Let’s Get Real. Is the Good News Good Enough for Us?


I’ve repented and been forgiven, but I still feel a wave of shame when I remember how I treated my parents on my 7th birthday.

My parents were broke. Dad was a musician who played every gig he could in the evenings and went door-to-door asking for work during the day. Mom waited tables and did as many odd jobs as she could to keep food on the table. Still, money was so tight that weekends were full of prayer…prayer that the check mom wrote for groceries on Friday would be backed by real money on Monday when the bank paid attention to it.

Somehow, for my 7th birthday, my parents scraped together enough extra money to buy a beautiful, brand-new Schwinn bike—fully equipped with colorful banana seat and handle-bar streamers. They were so excited to give me that gift. The cost was worth it to them.

The day finally came for me to open the gift, and now that I’m a parent, it’s not hard to imagine the anticipation my parents must have felt awaiting the ecstatic tears of joy they knew would surely flow.

And flow they did. For a couple of minutes.

I was genuinely thrilled when I saw that bike. I had never owned a two-wheeler, and it was gorgeous. I didn’t know how to ride it which was a concern, but dad guaranteed he’d have me riding like a champ no problem. After that agreement was made and I thanked my parents, my eyes immediately began to search the room for the rest of my gifts. After all, who gets only one gift for her birthday?

But I didn’t see anything.  And then I asked my shamefully selfish question:

Is this all I get?

I can still see the look of pain in my parents’ eyes as their hearts were crushed. All those blisters on my dad’s hands from raking extra leaves…I didn’t see those. All the late-night closing shifts my mom had worked despite her migraine headaches and back pain…not a concern of mine.

The gift wasn’t enough.

Thankfully my parents did exactly what they should have done. They took that bike back to the store and left me with nothing. Ironically, only one week later I taught myself how to ride a neighbor’s two-wheeler and ached to have my beautiful bike back. Eventually, I did…after I raked enough leaves to pay for it myself.

It would have been so much better if I’d just been thankful for the sacrificial gift purchased just for me. But we all know the cliché…hind sight is 20/20.


Is this all I get, God?

Fast-forward 40 or so years and increase the stakes…a lot. The gift is not a bike, it’s the Cross of Christ. A sacrificial gift with a cost so high I can’t describe it.  Given to me...and you…freely.

The benefit is far greater than having a sporty mode of transportation. The benefit is that a broken and dirty 21 year-old me who had sabotaged every meaningful relationship in my life…who found myself clothed in head-to-toe shame crying alone in the dark for days wondering why I should keep living…was miraculously scooped up by Love indescribable, given a safe place in which to confess my many sins, repent, and be forgiven…and given a reason to live. A Person to live for…who wasn’t disgusted or ashamed to love me.

Jesus took off my cloak of shame and replaced it with His own sparkling white robe of righteousness. It was as if He said, Cover yourself with this.  You’re safe hidden under here…forever.

For me, it was a Damascus Road experience of sorts. My life was transformed big time. I lost all desire to work in a bar, to smoke, to drink, even to cuss (which had been my second language). All this happened before I ever set foot in a church. It was Jesus and me. It was me undone by the gift He died on the Cross in my place to offer: cleansing, forgiveness, purpose, and eternal life.  The penal, substitutionary atonement of Jesus had saved me.

I experienced the power of the Gospel—the Gospel Paul and the Apostles preached.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2

That was the Good News. Jesus was the hoped-for Messiah, come to save God’s people once and for all…come to reconcile God’s children to Himself as the final and sufficient payment for all sins.

The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was the Good News. Period.

And many were added to the church when this message was preached. And many went to their deaths defending that message.

Would I? Would you?

Is the Good News good enough for us?

Will it be good enough for us if:

  • we never feel God again?

  • loved ones we’ve anguished over in prayer never get healed this side of heaven?

  • we discover that Bible teachers (several of them) we’ve respected and trusted for years are abusers?

  • we discover doctrines we’ve held dear and thought everyone else believed (such as age of the earth or end times or women in ministry or supernatural gifts or you name it…) are highly contested issues amongst reputable, Jesus-loving scholars?   

  • the doors (even ministry doors) we felt sure would open all stay tightly closed?

  • daily life is mundane and confusing and hard?  

  • Christians we thought truly cared about us wound and abandon us?

Will we remain faithful to Jesus even if the only New Testament promises we can count on are tribulation and persecution?

Is the Cross + persecution + eternal life enough?

Or will we be easy pickins for the deceiver?

Will we give up on Jesus because He’s not doing things the way we would if we were in charge? Or because we don’t like some of His words or ways?

You don’t have to search any farther than Facebook or Twitter to see attacks on everything Christians have held sacred from the reliability of the Bible to the legitimacy of the local church.  And who can miss all the reports of abusive pastors and leaders? They come regularly now. It can all be so disheartening. It can lead to massive doubt and disillusionment.

Will we doubt toward God or away from Him? Will we do everything in our power to find God true and faithful in our search for answers? Will we hold sound doctrine close, or will we throw our Bibles in the trash the moment a few intellectual and kind skeptics send contradictory claims our way? In which direction will we throw our full weight?

I honestly think our answer has a lot to do with how good the Good News is to us…with what the Cross means to us personally.

Transparently…sometimes the only thing keeping me from throwing in the towel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the one series of historical events that makes sense out of my crazy life and this messed up world. It’s what gives me hope and worth and meaning.

I won’t let go without a massive fight. The stakes are far too high. I pray daily that I will never let go. I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.


I want nothing more than to be counted among the few who find the narrow way (Mathew 7:13). I know first-hand what the broad way offers. I’ll bet you do, too. Nothing but purposeless, empty life followed by meaningless death followed by nothing.

And even though our Heavenly Father does bless us with far more than we’ll ever know…I believe we must have the kind of faith that can survive a severe drought and weather all kinds of storms. Even the ones that seem endless.  

So…is the Good News good enough for me? Is it good enough for you? It’s a question we cannot avoid.

Let us pray for one another, and let our cry be…

Yes, Lord. It is more than enough. And please help us stay faithful to that answer no matter the cost.

Three Simple Ways to Be More Discerning in Church

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I don’t want to fall for false teachings.

I don’t want to be led astray regarding what the Bible teaches, and I don’t want my children deceived either. I’ll bet you feel the same.

But I’m not a professional theologian, nor do I have time to become an expert on every doctrinal dilemma, and that’s okay. The good news is…we don’t need to be scholars to be aware. While regular studying is a biblical requirement, we already have what we need to be discerning church-goers who can spot iffy teachings.

Truth is, biblical discernment has far more to do with using basic critical thinking skills than experiencing a bad feeling about something. If we will choose to love Jesus with our minds while at church, we can take great strides toward filtering out good teaching from the not-so-good (and potentially dangerous).

Here are three simple ways we can be more discerning at church:

1. Turn off the scary music.

First let me say I’m not talking about your church organist here. I’m talking about the scary music that so skillfully builds terror in the hearts of folks who watch horror films. While I am definitely not promoting watching scary movies, I do remember watching a few in my younger years and occasionally thinking about how stupid the scenes would be without the music. Without that creepy Gregorian chant in the background, Freddie slinking out of the hall closet seems completely random rather than nightmarish.

So, how does Nightmare on Elm Street help us have more discernment in church? It helps us see how powerful emotions can be and encourages us to practice tuning out the emotionally charged aspects of a worship service in order to think critically—so we can be discerning.  

I am not saying that God doesn’t involve our emotions in worship, or that all emotional aspects of a worship service are bad. I love having my heart gripped as much as the next person. But I am saying we need to practice tuning them out so we can take thoughts captive as we are told to do in 2 Corinthians 10:5. Thoughts are not emotions or feelings. They are claims. Claims about truth and reality. In order to give them the attention they deserve, we need to be able to isolate the content without all the hype. That’s what taking a thought captive means.

Please know I’m not suggesting we strive to attain a monotone faith experience with all the zeal of Charlie Brown’s teacher. But I do believe that if we become more aware of how things like the volume of a preacher’s voice or the build of the music or the tears flowing all around us have the potential to cloud our judgment, then we will give them the proper amount of influence. We will begin to pay more attention to what is being said rather than being swept away by the how.

Unfortunately, there are far too many ways to manipulate a crowd than I can discuss here, but one great way to “turn off the scary music” is to read sermon notes after listening to a sermon to see if anything is off or needs further clarification.  Be in the habit of asking yourself, “If he or she was saying this in a straight voice with no dramatics, how would I respond?”

2. Look for Skyscrapers

Skyscrapers are built story upon story, and while chances are slim that you’ll find a tall building in the middle of your sanctuary any time soon, you might be exposed to some skyscraper sermons here and there. You’ll know them by their…stories.

Stories are accounts of events, and they can be very inspiring. I personally like it when a preacher uses a good story or two to illustrate the biblical truth being taught, which, of course should be the main goal. A skyscraper sermon is the opposite of this, however. What you’ll hear is story upon story accompanied by a random Bible verse or two used to make the stories seem more legitimate. In this type of sermon, the Bible plays the supporting role.

One of the most important reasons we gather together at church is to study the Scriptures corporately and learn what they teach and how to apply them to our lives today. In order to do that, we must actually be dealing with…the Scriptures. We must be focused on the biblical text…looking to it as our sole authority as Christ followers.

I believe there are times when a topical treatment of the Bible is appropriate. This is when the pastor chooses to teach a biblical concept such as the character of God, or how believers should handle trials. But if we are not getting any expository teaching, there’s a problem. Expository teaching is basically tackling an entire book of the Bible verse-by-verse. This is where the pastor will actually teach the congregation how to read the book soundly. This is where we see what God wants us to know rather than what a person wants us to know with an added endorsement from a random Bible verse.

Skyscraper sermons are what I call “off the page,” meaning, the contents are not found in the Bible. They are found in the speaker’s experiences (which can sound spiritual…but are not the Bible). This is not always a sure sign of false teaching, but we must be aware—we must be discerning. Begin to listen carefully and ask yourself, “Approximately what percent of this sermon or talk is stories or personal anecdotes, and what percent is actually teaching me the contents of the Bible—not just one verse of the Bible, but a good chunk?”  I know of popular speakers who repeatedly present 90% stories in their talks, and the Bible verses they throw in are often taken entirely out of context. This can be dangerous when we aren’t discerning. Skyscraper sermons should not be given weight in our lives without diligent corroboration from the Scriptures.


3. Remember 7th Grade English Class

If you are like me, remembering 7th grade English class isn’t something I do for fun. In fact, the first thing I recall is the cool guy who sat in the row next to me quite boldly (and loudly) drawing attention to how hairy my legs were. But if you’ll push past the mortifying memories, I hope you’ll remember the lessons you learned about literary genres, literary techniques, plot diagrams, and figurative language because these concepts will help us be more discerning in church.

I’ll be honest, I was a Christian for years before I learned that there are sound and unsound ways to interpret the Bible. I thought we all interpreted the Bible same way…every part of it.  What I’ve discovered is the study of something called hermeneutics, which is really what we learned in 7th grade English class. It’s how to interpret writings correctly.

Historical Christianity teaches that the Bible is God’s inspired Word—that He superintended human lives in such a way as to have exactly what He wanted written down, and that the final product is true and authoritative.  This is a much larger topic than I want to address here, but what I do want to point out is that we become vulnerable to false teaching when we don’t know anything about this process and don’t understand the Bible isn’t simply a mystical menu of life verses to pick and choose from as we like, but is a collection of writings from antiquity. The collection contains poetry, histories, letters, and more. Each of these genres requires using appropriate interpretive skills.  

I won’t lie, you could get lost in books forever studying hermeneutics at a scholarly level, but we really don’t need all of that to have a healthy dose of discernment. Simply being aware of a book’s genre will help so much. For example (and this was a tough one to digest for me at first), when reading the book of Proverbs, it is important to know that we are reading…proverbs. These are short, pithy sayings for life that promote general truths for good living…like the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” We know statements like these aren’t so set in stone that we would put our life savings on the line. If I eat an apple every day and one morning find myself needing a visit to the minute clinic, I’m not going to plummet into despair wondering if my entire life has been a lie. The same should be true for us when we interpret verses out of Proverbs. They are not promises.  They are wisdom sayings God intended for teaching life principles. The original audiences knew this…and keeping it in mind will save us from following a teacher who is using a proverb the wrong way to instruct us.

When we learned how to read poetry back in middle school, we learned about idioms, similes, metaphors, and hyperbolic language. We learned how different a poem is from an encyclopedia entry even though they can both express truth. We learned how important context is and the importance of knowing your audience. All these things come into play when reading and interpreting scripture. A great book to read for more of these simple but very important interpretive factors is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.

If the teaching pastors at your church aren’t explaining interpretive elements on a regular basis (which can be taught in a variety of ways and doesn’t have to feel like a classroom lecture), I suggest you be very cautious. A pastor who teaches sound interpretive methods is more likely to be using them in sermon prep, which is a very good thing.