Loving Others Is a Big Deal

I keep thinking about that title of the message this past Sunday over and over again.  Everyone is a “Big Deal” to God therefore everyone should be a “Big” deal to us.  The message has motivated me to look at my life and ask myself,  “Does my way of life reflect that people I come in contact with are a big deal?”

To love others effectively we have to first believe God loves us! I love what  1 John 4:11 TPT  say,  “Delightfully loved ones, if he loved us with such tremendous love, then, “loving one another” should be our way of life.”

Our motivation to love comes when we truly know we are completely known by God and completely loved by God!  You don’t have to earn it, you just have to receive it!  Let this be settled in our hearts so we can truly experience an exciting life by giving this kind of love to those in our spheres of influence!  You are a Big Deal to God therefore let those around you become a Big deal to you!

In his book, Everybody Always, which I highly recommend, Bob Goff says, “God’s idea isn’t that we would just give and receive love but that we would actually become love.”

There are 3 things we can do to “become love” in someone’s life: TIME, WORDS and ACTIONS.

1. TIME:

People won’t be a big deal to us if we don’t spend time with them.  Just like we can’t catch something contagious if we aren’t around someone who is sick , our faith won’t be contagious if we aren’t around others.  We love when we make time for those God puts on our paths.  You can invite someone along to coffee or to shop at Target, plan an activity together or simply pick up the phone and ask questions to find out how that person is doing.

2. WORDS:

Goff also says in his book that, ‘People don’t want to be told what they want. We need to tell them who they are!”  Those we come in contact with know who they are NOT but when we tell them who they ARE they will want to be around us!  Everyone is valuable to God, loved, precious, significant. When we affirm that in others, they experience love. When we believe what God tells us about ourselves, we are able to tell others what God says about them.

3. ACTIONS:

One of the best ways to show you love someone is to do something for them.  Maybe someone in your life just had a baby, and you could offer to babysit or bring a meal. Maybe they arrive at work early and you could drop off a coffee for them. Listen to what they say and you will know what they need.  Your action may open them up to the love of God!

Join me in making people a Big Deal and watch how our lives will become more rewarding and fulfilling!

XO,

Becky

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 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!

You Belong

Catching Up with Erica Lopez

It would be hard to attend the Ventura Campus for very long without meeting Erica Lopez. She’s always present working behind the scenes to include others in the life of the The City Church. Erica attended our very first service and gave her life to Jesus at our New Years service shortly after we opened our doors. She has barely missed a Sunday since that time. I was able to sit down with Erica last week at the Natural Cafe in Moorpark and talk to her a little bit about her experience in our community. She was taking a quick break from her new “dream job” (as she calls it) working as Pastor Mike Rovner’s assistant at Rovner construction.

Erica, you’ve been a fixture of our church as a volunteer at almost every event, on every Sunday. What motivates you?

City Church changed my life. It changed everything. I suffered from fear and anxiety and the church gave me the tools to overcome those things. They taught me how to pray and gave me a Bible and gave me a place to go. I’ve lived in Ventura County all my life but was never really aware of who God was or how He could impact my life.

I went to the church on the very first Sunday, it was the soft launch before the grand opening. Pastors Jude and Becky had come and were the new leadership of my daughter’s school (now City Christian School) and I wanted to know who they were so I could decide whether I’d was keeping her in the school. I had never heard a pastor talk like Pastor Jude about real stuff. He’d say, “Don’t believe what I say, go to your Bible and check on it for yourself.” When I did check it out, the Bible commentary page would say the exact thing as Pastor Jude. God was so obviously speaking to me and drawing me to Himself through all the different messages.

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Erica and her daughter, Jaden

Were there any particular messages that deeply changed your perspective about God?

I specifically remember the message about belonging. He told us that we could belong to Jesus before we even believed, before our behavior changed! It was the first time that I felt that I didn’t have to change first in order to be included. I know we talk about this idea in Grow class but I also always tell people to go back to that series about Joshua in the podcast archives so they can hear it too. It’s such a powerful truth.

Did you feel like people included you right away?

Yes. People immediately reached out to me. Pastor Katie and Pastor Becky invited me to a City Group and told me how to serve. I didn’t know much about leading a Bible study but I told Debby (Wooff) I could be her assistant and be the person who would always read the chapter and have something to say if she asked a question. I made some of my very best friends coming to that group and serving on teams with people.

But I have also found that some of it is a response to preaching. I always say, “Pastor Jude says…” this or that when I encourage people in their faith. People think I’m talking about a personal conversation but I’m not. When you really listen to someone’s preaching, you connect with what they’re saying. I remember him saying once at the beginning, “I can’t personally ask each one of you to volunteer. But I’m asking you to volunteer.” I took that to heart for myself.

Were you proactive about serving right away?

I did not feel at all qualified to serve in the beginning. I remember Debby asking me to help pass out books and I was worried that people would know about my past and believe I wasn’t worthy to help. It was just passing out books! But I did it and they didn’t care about my past.

Now when I serve, I’m always thinking of the people who come to visit who are like me. Someone cared enough to serve so my life could be changed and now I serve with the same hope that someone else will be able to have that same experience. I went to a church for a year before I came to City Church and I sat in the same seat every week and no one ever talked to me. I’m really passionate about talking to people and noticing them. Just recently I noticed a woman who would sit in the same seat every week and it was a bit hard to talk to her at first but I just kept doing it and eventually she came to my dinner group and is now connected to a number of different things.

What do you think helps people feel connected over the long term?

Whatever you are doing, it’s mostly about doing it consistently. It takes time to connect with people and get to know them. I think I became close friends with people because I served with the same people every week over the course of time. That’s why groups are important. How are you really going to get to know someone if you don’t see them regularly? I really admire Debby Wooff because she did her same group over the course of so many years and we were able to really get close to one another.

And now you lead a group with Dee Taday; it’s a dinner group. Can you tell us more about that?

Life was getting really busy and I was overwhelmed with work and everything and I didn’t have time to do another book study. So we started in the summer and now we just meet for dinner twice a month and hang out. We often talk about the message from Sunday and then just share from our lives. We do it at different restaurants. It’s so easy, I just tell people and then we show up. We do it casual and just get separate checks or counter service. I highly recommend leading this type of group if you’ve never done one. Just do it consistently!

Erica, is there a scripture that you would want to share with the women who read this blog that kind of sums up this story?

Yes, Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have lost heart unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I see the goodness of God in the church and in my family and friends and the people I do life with. I remember a couple years ago, I went through a really dark time in my life and Pastor Jude started his Psalms series and he shared this and also the scripture, “And He will strengthen your heart.” My heart has been so strengthened by the goodness of God that I have seen in this community.

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Erica and her husband Joe have one daughter, Jaden. They sit on the left hand side in the first or second row of the Ventura campus every single week. You can get to know Erica and serve with her on the Guest Experience Team and the Beautiful Women of Influence team or attend her City Group.

Coming Home

It might seem crazy to some to willingly pack up a 1 year-old in my 1st trimester of pregnancy and spend 2 hours in the car trekking across town just to spend a couple hours with a few, seemingly random, ladies, but that’s exactly what I found myself looking forward to every single week. Let me back up a bit. I had recently fallen head over heels in love with this amazing God-man named Jesus. I was a member of a wonderful church and I was devouring every teaching. I had at least 10 different versions of the bible and I was desperate to know every single thing about, and to spend every single moment soaking in, all that I could find out about this Jesus of mine. I was completely enthralled, and being an introvert by nature, I spent a season so fully satisfied with the Bible, books, songs, and quiet times (as much as I could fit with a 1 year-old anyways). I was so full of this new love that I couldn’t imagine needing anything else but Him.

But, SHIFT happens.

That amazing church I was going to at the time had well over 15,000 people attending on a weekly basis. It was genuinely difficult to connect with people on Sunday mornings, and for a long time I was ok with that, until I felt myself longing to know more about these people I would be doing life with…forever. That is what led me to stepping out of my comfort zone (#introvertsunite) and getting in the car. I found myself happily packing up diapers, toys, snacks, and all the things we would need to make this 2-hour roundtrip journey to find out what small group was all about.

That’s where I met Nicole.

I didn’t know what to expect when I rang her doorbell for the 1st time. I mean, this was a total stranger that I had found in the small groups section of the church website. The door opened and her vibrant energy preceded her. Nicole greeted me with a genuine smile and open arms; you would have thought we were long lost friends by the way she welcomed me in. There were a couple of other women at her home that day. All were equipped with stocked diaper bags for their little ones- we were all around the same age and in the same season of life. The next few months would bring us into close relationship as seeds were planted in our hearts, tears were shed, triumphs were celebrated, and obstacles were overcome- together! Nicole made her home a safe space for us. She invited us to dream. She sparked vision in our lives. She cultivated community. She was the most honest and authentic person I had ever met. This was small group, a place to feel welcome, to connect, and to grow. This was community.

I was intrigued and inspired.

I would soon go on to lead a small group. Nicole and the other women I met with became my support team.  We encouraged each other as most of us went on to cultivate and create these safe spaces of community for other women. These women became more than people I passed by on Sunday mornings. They became my friends.

They became my sisters.

Fast forward a couple of years (and a couple more children) later, and I found myself living in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It was a whirlwind cross country move that completely turned my world upside down in some ways, and right side up in others. I spent the first 2 years in L.A. desperately struggling to manage three children age three and under, trying to be a somewhat decent wife to my husband, battling and losing the fight with post-partum depression. My passion for my greatest love had only intensified in the storms of this season of my life. Jesus was my greatest strength and my ultimate comforter through all of the craziness, but I was not thriving. I was barely surviving. My wonderful husband was, and still is, amazingly understanding and compassionate. He gently nudged me to get out of my solitary space, my comfort zone, and meet new people. I found myself bottoming out after my 5th move in less than 5 years. I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner, but I suddenly knew one thing for sure.

It was time to find community.

After much google searching and YouTube videos on churches in the area I found Pastor Jude Fouquier and The City Church. Up and dressed in our Sunday best we made a short drive to the Agoura campus to check it all out. Through the double doors someone nice pointed me to the children’s check in area. I swear the lady at the check-in table had a smile that lit up the whole lobby.  She was this beautiful blend of warmth and bubbles. There it was again, a genuine smile and open arms. She introduced me to her equally radiant red-headed friend and they promptly invited me to the moms’ city group that very week.

I went.

I’ll spare you all the details, but there were laughs, lots of tears (from me) and this overwhelming sense of love and belonging. I didn’t know these ladies at all, but in just a couple of weeks their prayers, encouragement, and support would completely alleviate the depression I had been fighting. I felt like the clouds parted, and once again I was surrounded with love from these wonderful ladies who were as in love with Jesus as I was. I had no idea that the bonds that I would form over the next year of meeting for city group would be some of the most encouraging, purpose driven, thought provoking, and inspiring connections I could have ever imagined.

Jesus knew.

I would have been completely content to just have Jesus. To be filled to the point of overflow with his love that he was so generously lavishing upon me. I had no idea that loving him meant there was more. Loving him granted me access to his amazing family. Loving him rsvp’d me to an eternal seat at the royal table. Loving Jesus gave me VIP access to those he loves with the same passionate intensity with which he loves me.

In the depths of his love for me I found family.

My heart has expanded in ways I never knew were possible. Innately, loving my husband and children is easy; they are mine and I am naturally invested in them. But, this new found ability to love and be love, to welcome, encourage, champion, and support people because of our common bond in love with Jesus is mind blowing. My small group leader in Atlanta would suddenly pass away not long after our move to Los Angeles, but she opened my heart to community, and I could never thank her enough. The lovely ladies from The city church moms’ group have become my forever friends, my sisters. My heart burst with passion for my Jesus, and because of Him I am excited to welcome any and all.

To pull out a seat at the table.

Where we are all connected.

Where we all belong.

 

Won’t you join us?

 

img_0064_0Linda Edwards is wife to Bernard and mother two three amazing children. She is passionate about seeing women discover their destiny in Jesus and connect in community. You can see her smiling face at the Agoura Campus of The City Church serving on the worship team, in City Kids and at her City Group.