesus was doing the job of a low-down slave.  And why?  To make a point. 

Pay special attention to the relationship of lords and servants.  We tend to think like the world: that the ‘lord’ is the one with the power – and so we want to be the boss, the master, the teacher or lord, so we can tell others what to do.  But scripture refutes this notion, and Jesus focuses on the power of submission. 

Submission comes up in lots of ways in God’s word.  Not only are we to submit to good leaders, but during the reign of Nero Paul would write that we should submit to governing authorities.  Above Peter (who seems to have learned his lesson from Jesus) says slaves should submit even to bad owners and wives to their husbands.  Paul wrote several bits about submission to the church in Ephesus, even at one point suggesting we “submit to one another.”  (Ephesians 5.21)

Another way submission is important and misunderstood is in our relationship to Yahweh.  Because of the centuries-old bickering between various denominations, we've become a culture obsessed with the mechanics of salvation.  Are we saved by works, faith, grace, or some of each?  Of course the problem for works-based folks is that they cannot succeed, so they need work-arounds, like priests telling people to say “Hail Marys,” or just outright selling indulgences.  The problem for the grace-based folks is that they have to go out of their way to explain that nothing they do is ever designed to save them.  And why is this such a problem? 

It’s a problem because our admission to God’s kingdom is not based on winning a battle over sin, or winning anything, for that matter.  Our admission to the kingdom comes when we surrender.  We become God’s children when we are begotten of God and surrender to rebirth.  Baptism, therefore, isn't something we do, it’s an act of submission.  When a general loses a battle and kneels before the conqueror (or signs papers, or surrenders his sword), the only action he’s doing is submission.  If the victor tells the loser that he’ll spare his life if he will kneel, then the kneeling loser didn't do something to be saved other than submit to his better. 

“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.
(John 8:33–34)

“How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

… Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
…Don’t you know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”
(Excerpts from Romans 6)

When we are born again, we become new creatures.  The difference between us before that moment and after it isn't just that now we’re going to try to be good.  The difference is a change in ownership. 
We used to be slaves to our own flesh, obeying its desires.  Now we are slaves of God.
We used to be subject to our pride and ego – now we humble ourselves before Yahweh.  
We used to be slaves to the opinions of others – now we care nothing for the opinion of men, only God. 

The whole of our new lives is to be surrendered – submitted – to God, and God only.  It’s not something we DO or don’t do, it’s a surrender.  Surrender may come with terms, but those terms don’t mean we “did” something to win … it simply means we bow before our new boss. 

Being disciplined requires effort, but surrendering is giving up.  It’s quitting. 

Going forward

Your challenge is to consider how you submit and to what or whom you submit.

Do you think it’s a bad thing to submit? 
If so, please reconsider. 

Our new boss (Jesus) taught us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile and to love our enemies.  Everything he did and said was an act of submission, leading to even his death.  And yes, sometimes people will take advantage of you, just as they took advantage of Jesus.  That fear is exactly what Satan uses to keep you as his ___. 

Do you think submission is weakness? 
It can be.  Submitting because you’re afraid is weakness.  But godly submission is not so! 

Scripture teaches women to submit to husbands, not for husbands to insist upon it, and mistreat them if they don’t.  If a wife refuses to submit, then that’s it.  If a wife (or anyone else) submits because they’re afraid, either of their husband, their boss, or of going to hell if they don’t – then that’s not true Godly submission.  Godly submission is something we do who are confident in the power of God.  We can “afford” to submit, because we are faithful enough to take it.  When Jesus allowed people to spit on him and beat him, was it because he was afraid of them?  Absurd.  Jesus submitted precisely to show his great power, and so can we. 

God gives us the same choice we must give others.  We can submit to God or not.  He never tries to force us.  Only Satan uses coercion, bribery and intimidation.  Sons of God give others a chance to submit or not.  Children of Satan stand up for themselves and never let others “bully” or take advantage. 

Do you think that obeying God requires great strength and discipline? 
Then you don’t know submission/surrender. 
Right now you are fighting against your boss – your fleshly appetites, or the opinions of other people, or whatever it is that governs you. 

Fighting your boss IS hard - so change bosses. 
Men, stop letting your ego, your vanity, your taste buds and/or your wieners boss you around. 
Women, learn the strength your great-grandmothers had.  They, like Jesus, understood the power of servant leadership.  They understood that true beauty isn't external – it’s strength and wisdom.  This will earn you more than affection, it will earn you respect.  Learn to be generous like Tabitha in Acts 9 or shrewd like Abigail of 1 Samuel 25.  These were women who understood the power of submission from wisdom and humility; and did not submit to the court of human opinion.  

Please take some time to actually sit and think about submission as a source of true power and as a means to obedience.  Remember that in scripture it’s always the humble person, the servant – who is God’s favorite. 

Submit yourselves (for the Lord’s sake) to every human institution….

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

For you have been called for this purpose: since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin (nor was any deceit found in his mouth); and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear….  

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing….

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.
And don’t fear their intimidation…
And don’t be troubled,
…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts….

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few … were brought safely through water.
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
(Excerpts from 1 Peter 2:13–3:22)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Always learning, but …

This passage bothers me.  It’s an accurate and undeniable prophecy.  What bothers me is how embarrassing and humiliating it is to see some of these things in my own life; and how painful it is to see it in the lives of others:
“Realize this: that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be:
…lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God……holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.  
Avoid such men as these.
For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses - always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (2 Timothy 3:1–7)
This is a part of a letter from an experienced preacher (Paul) to his former “intern” - now preacher (Tim) written 2,000 years ago.  Yet the words ring hauntingly true today in our culture. 

Let’s consider Paul’s main points.

First, Paul predicts the kinds of things that will be true of these people – they’ll love money and they’ll brag, gossip, and have no self-control (among other things).  And we can tell from the context that these people consider themselves Christian.  So imagine an overweight, upper-middle class person talking about someone at church negatively, and you can now see the person Paul is describing.  If you've been to “church” recently, you certainly have a lot of choices. 

Then comes a part that’s hard for me to understand.  Remember that Paul was writing to a young preacher when he wrote “avoid such as these.”  Really?  Shouldn't a preacher try to teach them, or help them or provoke them to repent?  Not according to Paul, no.  Rather, they are to be avoided.  Paul doesn't say why, but I believe the reason is the same as is found elsewhere in scripture: most sins are contagious.  We become like the people with whom we associate.  Gossip, for instance, is very hard to stop when all your friends are doing it.  And self-discipline is pretty hard for a glutton who hangs out with foodies, or alcoholics whose friends are all drinkers.  If all your friends are partiers and love to have fun and hang out together rather than look for ways to serve God, it will always be hard for you to love God more than pleasure. 

The last part of this section is a description of a sub-group of the larger whole.  “Among them” are those who preach and teach themselves.  They are able to be convincing to the gullible, and those who are loaded with guilt and fear.  Fear, guilt and gullibility are three things among many that make us extra vulnerable to deception from those who look to take advantage of us.  That’s why churches today are filled with gullible and fearful people. 

Now let’s focus on one very troubling line about these religious teachers:
“…always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

What does that look like and feel like?  I can tell you, for I have been guilty of this myself.  It’s a lot of work, for one thing.  For another, you can do lots of neat things with knowledge.  We are no longer ashamed to learn “trivia,” despite the self-description that what we’re learning is of no real value: it’s trivial, after all.  Knowledge makes us able to impress others who are impressed by knowledge.  “He really knows the bible,” they’ll say, or “He’s a great scholar,” or “He is so smart!”

But knowing the truth does not produce the same fruit.  People who know the truth praise God, not His servants.  The truth doesn't make you look smart or impressive in any way.  It’s God’s truth, after all, not a result of our work. 
Knowledge w/o truth & nice shoes

The difference between “knowing the truth” and “having knowledge” is huge to those who can recognize the difference, but for those who don’t know the difference - there is no difference!  Having eyes, they cannot see. 

There are many differences between ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing truth,’ but the most important is that ‘knowing truth’ has real value.  It is the pearl of great price one sells all to attain (Matthew 13.45-46).  Knowing the truth is of infinite value because it’s freedom, salvation and love. 

  • Knowing truth is wisdom and discerning, not trivia  
  • Knowing truth is knowing that which can set us free – free from sin & from death
  • Knowing the truth is knowing Jesus (“I am the truth”) and by extension, his Father
  • Knowing the truth is love, for then we know the proper times and occasions for justice & mercy
  • Knowing the truth is knowing God loves grace more than sacrifice

But how sad for the group Paul was writing about!  “…always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  These people are able to learn many things, but not the truth.  They are smart and hard-working, so they are “always learning,” but the truth itself eludes them.  And they don’t even know it. 

If you were one of those people, would you know it? 

Usually (maybe always) the people Paul is writing about are not aware of their own futility.  They have grown accustomed to accepting the evaluation of other humans.  They want to be judged favorably in the courts of human opinion – loved and respected by religious people or scholars or their audience … they spend very little effort concerning themselves with fruit that pleases God.  They love people recognizing how learned they are – and confuse knowledge with truth.

The hard part of this lesson is challenging yourself.  Each of us must ask ourselves if we may be guilty of being one of these people.  
Among the questions you want to ask yourself are:
  • “Is my godliness only the ‘form’ of godliness, and not the real thing”? 
  • “Am I sometimes a lover of pleasure more than God”? 
  • “Am I boastful & arrogant, do I gossip - and then deceive myself by denying it”? 
  • “Am I ungrateful”?  (A good test for this is to measure your ratio of complaining or asking God for stuff to how often you count your blessings.  That is, are you mostly content and grateful to God for your current life, or mostly filled with desire for other things?) 
You get the idea.  Go through Paul’s list item-by-item and challenge yourself.  Take these things one by one and before you consider how others you know fit into these categories, first examine yourself.  And be hard on yourself!  Ask God for help to let you see your own self-deceptions. 

If you are faithful to God, He will open your eyes on this matter. 
More importantly:
He will give you the ability to repent.  Even when it seems impossible, God can do this if you seek Him without holding anything back. 

And once you have started down this road, then you can not only learn the nonsense we all must learn to get by in this life, but also you can come to a knowledge of the truth – which is of eternal value. 

Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
And he was saying,
“Don’t you understand this parable?  
The sower sows the word. 
And … the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these … have heard the word, but:
1.       The worries of the world, and
2.      The deceitfulness of riches, and
3.      The desires for other things …
…enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

(Excerpts from Mark 4:3–19)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Restoring the Primitive Church – and You

Early in the 1800s several religious leaders from differing denominations met together in agreement.  They agreed that it was bad that there were many different Christian groups, each of which claimed to follow the bible.  In the New Testament, there is only one church.  There is only one “way,” as it was then called (Acts 9:2; 18:25ff; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).  Each of these preachers agreed that the bible was true and that Jesus was the head of only one church, but which one?  Among their numbers most were Presbyterians and Baptists, but there were others. 

Finally they agreed that instead of all of them becoming one of the existing groups, they would all quit being whatever they had been, and they would instead be no denomination at all.  Baptists would leave their group, and so would the Presbyterians and Methodists, etc.  Instead of having a denominational label, they would be simply: “Christians.”   

When it came to church organization and practice, they would imitate what they called “the primitive church,” which is to say the churches found in the New Testament, established by the Apostles.  They would meet, speak and organize just as the Apostles had established the church to do, 1700 years earlier. 

In the years since that group formed, they (predictably) began to splinter all over again.  Today that “one” church is four different groups with many sub-groups.  So … did they fail? 

I don’t believe so.  The first church splintered, and the “restored” church splintered.  It happens.  Satan corrupts the Lord’s people at every opportunity, and nothing is a better tool for corruption than the notion of power or control.  Once a group forms it tries to grow and needs leaders.  Leaders are occasionally good, humble, loving, protective and honest.  But for most, leadership is merely a tool to attain the appearance of respect, and the ability to “win” disputes.  Other leaders are simply incompetent, fearful, greedy, or ignorant of the scriptures.  After all, leaders are humans, too, and no man is flawless but Jesus. 

Jesus’ church is just like each of Jesus’ followers – in need of constant cleansing.  Just as we get dirty and bathe every day, so we also sin often and need to live lifestyles of repentance.  It is the same with a group of disciples (church).  Sometimes we need to repent and sort of “start over.”  And even if we do everything correctly, it won’t be long until we are “dirty” again. 

The early/primitive church was formed on principles inspired by God and appropriate for their times and culture(s).  But it didn't take long for problems to arise.  In fact, almost every “book” of the New Testament after Acts is (or contains) letters to churches and preachers addressing problems.  In some cases Paul was correcting problems in churches that were still in their infancy!  
In one of those letters, Paul compared a church to a building or a temple.  Just as God’s temple has a perfect foundation, we each build upon it.  And since none of us is perfect, we must “be careful” how we build (1 Corinthians 3.8-4.2).  And as we are cautious – we must also be humble.  The deceiver is relentless.  He will use any means to coerce us into believing a lie, and if we strengthen or expand a church based on a false idea, we will be building weakness into the structure itself.  Even with a perfect foundation, a small error on the first floor becomes catastrophic for a skyscraper. 

I’m writing this because I believe that all disciples are participants in the construction of the church of Christ.  No matter what congregation we are with, we have an impact.  Most people merely go along with the existing group.  A few become questioners, challengers, and sometimes troublemakers.  Others see a group and want to “get involved,” and join committees, attend meetings, and one day teach classes and do other things that make them “leaders,” or at least representatives of the group.  Whatever our role, we are all participants.  Or if not, we are those who bury the talent God entrusted to us and so we will be condemned in the last day.  As far as I can tell, the only person guaranteed hell is the lazy, worthless, fruitless disciple. 

I hope and pray that each person reading this will take their role within the Kingdom more seriously as you interact with other “Christians.” 

If you’re already a part of a group ask yourself “why.”  Are you helping that group grow stronger, wiser, more loving, or do you merely show up? 

Are you in a group that is good for you?  Do they motivate you to be more focused on God daily?  Do they help you become stronger, purer, and wiser, or do they load you up with activities that bear very little eternal fruit? 

All “churches” have room for improvement, just like individuals.  Furthermore, the leaders have a “vision” that they will fight for, and are terrified of change.  The church member is usually doomed to be little more than a cog in the wheel, and attempts to change the group will be seen as “trouble-making.”  So be careful not just “how” you build, but with whom you try to work!  As our Lord said: 
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”  (Matthew 7:6)

Our first calling as disciples is to love God with all our being.  To serve Him with love, energy and wisdom is our greatest work.  Our second command (and really the only way we can obey the first) is to love our neighbor.  Sadly, our neighbors are sometimes reluctant to change (repent, grow, improve), and so we are unable to help them.  Worse yet, our neighbors who claim to be Christians will usually treat God’s servants as they always have.  Remember Stephen’s challenge to God’s people, and how that ended for him:
“Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One (whose betrayers and murderers you have now become) you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him….  But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning.… They went on stoning Stephen as … falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.  (Acts 7:52–60)

What we often overlook is that Stephen spoke nothing but the truth!  Not one person in Stephen’s audience could dispute a single word – except maybe that he claimed Jesus was “The Righteous One,” but even then they could not deny that they had murdered a man who was innocent.  In other words, they were furious at a man for doing nothing more than stating what they all agreed was the truth!  Each of us should expect no less than this furious response.

Prophets will be persecuted, but be one, anyway, because true prophets serve God, not men.  True prophets will have a limited effect on others, or in some cases simply make them so angry they’ll hate you and crush you.  The effect you have is limited by the freedom God gives to Satan and to people to attempt to poison your work.  This is where we must trust God – and not ourselves.  Our job is to obey, not to understand. 

Disciple-Making is Job One

Be disciple-makers first

Remember that disciple-making is just like parenting: first a child is conceived, then born and then trained for years.  Be a disciple maker as your FIRST order of business. 

Then let your “church” grow from that prime directive 

If each person in a group is a disciple, then that group is a church.  And if each one is focused on disciple-making, then the function of church will come into focus.  And after – AFTER – you have become a disciple maker and found the church’s function … then “form” of church will follow as naturally as the sunrise follows night. 

In our religious world, we get these things out of order.  First we seek to “plant” a church, and have leaders dictate the formFunction is merely assumed … we gather “to worship.”  Sadly, not one bit of that is found in scripture.  Our reasons for gathering are never called worship in the bible, ever.  According to the Apostles, our reasons for gathering are for “equipping, strengthening, encouraging, accountability, etc.”  Or to wrap it all up in one word: “edification.” 

The function of a church is edification.  But to what end?  Are we here to cheer one another, to confirm one another’s beliefs, or to bind together and fight against the world?  Not according to the bible, no. 

The primitive church (established by the Apostles) was a gathering of God-lovers whose reason for gathering was to equip and strengthen each other to be better, stronger, wiser, more effective (fruitful) disciple-makers. 

Today consider yourself - and your group of believers:

Consider your function (and theirs), and how to help them change (or if change is even possible). 
If not, it might be time for you to focus on working purely for God and letting Him guide your steps until you can find others who, like you, whose greatest love is God – not church, family, friends, money, power, doctrine, telling non-disciples how they should live, etc. 

Remember that often Israel’s prophets found it was better to be separate from the population, whom they could not help, and who (often) wanted the prophets dead. 

Live only for God.  There is no one who loves you like Yahweh.  No one even can.  And if our King gives you others to work and grow with, then work together to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. 

Build well!  

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are being built together into God’s dwelling in the Spirit. 
(Ephesians 2:19–22)