God, My Father

Growing up, I didn’t have a father in my life, so I developed feelings of rejection, abandonment, insecurity, and inadequacy. I felt unwanted, like I didn’t fit in or belong. Growing up without a father made it difficult for me to understand acceptance. I had a stepfather in my life, and even though my mother would assure me that he loved me, I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I saw it in the way he treated his own children versus how he treated me. Being a stepchild caused me to develop a stepchild mentality: always feeling like I didn’t measure up with all the other kids and like I was less important. I brought that emotion into my adulthood. When I made mistakes, my stepfather would magnify that mistake and continually remind me of it. He let me know how I failed.

When I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord, I had a misconception about fatherly love and felt that God was like my stepfather in that he kept an account of my mistakes and failures. Every time I made a false move I instantly felt so condemned and was so convinced that the Lord wanted nothing to do with me. That emotion of guilt flooded my heart with a sense of being unwanted and rejected by God. That is why the Word of God is so important to me. It’s through the Bible that the Holy Spirit taught me that I am accepted by God and I have been placed in the family of God permanently. It was not based on my performance, but on the finished work of Christ.

Ephesians 1:4-5 (NLT) says, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

All that Christ has accomplished in His death, burial, and resurrection was all for me so that I can enjoy a restored relationship with God. This acceptance is available to you too. When you believe in this incredible message about Jesus and invite Him to lead your life, you will be forever changed.

Join me in this prayer: Jesus, I believe that you love me without condition and that you adopt me into your family. I receive this love and acceptance and pray that you will make me the person you created me to be.

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Maryann Roque is a mother of five children and wife to Joseph Roque. Maryann and her husband are volunteers in the county jails. They love to minister the word of God and see people set free in every area of their lives.

 

Safety in Jesus

WILD Devotional

One of my favorite verses of all time is, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

I have loved this verse from my early teen years.  As I have reflected back on my formative years I realize how God was with me during very unpredictable times.   My parents’ violent divorce, my mother’s drug addiction, and the loss of my eldest sibling at age 4 (she was 6).  I can still remember where I was, which street I was on when I was told my sister would never be my sister again. Dead… what did dead, hit by a car mean? I had no context to understand it.  I only understood that I’d never have my sister come home. There were only feelings… lots of BIG feelings. My throat swelled, my eyes watered, and I felt I could not breath.

Over time, I adjusted to being the only child, Mom thankfully flushed her pills down the toilet, and purchased a Bible. We started to read about where my sister Karrie might be.  I learned the Lord’s prayer, we started attending church, and my mom married a wonderful, Christian man.

In the second grade I was invited up to an alter call at school chapel.   I remember them asking if anyone wanted to have Jesus come live in their heart and be their best friend. I raised my hand, wanting to be picked so bad, to have HIM choose me and to live in my heart.  I knew HE existed, I knew HE was real, because I knew my sister lived with Him and I would too, someday. God was always beautiful to me, a safe haven, a place of refuge, and PEACE.

Since I experienced loss early I have known how valuable life is and the people in it.  I longed to be close and connected to God, and to find refuge in Him (in the shadow of his wings) during the challenging AND beautiful times.

I have continued to practice being in this special place of safety with Jesus to this day.  I breathe and rest in him, take moments of Sabbath each week to hike, pray, ride a bike, go for a run, walk on the beach, or spend time with the people I treasure in this life.  In the art of stopping this fast-paced life, I sense his nearness most. When I slow down the pace of my life and enjoy being still, He speaks most clear and is most near. I breathe deep and am still before HIM.   

Lord, please give us limits, boundaries, and the ability to manage our schedules to make time for resting in our daily life.  Thank you that you can reveal to each of us how and where in our busy schedules to slow down and be still in Your presence and enjoy being filled up, loved on by our Abba Father.

 

25128Susan Martinez Lee is a mother of five and has been married to Jimmy and living in Ventura for 21 years. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The Lees are passionate about foster care and supporting other foster parents. They coach the cross country team at City Christian School where their son attends and they serve actively at Ventura Campus of The City Church.

When I Wandered

I’ve always loved babies and kids. From a very young age, I dreamed of being an elementary school teacher and decided I would do what it takes to become one.  I grew up in a “Christian” home and attended Sunday school and youth groups. When I was 15, everything was shaken in my life. My parents got a divorce and I began to question God and ask, “Why is this happening?” I went away to college happy to finally be on my own and away from the sadness of my broken family. I began to date for the first time and stopped going to church. Dating and guys became my idol as I began to search for someone to love me. I didn’t have a good example of real love or a healthy relationship.

Halfway through college, at the age of twenty, I found myself pregnant and in an abusive relationship. I had felt trapped and I had been praying for a way out of the relationship but this brought me to rock bottom. I was so ashamed. Even though I had turned my back on God, I still felt His presence in my life. He was still chasing after me!  He told me that He still loved me and would walk me through this part of my life. After many tears and prayers, I decided to place the baby for adoption. I was in the middle of college and still wanted to be a teacher and knew I could not provide for this child emotionally or financially. I found an amazing Christian family to adopt the baby and we have a great open adoption to this day. This was the hardest thing I have ever gone through but God was with me through the whole process- I could not have done it without Him.

Jesus said, ”What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18: 12-14). I love this verse because it reminds me of my story. God was still searching after me even though I continued to disobey Him with my own desires and sin! I can only imagine the type of rejoicing that happened in Heaven when I finally decided to give up my selfish ways and trust Him.

I moved back to Ventura after college and was in search of a new church and community. I had checked out a few churches in the area but did not feel welcomed or noticed. I decided to give City Church a try because I had seen the stickers on cars around town. I happened to be there on a City Group Sunday. I enjoyed the service but, since I am shy, I wanted to get out of there without having to talk to anyone. I wanted to get on with my Sunday but God had different plans.  After the service, two women, Tiffany Dooley and Shaleta Chatman, stopped me invited me to their City Group. I immediately felt cared for and important after talking to them for just a few minutes. They took a genuine interest in my story and who I was. I wasn’t just another new person at church anymore. I thought visiting The City Church was a random decision but God knew what He was doing. He knew exactly what I needed: community and love.

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I attended their group for two years and developed amazing friendships and community with those girls. My faith grew as a believer and they challenged me in my life. I came into the group broken, with a lot of baggage, and they didn’t judge me for it. They were a genuine example of God’s love and grace. They loved on me and prayed for me. This was the first time in my life I felt like I had genuine girlfriends who cared about me. I could call Tiffany any time of the day or night for prayer or encouragement.

 

Tiffany baptized me a couple of years later. When I married my husband, Dallas, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding and her husband, Andy, officiated the ceremony. Now Dallas and I have a beautiful baby girl of our own. The love of Jesus is so real and it’s expressed through real people doing real life together. If it wasn’t for the love of Jesus I experienced in my City group, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

KNP_2578Allison LaPrelle has been attending the City Church for over five years. She is married to her husband, Dallas. They just had their first baby girl- Isabella Grace. Allison is a kindergarten teacher at a public school in Santa Paula. She is passionate about children and loves to serve in the nursery.

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.