Breathing but not Living

“Is this really it?” I thought to God as I flopped onto my bed at the end of the day. I sat and pondered my past week. It seemed as though every week was the same thing: routine. Frustrated, I pondered on the fact that I wasn’t really getting anywhere in life. I wasn’t pursuing any specific dreams or passions. I asked God again, “Is this really what life is supposed to look like? Wake up, go to school, go to work, go to sleep, repeat?” Little did I know what God had planned for me in just a few short months.

I was stuck in a puddle of black tar called “religion” for 18 years, and I didn’t even realize it. I never felt specifically called or chosen for anything. I barely knew who I was because I was always trying to please people and be who they wanted me to be. In a matter of one month, the direction of my life completely shifted. I was planning to take the safe route and go to a university for two years to get my bachelor’s degree. An opportunity opened to move to Ventura, California for nine months at California Coast Bible College. Let me tell you, there was no possible way the latter option was able to work out without God Himself maneuvering the situation. At the last minute (literally a few days before I had to move), God finally confirmed everything in my favor to go.

My experience here at the City Church in the California Coast Bible College has been beyond words, I have never felt more alive in my life than I do now. First of all, never in my wildest dreams did I think that a small beach town like Ventura would be the perfect place for me to grow. Living in the sunshine, ten minutes from the beach, surrounded by the most uplifting community I have ever encountered, God has met my every need in this season. He has been revealing my greatest talents, treasures, colors and passions, and it has been the most exciting and nerve-wracking thing to see Him paving my future in ways I couldn’t have imagined. As I’ve encountered real life in a real relationship with Jesus Christ, he has taken and is taking me from glory to glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ASV says, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” Imagine if I never got real with God by asking Him what life is supposed to look like. I would have never known what it was like to feel alive and walk in my fullest potential.

Maybe you’re asking the same question. I believe God’s answer for you today is found in a real, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Join me in this prayer:

Jesus, I believe that you died and rose again so that I could experience real and abundant life. Please help me follow you in the opportunities that you give me so that I can live this incredible life with you.

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Jessie Ryapolov is a student at California Coast Bible College in Ventura, California who moved from Battle Ground, Washington. She is passionate about music and leading worship at the Agoura Campus of the City Church as well as working with the City Christian School kids during practicum. In her free time, Jessie loves to write music, surf, hang out at the beach and explore coffee shops.

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Remembering His Faithfulness

A friend told me recently that I needed to remind myself of how faithful God has been in my life. And honestly, I laughed. My pride said inside, “I know how faithful God is.” Let’s be real, you‘ve been in this situation before, too. But in that moment, I didn’t see the difference in knowing how faithful God is and seeing his faithfulness in my life. And so I went on a journey. And let me tell you, it was a journey, because I had no idea where any of these journals were – hey siri, remind me to clean my room later today.

Once found, my three journals and I sat at a coffee shop for almost three hours reading about the trials I had faced. On those pages, I was reminded of a girl who was lost and broken and alone. A girl who, not so long ago, thought that God had abandoned her, thought that she was worthless, and thought that it was better to be alone than make new friends and risk getting stabbed in the back like she had been many times before. And little did I know, a girl who was all too relatable to the girl reading those pages that day. I sat reflecting on what God had brought me through, and I honestly started to get frustrated at myself and didn’t believe that He would do it again.

First of all, that’s a lie from the enemy. He will lie to you and try to distract you from the truth, so be on guard. But second of all, I was comforted in that moment by God, through the coffee shop owner might I add, that not all seasons are going to be the same length of time. Think about groundhog day year to year: some years he doesn’t see his shadow and we get to welcome spring in a few short weeks and other years he does see his shadow and we’re stuck in winter for longer than we hoped. (Groundhog day is totally folklore, but metaphorically still applicable to your life).

Don’t let the length of time of the season distract you from God’s faithfulness. You won’t be stuck in winter forever. Spring ALWAYS comes because Jesus died and rose again and promised us new, full, abundant life once and for all. If this season seems unbearably long, look back at what God has brought you through already and remind yourself that if He has done it countless times before, He can absolutely do it again.

“Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.”(Psalm 89:2)

 

image1Mattea graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, CT with a degree in International Studies and a degree in Music. She currently works and travels with Life Without Limbs and administrating events nationwide. She has been actively involved at The City Church since the beginning and serves at the Agoura Campus leading Worship and overseeing the social media team.

HIS strength

“You are strong, but you don’t have to be.” I will never forget those words spoken over me at a Thursday night prayer. God was speaking directly to my heart. He was addressing years of physical and verbal abuse from my father, who made me feel as though his love was something I had to earn.

That perspective transferred over to my relationship with God. I knew that Jesus died for me but I didn’t think He could really love me, want to help me, or be my friend because I hadn’t earned it yet. So, for years, I tried to do better and be better out of my own strength and will power. But when I heard those words – “You are strong, but you don’t have to be” – I realized that God didn’t want me to try harder. He wanted me to depend on Him.

Ephesians 2:9-10 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

We cannot become better or more righteous by trying harder. It is only by looking at Jesus, believing in His grace, and fully receiving his gift that we become NEW people through the transforming power of Christ!

Dearest Reader, I believe that God says this to you too – “You are strong, but you don’t have to be.” Stop trying to do things on your own. Invite God into the process. He can and He wants to transform you. Romans 10 in the Message translation says it best – “You’re not ‘doing’ anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation.”

Prayer: God, thank You for your grace. I am done trying to do it all on my own. I fully surrender and depend on You to transform my life. I am a new person because of Your gift, not my behavior. Please help me hear from the Holy Spirit and hunger for the truth of Your word. Thank You that your strength is made perfect in my weaknesses.

DR 2018Rachel Flores moved to Ventura from Seattle, Washington in 2015 and now works as the City Kids Director at The City Church Agoura campus. She is passionate about mentoring young women (join her college or high school City Group!), outreach and missions, and volunteers as the Missions Coordinator for California Coast Bible College. On her days off, you’ll find Rachel at brunch with friends or exploring Malibu.

 

Beauty for Ashes in Thousand Oaks

If there is one thing that will always make me cry, it’s when God shows his love in a specific way toward me. When I was planning my wedding, I fell in love with a song that perfectly captured this truth. I would listen to it on repeat and no matter how many times I heard it, it still moved me to tears. I decided to have my cousin sing it at our wedding. It opens with the phrase, “Its beauty for ashes now…”

That song, taken from Isaiah 61, illustrates the promise that God gives us a crown of beauty in exchange for our ashes. I have clung to this promise many times. When I’m in the thick of it, it’s always difficult to see how something beautiful can come out of the trial. However, the best part of having a “go-to” verse is the reminder of the last time I drew on that verse. This enables me to reflect on how God fulfilled that promise every time before.

As I sit here today, I am again holding onto Isaiah 61. In the past week, my community has been rattled; first by a mass shooting that took place down the road from our home. Then, just over 24 hours later, by a mass evacuation due to threatening wildfires. Our town now looks as physically broken and ominous as our hearts felt following the shooting.

Thankfully, our home was protected. But many were not.  Our hearts are heavy from the all-out assault that our community endured. I am not sure how, but I trust in my Father to fulfill his promise for Thousand Oaks. As I went back to read the verse again, I was again reminded of his specific love for me, I just needed to read a little further… to see the reference of the oak tree. It’s a little thing, but for me today, it was everything.

“to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called OAKS of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Jesus himself quoted Isaiah 61 when he was here on earth. He knew that we would often need to be reminded of this beautiful truth. Today, if you are mourning, He is here to comfort you, to restore you, to give you beauty for ashes and fulfill this promise to you.

 

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Jaclyn Santiago is a wife to Mike and mother to two little girls, Berlyn (7) and Alyla (3). They actively attend the Agoura campus of the City Church. Jaclyn works part time in the field of marketing and also serves as a volunteer mediator for the Ventura County Small Claims Courts. She is passionate about uncovering truth and achieving reconciliation in the church, home and workplace.

California Coast Bible College

This past Sunday night, our incredible California Coast Bible College students graduated from their first and second year programs. It was a night to remember! These students are an incredible part of The City Church and we wanted to share some of their incredible experience with all of you. Many have contributed here on Beautiful Stories. Enjoy!

You’ll love this second semester recap video created by Pastor Debra Arnott, especially if you love The Greatest Showman!

For more about the CCBC experience, click here.

“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.

Grandma’s Faith

I was thinking the other day about what it means to live big and the thought of legacy crossed my mind. I was thinking of my grandmother who passed a little over a year ago and what her life was about. She died right before Christmas and I traveled alone to Seattle to attend her memorial service just after the new year. She was ninety-six and had been looking forward to heaven for a little while.

As I sat in her service, her pastor, who was many years younger, began to tell stories of her life. My grandfather was a chaplain in a hospital and not always available to attend on Sundays. When they started attending this church after moving across the state (to be close to their grandchildren) she informed this pastor that she would be in church every week with or without my grandfather. And she was. He told how she started a group for Norwegian immigrant women and their daughters that grew from two to ten to over forty women. She was joyful and faithful and loved Jesus deeply. When we’d stay at her house for sleepovers, she would pray traditional prayers over us, like “Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me.” She’d play cheerful hymns on her piano at Christmas for all of the adult children and grandchildren who filled her home. Her joy filled my young life even in seasons of heartbreak. Her hair was white as snow and her face so full of wrinkles, but I always thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known. She left such a legacy for me.

When Tom and I were married, my grandparents began to intentionally pass things on. One day they gave me a photocopy of the front page of my grandmother’s Bible where my great-grandmother had written a precious note. It holds these words:

Dear Judith,

God’s word is our great heritage,

and it shall be ours forever;

to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor:

Through life it guides our way,

In death, it is our stay;

Lord grant, while words endure

To keep it’s teachings pure,

Throughout all generations.

With love from Mother, Christmas 1946

My great grandmother was a Norwegian immigrant whose own mother never spoke English. I can imagine her faith was required during many moments of her own life. All of these women in my family, including my own mother, shared the defining characteristic of bright, red hair. When I think of these women who joyfully passed down a passionate love for God’s word to their daughters, I am inspired to do the same. I’m so deeply grateful for this heritage, but I’m also well aware that there was a woman at some moment in my ancestry who was the first one to believe in Jesus. The fruit of her faith has outlived her!

Regardless of whether we have natural children, God puts in every feminine heart the power to nurture and love and care for those who need an inspiring word, a guiding hand, an example of strength and unwavering faith. When we receive the unbelievable, selfless love of Jesus, He puts so much in our hands to give and then He multiplies it beyond what we could imagine.

Maybe you’re the first in your family to believe in Jesus and become who He created you to be. Imagine the women many years from now who will look back and thank God for your faith! Maybe you’re discouraged and feel like your love for Jesus isn’t shared by your children. I’m praying today that God will show up and reveal Himself to each one of them. He has heard your prayers and treasured your tears. He will not give up on them!

Let me leave you with this picture from Psalm 78:6-7:

For perpetuity God’s ways will be passed down

from one generation to the next, even to those not yet born.

In this way, every generation will have a living faith in the laws of life

and will never forget the faithful ways of God.

Jesus, we pray you would use us to be vehicles of your love and your truth to the next generation. We pray our faith would extend beyond ourselves and into the lives of many, many others. We pray we would pass on a legacy of faithfulness and life to everyone we meet. We love you Jesus!

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