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

Floating

When I look back on my life, I can remember times where I relied on my own strength and I made it. I survived. Even when my head was just barely above water, I thought, “Hey, at least I made it.” Eventually, I got tired of treading water. My head was above, then below, and then finally I turned over on my back to float to get just a little bit of rest. God doesn’t want us to get by and barely survive. He wants us to thrive. He wants us to be like a swimmer, strategic, diving under the waves to resurface at the top.

Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” He wants us to soar above the ocean and then plant our feet into the sand and run. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He renews me in my most tired of times and I can float upon His love.

Prayer: Lord, help me resist by urge to depend on my own strength. I believe Philippians 4:13 that, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Help me to have hope. Thank you for challenging my strength. Thank you Lord; it’s not all on me.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetMarissa Williams is a first grade teacher at City Christian school. She is passionate about advocacy for marginalized groups and loves connecting with people at church, the gym, or the drive-thru window at McDonalds (a McChicken w/an extra patty is her go-to). You can come say “hi” to Marissa on the Guest Experience team or in City Kids at the Ventura campus.

Clothed in Grace

It was June 27, 1987. It was my wedding day. I walked down the aisle wearing a blush pink wedding dress. This nontraditional dress was not something I wanted. It was something I was told to wear.

I was raised in a conservative and traditional home, and the youngest of four children. For most of my younger days of life we attended church twice a week as a family. Both of my parents were also church leaders. I loved church, God, and was actively involved in youth group. 

At age 21, I was still living living at home, was working, had recently purchased a car and was dating a great guy. All is well, right?

I made myself a routine doctor visit because I was having bladder infection symptoms, expecting to be given a prescription for antibiotics and to be feeling better in no time. 

My lab results came back differently than what I had expected. “You are pregnant” were the shocking words of the doctor as he held me hands to comfort me. I left his office in a daze, trembling and holding a bottle of prenatal vitamins.  Thoughts bombarded my mind, how will I tell my family? What will church people think of me? More than that, what does God think of me? It was in that moment that the enemy began to plant seeds of shame and fear which would  begin to make me feel separated from how God truly viewed me. Those seeds were watered with some of the reactions of the people around me. 

This didn’t deter me from pursuing God in my life. My husband and I raised our two children in God’s word and pursued a genuine life in Him.

Decades later, I was in a season where God began to unveil past hurts and wounds within my heart. It was in this time, during prayer, that I encountered God’s presence and love in such a way that brought healing and wholeness. This shifted my identity forever and eliminated a lot of false perceptions that I had of myself.

God had never shamed me but was always accepting of me and His astounding love was settled upon my heart.

Now I look back at the young woman who was clothed in the pink wedding dress as one who was clothed in grace. It was recently that I found out what the color pink symbolizes biblically:  right standing with God. This is who I was to Him all along and now I freely walk in that truth. 

There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from Gods passionate love, which is lavished upon us though our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! -Romans 8:39 (TPT)

Prayer: I thank you Father for loving me unconditionally. I ask that You would bring your healing touch to any place in my heart that has been negatively affected by living in this world. Let my heart be completely free: the way that you intended from the beginning, knowing who I was made to be and who I am in You. 

IMG_4938Nadine Zaragoza is a mother of two and has been happily married to her husband Alex for 31 years. She is passionate about spending time in God’s presence She also loves to pray for people that they may experience God’s love in the form of physical healing. She and her husband both serve on the Next Steps Team at the Ventura campus of The City Church.

God’s Perfect Timing

I was never one of those girls who planned out their dream wedding from a young age, but I always knew I wanted to get married. My goal was to be married by 25. It seemed by then I should have life figured out, so surely I would be ready for marriage. It also seemed, as that 25th year got closer, that God had a different plan. When I was still single in the years leading up to age 25, when I didn’t even have a boyfriend, I couldn’t help but feel defeated. I questioned why God wouldn’t fulfill my selfish plans. He knew I desired to be a wife, so why was he making me wait? I had heard, read, and spoke it myself that God’s timing was perfect, but I was having a hard time believing it.
In 2013, during a Sunday morning service, my pastor asked us to get with someone next to us and pray with them. The woman I was with spoke words over me that I’ll never forget. She simply said “God is working on your husband.” Insert mind-exploding emoji. Through hearing that, I began to regain security and fully believe in the truth that God doesn’t ignore us when time seems to stand still, but rather he keeps us in the present to prepare us for what’s to come.
You see, I didn’t know it at the time, but the man I would one day marry was enduring some serious life changes. He had been married and was going through a painful separation and divorce. Through the healing that came after this, God was changing, molding, and reshaping him into the very man I was meant to marry. Where I felt defeat, frustration, and impatience, God was doing a greater work that my eyes couldn’t see.
Fast forward a few years, I’m now married to that man God was working on. And I’ll admit, he was even working on me in the waiting. Imagine that. His plan for me didn’t fit my time schedule, and it definitely didn’t look the way I thought it would (we got married 3 days after my 28th birthday), but it came exactly when it was supposed to. And I’m so thankful for that.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the work that God is doing in our current circumstance. And sometimes it’s so hard to wait. But Psalm 27:14 (ESV) encourages us to do just that. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
His timing is always perfect because he knows us, and he’s always aware of the desires of our hearts.
Processed with VSCO with a9 presetKelsey and Nathan have been married since June of 2017 and are expecting their first child in August of this year! They are both involved in the worship team at the Ventura Campus. Worship is Kelsey’s number one passion, but she is also a photographer, artist, and loves anything hands on!

Made Whole Again

I grew up in a Christian home, I always tried to do what was right, always be that perfect child. But growing up in an extremely dysfunctional family, I began to wonder if I was good enough. I  began to doubt God’s love for me. I then searched for love from guys, hoping one would make me feel adequate. After multiple failed attempts, I thought, “Am I worth loving?” I found myself in the most abusive relationship of all, the experience left me numb and hollow.  After it ended, I found out I was pregnant. An overwhelming feeling of shame, and anxiety came over me. I didn’t want any part of him with me, I just felt the pregnancy was a constant reminder of my failure and mistakes. I then made what I feel was the worst decision of my life, I decided to have an abortion. I couldn’t take the pain it caused me, I was in a state of panic, knowing each day I waited, the harder it would be. After I had the abortion, I didn’t eat or sleep, I felt isolated.

Then one night, I was sitting on my bed listening to “I Have This Hope” by, Tenth Avenue North, and the thought of what I had done finally became a reality. I said, “God, what have I done? What do you want me to do?” Then I heard a still, small voice say, “Be still and know that I am God, pick up your notebook, pen and write.” Just then, God began to purge me of all the darkness I felt inside. He renewed me, and showed me his love, his forgiveness. Even though I did something that I thought I could never come back from, God has shown his grace. Through His word, I am His, all is forgiven and I will share my story and I will look back and say, “I am whole again.”

When I think about my life and my past decisions I am reminded of Luke 15-4-5 (NLT):

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.”

I was the lost sheep, but now I am found.

Maybe you feel lost from God today but you want to be found by Him. Join me in this prayer:

Jesus, I know you know who I am and where I am. You say that nothing I have done can keep me from your love. I receive your forgiveness. I want to be found by You and I want to know you and allow you to lead me into a new life full of your grace. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Bethany Oliver attends the Ventura Campus, she loves to serve at the church, she loves meeting new people l, and loves greeting people with a warm hug and loves making people feel welcome. You can see her serve on the worship team as well as Guest Services. She’d love to meet you too!

 

God First

A WILD Devotional

Every New Year, I make resolutions. This year I only made one, “Put God First in Everything I do!”

My family has been attending City Church since 2013. We loved our Sunday services, but our quality time with God was light throughout our week. Last year, a sweet friend started planting seeds, giving me desires to go deeper. My husband and I decided to do the “grow classes.” In the end, we were signed up as greeters. I was so nervous…but why? I love people! I love to smile and give compliments! This should have been so easy for me. When the enemy saw me putting God first, he planted fear and doubt in my mind, in an attempt to try and stop me. 

But no, this year was going to be different. I printed this verse, taped it to my bathroom mirror, and began reading it often:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

On March 4th 2018, my husband, son, daughter, and myself were baptized as a family. Gods plan was coming together. I joined a City Group and starting unlocking gifts I held inside of me. I was asked to do WILD, but I was still too nervous. I had commitments that conflicted, and decided I wasn’t going to take the class. God had other plans. In my group, a new friend mentioned she was trying to be intentional. She was working to quiet herself long enough to hear from God. I realized I wasn’t giving Him the time and attention He desired from me. The next day I read my Bible, sat quietly, and asked what He wanted from me, and there He was. He was so clear. He said, “take the WILD class.” He also told me not to worry. He was going to give me the peace I was always praying for. 

Prayer:

Lord, help us to always seek you. Help us to hear from you often, in whatever way you want to speak to us. Help us to be obedient, and to put you first. Thank you for the wonderful plans you have for every one of us!

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Marcella Berglund has been a wife to David for 16 years. She is a mom of two amazing kids. Her family started attending the City Church when her son started school at City Christian, during his 2nd grade year. He is now in 6th grade, and their daughter is in 1st. Marcella loves being a wife, mom and friend. She also loves cooking, baking and hosting people in her home. You can find her and her husband serving on the greeting team at the Ventura campus. 

Loving Others Is a Big Deal

I keep thinking about that title of the message this past Sunday over and over again.  Everyone is a “Big Deal” to God therefore everyone should be a “Big” deal to us.  The message has motivated me to look at my life and ask myself,  “Does my way of life reflect that people I come in contact with are a big deal?”

To love others effectively we have to first believe God loves us! I love what  1 John 4:11 TPT  say,  “Delightfully loved ones, if he loved us with such tremendous love, then, “loving one another” should be our way of life.”

Our motivation to love comes when we truly know we are completely known by God and completely loved by God!  You don’t have to earn it, you just have to receive it!  Let this be settled in our hearts so we can truly experience an exciting life by giving this kind of love to those in our spheres of influence!  You are a Big Deal to God therefore let those around you become a Big deal to you!

In his book, Everybody Always, which I highly recommend, Bob Goff says, “God’s idea isn’t that we would just give and receive love but that we would actually become love.”

There are 3 things we can do to “become love” in someone’s life: TIME, WORDS and ACTIONS.

1. TIME:

People won’t be a big deal to us if we don’t spend time with them.  Just like we can’t catch something contagious if we aren’t around someone who is sick , our faith won’t be contagious if we aren’t around others.  We love when we make time for those God puts on our paths.  You can invite someone along to coffee or to shop at Target, plan an activity together or simply pick up the phone and ask questions to find out how that person is doing.

2. WORDS:

Goff also says in his book that, ‘People don’t want to be told what they want. We need to tell them who they are!”  Those we come in contact with know who they are NOT but when we tell them who they ARE they will want to be around us!  Everyone is valuable to God, loved, precious, significant. When we affirm that in others, they experience love. When we believe what God tells us about ourselves, we are able to tell others what God says about them.

3. ACTIONS:

One of the best ways to show you love someone is to do something for them.  Maybe someone in your life just had a baby, and you could offer to babysit or bring a meal. Maybe they arrive at work early and you could drop off a coffee for them. Listen to what they say and you will know what they need.  Your action may open them up to the love of God!

Join me in making people a Big Deal and watch how our lives will become more rewarding and fulfilling!

XO,

Becky