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.

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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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.

Power and Love

I pray that from his glorious unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down in God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how log, how high and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  –Ephesians 3:16-20 NLT

Um, mic drop anyone? 

I was feeling overwhelmed the other day. I was deep in that tension of knowing who God is and yet looking around and trying to figure out which task I should start in that particular moment. Do you ever have that? You feel fine while you’re busy but then you have a space of time (and a list of BIG tasks- like finding a new home, preparing a home to sell, scheduling kids activities for the looming summer vacation, finding childcare for a ten day ministry trip, various projects overseeing a number of people etc.). I wasn’t sure what to do but I knew I couldn’t WASTE the time I was given. There is just so much to do! 

I started thinking about this verse and tried to encourage myself. I had a memory that the NKJV version says God is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly above” what we can do through “His mighty power that works within us.” I closed my eyes and thought, “okay, mighty Holy Spirit power, work! I need exceedingly, abundantly above, right now.” I felt like I needed to read the scripture, and so I went to my Bible app and looked it up. I read the whole chapter. I read it again in a different translation. I sat down in a quiet moment and asked Jesus to help me understand what it means. 

I wrote about Mary back in December, how she “treasured and pondered” the words that her son, Jesus, spoke to her. I wanted to treasure and ponder this scripture and understand it. Treasuring and pondering takes time and patience… I sat and I read it again and I began to write out what I thought it meant. In the scriptures before, Paul was talking about his life and the privilege of taking the message of Jesus to the gentiles (non-Jewish people). I just watched, “A.D. Kingdom and Power” on Netflix and the series illustrates the context of Paul’s experience from the book of Acts. Paul was preaching not just to a people from different culture from his own, but the oppressive ruling culture that was keeping the Jewish people under their thumb. American Christians often think of missions as going to people who have less money or resources than us. God sent Paul to a group of people who believed they were culturally superior to him, who had economic and political power over him. Basically, they were racist, classist and xenophobic but they were spiritually hungry and Jesus used Paul to meet their need for God. Wow! Paul would have had to understand this mighty power. He had to access it constantly. 

However, the thing that impacted me most about this passage is the source of the strength and power. When Christ lives in our hearts, it says our roots will grow down in God’s love and keep us strong. It’s the love of Jesus that nourishes the root system of our lives. Underneath everything we say and do that is visible to those around us is the root system that determines our strength and existence. A tree that has deep roots can stand for centuries while a tree with shallow roots can be easily knocked down. Our roots are sustained and strengthened by the love of God. 

In that moment, as I pondered, I remembered experiencing the love of God deeply, for the first time. As a twelve year old, I began to believe that God loves me, that He designed me and knows me uniquely, and that nothing can separate me from that love. I was changed in a million ways and am still becoming who I know He created me to be. At every moment of challenge, at feeling overwhelmed, I am reminded that it is His love that defines us. It is not our success, our own expectations, the opinions of people who give our lives value. In seasons of insecure adolescence, academic achievement, ministry fulfillment and challenge, marriage, motherhood, throughout my life it has always come back to His love. 

If you need this mighty power to accomplish something too big for you today, remember His love and let it surround you and bring you peace. Be defined by His love for you and believe that He decided you are worth the sacrifice of Jesus. He will make you complete with His love. 

XO

Bethany

Tales from the Dominican Republic

California Coast Bible College is a ministry of The City Church and, every year, we have the awesome privilege of serving with, praying for, and sending out these incredible young people on missions trips. Their experiences are always life-changing and I know you will be greatly encouraged and inspired by their stories. Allow me to share with you some great words from Carter Howard, one of our second year students who went to the Dominican Republic. Enjoy!

Xo,

Bethany

IMG_0461I am so deeply thankful for all of the prayers and donations. We saw the results of every single prayer sent our way! I think that was actually one of the biggest lessons I learned during this trip: the power of prayer. We, as a team, started praying for this trip four months before we went. I have realized that before we see God move, He asks us to step out in faith and in crazy prayers!

But where do I begin with my trip?! There is too much to tell. So many stories. So many testimonies. This was the greatest missions trip that I had ever been on. I saw God do something amazing every single day. I have never been a part of a team more unified. I have never seen so many people come to Christ and be healed. My faith was inspired for sure!

To start, let me say this. Over the two weeks that we spent in the Dominican Republic, we saw 139 people receive salvation and we saw 54 people get healed. 80% of the ministry work we did was evangelism, where we would go throughout the neighborhood and just talk with people, spend time with them, and pray for them. For at least four hours each day, we would do this. It was cool because there was nothing physically that we could have prepared for this. The only way we could prepare was spiritually! We saw the Holy Spirit move in amazing ways. It was also really special to see people healed. I personally had not experienced a lot of that before, so to be a part of that was inspiring. We saw tumors disappear, blind people see, casts be thrown away, bed-ridden women jump and run around with joy, broken legs healed, and even more. GOD IS SO GOOD.

That was just the healing. God saved 139 people. These weren’t just people in a crowd that we didn’t know. These were people that we spent time with, sat down with, and personally got to know. We saw, right in front of our eyes, people touched by God and saved from sin and set free! It was especially cool because it reminded me that I made a goal in the beginning of the year to have the opportunity to personally lead twenty people to Christ. Well, Jesus allowed me to exceed that goal. He is so good!

There are many stories that I could tell you, but I will share one of my favorites in particular. During one of the last days that we were evangelizing, we were just about to leave and head back home when we found out the truck tire popped. We used two trucks everyday so one group went back on the truck that still worked while half of us stayed back and waited for them to return. The second I saw that the tire was popped, I was SO excited! I knew that there was no way that happened on accident. Immediately I said “Awesome! This just means that God wants to save more people. There is someone here He still wants to talk to. Round two, people. Let’s go!”. So, me and my friend Zach started walking around to chat with people. We ran into a 14 year old kid named Moses. This was the first person that I had met in the entire two weeks who did not know who Jesus was. Everyone else not only knew who Jesus was, but they believed in him. They just didn’t have relationship with Him.

Zach and I got to explain the whole gospel to him and his friend who stopped by. They both ended up accepting Christ and we got to baptize them a few days later. The day after they got baptized, we were out evangelizing for the last time and we were in that same neighborhood. I invited Moses to come with us so that he could learn what it looks like to tell people about Jesus. This was the quickest form of discipling that we could do! Haha. The last man we met was not a Christian and he ended up accepting Jesus. I asked Moses if he knew what prayer was and he said “No”. It was amazing because I got to show him what prayer was and we BOTH prayed for this man named Domingo. ALL BECAUSE OF A FLAT TIRE PEOPLE. God is so good and He always teaches me that the little things we could be frustrated at, can be the things He wants to use to get our attention. He will do anything for even one person. Even pop a tire.

IMG_0388I could share for hours, but I’ll share one more story with you. On a Saturday night, our whole group was going to visit a nearby church that our ministry partnered with. We were going to go and sit in their service. When we got there, I asked myself what I would speak about IF I had 5 or 10 minutes to speak. They didn’t tell us that we would get an opportunity to do that, but I was just thinking just in case. About 30 seconds later, our pastor walks over to me and says, “So…it turns out that we are running the entire service. Would you want to preach for about 20 minutes?”. UHH. HECK YES! Those are my favorite ministry opportunities because all I have to do is step out and let God do the rest! Our whole team killed it! We did worship, some skits, some testimonies, all out of the blue just stepping out in faith. It was so cool. And God gave me a sermon to share and it may have been one of the best ones I have ever done before. People were set free and the Spirit was moving big time! It was so insane. What was cool is that the next night, we visited another church and we got 20 minutes of ministry time and my pastor asked me if I wanted to speak again! UHH HECK YES! It was such a blast. Speaking is one of my favorite things to do and God gave me opportunities to do that and I didn’t even know it would happen! I got to speak again at a widows ministry about the danger of unforgiveness.

This trip was so amazing that the hosts of the missions home (who run the entire ministry) told us that they didn’t want us to leave. They then told us that they have never been able to tell any group that and they have had over 3,000 people come through their ministry!!! HOW INSANE IS THAT! The City Church made this possible. Your prayers, your encouragement, and your donations. Every piece was a piece of the puzzle. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will forever be grateful for you support!

 

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.