Posted by: jamescitty | April 15, 2014

The Rocks Would Cry Out

He answered, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out! ” (Luke 19:40 HCSB)

God is deserving of worship.

A simple 5 word sentence that I think most Christians would agree with, but do our lives really reflect it?

Jesus was triumphantly entering the city and the crowds were calling out to him with praises of Hosanna because of the miracles he had performed, but the same crowds were going to mock him and shout “crucify him” before the week was done. Their shouts of praise angered the Pharisees and fueled the hatred they already had toward Jesus and they attempted to command Jesus to rebuke his disciples. Jesus’ response was short but hit at the key truth of who He is. He rebukes the Pharisees by saying that even if the crowds were silent, that the stones would be forced to cry out and proclaim His glory.

The stones would cry out.

The thought of stones crying out seems a bit absurd, but in a way it is convicting. It makes me wonder, am I living my life in such a way that the the stones will remain silent?

The crowds cried out to praise Jesus and worshipped him for the miracles he had performed. They didn’t see the full picture of what God was doing. By the end of the week these same crowds were going to shout “crucify Him!” because they wanted miracles and were unable to see who Jesus really was. Like the crowds, it can be easy to miss the whole picture of what God is doing and to shout Hosanna leading into Easter and then cease the praise once it passes.

The question remained, do I live my life so that the stones don’t have to cry out?

If I’m honest with myself, then no, there are times when I don’t. I allow something to steal my contentment in Christ or I place too much importance on something temporary rather than things that are eternal.

Ultimately the rocks serve as a reminder. A reminder that God doesn’t simply ask for our praise, He is worthy of it. He is so worthy that creation groans for His redemption. He’s so worthy that even if you or I remained silent then the very stones would be forced to cry out and declare his glory. He is so worthy that I’m when I don’t “feel” like worshipping I have to ask myself “will you do what God created you to do or will the rocks have to cry out?”

Posted by: jamescitty | August 28, 2012

iJudge

Judging people is easy.

Not just easy, it is effortless.

As in you don’t have to do much at all.

All you have to do is get a single fact or tidbit of information about a person and you can easily judge every aspect of their life through that single speck of information as though it were a magnifying glass.

The information you have doesn’t even have to be correct!

It can just be some gossip you over heard or even a lie someone made up.

It is easy.

You and I judge people every day. We judge our friends on the decisions they make. We judge our boss or coworkers based on their title or how they treat us. We judge celebrities we don’t even know based off a website article or the cover of a magazine in the super market. We even judge the person at the stoplight parked beside of us based off of the car they drive.

The point is that it is easy.

Judging others allows you and me to treat people the way we decide that they should be treat. We are allowed to rule our own lives and establish our own standard of righteousness that others must live according to. Judging others lets you and me be in control.

But is that right? Or is it fair? Is it loving?

One group of people that I tend to judge is people who ask me for money. Often times they stand on the corner of the road holding signs that utilize religious language to try and manipulate me into giving them money which I usually assume they will use for their own vices which landed them in this position to begin with.

At least that is what I usually assume.

My judgment keeps me from getting to know them. It keeps me from getting to ask about their story and how they arrived to this point. It keeps me from getting to tell them that God loves them and has not forgotten them as they struggle throughout life. It keeps me from sharing the Gospel with them and ministering to them effectively because it allows me to decide whether or not they are worthy of my kindness and compassion. Judging them keeps me from seeing how the Gospel transforms their story and redeems it for God’s glory. It keeps me trapped by my desire to be the ruler of my life.

My judgments aren’t righteous and they certainly aren’t fair; rather, my judgments are sin in my life that keeps me from knowing God deeper. Our decisions to judge others tell God that He is not good and He is unable to mediate fairly, therefor we must do so for Him. It says that I am the ruler of my own life and am not in need of redemption.

I’m not saying that we do not practice discernment as Believers or that we are just gullible. Jesus even taught that you could discern the intentions of another person according to the fruit in their life (Matthew 7:18-20). Discernment means analyzing the facts to make a decision based off those facts. Judging refers to the self-righteousness of declaring a verdict absent of all the evidence and lacks love and grace.

I had been challenged by this idea for a while. The fact that I’m not called to judge people, just to love them as Jesus did. That as John 3:17 reads:

For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn you and me; rather, He came to save us. I’m not saying that God does not judge sin. In fact, I believe quite the opposite! I believe that He does judge sin. That you and I will stand before Him and He will judge our lives against His statutes and commands. What that means is that I don’t have to. Since He is the only righteous judge and ruler of all, He frees me from judging others. The hope in all of this is that God sent His son Jesus not to judge us, but to save us. That as Christians God has not kept us in the world to judge others; rather, our life goal should be to tell others about Jesus and His power to save. That judging is easy because it is one more way that we can avoid the lordship of Jesus in our lives.

Sunday night my wife and I were heading to a dinner honoring our Sunday school teachers when I stopped to grab something to drink. It was a reminder that little things matter. After paying for my drink I held the door for the woman coming in, not noticing the man behind me. He walked through the door and I paid him little attention. As I got in my car and prepared to pull off I saw him walking towards my car. I rolled down the window and he asked me if I had some change so could put gas in his scooter. He was a middle-aged man, poorly dressed, and his name is Quinton. As I thumbed through the change in the car I realized I had very little I could offer him. It was at that point I remembered I had a $5 bill in my wallet. I took the bill out and gave to him. As I gave him the money, I was able to share the Gospel with him. I got to tell him that God loves Him and that He sent His Son Jesus to die for his sin. I even had an opportunity to invite him to church.

The cynical side of me wants to judge the man and say that he will only use it for alcohol or some other vice. However, the Spirit that now dwells in me realizes that for $5 I was able to share the Gospel with this man. I was able to tell him that God loves him and sent Jesus to die for his sin. That if this man swindled $5 from me it is between him and God and He will mediate the situation justly.

How do we judge other? Where are areas in your life that you need to stop judging others? How could you share the love of Jesus more freely if you allowed God to judge them?

Posted by: jamescitty | August 25, 2012

When Prayer Didn’t Work

There are certain things that happen in ministry that you never forget.

I’ll never forget my first youth group when I was an intern for a church in North Carolina. Taking them on a beach retreat to Caswell and doing a “lock out” where we went cosmic bowling and had “breakfast” at IHOP, then didn’t get home till 4 AM.

I’ll never forget taking another group of students to Belmont College for the FUGE camps and having to “discipline” a group for the first time because they trashed a dorm room and went out on the roof of the building.

I’ll never forget taking a group of students to a youth evangelism conference and my GPS giving me the wrong directions so that we ended up in the middle of a field at 11:30 PM rather than at our hotel. If Brittany Booth reads this, I’m sorry that I laid out at the water park the whole time at Kings Dominion. J

The one thing I truly think I will never forget though is the time I taught a lesson on prayer for a group I was teaching. I won’t give out the names or the exact details of the stories, because I don’t think that it is my right to share their experiences, but I can give the basic story. For anyone who has every done group Bible Study with me, you know that my three rules are: Respect yourself and others, everyone shares something, and everyone reads. The opening question that night was something to the extent of naming a time you prayed for something and it didn’t happen. Everyone named off the typical things like a sick loved one or a possession they wanted; however, one student shared about the time they prayed for their parents not to divorce. But they did. Their family was divided, in what the student described as a bitter divorce, and that was when this student said that he/she realized that prayer didn’t work.

In moments like that, I think all you can really do is pray for God to give you the words to say (or not to say as the case may be and just listen), and so that was what I did. The lesson for that night was essentially thrown out and on the fly, as if just having a conversation and not a structured lesson, we all began to talk about how and why God doesn’t answer our prayers.

Why doesn’t God answer prayer? Why does He seem absent at times when we need Him the most? If He loves us so much, why not reach out to us when we feel our most isolated or as though we cannot go on?

There are many reasons that God doesn’t answer prayer.

One reason is sin. In the book of Joshua, the Israelites lose a battle to the people of Ai. The author is quick to point out that this was not a powerful nation and was considered to be fairly weak; however, the Israelites lost. When Joshua asks God why this happened, God tells him that it was because Achan, one of the Israelites, disobeyed God. Because of his sin and disobedience they were unable to defeat a tiny nation and God did not bless them. Sin serves as a barrier in our relationship with God. When we have unrepentant sin, we adversely affect God’s desire to bless us. Sometimes when God refuses to answer our prayers, it is because we have sin that we haven’t brought before Him.

Another reason God may not answer prayer is that we don’t believe that He can. In Matthew 21, Jesus makes a fig tree wither simply by command. This astonishes the disciples and Jesus tells them, “if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Do we believe in our prayers? It is easy to say yes, but do we really?

Prayer is a direct connection to God, through which we are able to tap directly into His divine authority. That through it we are able to be a part of what God is doing in human history. The power of prayer is ultimately the power of asking. As a child of the living God, you and I are able to approach His throne with the boldness of a child who approaches their parent. It is not an arrogant boldness based of our merit; rather, it is a confidence in the fact that a loving Father’s deepest desire is to bless His children and to see them prosper.

The third reason God may not answer prayer is because we come with a wrong motive. In the book of James, the author writes “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.” Anyone who has ever been in school has prayed the procrastinator’s prayer. It is in some variation this prayer:

Our Father, who art in Heaven

Grant me the wisdom to learn all the material

In the 15 minutes before the test

Help me remember all of the lectures and notes

And do not let there be too many true/false questions

Because they always trip me up

Lead me not into distractions or panic

But deliver me from failure.

For I am a procrastinator forever and ever

Amen

Rarely are those types of prayers ever answered in the affirmative. When we come before God with wrong motives or a wrong heart, we could more effectively spend our time praying to the wall. God does not listen to selfish prayer that is unconcerned with His glory. Does that mean we cannot pray for ourselves? Of course not! There are plenty of examples throughout Scripture where people prayed for themselves. What it does mean though is that we should be more focused on God’s glory and less focused on what makes you and I comfortable.

Despite all the reasons and logic you can muster, the conclusion is…

I don’t know

I don’t know why God does not answer prayer at times. I don’t know why tragedies often seem to befall the most undeserving of people. I don’t know why there is suffering in the world and why an all-loving and all-powerful God does not just stop it.

What I do know is that He grieves with those who grieve. That He does not sit stoically when we endure the hardships of life; rather, His heart breaks for us. Calling it empathy is not sufficient. God does not empathize with our hurts, as though he understands how we feel; rather, our suffering is His suffering. He does not empathize with suffering, He suffers alongside us.

I do not know why that student’s parents got divorced despite their desperate prayers. I don’t know why God heals some who suffer from cancer and yet he does not heal others. And I think that’s ok. I think it is ok that I do not know all of God’s actions and His reasons. What gives me hope, and an encouragement in the face of suffering, is that God does not ignore us or abandon us. God suffers with us and one day He will do away with all suffering and pain for all time.

Posted by: jamescitty | August 21, 2012

Praying like it matters

There are certain things that I look forward to each week. I look forward to going out with my wife on Friday nights. I look forward to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. I look forward to different TV shows I watch weekly. And I look forward to receiving an email from Grace City Church.

This summer a group of Liberty Baptist Theological Students, led by Dave Earley, ventured out to Las Vegas Nevada to plant a church. Why? Their mission statement provides the answer pretty plainly:

Doing very hard things in really tough places so God gets all the glory

 

What is harder than going to Las Vegas and planting a church in the community around UNLV, a campus so resistant to Christian clubs and the Gospel that Campus Crusade has pulled out and the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship only has 30 members out of 29,000 students. They have a great strategy for reaching the campus for Christ, which you can read at http://dearleys.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/jericho-week/ . I’ll give you the short version of the strategy; they are going to spend a week prayer walking part of the campus at UNLV. They believe that nothing of eternal significance will begin on the campus until they win the unseen spiritual battle through prayer.

This week at my parent’s church where I was preaching, Rachel McDaniel gave her testimony about a mission trip she took to Zambia. At the end of her time, she shared the verse Ephesians 3:20 which reads:

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—

All this has made me ponder the question; do we really believe that? Do we believe that God is able to do above and beyond all we could ask or even think? And, if we really believe that God is able to do above and beyond all that we ask, why don’t we pray more or at least pray with an expectation that He can?

If you truly believe that God answers prayer, then you pray. If you really believe that He is able of doing all that you ask, then your prayers should reflect that type of confidence. If we don’t pray, or don’t pray with an expectation of seeing Him move, then we don’t really believe that prayer works.

The truth is that God not only is able to do all that we ask, but He is also willing! That as Proverbs 15:8 says, God delights in the prayers of the righteous. His people bless Him when they pray. God doesn’t view our prayers as a type of inconvenience as though to say, “Oh great it’s him again.” Quite the opposite, because when we pray He delights and is overcome with joy that we are approaching Him with our deepest burdens.

One of my favorite parables that Jesus taught was that of the woman who came to the unjust judge asking for justice in Luke 18:1-8. Jesus’ point in teaching was that if the unjust judge was willing to grant justice to the widow because of her persistence, how much more will our Father in Heaven grant our requests to us if we persistently approach Him because He is loving and just.

So, why don’t we pray like God is willing to grant our requests? Why do we often not realize that God is like any good parent whose desire is to satisfy His children with good things? What big things are you praying for that would be impossible if God did not intercede? Who are you regularly praying for regarding salvation and their relationship with Christ? What is stopping you? What do you really have to lose?

Posted by: jamescitty | August 16, 2012

What could you do with $5?

In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

I frequent Sheetz a lot. I mean a whole lot. To the point where the staff working the register are on a first name basis with me, know my occupation, and other useless facts. Needless to say, I am a regular. I try to make it a point to frequent a lot of the same business and then get to know the cashiers, waitresses and other staff. It usually ends up in an opportunity to share the Gospel or at least build relationships with people.

One thing I started doing about 3 years ago at Sheetz was that about once a week I would purchase the items for the person behind me. What started the whole decision was standing in line at the Sheetz near my home and I had a $5 bill in my wallet. That’s pretty rare for anyone who knows me because I rarely carry cash. As I looked at President Lincoln a thought crossed my mind.

What if you committed to use $5 of each paycheck to bless someone else? What new avenues would become available for you to share the Gospel with someone else? Isn’t being able to bless someone else worth $5?

The guy behind me in line that day was a college student. Considering I was at the Sheetz on Wards Rd., I could only assume that he was a Liberty student.

How was buying a drink for a Liberty student going to help further the Gospel? The majority of students at LU are Christians and I was sure that even if he wasn’t, other people would have opportunities to share the Gospel with him. Why start now? Why not next time?

As I kept trying to talk myself out of it, I kept moving up in line closer to the register. After a few minutes of internal debate, it was my turn at the register. As I put my drink on the counter and began to grasp my crumpled up $5 bill out of my pocket the woman asked me if that was it. I found myself at a fork in the road. Be obedient or don’t.

I think we often find ourselves at a fork in the road as it relates to blessing other people. The choice is either yes I’ll do it, or no I won’t. We can make a lot of excuses for the reason why we will not bless people. Maybe that the cost is too great or we don’t perceive a genuine need, but ultimately it is a question of obedience. We often choose the easier road. The one that requires less of us and doesn’t make us risk leaving our comfort zone. The one that allows us to judge the person on the street begging for money as a drunk or a panhandler. Many times when faced with that fork, I choose to do what is easier and won’t require me to leave my comfort zone.

That day I chose to be obedient. I told the woman no, that I was purchasing the drink for the person behind me. I was almost as surprised as he was. He put his drink on the counter and thanked me for what I was doing. The woman behind the register was now confused. She couldn’t believe that I was purchasing a drink for someone I didn’t even know. I was kind of surprised as well and it opened up an opportunity for me to tell her about Jesus. To tell her about how I wanted to bless someone else by paying for something so small as a 20 oz drink because Jesus paid for me in a greater way. He willingly gave of Himself in a greater way so that I could be forgiven of sin. Though the person behind me in line was a Liberty student and a Christian, the woman at the register was not. She thanked me for what I did and mentioned how it had been encouraging for her to see someone do something nice for someone else. No great conversion story, just a seed that I hope one day will lead her to the God who loves her and paid for Her sin despite the fact she didn’t know Him.

The result of $5 was that I was able to bless 2 people and had the opportunity to share the story of Jesus with someone.

What could God do through you or with you if you would commit to use $5 of each paycheck to bless someone else? Would you really even miss the money? How much more could God use you and I if we were willing to say yes I will rather than no I won’t when an opportunity to bless others arises?

Posted by: jamescitty | August 14, 2012

God Grieved?

Image

I’ve been reading through the book of Genesis the past couple of days for my devotional time and I came to a set of verses that caused me to stop and think.

5 When the LORD saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time, 6 the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

After reading the verses I literally had to stop for a moment and contemplate what it meant that God grieved. That God wasn’t just upset by man’s sin; rather, He was literally heartbroken by the transgressions of His creation. He was so grieved that He actually regretted that He had ever created humanity.

Sometimes, I think we have this perception of our sin as just upsetting God. That He is like a father who is simply disappointed in the decisions that their child has made. As though God is simply shaking His head with dissatisfaction at a disobedient child. He’s not really mad or hurt, just disappointed because He knows we could do better. An impersonal reaction to an event that does not offend; rather, it just falls short of His expectations.

Though our sin does disappoint God that does not truly grasp the reality of sin’s affect on God, man, or the relationship between the two. Sin doesn’t just upset God or disappoint Him; rather, sin literally grieves Him. That when we sin, it breaks the heart of God. The word grieved in this context can literally be translated as meaning that it breaks God’s heart that His creation had turned to wickedness. That it crushed Him to the point that He regretted ever creating man.

But why would God grieve? Why would sin affect Him so powerfully that He would literally be heart-broken over the wickedness of man?

The reason is that God loves humanity. God crafted and shaped man into His own image and likeness. No other organism shares in the uniqueness of God as humanity does. Though God delights in all of His creation, His delight in humanity supersedes the rest of creation. 1 John 3:16 states “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us.” God’s love is so powerful that He sacrifices Himself for His creation. To be hurt or grieved by something, you have to truly care for it. God’s love for humanity causes Him to feel grief and be heartbroken that his creation would turn to something else other than Him.

When we truly understand God’s love for humanity and how our sin affects Him, the motivation to live according to His statutes and character is more apparent. No loving child truly desires to see their parent cry. A spouse does not seek out ways to be unfaithful or hurtful to their partner. In the same manner, as children of God and as the bride of Christ, Christians should seek to love God and live in such a way that He delights in them.

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