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.

Processed with VSCO with dog3 preset

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.

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.

Fear Has No Power Over You

Fear is something we all face in life.  The word fear or phrases like “do not fear” appear 365 times in the Bible which is interesting because there is 365 days in a year.  I truly believe everyday of our lives we have an opportunity to face fear but God promises to help us overcome ALL of our fears!

I know this all too well because, as a young girl, I remember always being afraid of something.  I was afraid of the dark, afraid of death, afraid of people, afraid my mom and dad would divorce… The list goes on and on.  This spirit of fear began to manifest itself in some major challenges in my life.  I began to severely stutter, which I understand now is triggered by severe anxiety or a trauma in your life.  I continued to stutter from the age of 6 to 29.  The manifestation of fear raised its ugly head again when I suffered with an eating disorder for five years of my life.  This was triggered by a fear of being overweight.  This fear began to control my thoughts and even distort my body image.  Jesus miraculously delivered me and healed me from both stuttering and an eating disorder but, sometimes, fear still tries to raise it’s ugly head in my life!

What fears do you face?  Is it fear of failure? Fear of man? Anxiety over finances?  Is it a fear your marriage will fail or your kids won’t succeed? Fear cloaks itself in anxiety, intimidation, worry, anger and sleeplessness so we won’t call it what it is.

Thankfully, Jesus said that His perfect love casts out all of our fears. If we are going to flourish in every season of our life, we need to face our fears and allow His grace and strength to enable us to overcome them!

Psalms 56:3-4TPT gives us a simple strategy to face fear and overcome it:

“But in the day that I’m afraid, I lay all my fears before you and trust in you with all my heart.  What harm can man bring to me?  With God on my side I will not be afraid of what comes.  The roaring praises of God fill my heart, and I will always triumph as I trust in his promises”

I love that this verse gives us the specific tools to overcome fear:

  1. Pray! Lay ALL of your fears at God’s feet in prayer. When you are tempted to give in to anxiety, let your first response be prayer!  The Bible says we can cast our cares on the Lord because he cares for us!
  2. Trust! Trust God with your whole heart! Remind yourself that God is your protector and because He is on your side, you don’t need to be afraid of what comes your way!
  3. Worship! Praise God as if you already have the victory because you already do! God not only gave us promises but he has fulfilled every promise through Jesus. When it seems like fear is staring you in the face think of not only the cross but even more, the resurrection, because Jesus gave us complete victory in Him!

You are strong and very courageous and you will flourish in every season because fear has no power over you!

I pray for you in THIS season that you will respond in Faith are remember God is with you and he will not leave you or forsake you!

I believe in you!

XO,

Becky

P.S. Have you signed up for our Beautiful Conference at The City Church Ventura Campus on October 12-13th (Next week!)? We’ll have Wendy Perez from The ChurchLV, myself, my husband Jude Fouquier and many more incredible speakers! It is certain to be a life-transforming couple of days so I sure hope you can come!

His Masterpiece

I love going to art galleries, especially on vacation. A couple of years ago, while on a date in the Gaslamp district in San Diego, Tom and I stumbled into the most beautiful art gallery. The whole experience, from the lighting to the soft music to actual art, was designed to tell a story. Every piece was a progression from the last. The woman guiding us began to tell us about the process of the artist, how he spent years developing each piece. He paid a high price in time and travel to achieve such beauty. I’ve tried my hand at painting a few times but I’ve never spent more than a handful of hours on something. I don’t have the patience! It was clear that art was more than a job for this artist, he had put his whole life into the work. 

I was reminded of this experience when I was reading Ephesians 2:10 (NLT). It says, “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.” Genesis recounts that, thousands of years ago, God took dust and fashioned Adam, then Eve, with the tender love of an artist. He breathed his life into them and told them they were designed by him to be with him, to be like him, to multiply and to share in his work of caring for the creation. Then they failed. They trusted the devil instead of God’s word and it appeared that the work of art had been damaged. But the great artist didn’t discard his work, he improved it. 

Over the course of generations, he continued to love his masterpiece, his people, revealing himself to them through the rise and fall of kingdoms and passage of time. It was a long and costly process, ultimately requiring the sacrifice of Jesus, his own son. He knew his people could never do the things he created and designed for them until they received the gift of the grace of God. When Jesus rose from the dead and the people believed, they took a deep breath of that Holy Spirit of life once again and the masterpiece was complete! 

When I thought about that gallery, filled with absolute perfection, and thought about God putting our lives in an even greater, more beautiful gallery, my heart was filled with gratitude. When we believe in Jesus, we receive the grace of God, we are portraits of grace. I imagined the stories of person after person, lit under that soft gallery light, and the overwhelming feeling of goodness and joy that would be conveyed to the observer. When we allow God to use us to do his good work, to love people, to teach children, to give generously, to pray for the sick and serve one another, we feel God’s beautiful spirit rushing through us. We are truly God’s masterpiece!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but I hope you will remember today that the great artist designed you to be displayed in his amazing gallery of life and the work that you are doing out of love for him today is truly beautiful. 

XO,

Bethany

Clothed in Grace

It was June 27, 1987. It was my wedding day. I walked down the aisle wearing a blush pink wedding dress. This nontraditional dress was not something I wanted. It was something I was told to wear.

I was raised in a conservative and traditional home, and the youngest of four children. For most of my younger days of life we attended church twice a week as a family. Both of my parents were also church leaders. I loved church, God, and was actively involved in youth group. 

At age 21, I was still living living at home, was working, had recently purchased a car and was dating a great guy. All is well, right?

I made myself a routine doctor visit because I was having bladder infection symptoms, expecting to be given a prescription for antibiotics and to be feeling better in no time. 

My lab results came back differently than what I had expected. “You are pregnant” were the shocking words of the doctor as he held me hands to comfort me. I left his office in a daze, trembling and holding a bottle of prenatal vitamins.  Thoughts bombarded my mind, how will I tell my family? What will church people think of me? More than that, what does God think of me? It was in that moment that the enemy began to plant seeds of shame and fear which would  begin to make me feel separated from how God truly viewed me. Those seeds were watered with some of the reactions of the people around me. 

This didn’t deter me from pursuing God in my life. My husband and I raised our two children in God’s word and pursued a genuine life in Him.

Decades later, I was in a season where God began to unveil past hurts and wounds within my heart. It was in this time, during prayer, that I encountered God’s presence and love in such a way that brought healing and wholeness. This shifted my identity forever and eliminated a lot of false perceptions that I had of myself.

God had never shamed me but was always accepting of me and His astounding love was settled upon my heart.

Now I look back at the young woman who was clothed in the pink wedding dress as one who was clothed in grace. It was recently that I found out what the color pink symbolizes biblically:  right standing with God. This is who I was to Him all along and now I freely walk in that truth. 

There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from Gods passionate love, which is lavished upon us though our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! -Romans 8:39 (TPT)

Prayer: I thank you Father for loving me unconditionally. I ask that You would bring your healing touch to any place in my heart that has been negatively affected by living in this world. Let my heart be completely free: the way that you intended from the beginning, knowing who I was made to be and who I am in You. 

IMG_4938Nadine Zaragoza is a mother of two and has been happily married to her husband Alex for 31 years. She is passionate about spending time in God’s presence She also loves to pray for people that they may experience God’s love in the form of physical healing. She and her husband both serve on the Next Steps Team at the Ventura campus of The City Church.

God’s Perfect Timing

I was never one of those girls who planned out their dream wedding from a young age, but I always knew I wanted to get married. My goal was to be married by 25. It seemed by then I should have life figured out, so surely I would be ready for marriage. It also seemed, as that 25th year got closer, that God had a different plan. When I was still single in the years leading up to age 25, when I didn’t even have a boyfriend, I couldn’t help but feel defeated. I questioned why God wouldn’t fulfill my selfish plans. He knew I desired to be a wife, so why was he making me wait? I had heard, read, and spoke it myself that God’s timing was perfect, but I was having a hard time believing it.
In 2013, during a Sunday morning service, my pastor asked us to get with someone next to us and pray with them. The woman I was with spoke words over me that I’ll never forget. She simply said “God is working on your husband.” Insert mind-exploding emoji. Through hearing that, I began to regain security and fully believe in the truth that God doesn’t ignore us when time seems to stand still, but rather he keeps us in the present to prepare us for what’s to come.
You see, I didn’t know it at the time, but the man I would one day marry was enduring some serious life changes. He had been married and was going through a painful separation and divorce. Through the healing that came after this, God was changing, molding, and reshaping him into the very man I was meant to marry. Where I felt defeat, frustration, and impatience, God was doing a greater work that my eyes couldn’t see.
Fast forward a few years, I’m now married to that man God was working on. And I’ll admit, he was even working on me in the waiting. Imagine that. His plan for me didn’t fit my time schedule, and it definitely didn’t look the way I thought it would (we got married 3 days after my 28th birthday), but it came exactly when it was supposed to. And I’m so thankful for that.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the work that God is doing in our current circumstance. And sometimes it’s so hard to wait. But Psalm 27:14 (ESV) encourages us to do just that. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
His timing is always perfect because he knows us, and he’s always aware of the desires of our hearts.
Processed with VSCO with a9 presetKelsey and Nathan have been married since June of 2017 and are expecting their first child in August of this year! They are both involved in the worship team at the Ventura Campus. Worship is Kelsey’s number one passion, but she is also a photographer, artist, and loves anything hands on!

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.