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.

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.