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

California Coast Bible College

This past Sunday night, our incredible California Coast Bible College students graduated from their first and second year programs. It was a night to remember! These students are an incredible part of The City Church and we wanted to share some of their incredible experience with all of you. Many have contributed here on Beautiful Stories. Enjoy!

You’ll love this second semester recap video created by Pastor Debra Arnott, especially if you love The Greatest Showman!

For more about the CCBC experience, click here.

Grandma’s Faith

I was thinking the other day about what it means to live big and the thought of legacy crossed my mind. I was thinking of my grandmother who passed a little over a year ago and what her life was about. She died right before Christmas and I traveled alone to Seattle to attend her memorial service just after the new year. She was ninety-six and had been looking forward to heaven for a little while.

As I sat in her service, her pastor, who was many years younger, began to tell stories of her life. My grandfather was a chaplain in a hospital and not always available to attend on Sundays. When they started attending this church after moving across the state (to be close to their grandchildren) she informed this pastor that she would be in church every week with or without my grandfather. And she was. He told how she started a group for Norwegian immigrant women and their daughters that grew from two to ten to over forty women. She was joyful and faithful and loved Jesus deeply. When we’d stay at her house for sleepovers, she would pray traditional prayers over us, like “Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me.” She’d play cheerful hymns on her piano at Christmas for all of the adult children and grandchildren who filled her home. Her joy filled my young life even in seasons of heartbreak. Her hair was white as snow and her face so full of wrinkles, but I always thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known. She left such a legacy for me.

When Tom and I were married, my grandparents began to intentionally pass things on. One day they gave me a photocopy of the front page of my grandmother’s Bible where my great-grandmother had written a precious note. It holds these words:

Dear Judith,

God’s word is our great heritage,

and it shall be ours forever;

to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor:

Through life it guides our way,

In death, it is our stay;

Lord grant, while words endure

To keep it’s teachings pure,

Throughout all generations.

With love from Mother, Christmas 1946

My great grandmother was a Norwegian immigrant whose own mother never spoke English. I can imagine her faith was required during many moments of her own life. All of these women in my family, including my own mother, shared the defining characteristic of bright, red hair. When I think of these women who joyfully passed down a passionate love for God’s word to their daughters, I am inspired to do the same. I’m so deeply grateful for this heritage, but I’m also well aware that there was a woman at some moment in my ancestry who was the first one to believe in Jesus. The fruit of her faith has outlived her!

Regardless of whether we have natural children, God puts in every feminine heart the power to nurture and love and care for those who need an inspiring word, a guiding hand, an example of strength and unwavering faith. When we receive the unbelievable, selfless love of Jesus, He puts so much in our hands to give and then He multiplies it beyond what we could imagine.

Maybe you’re the first in your family to believe in Jesus and become who He created you to be. Imagine the women many years from now who will look back and thank God for your faith! Maybe you’re discouraged and feel like your love for Jesus isn’t shared by your children. I’m praying today that God will show up and reveal Himself to each one of them. He has heard your prayers and treasured your tears. He will not give up on them!

Let me leave you with this picture from Psalm 78:6-7:

For perpetuity God’s ways will be passed down

from one generation to the next, even to those not yet born.

In this way, every generation will have a living faith in the laws of life

and will never forget the faithful ways of God.

Jesus, we pray you would use us to be vehicles of your love and your truth to the next generation. We pray our faith would extend beyond ourselves and into the lives of many, many others. We pray we would pass on a legacy of faithfulness and life to everyone we meet. We love you Jesus!

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Power and Love

I pray that from his glorious unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down in God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how log, how high and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  –Ephesians 3:16-20 NLT

Um, mic drop anyone? 

I was feeling overwhelmed the other day. I was deep in that tension of knowing who God is and yet looking around and trying to figure out which task I should start in that particular moment. Do you ever have that? You feel fine while you’re busy but then you have a space of time (and a list of BIG tasks- like finding a new home, preparing a home to sell, scheduling kids activities for the looming summer vacation, finding childcare for a ten day ministry trip, various projects overseeing a number of people etc.). I wasn’t sure what to do but I knew I couldn’t WASTE the time I was given. There is just so much to do! 

I started thinking about this verse and tried to encourage myself. I had a memory that the NKJV version says God is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly above” what we can do through “His mighty power that works within us.” I closed my eyes and thought, “okay, mighty Holy Spirit power, work! I need exceedingly, abundantly above, right now.” I felt like I needed to read the scripture, and so I went to my Bible app and looked it up. I read the whole chapter. I read it again in a different translation. I sat down in a quiet moment and asked Jesus to help me understand what it means. 

I wrote about Mary back in December, how she “treasured and pondered” the words that her son, Jesus, spoke to her. I wanted to treasure and ponder this scripture and understand it. Treasuring and pondering takes time and patience… I sat and I read it again and I began to write out what I thought it meant. In the scriptures before, Paul was talking about his life and the privilege of taking the message of Jesus to the gentiles (non-Jewish people). I just watched, “A.D. Kingdom and Power” on Netflix and the series illustrates the context of Paul’s experience from the book of Acts. Paul was preaching not just to a people from different culture from his own, but the oppressive ruling culture that was keeping the Jewish people under their thumb. American Christians often think of missions as going to people who have less money or resources than us. God sent Paul to a group of people who believed they were culturally superior to him, who had economic and political power over him. Basically, they were racist, classist and xenophobic but they were spiritually hungry and Jesus used Paul to meet their need for God. Wow! Paul would have had to understand this mighty power. He had to access it constantly. 

However, the thing that impacted me most about this passage is the source of the strength and power. When Christ lives in our hearts, it says our roots will grow down in God’s love and keep us strong. It’s the love of Jesus that nourishes the root system of our lives. Underneath everything we say and do that is visible to those around us is the root system that determines our strength and existence. A tree that has deep roots can stand for centuries while a tree with shallow roots can be easily knocked down. Our roots are sustained and strengthened by the love of God. 

In that moment, as I pondered, I remembered experiencing the love of God deeply, for the first time. As a twelve year old, I began to believe that God loves me, that He designed me and knows me uniquely, and that nothing can separate me from that love. I was changed in a million ways and am still becoming who I know He created me to be. At every moment of challenge, at feeling overwhelmed, I am reminded that it is His love that defines us. It is not our success, our own expectations, the opinions of people who give our lives value. In seasons of insecure adolescence, academic achievement, ministry fulfillment and challenge, marriage, motherhood, throughout my life it has always come back to His love. 

If you need this mighty power to accomplish something too big for you today, remember His love and let it surround you and bring you peace. Be defined by His love for you and believe that He decided you are worth the sacrifice of Jesus. He will make you complete with His love. 

XO

Bethany

Tales from the Dominican Republic

California Coast Bible College is a ministry of The City Church and, every year, we have the awesome privilege of serving with, praying for, and sending out these incredible young people on missions trips. Their experiences are always life-changing and I know you will be greatly encouraged and inspired by their stories. Allow me to share with you some great words from Carter Howard, one of our second year students who went to the Dominican Republic. Enjoy!

Xo,

Bethany

IMG_0461I am so deeply thankful for all of the prayers and donations. We saw the results of every single prayer sent our way! I think that was actually one of the biggest lessons I learned during this trip: the power of prayer. We, as a team, started praying for this trip four months before we went. I have realized that before we see God move, He asks us to step out in faith and in crazy prayers!

But where do I begin with my trip?! There is too much to tell. So many stories. So many testimonies. This was the greatest missions trip that I had ever been on. I saw God do something amazing every single day. I have never been a part of a team more unified. I have never seen so many people come to Christ and be healed. My faith was inspired for sure!

To start, let me say this. Over the two weeks that we spent in the Dominican Republic, we saw 139 people receive salvation and we saw 54 people get healed. 80% of the ministry work we did was evangelism, where we would go throughout the neighborhood and just talk with people, spend time with them, and pray for them. For at least four hours each day, we would do this. It was cool because there was nothing physically that we could have prepared for this. The only way we could prepare was spiritually! We saw the Holy Spirit move in amazing ways. It was also really special to see people healed. I personally had not experienced a lot of that before, so to be a part of that was inspiring. We saw tumors disappear, blind people see, casts be thrown away, bed-ridden women jump and run around with joy, broken legs healed, and even more. GOD IS SO GOOD.

That was just the healing. God saved 139 people. These weren’t just people in a crowd that we didn’t know. These were people that we spent time with, sat down with, and personally got to know. We saw, right in front of our eyes, people touched by God and saved from sin and set free! It was especially cool because it reminded me that I made a goal in the beginning of the year to have the opportunity to personally lead twenty people to Christ. Well, Jesus allowed me to exceed that goal. He is so good!

There are many stories that I could tell you, but I will share one of my favorites in particular. During one of the last days that we were evangelizing, we were just about to leave and head back home when we found out the truck tire popped. We used two trucks everyday so one group went back on the truck that still worked while half of us stayed back and waited for them to return. The second I saw that the tire was popped, I was SO excited! I knew that there was no way that happened on accident. Immediately I said “Awesome! This just means that God wants to save more people. There is someone here He still wants to talk to. Round two, people. Let’s go!”. So, me and my friend Zach started walking around to chat with people. We ran into a 14 year old kid named Moses. This was the first person that I had met in the entire two weeks who did not know who Jesus was. Everyone else not only knew who Jesus was, but they believed in him. They just didn’t have relationship with Him.

Zach and I got to explain the whole gospel to him and his friend who stopped by. They both ended up accepting Christ and we got to baptize them a few days later. The day after they got baptized, we were out evangelizing for the last time and we were in that same neighborhood. I invited Moses to come with us so that he could learn what it looks like to tell people about Jesus. This was the quickest form of discipling that we could do! Haha. The last man we met was not a Christian and he ended up accepting Jesus. I asked Moses if he knew what prayer was and he said “No”. It was amazing because I got to show him what prayer was and we BOTH prayed for this man named Domingo. ALL BECAUSE OF A FLAT TIRE PEOPLE. God is so good and He always teaches me that the little things we could be frustrated at, can be the things He wants to use to get our attention. He will do anything for even one person. Even pop a tire.

IMG_0388I could share for hours, but I’ll share one more story with you. On a Saturday night, our whole group was going to visit a nearby church that our ministry partnered with. We were going to go and sit in their service. When we got there, I asked myself what I would speak about IF I had 5 or 10 minutes to speak. They didn’t tell us that we would get an opportunity to do that, but I was just thinking just in case. About 30 seconds later, our pastor walks over to me and says, “So…it turns out that we are running the entire service. Would you want to preach for about 20 minutes?”. UHH. HECK YES! Those are my favorite ministry opportunities because all I have to do is step out and let God do the rest! Our whole team killed it! We did worship, some skits, some testimonies, all out of the blue just stepping out in faith. It was so cool. And God gave me a sermon to share and it may have been one of the best ones I have ever done before. People were set free and the Spirit was moving big time! It was so insane. What was cool is that the next night, we visited another church and we got 20 minutes of ministry time and my pastor asked me if I wanted to speak again! UHH HECK YES! It was such a blast. Speaking is one of my favorite things to do and God gave me opportunities to do that and I didn’t even know it would happen! I got to speak again at a widows ministry about the danger of unforgiveness.

This trip was so amazing that the hosts of the missions home (who run the entire ministry) told us that they didn’t want us to leave. They then told us that they have never been able to tell any group that and they have had over 3,000 people come through their ministry!!! HOW INSANE IS THAT! The City Church made this possible. Your prayers, your encouragement, and your donations. Every piece was a piece of the puzzle. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will forever be grateful for you support!

 

The Most Beautiful Story of All

It’s Easter week, our houses are full of eggs and candy and our minds are filled with preparations for Spring Break. Maybe right now you can stop and take a moment to fill your heart with the reality of the most beautiful story of all.

Jesus’ story is the power to change everything, to make your story beautiful, no matter how dark or boring, or despairing. Because of Jesus: 

You don’t have to prove that you are worth loving. God placed the ultimate value on you in paying for your life with the life of His most precious Son.

Your sin is dead. That nasty tendency to do the things that hurt us and hurt others, has been buried with Jesus Christ and no longer has power over your decisions.

You are understood. Jesus sees and has felt all of the things you feel, the struggles you’ve had. He prays for you constantly.

You are not alone. The Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead NOW lives inside of you, enabling you to do what you could never do before

You have nothing to fear. You are promised a beautiful future, restoration and new life for things that have dried up and died. You will experience an eternity of beauty and love.

There is no story more beautiful than the story of what Jesus has done for us! If you have never heard this before, then today I want you to know that God loves you so much. He knows you by name and invites you to know Him! You don’t have to fix anything about yourself to be accepted by Him. Simply ask Him to come into your life.

Join me in this prayer: Jesus, thank you for what you did for me when you died on the cross and came back to life. I believe in you and I want to know you and become who you created me to be. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and help me to share the joy of knowing you with everyone I meet. Amen.

 

The Bible tells us even more. If you have questions, you can find answers there.

For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life. John 3:16 (TPT)

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Romans 6:14 (NLT)

Yes, God raised Jesus to life! And since God’s Spirit of Resurrection lives in you, he will also raise your dying body to life by the same Spirit that breathes life into you! Romans 8:11 (TPT)

This is why he had to be a Man and take hold of our humanity in every way. He made us his brothers and sisters and became our merciful and faithful King-Priest[b] before God; as the One who removed our sins to make us one with him. 18 He suffered and endured every test and temptation, so that he can help us every time we pass through the ordeals of life. Hebrews 2:17-18 (TPT) 

Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you. Now we offer up to God all the glorious praise that rises from every church in every generation through Jesus Christ—and all that will yet be manifest through time and eternity. Amen! Ephesians 3:20-21 (TPT)

You Belong

Catching Up with Erica Lopez

It would be hard to attend the Ventura Campus for very long without meeting Erica Lopez. She’s always present working behind the scenes to include others in the life of the The City Church. Erica attended our very first service and gave her life to Jesus at our New Years service shortly after we opened our doors. She has barely missed a Sunday since that time. I was able to sit down with Erica last week at the Natural Cafe in Moorpark and talk to her a little bit about her experience in our community. She was taking a quick break from her new “dream job” (as she calls it) working as Pastor Mike Rovner’s assistant at Rovner construction.

Erica, you’ve been a fixture of our church as a volunteer at almost every event, on every Sunday. What motivates you?

City Church changed my life. It changed everything. I suffered from fear and anxiety and the church gave me the tools to overcome those things. They taught me how to pray and gave me a Bible and gave me a place to go. I’ve lived in Ventura County all my life but was never really aware of who God was or how He could impact my life.

I went to the church on the very first Sunday, it was the soft launch before the grand opening. Pastors Jude and Becky had come and were the new leadership of my daughter’s school (now City Christian School) and I wanted to know who they were so I could decide whether I’d was keeping her in the school. I had never heard a pastor talk like Pastor Jude about real stuff. He’d say, “Don’t believe what I say, go to your Bible and check on it for yourself.” When I did check it out, the Bible commentary page would say the exact thing as Pastor Jude. God was so obviously speaking to me and drawing me to Himself through all the different messages.

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Erica and her daughter, Jaden

Were there any particular messages that deeply changed your perspective about God?

I specifically remember the message about belonging. He told us that we could belong to Jesus before we even believed, before our behavior changed! It was the first time that I felt that I didn’t have to change first in order to be included. I know we talk about this idea in Grow class but I also always tell people to go back to that series about Joshua in the podcast archives so they can hear it too. It’s such a powerful truth.

Did you feel like people included you right away?

Yes. People immediately reached out to me. Pastor Katie and Pastor Becky invited me to a City Group and told me how to serve. I didn’t know much about leading a Bible study but I told Debby (Wooff) I could be her assistant and be the person who would always read the chapter and have something to say if she asked a question. I made some of my very best friends coming to that group and serving on teams with people.

But I have also found that some of it is a response to preaching. I always say, “Pastor Jude says…” this or that when I encourage people in their faith. People think I’m talking about a personal conversation but I’m not. When you really listen to someone’s preaching, you connect with what they’re saying. I remember him saying once at the beginning, “I can’t personally ask each one of you to volunteer. But I’m asking you to volunteer.” I took that to heart for myself.

Were you proactive about serving right away?

I did not feel at all qualified to serve in the beginning. I remember Debby asking me to help pass out books and I was worried that people would know about my past and believe I wasn’t worthy to help. It was just passing out books! But I did it and they didn’t care about my past.

Now when I serve, I’m always thinking of the people who come to visit who are like me. Someone cared enough to serve so my life could be changed and now I serve with the same hope that someone else will be able to have that same experience. I went to a church for a year before I came to City Church and I sat in the same seat every week and no one ever talked to me. I’m really passionate about talking to people and noticing them. Just recently I noticed a woman who would sit in the same seat every week and it was a bit hard to talk to her at first but I just kept doing it and eventually she came to my dinner group and is now connected to a number of different things.

What do you think helps people feel connected over the long term?

Whatever you are doing, it’s mostly about doing it consistently. It takes time to connect with people and get to know them. I think I became close friends with people because I served with the same people every week over the course of time. That’s why groups are important. How are you really going to get to know someone if you don’t see them regularly? I really admire Debby Wooff because she did her same group over the course of so many years and we were able to really get close to one another.

And now you lead a group with Dee Taday; it’s a dinner group. Can you tell us more about that?

Life was getting really busy and I was overwhelmed with work and everything and I didn’t have time to do another book study. So we started in the summer and now we just meet for dinner twice a month and hang out. We often talk about the message from Sunday and then just share from our lives. We do it at different restaurants. It’s so easy, I just tell people and then we show up. We do it casual and just get separate checks or counter service. I highly recommend leading this type of group if you’ve never done one. Just do it consistently!

Erica, is there a scripture that you would want to share with the women who read this blog that kind of sums up this story?

Yes, Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have lost heart unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I see the goodness of God in the church and in my family and friends and the people I do life with. I remember a couple years ago, I went through a really dark time in my life and Pastor Jude started his Psalms series and he shared this and also the scripture, “And He will strengthen your heart.” My heart has been so strengthened by the goodness of God that I have seen in this community.

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Erica and her husband Joe have one daughter, Jaden. They sit on the left hand side in the first or second row of the Ventura campus every single week. You can get to know Erica and serve with her on the Guest Experience Team and the Beautiful Women of Influence team or attend her City Group.