Floating

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

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

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

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

Clothed in Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Perfect Timing

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

Made Whole Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

God First

A WILD Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

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

My Shield

I love to hike and worship God on the trails in Ventura.  On one of my hikes, with my earbuds in, I couldn’t resist singing out loud to one of my favorite worship songs.  I should mention I wasn’t blessed with a great singing voice. With my fists pumping overhead and hiking up the trail, I rounded the corner to find two women smiling and giggling at my private worship concert.  I had a good laugh too.

“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving” (Ps. 28:7, NLT)

This passage means a lot to me. God loves me and protects me, as a shield, causing my heart to overflow bursting with love and joy for Him and others.  I can’t hold it in – I live to share the love of Christ with everyone. With the Lord as my shield, I am safe to pursue His will for me, trust Him, and accept the invitation to His adventures.

I picture this shield as a huge steel ornate six foot tall shield, not a wimpy small hand held one.  It is impenetrable, the armor of God, on all levels; physical, emotional, and spiritual. On one of God’s adventures, He asked me to care for my favorite great aunt, my second mom, while she was on her way to Him.  My husband and I had been inviting my aunt to live with us and she finally accepted after 5 years, now at 85 years old. She moved in on St. Patrick’s Day and we celebrated with a big corned beef dinner. The next morning she wasn’t feeling well; I was hoping it wasn’t my cooking.  My husband took her to the ER and they did a scan that revealed bone cancer in her from head to toe. They released her home to us on hospice. Our journey of caring for her began and boy did I need that shield! My aunt believed in Jesus with all her heart, which made this a heavenly experience.  Jesus brought her home to heaven thirty days from diagnosis. During that time we sang at the top of our lungs, prayed, played games and watched “her boys,the Los Angeles Dodgers.  During her last 24 hours, with her eyes closed, she called out to go home.  In the stillness of the night she went to Heaven and there was no doubt Jesus was in the room, His shield all around us.

This experience was one of my greatest losses, but also one of my greatest joys.  My Aunt Jean was an angel on earth for me and I thank God for giving me the gift of the ability to care for her.  I could never have done this without Him, “my strength and my shield.”

Prayer – Lord Jesus, surround us as a shield and protect and guide through everything you have for us.  Strengthen us and fill us with joy for all the people we meet and adventures you call us to. We trust in You.  In Jesus’ Name Amen.
Emily Stevens is a wife to Craig and mother of two amazing teens.  She is a high school teacher. She loves to camp with her family, read, worship, and be active.  Emily and Craig serve on the greeting team at the Ventura Campus.

Emily Stevens (pictured above right with her aunt and sister) is a wife to Craig and mother of two amazing teens.  She is a high school teacher. She loves to camp with her family, read, worship, and be active.  Emily and Craig serve on the greeting team at the Ventura Campus.

“I Can’t Hear You?”

A WILD Devotional

How can you believe in a God you can’t see?

If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably heard that question floating around the subject of belief.  When pondering the question myself I figure– well God uses many forms of communication; He shows us He’s real by appealing to our other senses. Similarly, a blind person wouldn’t believe they exist in isolation just because they can’t see the environment around them, they will communicate and experience through other means and methods. But then Romans 10:17 crossed my mind;

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (NKJV)

This brought up the question; what if you can’t hear God? For most people, the seed of their faith is planted when someone (or God Himself) tells them about the word and what He has for them. Most of the message taught encourages you in the fact that God wants to form a relationship with you, He wants to communicate with every one of us. And He does, as we read the Bible but in that book we also see a multitude of scenarios in which God spoke something into existence or spoke to people. So Christians and non- Christians alike get frustrated when they can’t ‘hear’ Gods voice about a. As a result, their trust may start to waver because God isn’t doing what He’s known to do, speak – but is speaking all there is?

Something I have learned on my walk is that God loves diversity and that encompasses varieties in communication. He loves to utilize the entirety of His creation, and that means He likes to speak through things like music, or nature and so much more! However, if I do ever slip into thinking that His silence equates to absence I must rely on faith -the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11 NKJV) and I encourage myself with the ending of Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV) “He will not leave nor forsake you” He never has and He never will.  Just like when you’re in a relationship (platonic or romantic) you learn how to enjoy each other’s presence in silence, or read between the lines of someone’s disposition- The more you develop your relationship with God, the more you can understand Him even in his silence, and the more you trust Him in your chaos. 

God loves you so much and wants that relationship so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross. He is and He will communicate with you and help you to know what to do in life. If you want to experience more of that, join me in this prayer:

Jesus, I believe you want to speak with me both through the Bible and beyond. Open all of my senses to know how you are leading and directing my life. Amen.

IMG_0573Roniyah Shasanmi (pictured with her mom) is 19 years old and a native of Upper Norwood, England. She’a an artist and loves expressing her heart creatively. She’s currently studying cultural anthropology at community college. Roni has been attending the Agoura campus of The City Church for a couple of years. She loves serving on the worship team and in Generation Church.