A New Heartbeat

Around the age of one, doctors diagnosed me with a complete/ 3rd degree heart block.  A person with this condition is at high risk for a sudden cardiac death. My parents became so nervous when they received the news. Regular exercise was now life threatening for me. I have spent much of my life with cardiologists and in emergency rooms due to chest pains. I constantly had shortness of breath every time I went up a flight of stairs. In New York City, where I grew up, a flight of stairs in the subway was unavoidable.

When I was about 17 years old, doctors told my mom and dad that my heart was going to get weaker. They talked to me about the possibility of a pacemaker. I remember praying and believing God would heal me. I know this sounds crazy,  but during a prayer time at my home church,  I remember feeling as if God was actually healing my heart. I wanted to confirm that this was true so I went to the doctor. They ran an EKG and told me that my heart had changed and it looked different. They saw no signs of a heart block. I was ecstatic. I didn’t have chest pains or shortness of breath for a few years after that. I truly believe God healed me.

Then, early in August 2017, I felt light headed for three days straight at work. On the third day, I knew that something was up. I told my coworker I felt like I was going to pass out. I drove myself home and my friend took me to urgent care. The doctors ran tests and then followed up with more tests. I felt so “off” the following weeks. After what felt like forever, two cardiologists confirmed that I would need a pacemaker. They said they had no idea how I was able to function without one for so many years. They were surprised I had not passed out and died at some point. I remember hearing them say “if you want to have kids… if you want to live more years… If you want to… you need to have this surgery.” 

I went home and was so overwhelmed. I thought “God, I thought you healed me?! What happened to my heart changing and no symptoms?!” There were so many doubts and fears going through my mind. 

What happens when the prayer God answered suddenly seems like a lie? We lose our hope and feel that God has failed us. We think, “Why is this happening?” I dealt with those fears and doubts. I remember praying before making the decision about surgery and I heard God say, in the quietness of my heart, “Marie, I’m still your healer, and sometimes the way I heal is not what you expect. I can heal in different ways.” That brought me so much peace.

Fast forward to my surgery; it was painful. I couldn’t move my left arm for 6 weeks! It felt more comfortable sleeping in a sitting position then lying down. I remember feeling overwhelmed.  Then the Ventura fires happened. If you know anything about smoke, it affects your lungs and can also affect your heart. Worship got me through this season of sleepless nights.  The presence of God brought me peace. It was not the easiest journey, but God was there and He sent His people. I honestly couldn’t have gone through it without a community. Many people at the City Church stood by me to pray with me, bring me food, take me to doctor visits and spend time with me. 

After Jesus was crucified and had been dead for three days, Mary Magdalene went to tell the disciples that Jesus had been resurrected. She stated “He’s alive and I’ve seen him!” Their faith was restored. Maybe my story can give a similar hope to you. Are you going through a hopeless situation and you feel as if God has let you down? Your situation may feel as conclusive as death itself. Rest assured that God wants to make that situation come to life.  Look up, believe His word. He wants to restore it and turn it around. Wait for the miracle. I’ve seen what He can do.

PHOTO 2Marie Martinez graduated from the Generation Intern program in Seattle, WA and moved with Pastors Jude and Becky to help pioneer the City Church in Ventura in 2011. She now attends the Ventura campus and serves as worship overseer for the Spanish ministry. She is passionate about building the local church and leading people into the presence of God through worship. Marie has been a College City group leader for seven years and loves raising up women to be passionate for God, and empowering them lead and disciple other young women.

 

A True Friend

Recently, Pastor Tiffany spoke on being a friend and what friendship with God looks like. This caused me to reflect on my experiences with friendship. Growing up, I did not have very good female friendships.  I guess it was the “fun” in dysFUNction that allowed me to stay in these messy relationships. They were full of backbiting, mean girl shenanigans and DRAMA!!!

It was not until I had my first son, Malachi, and became friends with other young, Christian mothers that I really learned how to be a true friend.

When Malachi was about 2 years old, I became friends with a woman who had a son about the same age as mine. She invited us over one day for a play date and around lunch time, I was packing up to leave, but she insisted that we stay for lunch. This was such a simple thing, but this act of kindness and generosity completely floored me. It was hard for me to accept her invitation. I knew that we were both on strict budgets and food and diapers were so expensive, but she was willing to share her food and time with me. On those long days of being home alone with a toddler, this was like a trip to Disneyland!!

We quickly became very good friends and spent a lot of time together raising our boys. Unfortunately, a time came when we needed to have a difficult conversation to correct some things between us. However, my lack of healthy friendship skills kept me from addressing the problem in love. I ended up abruptly cutting off the relationship and hurting her quite badly.

Soon enough, this same thing was done to me by another friend. As I wallowed in my pain and self pity, one day the Lord showed me what I had done to my first friend. I had hurt her the same way that I was hurting. I was aghast!! See, I really didn’t think I was that bad of a person or a friend. This caused me to ponder the fact that my inadequacies as a friend explained why my earlier friendships were so tumultuous. Could I be the problem???

I quickly went to the phone to call the woman that I had hurt and begged for her forgiveness. I was very nervous and prepared myself for a tongue lashing. What I got from her instead, again, completely floored me. She said, “Sharon, I really appreciate you calling me. I have already forgiven you. I have been praying for you to be blessed; you and your family. You already had my forgiveness, but it’s really nice to have an apology.”

I was stunned and humbled. The same woman who taught me how to be a true friend continued to be a true friend even when I had not. She was the first example in human form of how the Lord Jesus extends His friendship to us. Even when we don’t keep up our side of the relationship, He doesn’t let go and He continues to pray that we would be blessed. His love never fails!

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

This friend of mine has embodied this verse in my life and caused me to strive to also be this kind of friend. Some of the things I have learned about true friendship are these: we must be forgivers (Matt 6:14). True friends don’t gossip and can be trusted with a secret (Proverbs 16:28).  True friends always look for the good (Proverbs 11:27). True friends confront in love when needed and don’t bail when things get rough (Proverbs 27:6). True friends are patient. True friends are kind. True friends are dependable. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

In a world full of mean girls and social media “friendships,” let’s be the friends that God has called and empowered us to be!

IMG_6331Sharon Rhodes is a mom of three incredible boys and the wife of Allen. She’s passionate about prayer and evangelism and helped to pioneer the Agoura Campus of The City Church. She leads the Agoura Campus prayer team and also leads a City Group. If you’re passionate about prayer and would like to join Sharon, come to one of our Sunday Grow Classes available every week during the 10:30 service at the Agoura Campus!

Zero Missed Calls

I think a lot of mothers dream about the day they have a daughter and can have that best friend relationship. Her daughter tells her absolutely everything that’s going on in her life and no secrets are kept. I know that isn’t a reality for everyone but I’m fortunate enough to consider my mom my best friend. Now don’t get me wrong, she’s still definitely my mother and I’m always reminded of that when she calls me from 1,000 miles away to make sure I got home safe. When she asks if I’m out at night by myself. I usually respond “Mom, I’m fine!” I’m so thankful for her. If you’re a mother of a daughter I pray you too can have a close relationship.

When I moved from the Seattle area to Ventura for Bible College, three and half years ago, not much changed in the relationship between my mom and I. It’s typical we talk on the phone and FaceTime a few times a day. So, this past December 4th when I called her in a panic at 9:30pm while I was nannying, she answered the phone like she always did. I explained to her that there was a large glowing fire I could see in the distance and I wasn’t sure what to do with two sleeping kids. She calmed me down in spite of being two states away and she gave me that comfort that only a mother can give. I made the decision to take the kids and leave. That night the Thomas fire blazed through the city of Ventura and the house where I work was lost as well as the car I had left behind.

Who’s that first person you call in time of need? The person that you can be completely real with? The person who knows you so well but loves you anyways? The person you want to share your absolute worst moments with, but also your best? My mom is amazing but I believe that God is the truest form of that person. Life can get chaotic, it can sometimes seem like too much to even handle, but I really believe that it’s in those moments that we get to see the character of who God is so clearly. His comfort and peace is like no other. His voice can calm even the most intense storms.

In the months following the fire, God’s peace has been so real to me. Every time I call on Him and hear His voice, I am given that reassurance that He is in control. Everyday he reminded me that He would take care of everything and it has been so incredible to see God work in my life in this situation. Someone I didn’t even know let me use their brand new car while I looked to purchase one. Countless people sent me encouraging texts and I am so thankful for every person God placed in my path. I was so blown away by the generosity of the people around me. Just last week I was able to purchase a car that was way better than the one I had lost because of people who had given so generously to me. Isn’t that so like God’s character? He provides all we need and more!

I‘ll admit it, I hate answering my phone. I would much rather someone text me so I can respond when it’s convenient. But I’m working on getting better at it, I promise! When I call my mom she picks up 99.9% of the time (its not quite the same for me, sorry mom!). How much more does our Father God care and listen to us?! He’s ready and listening 100% of the time. I’m so thankful that God NEVER declines or blocks our calls! Psalm 18:6 says “But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.” Jesus wants to be the first one we call upon in times of distress. There is so much freedom and peace that comes when we cry out to Him and let him carry our burdens. Its something I constantly have to remind myself of, that I don’t have to carry my issues (Psalm 55:22). Its so easy to get caught up in the struggle of life and forget that we have a direct line to Jesus. He sympathizes because He experienced life like we do, He’s always there and He isn’t going anywhere. He wants us to tell Him everything: our concerns, our excitement, our frustrations. That constant communication with Him causes us to become closer to Him and rely on Him more.

Can I encourage you to place God as the first person you call on in times of need? He’s always listening and available. When we try to deal with our problems on our own, they seem to get heavier. Remind yourself daily that God is for you, and he’ll carry you through every season of your life. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” When I truly sit and meditate on this verse it blows me away. The God of the universe cares and loves you specifically. Call on Him today, and let Him take your worries and replace it with His perfect peace.

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Ashley Lundgren grew up in Edmonds, Washington and when she was 19 she moved to Ventura, CA to attend California Coast Bible College. She graduated from CCBC in 2016 and is currently a nanny. She loves serving at the City Church and leads a High School city group and helps weekly in City Kids.

Focus

A WILD Devotional

As a child, I learned to play volleyball. I played it all through school and whenever I could during my free time; it became a very strong passion of mine. I had a very good coach. He taught my team and I a lot about volleyball and life. During our games, he would always have our whole team say, “Next point,” whenever we lost a point. He wanted us to forget the last point and focus on doing our best for the next point and the bigger goal of winning the whole game. Many of my teammates, including myself at times, would be so focused on what went wrong from the last point, that we weren’t prepared and doing our best for the point we were playing for in the moment. If we didn’t adjust our focus on what was ahead, we would get stuck on our mistakes and often lose the game.

I have found that this correlates so much to following Jesus. I tend to beat myself up a lot when I feel as though I’m not doing things right or thinking about all the other ways I could have done something better. I dwell on the things of the past. I continue to fail and I often just don’t understand why things aren’t improving. I know that I want them to and I try so hard to improve and move forward, but my focus is on the mistake, the failure, the past. I often don’t even realize I’m doing this. In Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV) Paul says, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Wherever my focus is, that is where I stay. The only way to move forward is to look forward and take steps that way, instead of moving backwards or just standing still. If I focus on my past, I will stay in the past. If I focus on my failures, I will not grow. When I focus on Jesus and what He’s done for me, who He says I am, I experience this in a real way. I let go of the past and step into who He has made me to be. 

Where is your focus? Are you focusing on the past, who you used to be? I encourage you today, look to Him and enjoy everything He has for you!

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Tori Munson is a second year student at California Coast Bible College. She’s passionate about studying her Bible, loving people, and building the local church. 

Protected by Silence but not Deaf

A WILD Devotional

When the baby was eight days old, [neighbors and relatives] came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him.  He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is
John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.

Luke 1:57, 61-64 New Living Translation

Zachariah was temporarily mute and used gestures or writing to communicate during this time until he “could speak again”.

When I initially read verse 62, I laughed at the thought that Zachariah could be thinking – “um… I can hear you, I just can’t talk!”. It also made me realize that just like “the neighbors and relatives,” we often assume limitations or consequences from shortcomings. Yes, Zechariah was mute, but there’s a silver-lining.

I could perhaps think that Zechariah was punished for doubting, but what I see is the Father’s protection so that he could not speak death into a promise given by God. Is not life and death “within the power of the tongue?” (Proverbs 18:21)

Though complaining may bring some satisfaction, and very short-lived, it drags me further into a hopelessness that becomes harder to fight. I choose to surround myself with life – listening to the Word, worship songs, etc., until what pours out of me is life.

When I am given a promise from the Lord, if I can’t speak life into it, then I protect it by being silent and getting around those that will speak life into it. By remaining silent and actively listening to life spoken into this promise, I allow myself to get stirred up and the desire to complain or give up lessens. After all, it’s just for a time and not forever that I have to bite my tongue – isn’t that worth it?

Every word from God is precious. When we receive Jesus and believe in Him, the truth of what He says and does, we become who we were created to be!

Join me in this prayer:

Father, help us protect what you have spoken to us and to others. Keep us from critical words against ourselves and each other. May Your Word be the life we speak and may our silence in times of doubt be protected by those around us that love you and fear you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

image1Cindy Andrade lives in Los Angeles and finds joy and fulfillment in helping receive their God-centered breakthroughs. She’s a big believer of celebrating victories as no victory is too small. She finds beauty in the process of overcoming the difficulties of life while looking for the silver-lining in situations and holding on to the Father’s love as a lifeline. She has recently joined The City Church Agoura campus and is looking forward to encouraging others in this community.

No Greater Love: To All the Single Ladies

To quote the queen (no, not Blair Waldorf, but yes, Queen B, Beyonce herself), “all the single ladies, now put your hands up!” So, my hand is up. Yes, I’m single and a lady, and find myself walking into church all too often to hear another message about marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I love marriage. In fact, I want to be married (any other single ladies with their hands up on that one?)! But frankly, I’m not at this point in my life (note the empty ring finger, bed, and womb that remind me daily of that fact).

My journey in “singledom” may or may not be similar to your journey, but whether you’re a 20-year old pining away for that cute guy, or you’re more seasoned in life, with a failed marriage or two under your belt, us ‘single ladies’ all have one thing in common – and it’s not our marital status (although that may seem the obvious). What we have in common with our journey is that God is the orderer of all our steps (Psalm 37:23), and whether we’ve made all the right decisions to lead us to where we are today or we took a few devastating detours to arrive at our current destination, the reality is no matter the journey: God is in control.

GOD IS IN CONTROL

It has been my greatest life lesson the last 18 months. In those months, I’ve battled a few broken relationships, struggled with comparing my life to my ‘married with three kids best friends,’ and fought insecurities of loneliness, worth, and feeling forgotten by God. So, you can imagine (or maybe you’ve even been there before), walking into church on a Sunday to hear another message about marriage, doesn’t always lead to the great, uplifting feelings of hope, but rather reiterates the feelings of despair in my heart and emotions.

During those 18 months, I had a major breaking point. I (thankfully) called on a friend during my low-point, and they did what every good friend should do – they listened and then they created space for me to meet with the only One who could really help me in that moment with all that inside junk. They turned on the United Pursuit song Never Going Back (yes, pause and go download it now!). I sat in their car, tears streaming down my cheeks, exhausted from battling my heart and emotions, listening to the lyrics of this song:

You say I am Yours

I never am alone
You found me

And I’ve made up my mind
I’m never going back

The lyrics hit my heart like a weight, pressing down on my insecurity of loneliness and the feeling of being forgotten; those misguided emotions that kept trying to squeeze the life out of me, kept me singing along hopelessly with Queen B and all the single ladies. Overwhelmed by the weight of my emotions and the puffiness of my eyes (not to mention, the mascara parading down by face like a black waterfall), I sat there silently waiting for Jesus to show up. At that point, the song shifts, and all of a sudden, so does my perspective…

I’m singing out Your lovely name
I’m giving You everything
You make my soul alive
You put Your love inside

Where my soul felt choked by my season and emotions that surrounded my circumstance, I realized He is what makes my soul alive! Maybe it’s a no-brainer for you and I’m just late to the game, but in that moment, my soul felt life again; my soul felt God. My soul felt peace that comes not from having all the circumstances right (cuz they weren’t) or all the prayers answered (cuz I’m still waiting on some…) or even all the emotions in a healthy place (cuz, well, I’m a girl and when are we not emotional?!); but it felt peace that transcends my understanding (Philippians 4:7). Peace that comes from when He’s in control and not me.

I kept trying to control my circumstances and season. If I could just look this certain way, talk to that certain guy, live in this certain place, do this or do that, then surely, I’d no longer be singing Single Ladies, but instead Prince Charming would be sweeping me off my feet with his own rendition of Train’s Marry Me. And that was the problem. I was trying to be in control. And quite frankly, it wasn’t working.

So, I decided to give Him everything. It’s in that place of surrender, where I genuinely let Him be in control that my soul found life. It brought greater meaning to the verse that says when I lose my life, that’s when I find it (Luke 9:24). When I give up control and allow Him to lead, that’s when I find life; that’s when my soul is truly alive, full of joy and peace that can only come from Him.

You’re like… isn’t she a pastor? What does she mean she wasn’t surrendered to God? I love God; loved Him for a long time. I obey the Bible to the best I can, reflect Christ in my daily life as much as I can, but still held onto a few things trying to stay in control. Control is comfortable and familiar, so I thought. Like a good backseat driver, I let Jesus take the wheel, but I kept trying to give Him directions.

So surrendering completely to Him, meant letting Him drive and trusting He knew the best route and the best timing and the best people to take along on the ride. It shifted from comfortable control to the adventurous life of faith. The difference was the One calling the shots.

YOUR LOVE INSIDE

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to meet the love of my life. I want to have someone who loves me the most and thinks of me first; someone to put a ring on it, fill my bed and my womb! However, in that moment where I felt my soul come alive, I realized I don’t need that to be alive, fulfilled, and happy. I realized WHY my soul felt alive: because His love is inside me and He is in control!

He loves me. He put His love on the inside of me. There’s no greater love than the love of God towards me. It may seem so elementary, but for me it was revolutionary. I can’t control my love life, I can’t control people, I can’t control circumstances, seasons of life or anything else. But I know the One who controls it all; the One who puts His love on the inside of me, that drowns out every insecurity, comparison, and deferred hope.

John 15:13 says there is no greater love, than a love that will lay down their life. Jesus loves us so much, He demonstrated the greatest love, to give His life, that I could have life in Him. Greater than the love of any man, parent, friend is the love of God towards me. There is truly NO greater love. Don’t let that RomCom, Insta post, or person tell you anything otherwise! Jesus is the greatest love story to hit human kind!

NEVER GOING BACK

I made a determination that day, that I’m never going back to life without His love inside. Not that it ever wasn’t there, but I let the lack of love from other sources overshadow the most incredible love of all time! And I would never go back to that.

I lean fully into Him. He’s in control of the circumstance, in control of the season, in control of my life. He’s in control! And that’s relief – I don’t have to be!

I’m not going back to insecurity – I’m secure in His faithful love.

My future is secure in His faithful love.

My heart is secure in His faithful love.

My hope is secure in His faithful love.

I am secure in His faithful love, and I trust Him.

The message of marriage is powerful – Ephesians 5 tells us it’s the closest replication of God’s love towards His bride, the church. But even the love of a man and woman in marriage cannot compare to the love of God towards me and towards you. So now when I hear another message about marriage, I’m reminded of God’s incredible love. I’m reminded of my season and that God’s in control of it, and so far, His track record is perfect in always knowing better than me and working things together for my good. So I’ll rest in that.

So to all my single ladies, what a beautiful season to be lavished in the love of God. What a beautiful season to fix your heart and attention on Him and trust Him to faithfully work ALL things together for your good (Romans 8:28). It takes all the pressure off, puts peace in your heart and mind, and makes for a beautiful, adventurous life of faith. I’m content He’s in control.

I’m confident someone will come and “put a ring on it” and I will be ready to say yes, quicker than the Bachelor can hand out roses! But my hope and security are not in that. I am secure in His faithful love. We are secure in His faithful love; and for me, I’m never going back to anything else.

IMG_4788Breanna Giberson is an associate pastor and executive administrator at The City Church. She serves weekly at the Ventura campus. Breanna moved from Seattle to help Pastors Jude and Becky plant the City Church in 2011 and loves the sunshine in Southern California. Breanna experienced God in a powerful way as a high school student and served in youth ministry for many years. She is passionate about introducing people to Jesus Christ and raising up leaders in City Groups. She adores her nieces and nephews and is  affectionately known and loved by all of the City Church staff kids as, “Auntie B.”

Finding Rest

A WILD Devotional

Surrender is something that I think sounds easy to do at times, but can actually be very difficult. I’ve come across many areas in my life this week that I  realized I needed to surrender to God. I became keenly aware of my own “busy-ness.” I have a desire to love others and serve others, to help where help is needed and to constantly be growing. While these are all good things, they can quickly become dangerous things if we aren’t careful. I have a tendency to say yes to everything just because I know help is needed or because I’ll get the chance to love others. Sometimes I’m just striving to prove my love to God. However, I spend way too little time with myself and with God and way too little time resting. By not allowing myself this time and continuing to do things the  way I’m doing them now, I’ll eventually be running on empty, unable to give out anything, and that’s not beneficial to anyone.

God had completely wrecked my Tuesday morning in the very best way. In an inaudible voice, He told me that I needed to learn to accept the love and blessings He gives me, as a gift to be cherished for myself, not just something to be shown to others. He also spoke to me that I don’t need to  strive  because I already have his undivided attention and unconditional love available to me, whether I do anything or not.

Hebrews 4:9-10 talks about this, “So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world.” (NLT)

I’m so thankful to God for creating this rest and for Jesus who made a way for me to enter into this rest by dying on the cross. He’s made amends for my failures and promises to help me. Now I can serve and love from what I already have, not what I’m trying to achieve.

Hailey O BrienHalley O’Brien is a first year student at California Coast Bible College. She has a passion for people and a passion for music. Encouraging others and speaking into others is important to her because she loves to see people grow into their potential. She loves to be around her family and friends and enjoys frequent trips to Disneyland. In her spare time you may find her songwriting, snacking, or telling really corny jokes.