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Olympian Lolo Jones shares 3 life-changing words God spoke during ‘biggest failure’ of her career

By Leah MarieAnn Klett, Christian Post Reporter | Friday, August 06, 2021

Lolo Jones 2008 Beijing Loss
Lolo Jones of the U.S. reacts after coming in seventh in the women’s 100-meter hurdles final at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in the National Stadium Aug. 19, 2008. | Reuters/Gary Hershorn

Three-time Olympian Lolo Jones vividly remembers what she calls the “biggest failure” of her career. 

Jones, America’s favorite hurdler, was competing in the 100-meter hurdle finals in ’08 in Beijing. Just seconds away from winning the gold medal she was favored to win, Jones clipped the second to last hurdle, dropping to seventh place. As millions watched, the athlete fell to the ground in a puddle of tears. 

But in that devastating moment, Jones heard God whisper three simple words: “But you’re here.”

Those three words, she told The Christian Post, were life-changing. 

“At that moment, God reminded me, ‘This will try to break you, but you’re still here, you’re still standing,’” she recalled. “That completely shifted my perspective. Losing an Olympic gold medal is the worst thing that could happen to an Olympic athlete, but those words gave me an instant change in my attitude to one of gratitude. Even in the storm, even in the battles, God reminds me of His faithfulness and provision.”

Refusing to give up, Jones would go on to qualify for two more Olympic competitions, running the 100-meter hurdles in 2012, and competing on the U.S. bobsled team in 2014. In February, she won gold at the bobsled World Championships. 

She’s also one of just 10 Americans in the history of the Olympics to compete in both the Summer Games and Winter Games. Today, the Louisiana resident is training for a spot on the U.S. Bobsledding team for Beijing Games in 2022. 

But win or lose, the 39-year-old athlete said she’s learned — sometimes the hard way — that her identity doesn’t lie in her accomplishments, but in being a child of God.

“I have to think, ‘OK, what happens if I end my career and I’m never an Olympic medalist? Am I going to be bitter at God because of that, or am I just going to praise Him and thank Him for the opportunities and blessings I’ve had along the way?”

“That mentality,” she added, “applies to life, because what if your dreams in life don’t work out? What if you don’t get the things you’ve prayed about? You can choose gratitude or you can choose to be bitter and angry. Regardless of whether I win or lose, God is going to receive praise from my mouth, no matter if I get the desires of my heart or if I don’t.”

In her new book, Over It: How to Face Life’s Hurdles with Grit, Hustle, and Grace, Jones shares how God’s faithfulness — and choosing gratitude and perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenges — have been running themes in her life. 

Born to an African American father and Caucasian mother, Jones grew up surrounded by alcoholism, dysfunction and abuse. 

At a young age, the Iowa native and her siblings learned to shoplift just to eat. At night, she often slept on the basement floor of the Salvation Army (“We basically lived there,” she recalled). Jones’ father later went to prison for domestic abuse, forcing her mother to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. 

Lolo Jones
Thomas Nelson

“There were some really harsh moments,” Jones said. “My dad was in prison for multiple crimes.”

But Jones reflects on her childhood with candor, optimism and even humor — something she’s able to do, she said, because of her faith. 

“My faith allows me to forgive,” she said. “I can reflect on my relationship with my dad and harbor anger and resentment. But then, I’d still be broken. After everything happened, not only did I forgive my dad and my mom, but there were layers of healing throughout my family. They completely changed.”

“Now, I can look back on the amazing moments I had with my dad, and I can remember him as a kind, gentle person. After he came out of prison, he was a changed man. He never put his hands on my mother again. He was a man of faith and even took me to church.”

Jones believes her father’s story is evidence that God can change anyone’s heart: “It reflects the power of a relationship with Christ,” she said. “It’s not just my forgiveness; it’s our understanding that God forgives us too.”

In many ways, the athlete said, it was her upbringing that gave her the determination and grit needed to earn an economics degree at LSU and eventually establish herself as a world-class Olympian. Today, she empowers others facing socio-economic hardships through her foundation

In her book, Jones openly shares the setbacks she’s experienced, from spinal surgery in 2012 to the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the 2020 games, ending her chances for an Olympic medal in hurdling.

“I lost a lot of things during the pandemic,” she said. “My whole schedule shut down just like everyone else. I didn’t see another human for over a month, and I was struggling with loneliness. My mental health was suffering quite a bit, and I was struggling to keep positive.”

The “Dancing With the Stars” alum credits prayer, journaling, Scripture reading (“I love the Psalms,” she said), and books by Christian authors like Robert Shuler and Francine Rivers with helping her when she finds herself in a rut. She encouraged others struggling with their mental health to reach out to others, stressing the importance of having a “strong team around you.”

“Even the strongest Olympians have shown that they’ve needed help on mental health,” she said. “Showing that you need help isn’t a weakness. It’s actually a strength to actually say, ‘Hey, this is too much for me. I’m struggling with it.”

As long as she’s able, Jones said she’ll continue to fight for her dreams and use her platform to share her faith. She challenged other young believers to stand firm on the Gospel in an increasingly hostile culture. 

“It can be exhausting because cancel culture says that even speaking up for your faith is ‘hate speech,’” she said. “How can Christianity and sharing God’s love be deemed as hate? God is the author of love. I feel for the younger generation because it is so countercultural to talk about your faith today.”

“God’s the ultimate defender,” she reminded. “Pray that He will give you the words to share at the right time. There have been so many moments where God has placed people in my life when they were desperately hurting and just needed some encouragement. If you let Him, God will give you the words.”

Whatever the future holds, Jones said she’s confident in God’s faithfulness — and hopes to use her story to encourage others to overcome obstacles with strength, resilience and joy. 

“I hope that my book gives hope to someone who has lost it, someone who feels exhausted and drained, someone who feels like they’ve done everything in their power to achieve their dreams and they just keep falling flat on their face,” she said. “I want to give a boost of energy to someone out there who is hurting to just try again and to have hope, regardless of what they’re facing.”


by Discerning Dad

“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8

I hate peer pressure… I mean I really do. Does anyone like it? We’ve all faced it but it seemed incredibly strong for me in grade school.

Peer pressure is like waves in an ocean trying to move you off course. A boat has to make constant adjustments in order to stay on course. Waves and wind will constantly try to disrupt the navigation flow of the vessel.

So it is with peer pressure, we have our convictions, but we become convinced by a stronger voice in our life to settle or to do something that we would not have chosen on our own. I’m only talking about negative peer pressure here; there can be positive peer pressure too.

Comparison kills contentment and it weakens our conviction. I have been a Christian all my life and in grade school and high school, there was a constant barrage of voices trying to get me to question my faith, to try a drug, watch a mature movie, be in a relationship that wasn’t good for me, and the list goes on.

Even something as relatively innocent as clothing can cause others to size you up based on the latest trends or name brands. I remember around 5th grade, I was completely happy with my socks and shoes. I had no clue about fashion or name brands that is until this one kid in particular made it known to me how much I was lacking in this department.

Every day this kid would berate me and call out, “generic socks and generic shoes.” I don’t even remember what I would wear but it wasn’t good enough for the social criticism in the late 1980’s. This kid was nonstop with the generic comments every single day. I finally pressured my Mom into buying me Nikes, but not just Nike shoes, but Nike socks which visibly had the black swoop on the top of the sock in order to be seen by all. No one would again say that I had “generic sock and shoes.” I had won.

I was perfectly contented with my situation before this peer pressure occurred. I was oblivious to the need to put on a show for others in order to not be ridiculed. Sometimes it’s just easier to give in to quiet the noise around us, to lower our convictions for a moment’s peace. How often have we compromised our walk with Christ for the easy, the popular, the pleasurable, or whatever THING that is demanding of our time and attention?

Peer pressure isn’t as in my face as it was in grade school, but then again my phone is literally in my face every day. I see on social media a non-stop list of what I “need.” what others have, what I don’t have, how others are so happy, how well behaved their kids are, how many vacations my friends are taking, what God is doing in other ministries, and the list goes on. Social media is more subtle form of peer pressure but it may be just as strong, if not stronger, of an influence in our life than a physical person.

Discernment will allow us to ask, “what is God asking of me?” I can’t worry about what anyone else is doing or what God is calling them to do. God measure success based on faithfulness not based on achievements. I am longing for the day that Jesus says, “well done good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).

People often will want the results without the work it takes to get there. You see that successful Pastor with a vibrant ministry? You don’t see the two failed churches, the multitude of sleepless nights in prayer, or the constant stress he faces by those that have a critical spirit about them. Actually the stress, the failure, the pain, and prayer have gotten him to this point, he had to learn to fail in order to succeed. He had to learn the lesson of when he did not rely on God so that he would never go down that path again. He had to learn the importance of prayer when he couldn’t do it on his own so that he would be able lift up those around him in a powerful covering so that Satan never gains a foothold in his ministry.

But you see him and you want to be him without any of those steps or God’s calling on your life to do that…

It’s like someone that idolizes a celebrity and wants to be them while never seeing the depression they face, the loss of true friendships, never feeling like they are valued apart from their talent, or the desire they have just to “be normal” again.

What is God calling you to do? Where is God calling you to go? If you can’t answer that, you need to pray. God is always looking for a willing vessel who can say, like Isaiah, “here I am God, send me!”

Read 1 Kings 13, seriously stop and read the chapter before you continue…but if you didn’t I’ll do my best to summarize.

Jeroboam was a wicked king (there seemed to be no shortage of them when you read the Old Testament). God called a prophet out of Judah to go to Bethel (Jewish historian Josephus called him Yadon and I will too for the purpose of this story).

God called Yadon for a purpose, to travel to another city and to boldly rebuke the King, facing a probable death for doing so. When he got there not only did he miraculously prophecy about King Josiah (which wouldn’t happen for about three centuries later) but he also destroyed the pagan altar through an earthquake (13:5)! When the King pointed at him to have his guards seize him, instantly his hand became paralyzed and he couldn’t pull it back (v4).

Now the evil King Jeroboam asked the man of God (Yadon) to pray for his hand to be restored and it was. The King then tempted the prophet to come and eat, drink, and stay in his palace, but Yadon was strong in his conviction since the Lord told him, “you must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came” (v.9).

This was a powerful confrontation that Yadon had; almost as powerful as Elijah calling down fire on the prophets of Baal. I don’t know the mindset of Yadon but I would have breathed a sigh of relief, not only was I not killed by the wicked King, but God showed up in miraculous signs and the King actually wanted to treat me to a royal dinner. I can imagine he was pretty famished; the long journey with no food and water now was the time to relax… or was it? Yadon resisted the pressure and remained true to what God was asking him to do.

But that was not the end of this story. The rest of this story is about an “old prophet” who is unnamed who sends his sons to find Yadon. Once he was found, the old prophet rode out to meet Yadon. He asked “are you the man of God who came from Judah” (v.14)? No doubt word of his confrontation with the King spread like wildfire through the town. He invites him back to his house to get some food and drink, but again Yadon replies about how God told him not to eat or drink anything until he returns to his hometown. The same answer he gave the King.

Now this part is fascinating…

“But the old prophet answered, ‘I am a prophet, too, just as you are. And an angel gave me this command from the Lord: ‘Bring him home with you so he can have something to eat and drink. (v18)’” The next verse even says the old man was lying, but the peer pressure, the fatigue, and/or the camaraderie of another prophet got to Yadon and he went back with the old man to eat and drink.

Now think about this for a minute, God called Yadon out of his hometown to go to Bethel to deliver a mighty message to the king. Why didn’t he call this old man? He was a prophet, conveniently located in the same town as the king… We know this old man had no problem lying and God knew his heart as well.

So back to the story, the old man and Yadon were eating a meal back at the house and the Spirit of God speaks through the old man, aka the liar! “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have defiled the word of the Lord and have disobeyed the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back to this place and ate and drank where he told you not to eat or drink. Because of this, your body will not be buried in the grave of your ancestors” (v21-22).

I feel bad for Yadon, after this meal he saddled his donkey and rode off to an awaiting lion that killed him (v.24). A mighty victory for God turned into a crushing defeat because he did not obey the word of God; he listened to a false prophet who got him to sway off course. He fell into peer pressure from a fellow prophet. A prophet who said he heard from God nonetheless!

I find it interesting that God still spoke through the old prophet at the dinner table, you see, God can use anyone and anything for His glory, but that doesn’t mean the prophet was trustworthy or following the will of God.

God can speak through anyone, but that doesn’t mean you need to go to their church, to read their books, or follow them if they are not fully obedient to the Word of God. There’s a lot of truth out there being mixed with deception. God can reach people even among prosperity preachers and twisted denominations.

We need to have discernment to align all things against the Word of God and hold fast to what is true.

But on a personal level, if God is calling you to do something, don’t be swayed by what another preacher, teacher, pastor, or priest tells you. God wants you to hear his voice so clearly you don’t need a second opinion.

I’m not saying that we can’t ask for wisdom from others, but I’m saying if God tells you something; don’t listen to someone who hasn’t heard from God for your life, who has a conflicting message.

There are other examples in the Bible of this same thing. Micaiah faced off against 400 other prophets in 1 Kings 22. I love this story and I write about it in detail in my book on the chapter about counterfeits. All the prophets were ‘yes men’ and prophesied success for the King while Michaiah prophesied defeat. One of the prophets came and slapped him saying, “Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you” (v.24)? What Michaiah prophesied came true despite 400 voices claiming to hear from God.

Another example is Hezekiah and the siege on Jerusalem from King Sennacherib of Assyria (Isaiah 36). An envoy of Assyria came to taunt Israel and said a number of insults outside the city including, “Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it” (v.10). Obviously a blatant lie.

Satan can be disguised as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). We have to be very careful when even someone in ministry tells us a word from God that does not align with truth. I do believe God gives people words of knowledge today, but I also believe that Satan can plan deception in people’s minds that allow them to say something that is just a little off and get you to question what God said. Just like with Eve in the Garden, “did God really say?”

God would rather you be faithful to what He is calling you to do, than to chase after dreams and aspirations that don’t align with that calling. After all, are you building your kingdom or God’s?

Maybe being faithful to the job you dislike means that you can bring life into that environment and others can see Jesus through you.

Maybe being faithful to your family despite the frustrations means that your kids will be the first generation to know of the goodness and love of Christ without having to survive an abusive parent.

Maybe being faithful to your spouse despite your feelings means that you need to subject your feelings to the will of God and not your own; your faithfulness will be a witness to other couples with the same struggle.

Maybe enduring the pain and heartache that comes with fostering children means that the children you are pouring your heart and soul into will be able to know about Jesus simply because you are being faithful to that call despite all the garbage that sometimes comes with the foster care system.

This all comes back to discernment. Seek God for yourself; stand fast on the path He is calling you to take. Don’t be swayed by the lies of the enemy, even if it comes to you under the guise of a “friend” or someone that supposedly hears from God.

Be bold, be courageous, God can use you to accomplish His will on this earth if we are faithful and obedience for the glory of God and God alone. Amen!

Tim Ferrara
Discerning Dad

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Choosing To Forgive

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which bind them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:13-14 NIV

Most Christians will agree that forgiveness is the right thing to do, after all there are over 100 verses in the Bible that talk about forgives or forgiving others. And yet, forgiving other people can be extremely hard to do. It seems to come easily for children, I know that my children will quickly forgive each other and move on about their day. They never bring up infractions from a week, month, or year ago! Why does this get harder to do as people move into adulthood? As you become adults, the wrongs levied against you become more severe, we build up walls over time, and we can analyze a scenario to judge if someone is deserving of our forgiveness.

A recent Barna study (1) among practicing Christians said that:

76% offered unconditional forgiveness to someone else

55% received unconditional forgiveness

27% identify someone they don’t want to forgive

23% identify someone who they can’t forgive

22% struggle to receive forgiveness for something

We can learn a lot about forgiveness in the Bible. Let’s take a look at the story of Jacob and Esau.

Jacob had God’s favor but he was not a good brother to Esau in the least. He took advantage of Esau when he was weak and traded him some stew for a birthright (although Esau was not very smart to have agreed). Jacob also betrayed his brother by stealing the blessing from his father by dressing up like his brother, with his mother’s help nonetheless! This was a double betrayal for Esau from his brother and mother.

Jacob brought about division against him and his brother and he had to flee for fear of repercussion. The interesting thing is that the brothers meet up again, many years later in Genesis 37. Jacob is justifiably scared of this encounter. He does not know if Esau will attack him and steal everything. Jacob separates out his wives and children into groups so that if one group is attacked, the other can flee safely. Jacob also prepares a generous gift for Esau when he arrives.

Surprisingly to Jacob, Esau embraces his brother and even rejects the gifts that Jacob brings saying, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.” (Gen. 37:9) The brothers are reunited despite the past. God blesses both of them as they grow in livestock and wealth that they eventually have to split up because the land cannot support both groups.

Esau made a decision to forgive his brother. Jacob did not ask for forgiveness before it was offered. Esau had every “right” to stay bitter and even steal from Jacob his possessions. Esau chose the high ground.

Esau was betrayed by his own flesh and blood, how often does family betray their own? This hurt can be harder than others to recover from. If a stranger hurts me, it may make me sad but I can move on. When family hurts you, it sometimes makes the relationship irreparable and can cause devastating psychological damage.

The same can be said for our church family. Too often I hear and have experienced fellow Christians who hurt and betray their own, either through difference of beliefs or petty arguments. This can result in unforgiveness and someone choosing to not go to church or not let another Christian brother or sister close to them again in case of a future hurt. If an effort to control your surroundings, you end up taking extreme measures that hurt you in different ways such as the lack of fellowship and community. We are meant for relationship with fellow believers and to meet together regularly (Heb. 10:25).

Forgiveness does not forget the past. It does allow you to keep the past from controlling your future.

Forgiveness does not excuse or condone previous actions and it does not mean you have to sign up to get hurt again.

Forgiveness should be given even when it is not asked for. The person you forgive does not even need to be present in cases of death or abuse. You can still forgive them before your Heavenly Father.

Forgiveness is more an act of release for YOU than the other person. We hold on to unforgiveness because it gives us power, but it also destroys us in the process and steals our joy. They say power corrupts, I would say that unforgiveness corrupts our spirit.

There’s an old saying that says, “Harboring unforgiveness or bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

But we only forgive those who deserve it right? After all there are some actions that are reprehensible, that cannot be forgiven even if I wanted to? I don’t want to judge but I also can’t forgive because of what this person did to me…

If anyone “deserved” to hold on to unforgiveness it would have been Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom. She tells of an amazing story of one of her captors after the war, coming to a camp where she was preaching about Jesus. She chose forgiveness there on the spot when he told her who he was and what he had done.

Corrie ten Boom then told of not being able to forget this incident. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so couldn’t sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest.

“His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor,” Corrie wrote, “to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.” “Up in the church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness.

When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.” “And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force — which was my willingness in the matter — had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.”(2)

What unforgiveness in your life do you need to let go of today, like letting go of a helium balloon? Let unforgiveness float away from your life and allow the Holy Spirit to heal broken wounds like only He can.

Discerning Reflection: What areas of my life do I have unforgiveness? Do I forgive as quickly as Jesus commands? Who do I need to pray about forgiving today that God is placing upon my heart?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your immense gift of forgiveness that you gave us through your Son’s sacrifice on the cross. Help me to not hold on to unforgiveness which can lead to bitterness. Reveal to me today who you would like me to forgive, even if they are not asking for forgiveness.

Tim Ferrara
Discerning Dad

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Some Trust in Numbers

How Counting Can Ruin a Ministry

Article by Scott Hubbard

Editor, Jan 14, 2012

Today, more than ever before, we live in a world obsessed with numbers. Modern technology has made life more measurable, more quantifiable, more countable. And many of us just can’t stop counting.

How many followers do I have? How many people came to church last Sunday? How many figures are in my bank account? How many points did I get on that test? How many likes or comments did my post receive? How many articles have I written, books have I published, talks have I given? And how many compared to . . . ?

“The issue is whether we count from a place of security in our God, or in order to find some security apart from him.”

In my worst moments, I look to numbers for far more than helpful objective measurements. I look to them for identity and meaning. I use them to fortify the walls of my insecurity, and assure me that I am somebody. I ask them to give me a future and a hope.

So it can be a startling experience to recall the story of a king whose counting nearly destroyed him. His story is a warning to all of us — and perhaps ministry leaders especially — who feel tempted to give numbers a louder voice than the Lord our God’s.

David’s Tragic Census

To modern ears, King David’s order to Joab, the commander of his army, sounds harmless: “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number” (1 Chronicles 21:2). We’re familiar with censuses; in America, we do one every ten years. So the results of this census are surprising, to say the least: David is humbled to the dust, the angel of the Lord sweeps through Judah with a sword, and seventy thousand men of Israel fall (1 Chronicles 21:14–16).

The story becomes even more striking when we realize that, in the book of Chronicles, this census takes the place of David’s adultery and murder. The author of Chronicles doesn’t mention that sordid episode. Instead, when we come to the part of the story where we would expect to find Bathsheba and Uriah, we find the census. In the chronicler’s mind, David’s counting is a sin to rival his adultery and murder.

But why? What was wrong with David’s command to take a census? The answer to that question exposes not only David’s heart, but many of ours as well. Consider, then, three lies hidden in David’s urge to count.

‘Strength is in numbers.’

Unlike modern censuses, the purpose of David’s was not to gather general population figures, but to size up Israel’s military strength. It was not illegal to take a census per se; the law of Moses even offers instructions for how to conduct one (Exodus 30:11–16). So David’s sin likely lay not in his method, but in his motive.

Joab’s response to David hints at the cancer in the king’s request: “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! . . . Why should my lord require this?” (1 Chronicles 21:3). The word require, also translated as seekappears several times in the chapters preceding the census, most strikingly in 1 Chronicles 16:10–11, where David sings,

Glory in [God’s] holy name;
     let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
     seek his presence continually!

But when David commanded the census, Joab heard a different song: “Seek soldiers and their strength; seek their power continually!” Somewhere along the way, it seems, David started counting his army instead of counting on God’s faithfulness; he started numbering his forces instead of numbering God’s promises. He sought his deepest strength, security, and rest of soul in earthly probabilities instead of the fact that God was for him.

Our situation is quite different from David’s, of course. None of us faces the onslaught of enemy armies. But some of us have lain awake at night, with some insecurity gnawing the soul, confronted again with a choice: Will I seek my strength in God alone, or will I lean on an arm of flesh (2 Chronicles 32:8)? And often, the most tempting arm of flesh is the one that can be measured.

The issue, in the end, is not whether we count. In a world like ours, we must count sometimes, and David was not necessarily wrong to do so himself. Rather, the issue is whether we count from a place of security in our God, or in order to find some security apart from him.

‘The promises aren’t enough.’

Before someone stops seeking God’s strength, however, something deeper has gone wrong: he has stopped trusting God’s promise. God had pledged to David, “I will subdue all your enemies” (1 Chronicles 17:10). David’s census said, in effect, “No, you won’t. But I will.”

Our flesh wants nothing to do with trusting God. We will look for something, anything, to rest our weight upon apart from the bare promise. Give us numbers, give us data, give us probabilities — whatever will keep us from stepping out on God’s word alone. What feels better to the flesh, after all: venturing forth with an army that you know can conquer your enemy, or marching only in the strength of God’s “I will”?

Strangely enough, the temptation to distrust God’s promises may grow with our success. David, for example, took his census not from a place of weakness, but from one of tremendous strength — not when he was surrounded by foreign armies, but when he had all but vanquished them (see 1 Chronicles 18–20). In other words, the more God delivered on his promise to subdue David’s enemies, the more David was tempted to dismiss the promise.

Such unbelief might seem incredible if it weren’t so common among us. Imagine a church planter, launching into a neighborhood with ten people at his side. He devotes himself to his ministry with faithfulness as he clings to the promises of God. In time, his labors bear fruit: ten becomes thirty, thirty becomes sixty, sixty becomes one hundred. And slowly, even imperceptibly, he becomes less desperate. The numbers, themselves the fruit of God’s promises, slowly displace God’s promises. He gives more of his attention — and his confidence — to strategies, models, and ministry tips. He still acknowledges his dependence on God, of course, but in all the ways that matter, he rests not on promises, but on pragmatism.

Certainly not all counting betrays unbelief in God’s promises. But we may do well to ask ourselves, “Does my ministry proclaim, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5)? Or does it more readily say, ‘Apart from the right strategy you can do nothing’?”

‘I am lord, not steward.’

When God instructs Moses about how to take a census, he tells him, “Each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them” (Exodus 30:12). Every numbered soldier was to offer a half-shekel ransom for his life, declaring in effect that he was not his own, but belonged wholly to the Lord his God.

But David’s command to number Israel contains no mention of the ransom, nor even of God. At the center of David’s order, in fact, is David himself: “Go, number Israel . . . that I may know their number” (1 Chronicles 21:2). If a census was supposed to say, “Israel belongs to God,” David’s census said, “Israel belongs to me.” Though only a steward of God’s kingdom, he counts as if he were Israel’s preeminent lord.

“The Lord of the universe does not need large numbers to defeat large armies.”

Counting can easily become an exercise in identity formation — as if the fruits from our labors say more about our skills than God’s grace. We have taken the talents the Lord has given, multiplied them by his power, and then reckoned the whole as our doing. And as a result, the numbers that ought to deepen our humility and thankfulness instead transform us into little Nebuchadnezzars: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power?” (Daniel 4:30).

When we consider the fruit in our ministries, do we add it up with the pride of a lord? Or do we count with holy reverence, knowing we are numbering God’s children, God’s talents, God’s harvest, over which he has appointed us as stewards?

Faithfulness Beyond Counting

Later in the story of Chronicles, the prophet Hanani says to King Asa, one of David’s sons,

Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:8–9)

The Lord of the universe does not need large numbers to defeat large armies. He knows how to form a galaxy of stars from the offspring of one man (Genesis 15:5). He is able to grow a mustard seed into the largest of all trees (Matthew 13:31–32). He can even take one fallen grain of wheat, and from him bear the fruit of salvation in all the world (John 12:24).

The eyes of this God run through the earth to find those whose hearts are blameless — not those who are perfect, but those who are desperate. Those who know that their strength, their hope, and their identity are hidden not in anything they can count, but rather in the Christ whose faithfulness is beyond counting.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis.

Cultivating a Gratitude Mindset

Ken Boa

There’s a perfunctory, almost embarrassed prayer of thanks many of us offer up around Thanksgiving time because we’re not accustomed to gratitude as a habit. It’s foreign to our daily routine. We’ve become too much like the nine lepers who — unlike the lone, grateful Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus for healing him — take God’s blessings as our due; we’ve succumbed to an entitlement mindset. (Read the full story in Luke 17:11-21.)

Thanksgiving is what we really should be doing every day, all year long. Why don’t we?

Do Not Forget!

Moses described the lifestyle and mindset of gratitude God desired for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8:11-14. He then reminded them that the Lord had cared for them in the desert place, providing for and protecting them (Deuteronomy 8:15-16a). All of this He did to humble them, with their good in mind (Deuteronomy 8:16). Then Moses warned them what would happen if they did forget God:

Otherwise, you may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17)

If the Israelites forgot God, then rather than seeing God as the giver of everything, they would become either proud and presumptuous (if things appeared to be going well), or bitter and resentful (if things started going badly). Both of these attitudes — presumption and bitterness — are a result of ingratitude, which ultimately stems from forgetting God. 

How do we guard against ingratitude? We do so by remembering God for:

  1. His deliverance in the past, 
  2. His benefits in the present, and
  3. His promises for the future.

If we forget God in any one of these areas, ingratitude will slip in, leading to missed blessings and missed opportunities for growth. 

His Deliverance in the Past

The prophet Hosea relayed God’s perspective on Israel’s forgetfulness (see Hosea 13:4-6). He then detailed the terrible consequences of forgetting and ingratitude.

After coming through a period of drought and arriving at a point of satisfaction in our lives, it’s easy for us to become like the Israelites: taking our eyes off of God and letting a subtle sense of pride seep in. We begin to suppose we achieved our own success, through our own abilities. This is foolish! Not one of us sat around in a primordial cafeteria selecting the attributes we would have. 

God has the power to raise us up in a day and the power to bring us down in a day (see the stories of Joseph and King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible); He has the power to give and the power to take away. Anything we possess, and any skill we have, is derivative (1 Corinthians 4:7) of the hand of the living God.

His Benefits in the Present

A gratitude mindset entails thanking God not only for His past provision but also for His blessings in the present. These benefits include His creation as well as personal blessings (material, relational, and spiritual).

Most of us default to a deficiency mindset — focusing on what we do not have — rather than a sufficiency mindset — focusing on what we do have. I don’t advocate a shallow philosophy of positive thinking, but I do know God is serious about 1 Thessalonians 5:18: we’re to acknowledge Him and give Him thanks in all things. We can even give Him thanks in and for difficult circumstances, recognizing our pain is never wasted and is often needful for our growth and development (sometimes called “the hard thanksgiving”).

His Promises for the Future

Finally, we’re to remember and thank God for His abundant promises for the future. One of these promises is that what He has planned for us is far beyond what we can imagine or think of on our own (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Corinthians 2:9). God has a better vision of our lives (both here on earth and beyond this life) than we do. And right now, His desire is to lavish the riches of His grace in acts of kindness toward us (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Practice It!

Gratitude, at root, is not a feeling. If we leave it to spontaneous experiences, the feelings will diminish. But if we see gratitude as a series of choices, the difference is huge.

Cultivating a gratitude mindset requires an intentional, daily effort to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness to us in the past, present, and future. I’ve developed exercises to help you get started. I invite you to practice one of these two samples for a week or longer, and see how they affect your life and relationships.

Copyright © 2018 Ken Boa, used with permission.

An Open Letter to Pastors and Christians …Stand or Fall


July 3, 2018


A paraphrase that is often attributed to Alexis De Tocqueville—a Frenchman who authored Democracy in America in the early 1800s, helps to open this letter: “I looked throughout America to find where her greatness originated. I looked for it in her harbors and on her shorelines, in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and in her gold mines and vast world commerce, but it was not there.”

“It was not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her success. America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Over the last few decades, Americans have seen the destruction of the institution of marriage between a man and a woman, the removal of God’s Word in several areas, and the blatant murdering of millions of babies. This is an indictment against America and the pulpit is partially responsible – our silence speaks volumes.

The pulpit regulates the spiritual condition of God’s people which affects the nation. A lukewarm, sex-saturated culture (and church) simply reflects the lack of conviction in the pulpit as well as the pew.

Sadly, many pastors are exchanging truth for passivity, boldness for cowardliness, and conviction for comfort…they are not aflame with righteousness. We aim to be motivational speakers rather than preachers of righteousness.

Pastors (and Christian leaders alike) must take responsibility for the spiritual health of today’s church, and the nation. We don’t need more marketing plans, demographic studies, or giving campaigns; we need men filled with the Spirit of God.

Pastors, we are not just cheerleaders, we are game changers. We are called to stir and to convict so that change takes place. Granted, there are many wonderful pastors and churches—I appreciate their ministry, but, as a whole, the church has drifted off course. They have lost the compass of truth. Here are four ways to re-set the compass.

1. Return to the prayer closet. Without prayer, “the church becomes a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled; worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching encourage sin, not holiness…preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer, the preacher creates death, and not life” (E.M. Bounds).

When God brings change, prayer has been the catalyst. Martin Luther prayed and the church was reformed. John Knox prayed and Scotland was revived. John Wesley prayed and America was restored. George Whitefield prayed and nations were changed. D.L. Moody prayed and America fell to her knees. Amy Carmichael prayed and India received the gospel. And so it goes…when you pray, you move the hand of God.

The dry, dead lethargic condition of the church simply reflects an impotent prayer life. While 5-minute devotionals and prayers are good, they aren’t going to cut it in these dire times. We need powerful times of prayer, devotion, and worship. “Without the heartbeat of prayer, the body of Christ will resemble a corpse. The church is dying on her feet because she is not living on her knees” (Al Whittinghill).

Sermons should not come from pop-psychology and the latest fad; they must come from the prayer closet where God prepares the messenger before we prepare the message. It takes broken men to break men. Unplug the tv, turn off Facebook, and get back into the Word of God, prayer, and worship.

2. Return to a separated life. If a pastor fills his mind with the world all week and expects the Spirit of God to speak boldly through him from the pulpit, he will be gravely mistaken. “The sermon cannot rise in its life-giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the preacher” (E.M. Bounds). Who he is all week is who he will be when he steps to the pulpit.

3. Worship must be a priority. A pastor who does not worship is not prepared to preach. Many sing “about” God but they have never truly experienced Him—head knowledge without heart knowledge. Styles of worship range from the old, beloved hymns to contemporary. All worship should be God-centered, Christ exalted, and doctrinally sound.

Worship allows us to shift our focus and praise toward God. Whether you prefer hymnals and organs or contemporary bands, is really not the issue. The issue is: are you truly worshipping God in “spirit and in truth”? He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is not a cosmic force, universal love, or a doting grandfather; He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. We must worship Him. He created, redeemed, and saved us. As one of the countless hymns declares so well, “O’ The Blood: washes me; shed for me…what a sacrifice that saved my life, yes the blood, it is my victory!”

4. Preach the difficult truths – they set people free. The church cannot neglect, water-down, or avoid preaching sin, repentance, or the fear of the Lord in the hope of not offending or securing an audience. Difficult truths often offend, and rightly so, sin put Christ on the cross. The goal of preaching is faithfulness to God, not crowd appeal. The church, as a whole, may have forgotten the fear of the Lord, but it doesn’t follow that we should.

Let it not be said of us today: And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord because pastors failed to be preachers of righteousness. The burden of responsibility rests squarely upon our shoulders. It’s our choice—stand, or fall!

But there is hope: “Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you…” (Zechariah 1:3). That’s a life changing promise – return to Him and He will return to you.


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