Christmas, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Should My Church Participate in Operation Christmas Child’s Shoebox Ministry?

Originally published September 23, 2019

This article has been modified and updated
since its original publication.

I lead the children’s ministry in our small rural church, and for years our children have participated in the Operation Christmas Child shoebox “ministry.” It has come to my attention that this program may be quite ineffective in spreading the gospel. In fact, I have read that many missionaries refuse the boxes because it causes such chaos and confusion. I would like recommendations of legitimate world mission organizations [we could donate to instead] that would allow our children to look past our sheltered life here to what God is doing in other parts of His creation.

Wait…what? Christmas? It’s only September!

Yep. Christmas will be here sooner than you think, and your church staff and committees are probably already planning for it. And if your church usually participates in Operation Christmas Child (OCC) but might decide to do something different this year because of the information in this article, they’re going to need some time to get their ducks in a row.

Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse organization, an evangelistic “international relief” outreach. Each fall, churches across the U.S. encourage their members to fill an OCC shoebox with small gifts and hygiene items. OCC collects the boxes, tucks in a gospel booklet, and delivers the boxes to children in various locations around the world. At an OCC shoebox distribution event, an OCC representative shares the gospel with the assembled children and then distributes a box to each child.

There are two separate questions in this reader’s e-mail:

  • Should my church participate in Operation Christmas Child?
  • What are some other good international ministries my church could participate in instead?

Should I/my church participate in Operation Christmas Child?

I want to clarify this question a little bit. I understand what the reader who sent this e-mail means when she mentions missionaries reporting “chaos and confusion” resulting from shoebox distribution, because prior to receiving her e-mail, I had already been reading reports (maybe the same ones she read) of exactly the same thing (more on that in a sec). So the main issue the reader is asking about is whether or not the shoebox distributions are the most efficient, effective, and biblical way to share the gospel and undergird missionary efforts.

However, since I originally published this article in 2019, I’ve become aware of another issue with OCC that needs to be a weighty consideration when deciding whether or not to have anything to do with OCC, Samaritan’s Purse, or Franklin Graham, and that is the fact that Franklin Graham yokes in ministry with some of the worst false teachers out there.

For example: During Franklin Graham’s “Prayer March 2020” he partnered and joined in prayer with numerous heretics and false teachers, including TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network), Matt and Laurie Crouch (heads of TBN), Jonathan Cahn, Jentzen Franklin, Robert Morris, and Paula White, among others, and then unashamedly platformed them on his Twitter feed. This was not a little “oopsie” with one person he disagrees with on baptism or eschatology. These are people who are blatantly immersed in New Apostolic Reformation and other egregious false doctrine. It is inexcusable for a professing Christian of his stature and influence a) not to know this, or b) to know it and ignore it, defying Scripture’s many commands not to associate with such reprobates.

Franklin also promotes his sister, Anne Graham Lotz, and platforms her in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s (BGEA) Decision Magazine. As CEO of BGEA, he has allowed people like Brian Johnson (Bethel’s senior worship “pastor”; Jenn Johnson’s husband, Bill Johnson’s son), Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Christine Caine, and Sheila Walsh to be featured on the BGEA website and in other BGEA media. He has allowed BGEA’s The Cove conference center to be used for events featuring Beth Moore and Lisa Harper. Franklin has featured Hillsong and Phil Wickham (close ties to Bethel) at his events. In 2020, he participated in the Hope Rising Benefit Concert, which featured, among others, modalist and prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes and Lysa TerKeurst. All funds raised went to Samaritan’s Purse. (If you’re unclear on why these people are unbiblical, click here.)

He may be a really nice guy who’s on the right side of politics and important biblical issues like homosexuality and abortion, and he may do a lot of good charity work, and you may have a sentimental attachment to his father (Billy Graham), but none of that mitigates the fact that he’s defying Scripturesinning – by yoking with some really egregious false teachers.

Until/unless Franklin Graham publicly repents of this sin, it is my recommendation that you not participate in or donate to Operation Christmas Child, nor have anything to do with Franklin Graham, nor either of the two organizations of which he is president and CEO: Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Now, to the reader’s question: Is the OCC shoebox program the wisest way to steward our church’s resources – could we get more gospel bang for our buck another way? Is this a biblical model for sharing the gospel? Do shoebox distributions cause problems for missionaries and the communities they serve in?

And for the answers to those questions, I would encourage every church and individual considering participating in OCC to read all of the information at the OCC website and compare what you read to these missionaries’ first hand accounts¹ of how shoebox distributions were handled and how the distributions impacted their work and communities. Then, prayerfully consider whether or not you or your church should participate.

“What happens when the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ
is associated with dollar-store trinkets from America?”

“In some places, we haven’t been well-received because the missionaries who went there before us presented gifts….and we have no gifts. When those missionaries left, their ‘converts’ also returned back to their old faith and were waiting for the next gift presenters.”

Opening Up Christmas Shoeboxes: What Do They Look Like On the Other Side?
Sometimes the Starfish Story Doesn’t Work
These articles (the second is a follow up to the first) are both by Amy Medina.


“When Saddam Hussein was terrorizing the Kurds…an American was in Baghdad meeting with the Minister of Health. The minister abruptly said “I have to go – do you want to come with me? I have to do something for our leader’s birthday.” The American goes with him. They go to a warehouse in Baghdad, and there sit piles and piles of Samaritan’s purse Christmas Shoe Boxes. The Minister of Health is supervising minions to deliver all of them to the Children’s Hospital as gifts from Uncle Saddam for his birthday….a bunch of Iraqi kids got wonderful gifts from Saddam by way of Franklin Graham at Samaritan’s Purse.”

13 Things I Want American Christians to Know about the Stuff You Give Poor Kids by Rachel Pieh Jones


…the Operation Christmas Child boxes had reached the warehouse in Ndola and…the Mansa churches needed to come up with eight kwacha per box for 5,000 boxes to receive their shipment. That’s $4,000USD…comments from the pastors ranged from, “We don’t have this kind of money,” to, “Aren’t these boxes supposed to be free?” to, “Next year, let’s just refuse the boxes all together!”

boxing up expectations: reflections on OCC and the church by Bethany Colvin

What are some other good international ministries I/my church could participate in instead?

Whether you’re looking for a ministry to donate to or a way to tangibly serve others, the first thing I would recommend is that you ask your pastor what the needs are in your own church (remember, we serve the needs of our own church members first before serving others). It’s not biblical to overlook the needs of the brother or sister down the pew from you in favor of strangers half a world away.

If everyone in your church is taken care of, your pastor may be able to suggest a local or international ministry that could use your help. Many churches donate directly to various individual missionaries and local and international ministries, and I think you should support your church and its leadership by donating to the ministries they have chosen before looking for other ministries to donate to.

If your pastor doesn’t have any recommendations, my suggestion would be to give what people need the most: God’s Word:

The Master’s Academy International

HeartCry Missionary Society

Tomorrow Clubs

Bible League International

Gideons International

Pocket Testament League

Some of the articles linked I linked to earlier in this post include information on alternatives to OCC, and I’ve given a few more thoughts here.

Whichever ministry you choose to serve or donate to, make sure to vet its theology, and make sure they are sharing the gospel along with whatever relief or goods they are providing.

Addendum: After the original publication of this article, most of the feedback I received was thoughtful and positive. However, I was shocked at the number of nasty, enraged comments and e-mails I received – from professing Christians, mind you – that seemed to elevate participation in OCC to an idolatrous level. What you prayerfully decide to do about participating in OCC is between you and God, but if you are angered by the information in this article to the point that you strike out at me or one of the missionaries who has simply stated her honest experience with OCC, you need to check your heart against Scripture. You are idolizing OCC over loving your brothers and sisters in Christ, and you’re acting in a way unbecoming of a professing Christian.

If you are considering responding to this article with nastiness or rage, please save yourself some time and don’t bother. I will not publish comments like that anywhere on my blog or social media, and I will immediately delete (without reading, and certainly without responding) any such emails.

OCC Shoeboxes: Answering the Arguments

¹These specific articles are provided for their attestation to experiences with OCC, only. I do not endorse any of these sites which deviate from Scripture or my theology as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or contact me. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.


The Mailbag: Potpourri (Ministry oversight…Elliot/ten Boom preached to men…G3…Alt-her-ing Scripture)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question.

I like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

Or maybe I answered your question already? Check out my article The Mailbag: Top 10 FAQs to see if your question has been answered and to get some helpful resources.

Hello! I’ve just found you while looking for theologically sound Bible studies. I’m thankful to find your resources and look forward to reading further!

So far you’ve checked all my boxes in looking for someone who is seeking to be faithful to the Word. I would assume in being a proponent of complementarianism, that you are in a church that allows you, as a woman in ministry, to submit to the pastors and/or elders of your church… Can you please clarify this? In other words, are you receiving oversight outside yourself in your ministry? One reason I’m asking is our church has an elder that is over all our women’s ministries and find that as a good discernment check.

Also, where do you live? That question isn’t terribly important; I’m just curious.

I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (You can find out more about me in the Bio tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.)

This is a super question, and I’ve received it a few times in the past, but I’d like to tweak it just a bit if that’s OK.

It’s certainly not a bad thing for a woman in a parachurch ministry like mine to have her doctrinally sound pastor and elders or some sort of ministry board oversee her ministry if she and her husband and pastor and elders all mutually agree that it would be beneficial. And if God miraculously gave my pastors several more hours in the day that they didn’t know what to do with and they called me and said, “Hey, we’d like to volunteer to do this for you,” I’d probably take them up on it.

But what I’d like to clarify is that, while this may or may not be a wise and helpful arrangement, it isn’t a requirement of Scripture (and I’m not saying that you think it is) for women or men in parachurch ministries, complementarianism notwithstanding. What Scripture requires is that all church members submit to the leadership of their pastor and elders:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17

As a member of my church, I certainly strive to obey this instruction. And if my blogging / podcasting / speaking ministry were a ministry of my church, like the women’s ministry of your church, it would definitely fall under the purview of my pastors.

But it isn’t. My ministry is discrete from my church just like any other church member’s job or business. Furthermore, I’ve been a member of four different churches since I started my ministry, and, sad to say, some of those pastors and leaders weren’t even biblically qualified for their own ministries, never mind overseeing mine.

Next, it depends on what you mean by “oversee”. If you mean – Do I submit all of my articles, podcast notes, and teaching materials to my pastors for approval before I publish, podcast, or speak at an event? Do I check with them every time I make a decision? – no, and I would never think of asking them to do all of that. They’re busy being pastors. And, if my writing, teaching, and decision-making were so suspect that I needed them to do that, or that they felt they needed to do that, I would have no business writing and teaching on biblical topics.

Now, there have been a few times when I’ve asked for their input or advice. One time, I needed a little clarity on a certain passage. Another time (due to spiritual abuse at a previous church), I was super anxious that something I was writing might upset my pastors, so I ran it by one of them, and he essentially said, “That’s the same thing we believe. Calm down. We trust you.”.

And that’s basically the long and short of it. They know what I think, I know what they think, we’re pretty much on the same page about everything, biblically, and they trust me. And the same goes for my husband. And I trust that if I ever write anything that’s unbiblical or needs correction, they’ll let me know, and I’ll fix it. 

Where do you place speakers such as Elisabeth Elliot, Corrie ten Boom and the like who, while they spoke to audiences that included men, did not seem to be cut from the same cloth that some female speakers of today seem to be? Do you feel they were appropriate in speaking to mixed gender audiences?

Several people have asked me this about Elisabeth Elliot recently, so it’s possible there’s something making the rounds about her that I’m not aware of, but I think there’s an aspect of this question that’s really important for all of us to key in on:

God is no respecter of persons, and we shouldn’t be, either.

If something is a sin, it’s a sin – and it doesn’t matter who’s committing it. It’s just as much a sin for Elisabeth Elliot to preach to or teach the Bible to men as it is for Beth Moore as it would be for you or for me.

And it appears that Elisabeth Elliot1 did, in fact, make a practice of committing this sin. (Here are some videos of her preaching/teaching the Bible with men clearly present in the audience: here at 1:06, here from 0:00 and at 12:38, here from 0:00, here at 1:32, and there are many others.) So, at least in that one respect, she was “cut from the same cloth that some female speakers of today seem to be.”

Apparently, there were other serious problems with Elisabeth’s doctrine as well. From the article, Courage to Be Catholic?:

“[Elisabeth] continued, “…my brother…entered the Catholic Church some years ago. I only wish I had his courage.”…she admired the decision I had made to enter the Church, as her dear brother had! After she had sung the praises of the Catholic Church for several minutes, I worked up the nerve to ask Elisabeth why she did not follow in her brother’s footsteps. “Cowardice, I suppose. My listeners and readers simply would not understand.”

Of course they wouldn’t. Catholic doctrine is heretical.

It’s harder to decipher (at least from YouTube videos) whether or not Corrie ten Boom preached and taught Scripture to mixed audiences, but so far as I can tell, she did. Corrie is generally known for giving her personal testimony, and that’s not normally a violation of Scripture for a woman (see #14 here) unless she veers off into actual preaching. However there are several YWAM (Youth With A Mission) training videos like this one (0:49) which show a man and women on the stage with Corrie as she teaches them a biblical topic, videos which, I can only assume, were used to train both male and female YWAM staff.

And, in a video entitled The Holy Spirit Gives Power (June 8, 2016) the man introducing Corrie says at 2:55, “she has toured the world preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, winning many to Christ by both her writing and her preaching” and she goes on to preach to what sounds like a rather large audience, which, it seems unlikely, was restricted to women. (Further, the man introducing her sounds very much like Billy Graham to me, and if Billy Graham ever introduced a woman speaker for a women’s only event, that’s news to me.)

Perhaps even more disturbing was Corrie’s appearance on Kathryn Kuhlman’s show. Kathryn was a rank heretic: a female preacher, faith healer, and, essentially, one of the “founding fathers” of what is now the New Apostolic Reformation.

I don’t think anybody asking this question is intentionally saying or thinking that there’s a different standard for our heroes in the faith than for us regular old ordinary Christians, but it’s a sneaky little mindset that can weasel its way in without our even noticing it. We need to keep a couple of things in mind:

First – Surviving a horrific experience, even with great faith, doesn’t automatically make a person biblically discerning, doctrinally sound, or qualified to teach the Bible.

Second- As doctrinally sound Christians, we need to be really careful not to do the exact same thing that disciples of false teachers often do: let our sentimentality or love for an evangelical legend override biblical standards and commands, or give our favorite teachers a pass on sin.

I’ve addressed this subject further in my article Stricter Judgment, Even for MY Favorite Teacher.

1Big thank you’s to my dear friend Elizabeth Prata (an Elizabeth you should be following) for the heads up on much of this info about Elisabeth Elliot.

Will you be at the G3 Conference? I’ll be there, and I’d like to meet you!

Sadly, no, and I’m kinda bummed about that, because, not only is G3 a fantastic conference, it seems like all of my buddies that I hardly ever get to see are going to be there.

I have a conference of my own in Montana the weekend before G3 and another in California the weekend after G3, so I’m already going to miss those two Sundays at my own church, plus I don’t like leaving my family any more than I absolutely have to.

I will be in Heaven eventually, though, and we’ll all have eternity to meet and greet and fellowship together as we worship around the Throne. So, if I don’t see you here, I’ll see you Hereafter. :0)

I have a dear friend in Christ who I know loves Jesus, trusts Him, and knows her Bible. However, she sent me something recently that really made me curious and I want to know if out of love, I should discuss with her.

What she sent me was this: The Lord’s beloved rests securely on Him. He shields (her) all day long, and (she) rests on His shoulders. Deuteronomy 33:12.

It was on a pink background with very pretty script. But I believe it’s wrong to alter Scripture to make it about me, as a woman. If God meant for it to say “her” or “she” He would have made sure it did. Am I being petty, or reading too much into a simple daily devotion thing that my friend I’m sure meant nothing but love by sending to me?

No, you’re not being petty or legalistic, you just have a higher view of Scripture and better hermeneutics than she does, and you’re right. Who in the name of arrogance are we to alter or adulterate God’s written Word so it’s more pleasing to us? There are actually two issues here:

First of all, there are many passages of Scripture which use universal male pronouns to mean everybody, humankind, men and women. For example (I just picked this one at random), Psalm 8:4:

what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Obviously, “man” and “him” in this verse don’t mean that God is only mindful of males or only cares for males. As women, we can correctly understand that this verse includes us. And we ought to be woman enough, mature enough, and have enough reverence for God’s Word that we don’t have to put it on a pretty pink background with flowers and a swirly font, and change the pronouns from masculine to feminine so that none of the girls get their feelings hurt.

But here’s the second – and in my view, more important – issue with this particular instance: Deuteronomy 33:12 isn’t one of those universal male pronoun verses. Your friend (or whoever created the image) is ripping it completely out of context. And she had to amputate the first part of the verse in order to do so. Here’s the whole verse:

Of Benjamin he said, “May the beloved of the Lord live in security beside Him Who shields him all the day long, And he lives between His shoulders.”

This isn’t some universally applicable verse, even if you’re a man. This is Moses blessing the twelve tribes of Israel prior to his death. Verse 1 of chapter 33 tells us just that: “Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the sons of Israel before his death.”

What your friend is doing is like finding a letter her dad wrote to her brother, scratching out her brother’s name, and writing in her own name instead. Yes, Dad loves her too, but this is her brother’s letter, and she’s stealing it.

Maybe this was just a one time “oopsie” in which your friend wasn’t very careful about what she was passing along on social media. We’ve all been guilty of that. If that’s the case, and everything else seems to be doctrinally sound, you could talk to her about it if you want, but I don’t see any harm in letting this one go. But if it seems more like a pattern or a downhill slide, yes, I’d pray for wisdom and an opportune moment and gently, yet firmly, talk to her about reverence for God’s Word, and rightly handling it.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.


The Mailbag: Potpourri (Confessing past sin… Too much Calvinism?… “Fake it til you make it”)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question.

I like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

Or maybe I answered your question already? Check out my article The Mailbag: Top 10 FAQs to see if your question has been answered and to get some helpful resources.

I confessed and repented of a certain sin after I got saved, but my husband doesn’t know about it. Do I need to confess that sin to my husband in order to receive God’s blessings or be considered a Proverbs 31 wife? And should he also confess his past sins to me? By the way, my husband is a pastor.

What a beautiful heart you have – wanting to be clean before the Lord and wanting to please Him!

There might be a few very specific scenarios in which it would not be wise to bring up a past sin to your husband, but, generally speaking, in a Christian marriage yes, you should be able to talk to your husband about your past sins (and he should also be able to discuss his past sins with you). But not to get God’s blessings or to be a Proverbs 31 wife.

Marriage is about trust. In the same way that Christian husbands and wives should trust each other enough to feel comfortable being physically naked around one another, we should also trust each other enough to feel comfortable “baring it all” when it comes to our past sins.

It sounds like this is a sin you simply haven’t told him about, but it should go without saying that you should not be lying to him about it or trying to cover it up. Those are direct sins against him, and if you’re doing that, you definitely need to confess and repent to him.

All of that being said, there can be more helpful / wise ways and times to talk to your husband about your past sin and less helpful / wise ways and times to talk to him about it, and you may want to get some help figuring that out from someone who can be more objective about it than you can.

Normally, I would suggest setting up an appointment with your pastor to get some pastoral counsel about it, but since your husband is your pastor, I would suggest locating an ACBC certified Biblical Counselor (not the same thing as a “Christian counselor/therapist”) who is not a member of your church (you don’t want your husband to be embarrassed or make it difficult for the counselor to sit under her pastor’s leadership) and set up an appointment.

Some denominations offer counseling services to pastors and their families, so you may want to contact your denominational leadership to find out about that. (I’m not sure what to tell you about other denominations, but if you’re Southern Baptist, contact your local SBC association or state convention.)

Hello! I found your website while trying to see if a Christian singer was a false teacher. I started reading over your beliefs to make sure that you weren’t a false teacher (I don’t mean that in a rude way, it’s just that I have to be really careful especially since I am only a teenager). I agree with everything except Calvinism. I was just wondering if our beliefs would still align enough to where your positions on whether or not people are false teachers would align with my beliefs. I can always ask my parents afterwards, but I just wanted to know basically if you talk about or reference Calvinist beliefs a lot. Thank you!

Wow. Just, WOW. Honey, your parents must be so proud of you. I know I would be if you were my daughter. I am thrilled – hear me: THRILLED – that you checked me out to make sure I’m not a false teacher before reading my stuff. Do you know how many adults don’t do that before following people? Most of them. I wish I had been as discerning as you are when I was your age.

Calvinism is not a factor when I sit down to evaluate whether or not someone is a false teacher, so that isn’t something you would need to worry about. In fact, there are some people on both my Popular False Teachers page and on my Recommended Bible Teachers page about whom I have no idea whether or not they’re Calvinists. There are even Calvinists I recommend against (such as Matt Chandler), or decline to proactively recommend (such as John Piper). I will say this, though – and, understand, this is a very general statement – having studied dozens of teachers, I find that those who adhere to Calvinism / Reformed theology are less likely, on the whole, to be false teachers than non-Calvinists.

I guess it depends on what you mean by talking about or referencing Calvinism “a lot”. From my perspective, I hardly ever mention it directly, but I’m sure it does come across indirectly in some of the terminology I use and the way I handle Scripture.

This is kind of humorous, but, probably about once a month or so, I get a message or an email from somebody saying, “Why don’t you talk about the false teaching of Calvinism?” or “I see you recommend John MacArthur. Don’t you know he’s one of those [gasp!] Calvinists?”. So I guess I’m not exactly beating people over the head with it if they didn’t know and I have to tell them straight out, “Yeah, I’m a Calvinist, too.”

I don’t know, I’m probably not the most objective person to answer this question. Let’s turn it over to my regular readers and you can see what they have to say in the comments section.

Readers – do you think I talk about
Calvinism “a lot” on the blog?

Answer in the comments, and help out this charming and discerning young lady.

Could you tell me where Scripture teaches “fake it till you make it” ?

“fake it ’til you make it”. A phrase easier said than done. But where stands it written? I would say this is not true. Michelle I trust your wisdom and knowledge, but this phrase…not so much. I asked sarcastically where I could find it in Scripture knowing it’s not written. I was hoping to have a response to my previous email, but no reply as yet. God’s word is based on truth not feelings. Trusting feelings when it comes to “fake it ’til you make it” I find is not sound wisdom. Allowing the Holy Spirit to change me is trusting in Him not myself…whether it’s fear or feelings.

These two comments (from the same commenter) were left on my article Fear Not: 9 Biblical Ways to Trade Worry for Trust regarding the phrase “fake it til you make it” in this paragraph:

Those worries may start creeping in, but you don’t have to set the table and turn down the bed for them. Push them right out of your mind, slam the door behind them, and say (out loud is helpful), “No. I’m not going to worry. I’m going to trust the Lord.” You’ll still feel worried at first, but “fake it ’til you make it.” Your feelings will eventually follow.

I’d like to address two issues regarding these comments, first the commenter’s attitude, then the content.

Attitude: First, I did not receive an email from you about this, so I can only assume “email” in your second comment actually refers to your first comment. However, if you had sent me an email, you would have to have obtained my email address here, where I clearly state (in bold type, no less):

I regret I am unable to answer most e-mails
unrelated to speaking engagements…”

So if you had emailed me, you shouldn’t have expected a reply at all, much less on your timetable.

Since you commented, you should have read – in large font directly above the comment box:

“Before commenting please see the ‘Welcome’ tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. Comments are handled manually, so there will be a delay before approved comments are posted.”

So, a) you should have expected some sort of delay, and b) if you had clicked on the Welcome tab as instructed, you would have seen this:

The “Please click here…” hyperlink goes to an article further explaining my email and comments policy and why emails and many comments usually go unanswered. I have bent over backwards to make it clear to my readers that I can’t answer most correspondence and why, even though I really wish I could.

Furthermore, you sent your first comment three weeks ago and your second comment a week later. To give you a little perspective, the first question I answered in this article was sent in almost a year ago. The second one, a month ago. Some people don’t get their questions answered for months. Others never get their questions answered, because I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to get to everyone’s questions. I hate that, but that’s just the way it has to be.

Not realizing your initial question was sarcastic, I had saved it in order to answer it in a Mailbag article, but I’ll be honest, when I got your second comment, my gut level reaction was to just delete both of them. Being impatient, demanding, and snarky when you’re asking someone else to do something for you (i.e. answer your question) is neither becoming of a Christian nor very effective.

But since I had already decided to address the content of your question, I decided to go ahead and do that and also add the part about your attitude as a teaching moment for you and anyone else to whom it might apply.

Content: I thought most people in my audience would be familiar with the phrase “fake it til you make it” (and, indeed, in the four times this article has run on my blog, you’re the only one who has commented objecting to it), but I can see where it might not be the clearest wording in the world, especially for people who aren’t familiar with the common usage of the phrase.

No one who has read the entire article could surmise that I was saying that “God’s word is based on feelings,” or that I was saying people should “[Trust] feelings when it comes to ‘fake it ’til you make it’”. (I’m not really even sure what that means since the theme of that paragraph, that section, and the entire article is that we should not trust or be controlled by our feelings.)

“You’ll still feel worried at first, but ‘fake it ’til you make it.’ Your feelings will eventually follow,” simply means that we should obey Scripture (in this case the Scriptures that tell us to trust God) regardless of how we feel about it and trust God to eventually line our feelings up with His Word. I thought that was clear from the context, but if it was not, I sincerely apologize. I have added a footnote to the article with this explanation in case it’s unclear to any other readers.

UPDATE (9/8/21)

I received what I thought was a very gracious response from this reader. With her permission, I share it here:

Dear Michelle,

“fake it ‘til you make it”…here…

I ask your forgiveness. I had no intention of appearing impatient, nor demanding, nor snarky. Thank you for your very frank response and clarifying your answer to my question.

I am grateful for the knowledge and wisdom God has given you. My question was sincere as were my comments. And again I’m sorry if you took them as you did, as I had no intention to raise your ire in responding. I did indeed read the “welcome”, and again didn’t expect a response from your busy schedule and many emails you receive.

My heart was to speak as one sister to another. I have been told this phrase before. Words have consequences, and quite honestly for me, as I filter words and phrases through God’s Word, I am reminded to speak truth in love, not snarky, or demanding. We can all learn to be effective in our walk with the Lord by not jumping to conclusions that are incorrect, being teachable and gracious.

Blessings on you and your ministry.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.


The Mailbag: My “Christian” Family Member Bears Rotten Fruit

Originally published October 24, 2016


I have a family member, *Fran, who claims to be a Christian, but follows several major false teachers, drinks, habitually lies, is very proud, boastful, and manipulative. She has been shown that these teachers are false but chooses to follow them anyway.

Should I treat her as though she were a sister in Christ by going to her and rebuking her and going through the “disciplinary” steps in hopes of reconciliation? Or should I go about it as if she weren’t a sister in Christ?  I have been praying for her and for wisdom for myself to handle this in a God honoring way.
(*Name changed)

It’s always difficult to watch a loved one choose sin over Christ and false doctrine over sound doctrine. Praying for Fran and for God’s wisdom and guidance are the first and best step.

You’ve asked about “going through the ‘disciplinary’ steps in hopes of reconciliation.” I believe what you’re referring to here is the process described in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

This is the basic outline Christ has given us for disciplining sin in the local church. One thing to notice about that last step is that if the person sinning does not listen to the church, the church is to excommunicate (remove, or disfellowship) him from membership and regard him as someone who is lost and in need of the gospel. This brings us to the question of whether Fran is a member of your church or another church. A church obviously can’t excommunicate someone who isn’t a member of that church. This helps us to see that each local body is responsible for disciplining its own members.

If Fran is a member of your church, then, yes, the steps in the Matthew 18 passage should be applied. The wisest course of action, especially if you’ve never done something like this before, is to seek the counsel of your pastor or an elder as to the best way to approach Fran and handle the meeting. Set aside some one on one time to talk to Fran, and be sure you listen to her as well. Part of that one on one meeting is for you– to make sure you are correctly assessing the situation, not, for example, reacting to a rumor you heard, a misunderstanding of an incident, etc. Lovingly and humbly point her to the Scriptures she has transgressed. Pray with her if she is willing.

After that initial meeting, give her some time to consider what you’ve said and to respond to the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart. Check back in with her at a later date and find out if she has repented. If not, prayerfully gather two or three others Fran likes and respects and repeat the process. If she still doesn’t repent, take those two or three people, meet with your pastor or the appropriate elder, and seek his guidance on the next step to take.

You didn’t specify in your e-mail, but it sounded as though Fran is not a member of your church. In this case, you really don’t have any ecclesiological redress (i.e. excommunication) to back you up. What you have is a family member who appears to be a false convert because she is bearing the fruit of someone who is unsaved rather than the fruit of someone who is saved.

I would again encourage you to meet with your pastor, an elder, or a godly, older, spiritually mature woman at your church for counsel as to the best way to proceed. It might be possible to carry out the first two steps of the process simply as an act of love and concern, considering what steps you would take in your personal relationship with Fran if she refuses to repent. First Corinthians 5:9-13 is a good passage to study as you consider this situation:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

This passage is also written to the church body regarding church discipline, but we can glean from it, as well as from the Matthew 18 passage, that there is to be some noticeable degree of separation between Christians and individuals who call themselves Christians yet unrepentantly persist in sin.

As you mentioned, the whole point of lovingly confronting someone you care for about her sin is to – for the good of her own soul – point her back to Christ so that she may first be reconciled with Him through repentance and forgiveness, and then be reconciled with her church family and others. Two good Scriptures to remember and take to heart when we have no other choice but to approach a sinning sister are:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2

It can be difficult, painful, and embarrassing to hear someone tell you you’re in sin. Put yourself in that sister’s shoes. Treat her as kindly and mercifully as you would want someone to treat you. We never confront another in her sin with the motive of shaming, punishing, seeking revenge, or proving her wrong and ourselves right. That is not the gospel. It is not how Christ treats us when we sin. If she repents when you approach her, forgive and rejoice with her in the good work Christ has done in her heart.

Additional Resources:

What is Excommunication in the Bible? at Got Questions

What does the Bible say about church discipline? at Got Questions

A Church Discipline Primer at 9 Marks

In Order that You May Know at Grace to You

If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Bible Study, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?

Originally published May 15, 2017

Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study? 

Can you recommend a Bible study we can do with our teens/children?

Next to being asked whether or not a particular teacher is doctrinally sound, this question, or some variation of it, is the one I’m most often asked. And, to be honest, it’s a question I have a love-hate relationship with.

I love (LOVELOVELOVELOVE) that women ask me this question because it means two things: they want to study, or teach their children, the Bible and they want to be sure what they’re learning or teaching is doctrinally sound and in line with Scripture. That’s the central reason my ministry even exists- I want Christian women to be grounded in the Bible and sound doctrine, and it brings me unbelievable joy and encouragement when I see women seek that out.

The hate part has nothing to do with the people asking the question, but with the prevailing line of thought in evangelicalism that has led them to ask the question. Namely, that the people in the pew aren’t capable of studying and understanding the Bible for themselves- they need some Christian celebrity to tell them what it means.

This is scarily reminiscent of the pre-Protestant Reformation ideology that ruled Roman Catholic “Christianity.” The pope and the priests, not the Scriptures themselves, told Christians what to believe. Catholic rulers prohibited the people from having copies of the Bible in their own language and martyred many Bible translators and Reformers. Only the elite, those in leadership, were supposedly able to comprehend the Scriptures and dispense doctrine to the common Christian.

Twentieth and twenty-first century evangelicalism hasn’t taken that direct and violent route, but rather, has gradually brainwashed – whether intentionally or unintentionally – Christians into thinking that if they’re going to study or teach the Bible, they have to have a curriculum, book, or DVD study in order to do so. Teach straight from the Bible with no leader’s guide or student books? It’s practically unheard of in the average church, and hardly anyone is equipped to do so. Why? Because for the past several decades, that’s how Bible study has been presented to church members. You walk into Sunday School and you’re handed a quarterly. Somebody wants to teach a women’s Bible study? She’s sent to peruse the shelves of LifeWay for a popular author, not to her prayer closet and her Bible. Using teaching materials written by somebody else is just assumed.

Well in my opinion, it’s time for another reformation. A Bible study reformation. And, so, with hammer in hand, I have one resolution I want to nail to the door of Church As Usual:

I will no longer help perpetuate the stranglehold the pre-packaged Bible study industry has on Christians. If you are a 21st century believer with access to a Bible in your native language and doctrinally sound preaching and teaching I will not recommend a Bible study book or program to you. You need to pick up the actual Bible and begin studying the God-breathed text for yourself, and teach it to your children. 

“…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”¹

Ladies, I know you may feel inadequate, but don’t give in to those feelings. Try. Pick a book of the Bible, start at the beginning, and read it through to the end, taking as much time as you need. You might just be pleasantly surprised at how well you grasp it. That’s because, if you’re a believer, the Holy Spirit resides within you and will help you to understand the Word He authored.

Read directly from the Bible to your children. Ask them simple questions about the passage: How was this Bible character obedient or disobedient to God? What can we learn about what God is like from this chapter? What does this passage teach us about prayer, forgiveness, loving each other, kindness, etc.? Explain any big words they might not understand, or look them up together.

Afraid you might get something wrong? Confused by a particular verse? That may happen from time to time, and that’s OK. Bible study is a skill just like everything else. Nobody ever tried a new task and was perfect at it the very first time. But God has not only given you the Holy Spirit who will never lead you into doctrinal error, He has given you a pastor, elders, teachers, and brothers and sisters in the Lord to help disciple you. Ask questions, trust God to illumine your understanding, and keep right on practicing.

There are also a myriad of reference materials that can hone your skills and help as you study your Bible (see the “Additional Resources” section below). And there are some fantastic, easy to read books on theology by trustworthy authors that can give you greater clarity on various points of doctrine. By all means, read as many as you can get your hands on.

But when it’s time for Bible study, study your Bible. When it’s time to teach your children, teach them the Bible. You can do this, ladies. Women with less education and fewer resources than you have access to have done it for centuries and have flourished in their walk with the Lord.

Trust God. Study hard. You can do this.

Additional Resources:

Bible Study resource articles

Bible Studies by Michelle Lesley

The Mailbag: We Want Bible Study Answers

The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

10 Bookmarkable Biblical Resources for Christian Women

Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

¹Just a little tribute to Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.