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.

 

The Most Beautiful Story of All

It’s Easter week, our houses are full of eggs and candy and our minds are filled with preparations for Spring Break. Maybe right now you can stop and take a moment to fill your heart with the reality of the most beautiful story of all.

Jesus’ story is the power to change everything, to make your story beautiful, no matter how dark or boring, or despairing. Because of Jesus: 

You don’t have to prove that you are worth loving. God placed the ultimate value on you in paying for your life with the life of His most precious Son.

Your sin is dead. That nasty tendency to do the things that hurt us and hurt others, has been buried with Jesus Christ and no longer has power over your decisions.

You are understood. Jesus sees and has felt all of the things you feel, the struggles you’ve had. He prays for you constantly.

You are not alone. The Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead NOW lives inside of you, enabling you to do what you could never do before

You have nothing to fear. You are promised a beautiful future, restoration and new life for things that have dried up and died. You will experience an eternity of beauty and love.

There is no story more beautiful than the story of what Jesus has done for us! If you have never heard this before, then today I want you to know that God loves you so much. He knows you by name and invites you to know Him! You don’t have to fix anything about yourself to be accepted by Him. Simply ask Him to come into your life.

Join me in this prayer: Jesus, thank you for what you did for me when you died on the cross and came back to life. I believe in you and I want to know you and become who you created me to be. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and help me to share the joy of knowing you with everyone I meet. Amen.

 

The Bible tells us even more. If you have questions, you can find answers there.

For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life. John 3:16 (TPT)

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Romans 6:14 (NLT)

Yes, God raised Jesus to life! And since God’s Spirit of Resurrection lives in you, he will also raise your dying body to life by the same Spirit that breathes life into you! Romans 8:11 (TPT)

This is why he had to be a Man and take hold of our humanity in every way. He made us his brothers and sisters and became our merciful and faithful King-Priest[b] before God; as the One who removed our sins to make us one with him. 18 He suffered and endured every test and temptation, so that he can help us every time we pass through the ordeals of life. Hebrews 2:17-18 (TPT) 

Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you. Now we offer up to God all the glorious praise that rises from every church in every generation through Jesus Christ—and all that will yet be manifest through time and eternity. Amen! Ephesians 3:20-21 (TPT)

Focus

A WILD Devotional

As a child, I learned to play volleyball. I played it all through school and whenever I could during my free time; it became a very strong passion of mine. I had a very good coach. He taught my team and I a lot about volleyball and life. During our games, he would always have our whole team say, “Next point,” whenever we lost a point. He wanted us to forget the last point and focus on doing our best for the next point and the bigger goal of winning the whole game. Many of my teammates, including myself at times, would be so focused on what went wrong from the last point, that we weren’t prepared and doing our best for the point we were playing for in the moment. If we didn’t adjust our focus on what was ahead, we would get stuck on our mistakes and often lose the game.

I have found that this correlates so much to following Jesus. I tend to beat myself up a lot when I feel as though I’m not doing things right or thinking about all the other ways I could have done something better. I dwell on the things of the past. I continue to fail and I often just don’t understand why things aren’t improving. I know that I want them to and I try so hard to improve and move forward, but my focus is on the mistake, the failure, the past. I often don’t even realize I’m doing this. In Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV) Paul says, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Wherever my focus is, that is where I stay. The only way to move forward is to look forward and take steps that way, instead of moving backwards or just standing still. If I focus on my past, I will stay in the past. If I focus on my failures, I will not grow. When I focus on Jesus and what He’s done for me, who He says I am, I experience this in a real way. I let go of the past and step into who He has made me to be. 

Where is your focus? Are you focusing on the past, who you used to be? I encourage you today, look to Him and enjoy everything He has for you!

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Tori Munson is a second year student at California Coast Bible College. She’s passionate about studying her Bible, loving people, and building the local church. 

My BIG 28

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Mat. 19:26 NIV).  

For those of you who read my first post titled “Twenty Eight”, you will know the significance of this number in my life.  In my post, I explained how my unusual and frequent encounters with the number 28 are a special way that God reminds me of His loving care and presence in my life.  What I left out of the “28” post is my most special and favorite 28 of all; my BIG 28!  Actually it is a 28 that first and foremost belongs to God and my parents; a 28 that was truly an impossibility in my mind and in the minds of countless others; a 28 that can bring me sobbing to my knees with inexpressible gratitude and unthinkable joy; a 28 that will be treasured in my heart as long as I live.  

What is this BIG 28 you ask?  It is the resurrection of my parent’s marriage after 28 years of divorce.  It is the glorious display of Jesus’s power to call to life that which was dead.  It is the unlikely rescue out of difficulty, darkness, and despair beyond what many can imagine.  It is the miraculous rebuilding of a relationship and family established by God in Heaven.   It is the undeniable witness that through the power of the Holy Spirit, every relationship is capable of healing, forgiveness, and restoration.  It is the celebrated victory over hell and every wicked plan of the devil.  It is comfort and peace to my soul.  It is roots and stability.  It is a legacy for generations to come.  This 28 is truly beyond anything I can describe!  

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written:  “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord”” (NIV).  

Only God could take such a foolish 28 and turn it into my cherished boast of His love, care, and kindness over my life.  When I hear my parents share the story of their miracle marriage from their own lips, it settles the reality that we live in, that God “is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).  When Jesus went to the cross and was resurrected, it demonstrated to us that nothing is too hard for him. Dear friends, our God is a BIG, BIG God and He can do the impossible!  THINK BIG, BELIEVE BIG, EXPECT BIG. Your miracle is happening!  Yes and Amen!

Amy MukesAmy Mukes is the wife of Eric Mukes and together they have four amazing children whom she teaches at home.  She is passionate about education and literacy and also desires to equip parents with practical tools to raise their children with the gracious love of Jesus. Amy is currently developing a City Group that will be filled with experiential, interactive learning where parenting skills and family life will increase and flourish under the Gospel of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. To find out more about City Groups, click here.

God Hears You

There is so much to be said about the power of prayer. Countless books, sermons, teachings , and podcasts on how to pray, what to pray, and why it is one of the most significant parts of our faith. From the book of Psalms, to the Lord’s prayer modeled for us in the Gospels, prayer is simply a conversation with our Heavenly Father. The most profound prayer we will pray in our life is the one where we respond to God. It is the prayer of salvation, inviting Jesus into our lives and hearts, and being divinely grafted into the family of God. This is where our journey and destiny begin. This is where we witness our first miracle, the miracle of a new life with Christ. Even the angels celebrate as Jesus says in Luke 15: 10 “ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

That rejoicing in the presence of angels over me, happened when I was twenty years old. For almost a year, I was on a search to find my purpose in life and my passion. I had a faint idea of who God was and wasn’t against the idea that He was the real deal, but I had no idea what I was about to encounter that would forever shift the destiny and course of the rest of my life. I was invited to a church because there was a special speaker coming by the name of Nick Vujicic. He is a man born without his limbs and he traveled all over the nation speaking boldly about the goodness of God. He spoke in a way that moved me to my very core. At the end of his message, he asked anyone who felt a tug on their hearts to come to the front of the church altar because that meant God was speaking to them and that they could respond by inviting Jesus into their lives. I had to respond. There was no way I was going to leave that place without surrender. In that moment, I began to encounter the love of God so strongly that I left a new and whole person. Even though I had no training or teaching in theology, I became so aware and hungry to learn more about prayer and I set out on a journey to grow in my new passion.

I became the first Christian in my entire family. I was a young girl on fire for God and zealous to share my faith with everyone around me. I was eager to learn anything I could and I loved church and gatherings where I could grow through fellowship. Yet, I found myself disquieted and shrunken down when it came to professing my love of God to my very own family, especially my mother. Perhaps she  didn’t quite understand me and the journey I was on. Maybe she  thought I was going through one of my  “phases” and even in the moments I was undaunted by sharing about Jesus, her heart was hardened. The more I wanted to reach her, the farther away we slipped from understanding each other and the more strife and resentment built up between us. I made a decision to be persistent, determined , and even relentless to see my mother walk in freedom and truth. The first thing I had to do was surrender her to the Lord. The weight I was carrying was not mine to bear. Jesus says His burden is light and His yoke is easy. I followed with declaring the promises of God and standing on the Word like they did in Acts 16: 31, “They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your family will be saved.” And lastly, I just simply believed and thanked God for it as if it already came to pass. There was no pressure on me to work at it, I had full assurance and confidence as I allowed the Word to take root and grow in my very soul and spirit.

Every moment I could, I would plant seeds of faith and love until I could see softening in areas where her walls stood securely. Whether or not I could see the progress, I felt at rest that God was doing a mighty work. Seven full years later, in this very church where my husband and children have planted our roots, and the place we call home, we had a special guest speaker come on a Sunday morning to speak boldly about the goodness of God. A man born without his limbs who traveled around the world to inspire others and speak fearlessly about the love of God. Seven years later, with immovable tireless prayers along the way, my mother turns to me and asks me to walk with her to the front of the church because she can not shake off a tugging in her heart and she must respond to Jesus and what this same man (Nick Vujicic) is preaching. In the most epic way, God allowed me to witness this miracle as it came to a full circle that morning. I could almost hear the shouts of rejoicing in heaven for what had just transpired. This response to Christ set into motion the life God intended for my family as my father, soon after, also committed his life to Jesus. Not only that, but my sisters and brothers, as well as their families have all decided to follow Jesus. My parents are planted in a local church and they love their community.

Maybe you are still contending for someone in your life, that relative, friend, spouse or child. Maybe you even pressed a pause button on praying for this person because they continue to make decisions that are detrimental and it looks hopeless. Maybe this person has  disconnected even more strongly as you began to wage on their behalf. Remember these scriptures on your journey and believe in our BIG God:

Psalm 17:6 “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.”

Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer “

1 John 5:14 “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

I want to encourage you to pick up right where you are, or to forge ahead with great faith that you too will witness the miracle of new life for this person. God has not, and will not give up on you. God hears your prayer and will answer!

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Margaret Thompson is a mother of four young boys and wife to Brent. They experienced God in a powerful way and are passionate about sharing the love of Jesus with people who don’t know Him through friendship and City Groups. Margaret loves to pray and helps to lead the prayer ministry on Thursday nights at the Ventura campus of The City Church.”

What do You See?

Hello! My name is Casey and it’s such an honor to contribute to Beautiful Stories! Some of you may already know me, but for those I’ve yet to meet, here is a little bit about my story. I’m a City Church rookie and avid fan. From my first week in college in 1995, to my time as an intern, throughout my years serving as the Intern Director – the family of faith at The City Church (both in Seattle- now Churchome- and Ventura) has deeply shaped who I am today. The gamut of life journeys with this beautiful community of believers taught me to engage in genuine worship, dive into the Word, value prayer, cherish international service trips, build lasting relationships with people, and above all – to know and love God more.

In 2014, I was sent out from The City Church to relocate to Jerusalem, Israel, in order to engage in local mentoring and discipleship efforts in the Middle East. This has been the most challenging, adventurous, faith-provoking, courage-inducing, awe-inspiring thing I’ve done in my life thus far. The prayers and support from many dear friends at The City Church have helped me stay the course and bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God. I’m so honored to have a strong home church to stand with me as I serve in this delicate region of the world – and I always encourage people to come visit me in Jerusalem!

A couple of weeks ago was Tu-B’shevat (ט״ו בשבט) in Israel, a cultural holiday celebrating “New Year for the trees.” This holiday is often celebrated by partaking of a new type of fruit, or one of the fruits mentioned in the Torah in regards to the bounty of the Land (grapes, olives, figs, dates and pomegranates).

The almond tree is the first of the fruits to “awaken” to the spring. As I prayer-walked this beautifully complex city this Shabbat, I was amazed to see the many delicate blossoms of the almond trees, even as the crisp winter air lingers. I couldn’t help but consider this passage from Jeremiah 1:11-12:

“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.’

The play on words is lost in the English translation. The word for almond (sheked, שקד) in Hebrew is nearly identical to the word used for watching (shaked, שקד). Each spring, even as the nation of Israel languished in captivity under an oppressive superpower, Jeremiah witnessed the miracle of the almond blossoms bursting forth from the barrenness of winter. That image undoubtedly brought to mind the Lord’s promise that He faithfully watches over His Word to perform it; He would redeem His people and honor His covenant. Just as Aaron’s rod, cut off from the life-giving nourishment of the tree, miraculously budded and bore fruit as a testament to the sovereign power of God, the Lord assured Jeremiah that He is faithfully watching over His promises for His people, even when the branches seem barren and dry.

God’s covenant promises still remain for Israel and the Jewish people today, even when the branches seem to be cut off and barren. He will yet restore the miracle of life and bring forth fruit. There are signs of life here in Jerusalem. Because of His enduring faithfulness to Israel, we can trust His covenant promises to us as those who are grafted in by faith in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. This is the entire premise of the structure of the book of Romans (esp. 9-11).

What do you see? What are the covenant promises of faithfulness God has spoken over you, your family, your community, and your walk of faith with Him? If your vision is blurry, take some time today and ask Him to revisit those promises. He is gracious. He wants us to see well. The almond blossoms continue to testify that He faithfully brings forth spring out of winter and He remains true to His Word. Be encouraged today, for He is passionately watching over His Word to perform it – in Israel, in the nations of the world, and in your life.

 

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My Brokenness, His Strength

Ernest Hemingway once said, “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.”

I have never found this statement to be more true. I cling to the scripture Psalm 34:18 AMP “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” We live in a culture that tells us that if something is broken, it must be fixed, thrown out, or even replaced. We see this in all aspects of life. From material things, to friendships, to even family members. Though here is my question: is brokenness really a bad thing?

Psalm 51:17 says NKJV “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – these, O God, you will not despise.” From my perspective, if Jesus is near to those who are who are broken and desires those who are humble, why should we feel the need to ‘fix’ ourselves?  We are all consistently growing, changing, and living out our individual journeys in Jesus and I respect that. However, I want to introduce another train of thought. What would happen If we were to stop trying to ‘fix’ ourselves and make our broken parts whole again? What if we allowed Jesus to draw near to the broken parts of us as we draw near to him? What if we allowed the Father’s love to make us whole and complete – lacking nothing? What if we stopped trying to hide the broken parts of us and allowed God to use us in our brokenness?

I believe that if we can come to the end of ourselves, embrace our brokenness, and invite Jesus into the cracked parts of our existence, God will use us. God will use the very parts of you that you saw as broken. 2 Corinthians 2:9 says NKJV “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Our weak places are where the spirit can dwell and God can show up and show out.  

Lastly, let us remember the anomaly that Jesus is not afraid of our brokenness. Let us remember that he knows us better than we know ourselves, yet still chooses to love us with an all consuming love – broken pieces and all.

So, I challenge you today and everyday to not allow brokenness to hinder your life or calling. Instead, allow Jesus to use your brokenness as a perfect vessel filled with his miraculous love and grace.

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Sierra Fernald is a Los Angeles based lifestyle blogger, social media influencer, creative and lover of Jesus. She counts serving in City Kids one of the greatest blessings of her life as well as connecting with the women of The City Church and serving on the GC Agoura leadership team. She is passionate about impacting the lives of young people for eternity and loves being a part of what God is doing in her city.