Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Prosperity gospel, Friendship, Christian colleges, Calvary Chapel, Non-denoms, “Unspoken”)

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.


What is the prosperity gospel? Thanks!

It’s a theological framework that sounds Christian-ish, but it’s really not. There are a lot of unbiblical tenets of the prosperity gospel (more formally called Word of Faith heresy, less formally called “name it and claim it / blab it and grab it”) but the two you’re most likely to be familiar with are:

  • “It’s never God’s will for you to be sick, poor, or unsuccessful. If you are, that’s your fault for not having enough faith. If you just have enough faith, God is obligated to give you whatever you ask him for.”
  • From televangelists: “‘Sow a seed’ (i.e. “send me money”) into my ministry and God will bless you. The more you send, the more material stuff God will bless you with.”

Most “churches” and evangelical celebrities that espouse the prosperity gospel these days are also into New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) heresy. The easiest way to explain the NAR is that it takes the prosperity gospel and adds on weird (and unbiblical) “signs and wonders” such as faith healing, supernatural visions, “trips to heaven,” false prophecy and so on. Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer are examples of prosperity gospel heretics who are not also NAR. Bethel “Church” and Todd White are examples of combined prosperity gospel and NAR heresy.

Here are some resources you may find helpful:

What does the Bible say about the prosperity gospel? at Got Questions

God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel by Costi Hinn

The Mailbag: What is the New Apostolic Reformation?


I have a question regarding friendship. I have a friend/co-worker who is unrepentantly continuing a sinful behavior. I have tried to lovingly several times to point her back to Jesus as she is Christian. Her behavior happens to be quite triggering for me and my husband isn’t a particular fan of her as well. My question is, am I wrong for not wanting to continue the friendship? And if not, how do I do this in a loving, Christ-like way since we work together?

Wow, usually when you confront someone in her sin, the question of whether or not to remain friends takes care of itself, because the confront-ee isn’t too fond of the confront-or any longer. You must have found a wonderfully loving and gentle way to talk to her – great job!

The first thing we would need to clear up is what you mean by “friend”. To me, a friend is someone you choose to spend time with socially because you enjoy that person’s company. You have lunch together, go to the movies together, visit each others’ homes, etc. That’s not the same as being friendly with people you have no choice about being around. You’re probably friendly with your next door neighbor, your co-workers, and the people at your church, but you don’t make any effort to spend time socially with most of those people outside of those particular venues. (For more clarity, you might enjoy reading my article How Can We Be Friends? in which I discuss different levels of friendship.)

There’s nothing in the Bible that says you have to be friends with any specific person. In fact, the Bible speaks more about not developing or maintaining close relationships with people who are ungodly influences. (Here are just a few that came to mind.) But the Bible does instruct us to be kind and loving to those we come in contact with. In other words – going back to the difference between being friends and being friendly – you do not have to be friends with this person, but you do have to be friendly (kind and loving) toward her when you run into her at work.

If you are friends, which of you normally initiates your get-togethers? If it’s you, or if it’s about 50-50, you can gradually back off of inviting her to spend time time together, get busier with other plans (actual plans – don’t lie), and so on, and the friendship may dissolve organically.

If it’s her, or if you just want to be more direct, you can sit her down and kindly and gently explain that, while you enjoy your friendly working relationship with her, you won’t be able to spend time with her outside of work any more. Then explain the biblical reason why (spending time with her tempts you to sin, your husband doesn’t approve of the friendship and you need to respect his wishes, 1 Corinthians 5:11‘s admonition not to associate with professing Christians who persist in sin, etc.). If she’s actually a Christian, she ought to understand, and hopefully, losing a friend will provide her with additional incentive to repent.


My daughter will be heading to college next year. Do you have any Christian college recommendations? She visited one today and the Baptist church on campus that they use for their chapel has a woman pastor. The school also has a LGBT group for alumni, students and faculty. So sad. She is spiritually tired from high school and looking for an uplifting school that values both education and true spiritually.

I wish I had better news for you, but I think you’re going to find problems like that, as well as false doctrine being taught and promoted inside and outside the classroom, at the majority of Christian colleges you consider.

The only Christian college I’m familiar with that I would be comfortable recommending is The Master’s University (TMU is separate from The Master’s Seminary. TMU is a regular Christian college that admits both men and women. TMS is solely focused on preparing men for the pastorate and does not admit women.)

Readers, you’re welcome to make other recommendations in the comments. I would just urge anyone considering those recommendations to carefully vet any college that is mentioned.


I really want to know what is wrong with Calvary Chapel doctrines?

I think the only place on the blog I’ve mentioned anything about Calvary Chapel is on my Reader Recommended Churches resource. And on that page, the only thing I’ve mentioned is that I don’t accept recommendations for Calvary Chapel churches (among others) for doctrinal reasons.

There are two doctrinal reasons I’ve chosen not to add Calvary Chapel churches to the list:

  1. The Calvary Chapel statement of faith clearly states that its churches believe and practice continuationism, and I don’t list continuationist churches. While I don’t believe otherwise doctrinally sound continuationist churches and Christians are heretics or false teachers, I also don’t believe this view is a correct handling of Scripture. Additionally, in my experience, continuationist churches are far more likely to fall into other doctrinal error and yoke with false teachers than cessationist churches are (not that cessationism guarantees a perfect church).
  2. Several years ago, there was a split in the Calvary Chapel denomination. I don’t remember all the details, I just recall that the churches on one side of the disagreement went in a doctrinally unsound direction, and the churches on the other side maintained biblical fidelity, but both sides kept the name Calvary Chapel. Since I vet every church that’s submitted for inclusion on the list, it would be extraordinarily difficult and time consuming to try to find out which side of the split a particular Calvary Chapel church ended up on.

Is a non-denominational church any good?

There are good non-denominational churches and bad non-denominational churches just like there are good denominational churches and bad denominational churches. It really depends on the individual church and their practices and teachings.

It’s important to carefully vet any churches you’re considering joining on an individual basis. Need a little help? Check out the “What to look for in a church” section of the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.


Are unspoken prayer requests supported biblically? I Googled it and many sites said no. Even though I need prayers from my Sunday school class I always pass because I don’t want to say why and I don’t know if unspoken prayer requests are biblical.

For any readers who are new to Christian-ese, an unspoken prayer request is when a Christian is asking others to pray for her, but doesn’t want to disclose the details due to sensitive information, embarrassment, privacy, etc., so she just says, “I have an unspoken prayer request,” or “Unspoken.”

While I really can’t think of anything in Scripture that prohibits or even discourages this, I would personally encourage anyone asking for prayer to at least give the people she’s asking some sort of direction. You don’t have to (and in many cases, shouldn’t) give private details, but you could say something like: I can’t give all the details, but please pray for me about: a problem I’m having at work, or a situation with a friend, or a difficult decision I have to make, or a sin I’m struggling against, or I have a challenging week coming up.


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.

Prayer

Throwback Thursday ~ “Can We Talk?”

Originally published, February 9, 2012

“Thanks for meeting with me, today, Dad,” said the tow-headed six year old as he strode across the study, arm extended for a firm handshake.

Smiling, the father grasped the child’s hand, assuming a hug would follow. When none did, he stood, somewhat dismayed, as his son took the chair opposite the imposing mahogany desk and motioned for him to take his accustomed place behind it.

Oh. This was going to be one of those conversations.

“I only have about five minutes,” said the boy, briskly, as he clicked open the latches on his caramel brown leather brief case and withdrew two copies of a neatly typed agenda, “so let’s get down to business.”

“First, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’d like you to get me that big shiny motorcycle I’ve been wanting. And would you please hurry up about it? I’ve been asking for that bike for a long time, and I don’t understand why you haven’t given it to me yet.”

Again with the motorcycle? Doesn’t this kid get that he’s six? There’s no way he could handle a bike that large and powerful, and I love him too much to see his guts splattered all over the pavement. Yeah, that’s gonna be a big, fat “no.”

“Next,” the boy hurried on, “I’m kinda in a jam. You see, there’s this big spelling test tomorrow, and I haven’t had time to study for it. Could you sit by me in class tomorrow and give me all the answers?”

Haven’t had time? Yesterday he played video games for two hours, and the day before that I heard him throwing a tennis ball up against the side of the house all afternoon!

“And finally, Sparky seems to be limping around lately. Could you take a look at his paw and fix it up with some of that special cream?”

Well…sure. You know I’m always glad to help, but…

“Thanks for everything, Dad,” the boy chirped as he hopped off his chair and headed for the door, “I’ve got to run. See you later!”

Bye…Son.

 

I can just see that Dad standing there, forlorn, missing his son. The son who lives under the same roof with him. The son he watches play ball, play with his friends, and achieve the great feats of six year olds. The son who never really talks to him.

The father longs to have an intimate, “Daddy’s home!” relationship with his child. To have his son run up, give him a hug, and jump in his lap to tell Dad all about his day. He wants to share his child’s joys and sorrows. He wants to hear his heart.

And if the child really thought about it—or even knew such a relationship could exist—he’d want the same thing.

We can have that kind of joyous relationship with our Heavenly Father. It really is possible.

But how?

Well, think about how you relate to the person you love the most in the world. Because you love that person, you want to spend time with him. You’re relaxed around each other. You enjoy being together. You share everything—your deepest secrets, your regrets, your hopes for the future, your concerns for others, your frustrations, your joys, your sorrows, even the mundane, day to day happenings of life.

You’ve probably never read a book, taken a class, or attended a lecture on how to talk to that special someone. And you’ve probably never made a list of conversation topics for your next get-together with him. This is a friendship, not a business meeting.

Now think about how our connection to God is illustrated in Scripture. He’s called our Father (Matthew 6:9); Jesus is our brother (Matthew 12:50) and our friend (John 15:14); the church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7). These are the most intimate relationships we know, and they’re used to describe a bond of love and friendship with God.

So, why do we have so much trouble talking to Him? Why is it that, so often, what’s supposed to be a heartfelt conversation with God feels like a one-sided recitation of a laundry list of prayer requests?

In some ways, we’ve done it to ourselves. There are thousands of books, Bible studies, and other materials on how to pray. Preachers preach on it. Teachers teach on it. There are acronyms you can follow, lists you can make, prayer calendars, even apps and on-line prayer organizers. None of these things are inherently bad, in fact, some are excellent—I’ve used and recommended some of them, myself.

But, I think that, sometimes, when faced with all of these resources and methodologies, one of two things can happen. First, you can become paralyzed by all the choices, not know which one to choose, and give up on prayer because you think it’s too complicated. Or, you might try to use too many prayer resources and become overwhelmed because they don’t work for you or you can’t keep up with all of them. Second, you can fall into the trap of thinking you have to use some sort of prayer resource or methodology. You can become enslaved to the structure, and that stands between you and intimacy with God like a brick wall.

May I make a suggestion here?

Throw out the lists. Put away the prayer calendar. Turn off the app.

Just talk to your Father. Talk to Him like He’s the person you love most in the world. Pour out what’s on your heart to Him.

If you’re not sure how to do that or what to say or whether you might be doing it wrong, tell Him about that, and ask Him to help you. It’s OK to ask God to show you how to talk to Him. The disciples did, and Jesus gladly obliged (Luke 11:1-13).

Don’t become paralyzed by the number of prayer requests you think you have to keep up with, either. I know that some churches have prayer lists a mile long, plus prayer calendars for missionaries, and you have friends and relatives asking you to pray for certain things. Sometimes, our prayer time can feel like we’re the office flunky armed with a long list of orders being sent out to pick up lunch for everybody. “Get those orders right! Don’t forget anything!” But prayer is not about completing a checklist of everyone else’s concerns. It’s about you and God, and it should be governed by God, not ruled by a list.

Wait a minute. This is starting to sound selfish. Aren’t we supposed to pray for others? Well, yes…and, no. What we’re supposed to do is to submit ourselves and our prayer time to God’s word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

That sounds great, but what does it mean in practical terms?

  • Study God’s word before you pray. As you do, He’ll begin leading you to the things He wants you to pray about.
  • Ask God what to pray about. Often, I’ll open a prayer meeting by praying that God will lead our prayer time and that He will put all the things on our hearts that He wants us to pray about.
  • Resist the list. Trust God to lead you to the things He wants you to pray about, and let your conversation with Him flow freely from your heart. Don’t worry about forgetting something on your prayer list.
  • Prayer time isn’t self-contained. Usually, my praying for others is done throughout the day rather than during my set prayer time. When someone asks me to pray for something, I’ll stop right then and do it. There are certain missionaries and other Christian ministries that I pray for when I receive an e-mail or Facebook update from them. Most of the time, unless God lays something on my heart during my personal prayer time, I only pray for requests on the church prayer list during the prayer meeting in which I receive them.

Relax. Just talk to Him.

“…the prayer of the upright is His delight.” Proverbs 15:8