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 CCBC 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 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.

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!