Catching Up with Katie Venti

Today Pastor Katie Jane Venti is here for a chat. She and her husband, Phil relocated their family from Seattle, WA to help plant The City Church in 2011 and they now serve as pastors and Phil as an elder. Katie also works at City Christian School. They have three great kids, Jackson, Benjamin and Jefferson.

What’s your life like these days? I am a wife to Phil, and mom to my three boys. I volunteer with groups and teams within the church (some seasons more than others) and volunteer with my kids’ sports teams (baseball season can get a bit tricky in our home). I just moved to a new position at City Christian School as the school administrator and am loving my new job. I also am still able to teach some in our middle school as well.

What do you love about what you do at work and church?: What I love most about my role at the school is seeing our students and families meet Jesus for the first time or grow closer to Him. There is nothing I love more than seeing middle school students come to our school unsure of their relationship with Jesus and graduate full of life and confidence in Christ. There is honestly nothing more rewarding. At church, I love seeing individuals and families find a home within our community. My life was transformed through serving in a local church and I find so much joy seeing that happen for others.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently? Why?: “Stay the Path” by Bobbie Houston. This book was so encouraging! The stories of ministry and what God can do if we simply continue to obey even when we may not feel like it, really reminded me of why I want to always be connected to and serving in a local church. It also made me excited to see what God has planned for our church. I know if God can do what He did in Hillsong Church in Australia and around the world, He can do it here through The City Church!

Best thing you’ve listened to? Why?: I kind of get behind on the music scene so I am still stuck on Hillsong United’s Wonder Album. I can not stop listening to “So Will I (100 Billion X)”. There are a few lines in the song that say:

God of salvation

You chased down my heart

Through all of my failure and pride

On a hill You created

The light of the world

Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak

A hundred billion failures disappear

Where You lost Your life so I could find it here

If You left the grave behind You so will I

I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done

Every part designed in a work of art called love

If You gladly chose surrender so will I

I can see Your heart

Eight billion different ways

Every precious one

A child You died to save

If You gave Your life to love them so will I

When I don’t seem to measure up to what I think I should be, these words ring through my spirit and remind me that it’s not about what I’ve done or can do, but that it’s all about God. Through my failure and pride, He is chasing me down. All my failures, all the things that make me feel insufficient don’t matter, they are buried in the grave. And I get to leave them there, because Jesus left the grave! Talking about it makes me excited about what God is doing.

I get behind and will probably keep this song on repeat for the next year, so let me know if something new comes out!

Funniest thing that has happened to you lately: My life is a constant comedy routine! Between the burping and farting of my three boys there is a lot of laughing. One of my favorite things about the holidays we just had is time my family got to spend together and all the laughing we got to do together. My dad always had a saying, “Whether it’s good or bad, just chuckle. It will all pass.” I want to enjoy my life; and laughing with my husband, my family, my friends makes every season and situation joyful.

How has God come through with an answered prayer or testimony for you lately? Always on the top of my prayer list are my three boys. I have been praying for specific areas for each of them and have seen God do so much in their lives. I don’t know why it surprises me, but I am always surprised when I see how miraculously God answers my specific prayers. I feel like the more pointed my prayers are the more I see them answered.

What scripture or truth about Jesus, has been particularly meaningful to you lately and why? I have been barraged lately with scriptures about God’s love. A constant theme in my heart has been that love wins! I think of 1 Corinthians 13:8 where it says, “love never fails” and I try and remind myself in everything I do always begin and end in love.

Fasting? You Can Do It!

If you read Pastor Becky’s recent post or or attend the City Church regularly, then you know that our community is in the midst of a 21 day season of prayer and fasting. We love to take this space together every year to connect with God and ask Him to do what He does. We pray together and we agree together for miracles to happen. It’s a wonderful reminder that God is the center of our lives and a chance to invite Him to be the center of our year.

There are many examples of fasting in the Bible. Most importantly, Jesus himself fasted for forty days in the wilderness before he began teaching and preaching and healing people. Jesus taught that there are times to fast and times to feast together. Both are valuable and important. Our lives are not meant to be lived in a constant state of fasting but when we take a season and do fast, we experience God in a powerful way. Fasting is a reminder of our dependence on God, that He alone is our source! When the enemy came to tempt Jesus to use his power to turn stones into bread, Jesus quoted a scripture from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament and said, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:3-4 NLT). God knows we will live our very best and fullest lives only when we are completely dependent on Him!

Maybe you’d like to join us this year. It’s not too late! Just ask God what you should fast. Sugar, meat, bread, coffee, alcohol, etc. are all good options to start with. It’s usually good to give up something you like. Some people give up one meal a day or fast for a certain time period during the day. If you’re planning to do an extreme fast, it’s essential that you consult a doctor. When the Bible mentions fasting it is always in reference to food, but we also make an effort, during this time, to simplify our lives so that we can listen and hear from God. Maybe there are some non-essential, time-consuming activities you could suspend during this season. I told God I’d probably hear him better if I gave up  work or caring for my children (ha- kidding!) but that didn’t fall under the nonessential category. I have, at times, given up shopping , social media, television, fiction books, etc. in order to clear my mind and make more time to pray and meditate on scriptures in the Bible. It’s amazing how we can experience God when we just make some space for Him in our brains!

Maybe you’re already fasting, and you’re in the midst of it. Don’t give up! We’re all in this together. I’ve had moments of failure and days with great God experiences too. To encourage us all to finish strong, I asked some women in our community to send in their stories from past seasons of prayer and fasting. Let them encourage you! And, if you have a request for God this year, post it in the comment section of Pastor Becky’s post so we can pray for you as well. We believe God is going to do big things this year.

XO,

Bethany

“I have practiced fasting since I was 12 years old. I gained the ability to tell my body when it was going to eat, and not the other way around.  In High School I had been fasting a week when I ran and beat my own time, running the mile. This self discipline helped me during times of traveling and ministering.   There were times we had to minister for hours before we could grab a meal.  I also felt a closer connection to the Lord and the ability to hear the Holy Spirit.  I would fast to spend time with the Lord, get free in a particular area, contend for answers to prayer, and to engage in spiritual warfare.”

-Carole Kornreich, Agoura Campus

 

“The first time I went on an extended fast was the time my neighbor, who never spoke to me, came over crying, informing me she was pregnant, but wanted an abortion, because she was concerned about her marriage. She told me when she prayed, the Lord told her to come see me.  It was the second day of my 3 day fast.  I didn’t even want to continue the fast.  I mean I wanted to but I was irritable!!  Haha.  When the Lord sent Diane over, I began to understand the depths of fasting.  It wasn’t just for myself.  It was to loose the chains of those who are bound like Isaiah 58 (CEV) reads.  Fasting is not about pleasing myself.  It’s about what verse 6-8 tells us:  

(Isa 58:6)  “I will tell you the kind of day I want–a day to set people free. I want a day that you take the burdens off others. I want a day when you set troubled people free and you take the burdens from their shoulders.

(Isa 58:7)  I want you to share your food with the hungry. I want you to find the poor who don’t have homes and bring them into your own homes. When you see people who have no clothes, give them your clothes! Don’t hide from your relatives when they need help.”

(Isa 58:8)  If you do these things, your light will begin to shine like the light of dawn. Then your wounds will heal. Your “Goodness” will walk in front of you, and the Glory of the LORD will come following behind you,”

Esther fasted and went in before the King to plead for her nation.  Daniel fasted for God’s will to be done for the nation of Israel to return home.  In Acts, they fasted and prayed for the right men to send out to evangelize the world and thus Paul and Barnabus began their ministry!  In Joel, God asks the people to fast in repentance and turn back to Him.  Anna lived to worship God by fasting and praying from youth. Jesus told the disciples that certain strongholds are only broken by prayer and fasting. When we give up the desires that our flesh craves, and prayerfully seek the Lord, He will meet us, and set us free. Our minds become clear to hear his voice as we make decisions. God will use us and draw us deeper and closer to Him.

That’s what the Lord did for Diane back in 1991.  She came to my door, and the Lord delivered her.  She had her precious baby, Hannah, and Diane and I became good friends.  She gave her heart to the Lord and her Hannah, who is 24 now, follows Jesus also and easily shares her testimony of how her mom almost gave her up, but the Lord sent her to my door.  God knew I had had an abortion when I was 19, so I had a special grace to minister to Diane from that place of sorrow and pain.

Then there’s also Raul.  Raul has been in my family since he was in daycare with me at one year of age.  He calls me mom and he is a son to me.  Raul called me up one time and told me that he went to school with Hannah and she was ministering to him in Christ.  He let me know that she had told him about me, how her mom came over and she said it was because of my intervention that she is alive today.  We all know it’s God, and God chose to use this girl.  

So you see how God plays the best chess game in the universe!?!  He took the most tragic thing that I ever did, and not only used it to bless my neighbor, creating a lifetime bond, but also to bless my son Raul!!  

What a mighty God we serve!!”

-Kathy Hageman, Ventura Campus

The BIG Bible Journey of 2018

I was so excited when Pastors Jude and Becky announced the BIG Journey Bible reading challenge for 2018, like SO excited. I’ve always loved my Bible. As a pre-teen I encountered Jesus in a truly powerful way and was so thankful to have people around who told me that the Bible is the greatest source of truth and direction I could find in this life. I have great parents, pastors and access to incredible books and podcasts but nothing has been there for me like the Bible. When I look back at the big decisions in my life, every moment has a scripture, a promise, the word of God confirming or guiding the way I should go. Some choices (like two cross-country moves) had an incredible amount of risk attached to them, but I had peace because of a word from God. Reading my Bible on a regular basis reminds me who God is, how much He loves me and how much He wants to work in my life. It creates a starting point for so many conversations with the Holy Spirit about the things that matter to me most: my marriage, my kids, my purpose in life. The Bible also gives me a clear head! Since the enemy’s greatest power is to deceive us, reading the Bible makes us so much less susceptible to the lies of discouragement, doubt and fear.

But…I’ll be honest, since giving birth to my three kids, I’ve struggled to make time to read my Bible like I used to and I miss it! I’ve started more YouVersion Bible reading plans than I care to admit, always clicking the “Catch Me Up” button three or four times before giving up all together. Sometimes when I sit down to read after being away for awhile, that nagging voice of condemnation tries to tell me it’s not worth it because I’ll never be as consistent as I “should.” BUT, when I open the pages (or the app) in that early morning when I manage to wake before my kids or late after everyone goes to bed, the word never fails to speak to me. It’s usually not complicated and it’s always encouraging or inspiring. This year, I’m filled with excitement to start anew because the only thing better than reading the Bible is reading the Bible TOGETHER with my amazing church community.

I’m excited to talk about what I’m reading with my family (we even bought this kid’s version of the One Year Bible for my seven year old) and with my City Group. Every week this year, Pastor Jude and the preaching team are going to share from what we’re reading. Maybe you’ve tried reading the Bible and have been discouraged by portions that were difficult to understand. I’ve been there too. That’s why it’s so cool that we don’t have to do this alone. We’ll be able to take time in our groups and on Sundays to ask the questions and get some answers. I know God will speak to us.

This year, we’re believing for BIG things as a church and my family and I are believing for some BIG things in our own lives. I have some questions for God about dreams and words and things He put in my heart and I believe He’s going to speak to me. Right now, we’re all asking ourselves how we can live our best life in 2018. I believe that the Bible is the answer! The Bible enables us to become like Jesus. The more we read his words, the better we know Him, the better we know ourselves, and we’re transformed (Romans 12:2). There’s plenty to be said about resolutions and weight loss plans but nothing truly changes us like the Bible does. There is no greater gift!

I know Christmas is over but I’m still thinking so much about the life of Mary. In my last post, I talked about her willingness to say “yes” to God. My family and I recently went and saw The Star, a kids movie about the birth of Jesus. I loved the way they depicted Mary in the film. She was kind and joyful and full of unwavering faith. My husband Tom, shared something about Mary with me that he read in Tim Keller’s book, Hidden Christmas. In Luke 2:19, after the world marveled at the story told by the shepherds, it says “But Mary treasured all these things in her heart and often pondered what they meant.” That scripture summarizes the attitude I want to have toward my Bible this year. It wasn’t about mental analysis, Mary was full of wonder and allowed the words to go deep into her and define her. She embraced the life God set in front of her and allowed His words to bring peace and confidence every step of the way.

I believe God wants us to experience His word in the same way. I hope you’ll join us on this journey of Bible reading in 2018. We’re going to talk about it a lot here on Beautiful Stories. You can purchase the One Year Bible we’re using (or get the one with lots of space for journaling and note-taking like I did) or you can simply download the plan for free on the Bible app. This is sure to be such a life-changing experience for all of us. We’ll be here to help and encourage all along the way. I can’t wait to hear how God speaks to each one of you.

XO Bethany

 

Mary

Hey Beautiful,

It’s been the weirdest couple of weeks in our little town of Ventura. I have friends who are living in a hotel with their three children (two are preschoolers), friends who’ve lost everything, friends whose kids are unexpectedly out of school for a whole month (and can’t play outside because of the smoke). The smoke is thick and no one can tell us what’s going to happen next.

And it’s Christmas. Merry Christmas! Time to shop, to bake, to decorate, to send the cards, to go to the programs, to watch the films and have the parties. I keep going through the normal motions but nothing really feels that normal.

So I started to read about Mary. That’s what we do at Christmas. We talk about Mary, the virgin, teenage, refugee who was chosen by God to deliver the hope and savior of the world. Oh night divine!

Mary lived in a chaotic world where she did not belong, where racial and ethnic strife ran deep and had deadly consequences. When the angel came to her she pondered his words and hid them in her heart. She believed.

I wonder if she was in awe of Him. She lived such a life of devotion. She seemed to be there at every turn, steadfast, unwavering. She didn’t always seem to know exactly what was going on, which is comforting, meaning she was like us. Some things must have been so confusing. What would it be like to watch your child die of asphyxiation on a cross? But it didn’t seem to shake her. She was there at the cross and at Pentecost, in the upper room, praying and believing and waiting to be filled with the Holy Spirit so they could go out and turn the world upside down.

She lived her best life, that’s for sure (great thoughts on that here) It sort of redefines what makes a life really great. What life is this that is available when we say, “yes” to God?! So much promise, probably some pain, but absolute purpose beyond the here and now. We really have no idea, this side of eternity, what our lives can be and do.

When tragedy strikes, it reminds us how precious and fragile life can be. We remember that there’s more than this and we actually don’t have as much control over all of it as we think we do. But He actually does.

The Almighty stepped into the finite, flesh and blood of fragile humanity so that He could really know us, so He could look over and say, “Hey! I get it. We’re in this together.” It’s okay to be shocked, to be overwhelmed, to mourn and weep when tragedy strikes. The Bible says He’s with us, feeling it all and actually praying for us, on our behalf. But we can also live with this hope, that the darkest of ages are done, for the savior of heaven has come.

In light of this, I pray that you and I will always encounter Christmas with the joy and wonder that Simeon experienced, when Mary brought her child to be dedicated at the temple. (Luke 2:28-31 TPT):

Simeon cradled the baby in his arms and praised God and prophesied, saying: “Lord and Master, I am your loving servant, and now I can die content, for your promise to me has been fulfilled. With my own eyes I have seen your Word, the Savior you sent into the world.”

Merry Christmas!

XO,

Bethany

 

 

Catching up with Keola Bolles

Today Keola Michele Bolles is with us. She and her husband, Steve (who leads our Ventura Campus worship team) are our newest staff members. They have three great kids, Addi, Micah and Judah.

What keeps you busy most days?:  Hahaha, I’m a mom and a wife… so, I do a lot of cleaning up, laundry, and kissing ;). I also work part time at City Church doing the finances and I substitute at City Christian School.

All that kissing! No wonder Steve’s always smiling.

What’s your favorite part of church?:  I love ministering to Women… all women.  I love hearing their stories and loving on them.  What an honor it is to be a part of so many beautiful lives.  There is no greater feeling for me than when the Lord allows me to be a part of someone’s healing process.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently? Why?:  Oh my goodness… Where do I even begin?!  Obviously the correct and only answer here is the Bible! Lol, but I love reading, and there are so many wonderfully perfect stories that have influenced my life and perspective.  I tried to give five, but Bethany wouldn’t let me! So I’ll have to say “Jesus Feminist.”  This book has influenced me and helped shape me though so many seasons.  As a woman in ministry, it can sometimes feel as though you get lost in the mix, but this book reminds me that Jesus was the original feminist, He is for me and I belong.  I love that this book brings all women together and puts down any division among us.  

Best thing you’ve listened to?:  I recently listened to Jentzen Franklin preach a sermon called, “Worthy is the Lamb.”  It was extraordinary!  I loved how this sermon so practically reminded us that the focus should never be on us.  Good or bad, no matter what is happening, “Worthy is the Lamb.”  God deserves all the glory and credit, and our insecurities don’t matter.  He has chosen us and He deserves for us to give ourselves to developing and changing lives.

Funniest thing that has happened to you lately:  I don’t know…. That’s kinda sad!  Lol! I’m going to have to work on remembering the funny moments!

What prayers is God answering for you? Oh man, God has been in the business of answering our prayers lately in so many ways.  But, I think the biggest way he has come through is with the selling of our house in Florida.  But, honestly, this entire season of moving across the country and transitioning my life to Ventura has been so much fun as we watch the Lord move on our behalf.

What’s Jesus teaching you?: This may sound so simple, but this is the scripture I find myself meditating on the most lately is Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.”  When I am confused about my path and not sure how it is all going to work out, God reminds me of this.  It’s like He’s saying directly to me, “Don’t worry about it!  All you need to know is that there is a plan, it is good, and you will like it.”  And, I find extreme comfort in that!

A Woman Caught

Beeeeeeeeeeep. I jumped in my seat and looked in the rearview mirror. A wide-eyed woman in a large SUV was gesturing energetically with obvious frustration. Her car held close to the rear of mine with unrelenting aggression. Yikes! I thought I had plenty of time to pull out, but I’d clearly made a mistake. Oops. What now? I stared straight ahead as the road widened and she pulled past me in the lane to my right. She was shouting at me. “Oh Lord, don’t let her hurt me!” I thought. She accelerated quickly and turned the other way. Wow. I felt terrible.

It’s the absolute worst when you do something wrong and get caught. I’ve been the object of someone’s hostility a number of times in my life, some deserved, some undeserved. I’ve experienced loud and straightforward accusation and the cold shoulder of quiet rejection. I’ve been reminded of failures and asked, “Why aren’t you doing more?” These days accusation often comes through the immature (but age-appropriate) voices of my children who are learning to navigate the small disappointments of life. “Why can’t we watch more television? You are so mean.” “Mom, why are you so slow to tie my shoes and buckle my seatbelt!” A woman’s got to have tough skin! Every accusation results in a self-examining question: Did I do something wrong here? Sometimes,with my children, the answer is obvious. No, they’re too immature to understand my limitations. Other times I really have to question my motives and wonder, is that accusation an accurate description of my heart?

When we started this blog, I felt like I was supposed to post about the women God chose to talk about in the Bible. This post is the first. In John chapter 8, we meet an unnamed woman who was not only accused of doing wrong but was undeniably guilty.

She was suddenly shamed, scorned for the decision she had made, alone with her accusers who had snatched her from her lover’s bed, the angry mob who made it their mission to exemplify “goodness.” They often found people whose failures were “worse” than their own in order to hold their position. These Pharisees wanted to be good but deep down they knew that they were not good, that there was darkness in their hearts. The people looked up to them, listened to them, which gave them a sense of power and security, enough to keep up the whole charade.  

But Jesus very presence was threatening all of that. When He was around they felt inferior, unworthy. He questioned them in front of the people. They brought their morality and knowledge to him but it was their hearts He was after. He wasn’t impressed by the religious establishment. Jesus didn’t use the rules to get power but always seemed to bend them to empower someone else, someone who didn’t deserve it.

Today it was this woman, a cheater, facing her accusers. While God indeed knows her name and her story, we’re left only to remember her as “the woman caught in adultery.” The ancient rules were clear, a woman who cheated on her husband or slept with a cheater, had to die. She made a choice to do something wrong and she got caught. And now everyone knew and everyone looked at her and said, “at least I’m not as bad as that.” She stood there, guilty, a tool to make them all feel better, superior, until Jesus reminded them of a greater truth.

“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

And one by one they walked away. Immediately their conscious minds remembered the thoughts, the acts, the failure to be good. As much as they tried to deny it, get out of it, they were living in the darkness. Jesus stooped on the ground, writing with his finger in the dirt, like the ancient Lawgiver writing on the tablets. No one was left to execute the sentence because every person was guilty.

Except one.

Jesus is good, was good, perfectly good, and perfectly qualified to condemn and punish the woman. In fact, He knew about more than just that day’s offense, He saw in the darkness and knew all of the mistakes she’d ever made. But He doesn’t lift a stone. Instead, He asks her,

“Where are these accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, Master.” Three little words give voice to our condition. No human being can condemn us, punish us, judge us, because none are any better than we are. Only Jesus. And when we listen to His voice, He says, “neither do I condemn you. Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

True goodness is more than morality. We can be moral and do wonderful things to look good in the eyes of others but it only provides temporary relief. Goodness is about holiness. Holiness is being like Him, for Him, with Him.  Holiness is what we are made for, what we long for deep inside. It’s belonging solely to God and living completely for Him.

I imagine that when this woman faced her accusers and encountered Jesus, it made her desperately aware of her failures. Being in the presence of perfection can do that to a person. Maybe you’ve felt that way about church and God in general and determined to clean up your act before you attempt a relationship with Him.

But you can’t. She can’t. I can’t. He doesn’t ask us to, He asks us instead to step into the light, to stand before Him. We’re like a houseplant in a dark corner, shriveled and dry. When we’re moved near a window and the light shines on us, we come to life, our leaves spread, our floppy stems stiffen and straighten. We grow and flourish. All of our ugliness and deadness is exposed but as we absorb the light, it becomes part of us and we become beautiful.

Jesus says at the conclusion of this story, “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” 

The darkness is the lie, the terrible lie that came into the world at the beginning. It is the lie that says we can be good without God and leads us down a road to nowhere. But goodness comes when the light shines on us, in us, exposing the truth of who we really are. We weren’t born for darkness, our beings require the Light to live. When we experience Him and belong to Him, that light empowers us to live beautifully, generously, truly good.

What voices are accusing you today? What’s keeping you in the darkness, discouraging you from approaching Jesus and receiving His favor in your life? Maybe your spouse or parents always remind you of what you don’t do, maybe it’s a boss who’s just never satisfied with your work. Maybe your children, like mine, are young and immature and express demands much easier than appreciation. Maybe you are the one holding yourself to unbelievably unrealistic standards for your life. Maybe you’ve been told God can’t love you until you get it together.

Jesus says, “They don’t have the right to condemn you. I don’t condemn you either. Walk in my light and be my light. Stop living in the darkness.” He made a decision to step in our place and experience darkness on our behalf when He went to the cross. He silences the voices and calms our fears so that we can get back on the road, doing what we are made to do.

My friend, today I pray that you can walk confidently knowing that He is with you simply because He loves you, no matter what the other drivers think.

All scriptures are taken from the Message Paraphrase.

By Faith She

The book of Hebrews is one of my favorites in the Bible. It was written to the Jewish people by an unknown author, explaining how Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of centuries of God’s promises to His people. One of my Bible college professors was convinced that it could have been written by Priscilla, Aquila’s wife who was a prominent figure in the early church. Whether he was correct in his belief, we won’t know until we get to eternity, but it’s always fun to remember that there were women, active in the early church, telling their own beautiful stories about Jesus.

As I began to pray about about the idea for this Beautiful Stories blog, which I believe to be a “God idea,” I was reminded of Hebrews, chapter 11, the Great Faith Chapter. In verse 2 (MSG paraphrase), the author of Hebrews describes faith, “By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.” Faith is what gives us a perspective of history, of this life and everything that it means beyond our physical senses. The author gives examples from Abel (Adam’s son) to King David (the author of the Psalms) of many “great faith” moments of the Old Testament. The incredible history lesson is summarized with these statements: 

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again…

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. (Hebrews 1132-35a, 39-40 MSG Paraphrase):

Their stories and my story are inseparable. I am undone by the fact that God’s work in history includes millions of people around the world over thousands of years and yet is not complete without me. We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves! When I see my life in light of this greater perspective, I am inspired to live bigger, with greater passion to do everything God asks me to do. The author tells us how:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Heb. 12:1-2 MSG Paraphrase)

Wow! That does shoot adrenaline into my soul! It makes me want to get to work encouraging others and telling people how good He is! It makes me want to say, “yes,” when I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit to do something. Faith enables us to keep perspective of our story in the great context of His story, of His grace, of His love and His sacrifice for us. Our gaze is held steady on His face, knowing His gaze was steady on the joy of saving us even as He suffered a torturous crucifixion. We can walk confidently in the truth that this life is just a moment on the journey. We are indeed Heaven-bound, where every one of His promises will be perfectly fulfilled.

It is my desire that every post on this blog would be an extension of Hebrews chapter 11. I hope, as you read the stories here, you will believe that Jesus loved you so much that He died for you. I hope you will allow Him to transform you to become the person He created you to be. I hope that you will be reminded that you are not alone on your journey with Jesus, that you are surrounded by a great community of people who are being built together into a place where God lives. Paul describes it this way in Ephesians 2:19-22 (msg):

That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

So, welcome home! I can’t wait to hear your story.

Xoxo

Bethany

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