Kindness

Don’t use foul or abusive language.  Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.                 (Proverbs 31:26 NLT)

Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. (Proverbs 16:24 NLT)

Kindness is something you hear about all around…social media, personal stories, even in tragic events.  Most of us assume we’re kind.  Question is…are we?

I had light bulb moment recently that made me ponder that question.   It was a great moment of clarity, which was unusual since most of the time clarity comes from the rear-view mirror, not through the windshield.

I’ve hosted a Christmas Ladies brunch for over 10 years, and it’s always a fun and festive occasion.   I have so many amazing ladies from all facets of my life, and it always strikes me how little time we get to see each other throughout the year.  Some ladies I only see on Social Media.  Although we laugh that another year has gone by and we haven’t seen each other in person except at this event, I sometimes find it a little frustrating.

The attendance has grown over the years, and many of the ladies don’t know each other.  I remembered a time, many years ago when my handsome husband and I were married, how my dad stood up at our reception and introduced special guests who had traveled great distances to be there.  He thought that since there were so many fascinating people from various chapters of our family’s history, it would be entertaining to hear personal stories of the people who gathered.  And it was!  I realized then…everyone has a story.

So, at my party, I follow my dad’s example and started introducing the ladies as part of the gift exchange.  Each lady would take their turn choosing or stealing a gift, and I would say a few words and share stories about them as they did.  I shared what popped in my head at that moment.  Many of the women over the years have told me how much they appreciated what I said, and what I remembered about them. I love sharing those things because to me, everyone is special.

This year, with over 50 ladies still in attendance at the end of the gift exchange, a woman suddenly stood next to me.  She pulled her shoulders back, stood up straight and said, “it’s my turn next!” and looked at me like she had great expectation about what I was going to say about her. I was taken aback.  It struck me in that moment that we don’t say enough nice things about the people around us, nor do we hear many kind words spoken about us.  I know as wives, business owners, moms, daughters, sisters, employees, friends, employers, grandmothers and granddaughters that we often have kind thoughts about the people around us.  We marvel at a friend’s accomplishments, appreciate how well she overcame what seemed like overwhelming odds, admire how she carries herself, or even recognize something small that was overlooked, but still extraordinary.   Oftentimes, we don’t take the extra step and say,

“Great job”

“Well done”

“Congratulations”

“Hang in there, you got this”

“You did it”

“You’re amazing”

“You look great”

“That’s a great idea”

 

I greatly admire this quality in our Pastor Jude.  He’s a great example of taking that extra step.  He’s always encouraging to someone when presented with the opportunity and has a kind word ready on the tip of his tongue, like it was meant just for you.  It seems to come to him naturally and I’m so blessed by it.

As summer kicks off, I want to challenge you to take the extra step like Pastor Jude, like my dad, and like we do at special events. When the opportunity arises, and the thought strikes you, give the gift of kind words to those around you.  Your words may just make someone put their shoulders back and stand up a little straighter.

GL_0021Lisa Schoeffler is a 3rd generation Real Estate Professional and owns a renowned, successful local business with her husband, Gary.  They have one son, Rex (15) who is a freshman in high school.  Prior, she spent more than a decade in high-tech marketing in the Bay Area, after earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Management and a minor in Economics.  She spent most of her childhood in Southern California and Washington DC,  before relocating to the Bay Area and eventually settling in Ventura County.  She is known for her contagious entrepreneurial spirit as well as her talent for entertaining, as her love language is food!  To her friends, she is known as the one they can count on, as she always strives to be there for anyone in need.

Breathing but not Living

“Is this really it?” I thought to God as I flopped onto my bed at the end of the day. I sat and pondered my past week. It seemed as though every week was the same thing: routine. Frustrated, I pondered on the fact that I wasn’t really getting anywhere in life. I wasn’t pursuing any specific dreams or passions. I asked God again, “Is this really what life is supposed to look like? Wake up, go to school, go to work, go to sleep, repeat?” Little did I know what God had planned for me in just a few short months.

I was stuck in a puddle of black tar called “religion” for 18 years, and I didn’t even realize it. I never felt specifically called or chosen for anything. I barely knew who I was because I was always trying to please people and be who they wanted me to be. In a matter of one month, the direction of my life completely shifted. I was planning to take the safe route and go to a university for two years to get my bachelor’s degree. An opportunity opened to move to Ventura, California for nine months at California Coast Bible College. Let me tell you, there was no possible way the latter option was able to work out without God Himself maneuvering the situation. At the last minute (literally a few days before I had to move), God finally confirmed everything in my favor to go.

My experience here at the City Church in the California Coast Bible College has been beyond words, I have never felt more alive in my life than I do now. First of all, never in my wildest dreams did I think that a small beach town like Ventura would be the perfect place for me to grow. Living in the sunshine, ten minutes from the beach, surrounded by the most uplifting community I have ever encountered, God has met my every need in this season. He has been revealing my greatest talents, treasures, colors and passions, and it has been the most exciting and nerve-wracking thing to see Him paving my future in ways I couldn’t have imagined. As I’ve encountered real life in a real relationship with Jesus Christ, he has taken and is taking me from glory to glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ASV says, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” Imagine if I never got real with God by asking Him what life is supposed to look like. I would have never known what it was like to feel alive and walk in my fullest potential.

Maybe you’re asking the same question. I believe God’s answer for you today is found in a real, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Join me in this prayer:

Jesus, I believe that you died and rose again so that I could experience real and abundant life. Please help me follow you in the opportunities that you give me so that I can live this incredible life with you.

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Jessie Ryapolov is a student at California Coast Bible College in Ventura, California who moved from Battle Ground, Washington. She is passionate about music and leading worship at the Agoura Campus of the City Church as well as working with the City Christian School kids during practicum. In her free time, Jessie loves to write music, surf, hang out at the beach and explore coffee shops.

Remembering His Faithfulness

A friend told me recently that I needed to remind myself of how faithful God has been in my life. And honestly, I laughed. My pride said inside, “I know how faithful God is.” Let’s be real, you‘ve been in this situation before, too. But in that moment, I didn’t see the difference in knowing how faithful God is and seeing his faithfulness in my life. And so I went on a journey. And let me tell you, it was a journey, because I had no idea where any of these journals were – hey siri, remind me to clean my room later today.

Once found, my three journals and I sat at a coffee shop for almost three hours reading about the trials I had faced. On those pages, I was reminded of a girl who was lost and broken and alone. A girl who, not so long ago, thought that God had abandoned her, thought that she was worthless, and thought that it was better to be alone than make new friends and risk getting stabbed in the back like she had been many times before. And little did I know, a girl who was all too relatable to the girl reading those pages that day. I sat reflecting on what God had brought me through, and I honestly started to get frustrated at myself and didn’t believe that He would do it again.

First of all, that’s a lie from the enemy. He will lie to you and try to distract you from the truth, so be on guard. But second of all, I was comforted in that moment by God, through the coffee shop owner might I add, that not all seasons are going to be the same length of time. Think about groundhog day year to year: some years he doesn’t see his shadow and we get to welcome spring in a few short weeks and other years he does see his shadow and we’re stuck in winter for longer than we hoped. (Groundhog day is totally folklore, but metaphorically still applicable to your life).

Don’t let the length of time of the season distract you from God’s faithfulness. You won’t be stuck in winter forever. Spring ALWAYS comes because Jesus died and rose again and promised us new, full, abundant life once and for all. If this season seems unbearably long, look back at what God has brought you through already and remind yourself that if He has done it countless times before, He can absolutely do it again.

“Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.”(Psalm 89:2)

 

image1Mattea graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, CT with a degree in International Studies and a degree in Music. She currently works and travels with Life Without Limbs and administrating events nationwide. She has been actively involved at The City Church since the beginning and serves at the Agoura Campus leading Worship and overseeing the social media team.

HIS strength

“You are strong, but you don’t have to be.” I will never forget those words spoken over me at a Thursday night prayer. God was speaking directly to my heart. He was addressing years of physical and verbal abuse from my father, who made me feel as though his love was something I had to earn.

That perspective transferred over to my relationship with God. I knew that Jesus died for me but I didn’t think He could really love me, want to help me, or be my friend because I hadn’t earned it yet. So, for years, I tried to do better and be better out of my own strength and will power. But when I heard those words – “You are strong, but you don’t have to be” – I realized that God didn’t want me to try harder. He wanted me to depend on Him.

Ephesians 2:9-10 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

We cannot become better or more righteous by trying harder. It is only by looking at Jesus, believing in His grace, and fully receiving his gift that we become NEW people through the transforming power of Christ!

Dearest Reader, I believe that God says this to you too – “You are strong, but you don’t have to be.” Stop trying to do things on your own. Invite God into the process. He can and He wants to transform you. Romans 10 in the Message translation says it best – “You’re not ‘doing’ anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation.”

Prayer: God, thank You for your grace. I am done trying to do it all on my own. I fully surrender and depend on You to transform my life. I am a new person because of Your gift, not my behavior. Please help me hear from the Holy Spirit and hunger for the truth of Your word. Thank You that your strength is made perfect in my weaknesses.

DR 2018Rachel Flores moved to Ventura from Seattle, Washington in 2015 and now works as the City Kids Director at The City Church Agoura campus. She is passionate about mentoring young women (join her college or high school City Group!), outreach and missions, and volunteers as the Missions Coordinator for California Coast Bible College. On her days off, you’ll find Rachel at brunch with friends or exploring Malibu.

 

Beauty for Ashes in Thousand Oaks

If there is one thing that will always make me cry, it’s when God shows his love in a specific way toward me. When I was planning my wedding, I fell in love with a song that perfectly captured this truth. I would listen to it on repeat and no matter how many times I heard it, it still moved me to tears. I decided to have my cousin sing it at our wedding. It opens with the phrase, “Its beauty for ashes now…”

That song, taken from Isaiah 61, illustrates the promise that God gives us a crown of beauty in exchange for our ashes. I have clung to this promise many times. When I’m in the thick of it, it’s always difficult to see how something beautiful can come out of the trial. However, the best part of having a “go-to” verse is the reminder of the last time I drew on that verse. This enables me to reflect on how God fulfilled that promise every time before.

As I sit here today, I am again holding onto Isaiah 61. In the past week, my community has been rattled; first by a mass shooting that took place down the road from our home. Then, just over 24 hours later, by a mass evacuation due to threatening wildfires. Our town now looks as physically broken and ominous as our hearts felt following the shooting.

Thankfully, our home was protected. But many were not.  Our hearts are heavy from the all-out assault that our community endured. I am not sure how, but I trust in my Father to fulfill his promise for Thousand Oaks. As I went back to read the verse again, I was again reminded of his specific love for me, I just needed to read a little further… to see the reference of the oak tree. It’s a little thing, but for me today, it was everything.

“to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called OAKS of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Jesus himself quoted Isaiah 61 when he was here on earth. He knew that we would often need to be reminded of this beautiful truth. Today, if you are mourning, He is here to comfort you, to restore you, to give you beauty for ashes and fulfill this promise to you.

 

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Jaclyn Santiago is a wife to Mike and mother to two little girls, Berlyn (7) and Alyla (3). They actively attend the Agoura campus of the City Church. Jaclyn works part time in the field of marketing and also serves as a volunteer mediator for the Ventura County Small Claims Courts. She is passionate about uncovering truth and achieving reconciliation in the church, home and workplace.

Fear Has No Power Over You

Fear is something we all face in life.  The word fear or phrases like “do not fear” appear 365 times in the Bible which is interesting because there is 365 days in a year.  I truly believe everyday of our lives we have an opportunity to face fear but God promises to help us overcome ALL of our fears!

I know this all too well because, as a young girl, I remember always being afraid of something.  I was afraid of the dark, afraid of death, afraid of people, afraid my mom and dad would divorce… The list goes on and on.  This spirit of fear began to manifest itself in some major challenges in my life.  I began to severely stutter, which I understand now is triggered by severe anxiety or a trauma in your life.  I continued to stutter from the age of 6 to 29.  The manifestation of fear raised its ugly head again when I suffered with an eating disorder for five years of my life.  This was triggered by a fear of being overweight.  This fear began to control my thoughts and even distort my body image.  Jesus miraculously delivered me and healed me from both stuttering and an eating disorder but, sometimes, fear still tries to raise it’s ugly head in my life!

What fears do you face?  Is it fear of failure? Fear of man? Anxiety over finances?  Is it a fear your marriage will fail or your kids won’t succeed? Fear cloaks itself in anxiety, intimidation, worry, anger and sleeplessness so we won’t call it what it is.

Thankfully, Jesus said that His perfect love casts out all of our fears. If we are going to flourish in every season of our life, we need to face our fears and allow His grace and strength to enable us to overcome them!

Psalms 56:3-4TPT gives us a simple strategy to face fear and overcome it:

“But in the day that I’m afraid, I lay all my fears before you and trust in you with all my heart.  What harm can man bring to me?  With God on my side I will not be afraid of what comes.  The roaring praises of God fill my heart, and I will always triumph as I trust in his promises”

I love that this verse gives us the specific tools to overcome fear:

  1. Pray! Lay ALL of your fears at God’s feet in prayer. When you are tempted to give in to anxiety, let your first response be prayer!  The Bible says we can cast our cares on the Lord because he cares for us!
  2. Trust! Trust God with your whole heart! Remind yourself that God is your protector and because He is on your side, you don’t need to be afraid of what comes your way!
  3. Worship! Praise God as if you already have the victory because you already do! God not only gave us promises but he has fulfilled every promise through Jesus. When it seems like fear is staring you in the face think of not only the cross but even more, the resurrection, because Jesus gave us complete victory in Him!

You are strong and very courageous and you will flourish in every season because fear has no power over you!

I pray for you in THIS season that you will respond in Faith are remember God is with you and he will not leave you or forsake you!

I believe in you!

XO,

Becky

P.S. Have you signed up for our Beautiful Conference at The City Church Ventura Campus on October 12-13th (Next week!)? We’ll have Wendy Perez from The ChurchLV, myself, my husband Jude Fouquier and many more incredible speakers! It is certain to be a life-transforming couple of days so I sure hope you can come!

His Masterpiece

I love going to art galleries, especially on vacation. A couple of years ago, while on a date in the Gaslamp district in San Diego, Tom and I stumbled into the most beautiful art gallery. The whole experience, from the lighting to the soft music to actual art, was designed to tell a story. Every piece was a progression from the last. The woman guiding us began to tell us about the process of the artist, how he spent years developing each piece. He paid a high price in time and travel to achieve such beauty. I’ve tried my hand at painting a few times but I’ve never spent more than a handful of hours on something. I don’t have the patience! It was clear that art was more than a job for this artist, he had put his whole life into the work. 

I was reminded of this experience when I was reading Ephesians 2:10 (NLT). It says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Genesis recounts that, thousands of years ago, God took dust and fashioned Adam, then Eve, with the tender love of an artist. He breathed his life into them and told them they were designed by him to be with him, to be like him, to multiply and to share in his work of caring for the creation. Then they failed. They trusted the devil instead of God’s word and it appeared that the work of art had been damaged. But the great artist didn’t discard his work, he improved it. 

Over the course of generations, he continued to love his masterpiece, his people, revealing himself to them through the rise and fall of kingdoms and passage of time. It was a long and costly process, ultimately requiring the sacrifice of Jesus, his own son. He knew his people could never do the things he created and designed for them until they received the gift of the grace of God. When Jesus rose from the dead and the people believed, they took a deep breath of that Holy Spirit of life once again and the masterpiece was complete! 

When I thought about that gallery, filled with absolute perfection, and thought about God putting our lives in an even greater, more beautiful gallery, my heart was filled with gratitude. When we believe in Jesus, we receive the grace of God, we are portraits of grace. I imagined the stories of person after person, lit under that soft gallery light, and the overwhelming feeling of goodness and joy that would be conveyed to the observer. When we allow God to use us to do his good work, to love people, to teach children, to give generously, to pray for the sick and serve one another, we feel God’s beautiful spirit rushing through us. We are truly God’s masterpiece!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but I hope you will remember today that the great artist designed you to be displayed in his amazing gallery of life and the work that you are doing out of love for him today is truly beautiful. 

XO,

Bethany