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.

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.

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.

IMG_0147
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!

BT1_0019

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.

image1

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.