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)

Finding Rest

A WILD Devotional

Surrender is something that I think sounds easy to do at times, but can actually be very difficult. I’ve come across many areas in my life this week that I  realized I needed to surrender to God. I became keenly aware of my own “busy-ness.” I have a desire to love others and serve others, to help where help is needed and to constantly be growing. While these are all good things, they can quickly become dangerous things if we aren’t careful. I have a tendency to say yes to everything just because I know help is needed or because I’ll get the chance to love others. Sometimes I’m just striving to prove my love to God. However, I spend way too little time with myself and with God and way too little time resting. By not allowing myself this time and continuing to do things the  way I’m doing them now, I’ll eventually be running on empty, unable to give out anything, and that’s not beneficial to anyone.

God had completely wrecked my Tuesday morning in the very best way. In an inaudible voice, He told me that I needed to learn to accept the love and blessings He gives me, as a gift to be cherished for myself, not just something to be shown to others. He also spoke to me that I don’t need to  strive  because I already have his undivided attention and unconditional love available to me, whether I do anything or not.

Hebrews 4:9-10 talks about this, “So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world.” (NLT)

I’m so thankful to God for creating this rest and for Jesus who made a way for me to enter into this rest by dying on the cross. He’s made amends for my failures and promises to help me. Now I can serve and love from what I already have, not what I’m trying to achieve.

Hailey O BrienHalley O’Brien is a first year student at California Coast Bible College. She has a passion for people and a passion for music. Encouraging others and speaking into others is important to her because she loves to see people grow into their potential. She loves to be around her family and friends and enjoys frequent trips to Disneyland. In her spare time you may find her songwriting, snacking, or telling really corny jokes.

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.

Mary

Hey Beautiful,

It’s been the weirdest couple of weeks in our little town of Ventura. I have friends who are living in a hotel with their three children (two are preschoolers), friends who’ve lost everything, friends whose kids are unexpectedly out of school for a whole month (and can’t play outside because of the smoke). The smoke is thick and no one can tell us what’s going to happen next.

And it’s Christmas. Merry Christmas! Time to shop, to bake, to decorate, to send the cards, to go to the programs, to watch the films and have the parties. I keep going through the normal motions but nothing really feels that normal.

So I started to read about Mary. That’s what we do at Christmas. We talk about Mary, the virgin, teenage, refugee who was chosen by God to deliver the hope and savior of the world. Oh night divine!

Mary lived in a chaotic world where she did not belong, where racial and ethnic strife ran deep and had deadly consequences. When the angel came to her she pondered his words and hid them in her heart. She believed.

I wonder if she was in awe of Him. She lived such a life of devotion. She seemed to be there at every turn, steadfast, unwavering. She didn’t always seem to know exactly what was going on, which is comforting, meaning she was like us. Some things must have been so confusing. What would it be like to watch your child die of asphyxiation on a cross? But it didn’t seem to shake her. She was there at the cross and at Pentecost, in the upper room, praying and believing and waiting to be filled with the Holy Spirit so they could go out and turn the world upside down.

She lived her best life, that’s for sure (great thoughts on that here) It sort of redefines what makes a life really great. What life is this that is available when we say, “yes” to God?! So much promise, probably some pain, but absolute purpose beyond the here and now. We really have no idea, this side of eternity, what our lives can be and do.

When tragedy strikes, it reminds us how precious and fragile life can be. We remember that there’s more than this and we actually don’t have as much control over all of it as we think we do. But He actually does.

The Almighty stepped into the finite, flesh and blood of fragile humanity so that He could really know us, so He could look over and say, “Hey! I get it. We’re in this together.” It’s okay to be shocked, to be overwhelmed, to mourn and weep when tragedy strikes. The Bible says He’s with us, feeling it all and actually praying for us, on our behalf. But we can also live with this hope, that the darkest of ages are done, for the savior of heaven has come.

In light of this, I pray that you and I will always encounter Christmas with the joy and wonder that Simeon experienced, when Mary brought her child to be dedicated at the temple. (Luke 2:28-31 TPT):

Simeon cradled the baby in his arms and praised God and prophesied, saying: “Lord and Master, I am your loving servant, and now I can die content, for your promise to me has been fulfilled. With my own eyes I have seen your Word, the Savior you sent into the world.”

Merry Christmas!

XO,

Bethany

 

 

Ventura Fires: How Can I Help?

Monday night was a life changing moment for so many people in our community.  The stories that I have personally heard have been heart wrenching for me.  One of the families in our church has three little kids and had only three minutes to evacuate.  They left with nothing more than their lives and the clothes on their back.  As a pastor the weight of how we can help our community became a little overwhelming.  I stood in my closet whispering the prayer, “Lord, now is the time for the church to be your hands and feet.  Give us wisdom in all that you have called us to do.”  I know many of you feel the same way.  You want to do all you can to make a difference.

Here are some practical things we can all do:

Pray:  Prayer is the best thing we can do. Pray specifically for the following:

  • 100 % containment of all the fires
  • Wind will cease
  • Every need of those displaced will be met
  • Salvation for those who need Christ, that He would be their comforter
  • Wisdom for the church in all that we can do
  • Join our Thursday night prayer meeting tonight, December 7th from 6-7pm at both our Ventura and Agoura campuses.

Give:

  • Give tax deductable donation by texting ‘thecity’ to 77977  or visit our website
  • Give to the giving tree this Sunday, we are collecting gift cards to either purchase gifts for displaced kids and single parent homes.  Suggested places to buy gift cards to are Target, Walmart, Visa Gift cards, etc
  • Funds for individual families you may know have been set up online. You can access these via social media

Love: 

  • Volunteer to distribute necessities through the church. Join the team by helping at shelters with the Red Cross here or helping receive and distribute supplies with the City Church here.
  • Be available to open up your home for those in mandatory evacuation.
  • Reach out to neighbors and people at church who are affected by the fires.
  • Invite people to church so that they can come in contact with the presence of God and we can surround them in love and provide any supplies they may need.

I believe God calls the church to be an unstoppable force for help and good in times of tragedy. Let’s come together to be the fragrance of God to our community!

2 Corinthians 2:14 “God makes his grace visible in Christ who includes us as partners of his endless triumph.  Through our yielded lives he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere we go”

Thank you for loving our City!

Becky Fouquier

I Don’t Believe in Coincidence

I don’t believe in coincidence.  I believe everything in my life is and was mapped out by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not to say He doesn’t allow for free will and choice.  He just knows ahead what choices we finite humans will make, since He lives in all time and space.  God is everywhere at once, and is the greatest chess player in the universe!   

I won’t waste your time with fancy words.  I’ll tell you the facts of life.  Well, of my life.  

Why?  The only reason for me to open my book, called “life,” for you to read, is to give you hope.  The same hope that I have. Not just fleeting, momentary, feel good, positive vibes.  Eternal hope.  

We all go through mud at some point in this life.  I have a blessed life.  God has planted so many beautiful flowers in the mud of my garden that I no longer see the mud, except through the lens of how it has helped an amazing array of flowers bloom.  

I was 2 years old when my dad beat me so bad I had to be put in a hospital.  Now, your mind can go in all sorts of directions.  The main one, I suppose, being, “What a monster of a dad.”  I’m not in denial, believe me, but my dad was no monster.  He was a young father who lost control in a horrible fit of rage, in one moment.  He never lost control, physically, again with me.  Ever.  When I was 35 years old, my dad called me up and told me just that. “Katherine, I need you to know when you were a toddler I put you in the hospital because I beat you so bad.  I never touched you again after that.  Ever kid.”   He carried that huge, torturous, bad father moment, knowledge for all those years.  It was a great relief to both of us when he spoke it out.

Unbeknownst to dad, my mom had told me what happened when I was 18.  I never said a word to my tough, larger than life, John Wayne, construction working father.  Nope.  That was not going to happen.

He was too closed-minded, in my view, for me to bring up such a sensitive, wound-opening subject.  

Do I remember any of it?   I remember getting into mom’s makeup.  I remember dad asking me if I got into mom’s makeup.  I don’t remember telling him no.  I also have no recollection of him beating me.  Completely blocked it from my mind.  Too painful.  

I had a psychiatrist do some role play with me over my dad when I was 21. Yes, I had to see a psych doctor for evaluation after trying to kill myself. That was my life.  I don’t know that I really wanted to die.  I just didn’t want to hurt.  So much pain was bottled up inside that I had no clue how to release it,  how to deal with it.  For the first time, a light came on.  I began to understand the affects that pivotal moment had on young, naive Kathy.  By getting into my mom’s makeup, I was getting in touch with my femininity.  I was trying to be a woman, like mom was, and “pretty myself up.”   When I was beaten for that, it spun my young, unmolded mind into a whirlwind of doubt and shame over who I am.  Am I ugly?  Is that why I was beaten?  Am I shameful? Pitiful? Bad?  Since a 2-year old doesn’t have the capacity of mind to understand, it all gets bottled up to deal with later on in life, when our brains can function well enough to take it in and analyze it rationally.

The first time I walked into the church, I felt the spirit of Jesus immediately.  He captured my heart in a moment!  I knew!  This was it!  This was what I was searching all those empty years for.   My best friend had called me earlier that day and excitedly yelled through the phone, “Kath! You’re not gonna believe what happened to me!!”  My mind autoed on what guy she would tell me all about next.  Instead she land-blasted my thinking with, “I went to church and was filled with the Holy Ghost, Kath!  You have to come check it out with me tonight!!”  I was intrigued.  I was also put off.  ‘Shrug.  Another “Christian” story.  Boring.’  But there was that something in her voice.  What was it?  It peaked my curiosity.  “I have to tell you, I’ve been to every church in the area, and I’m turned off by churches.” I dryly replied.  She was persistent.  I went.

My husband, Dean, was sitting at the coffee table, cutting a line of ‘coke’, with his good buddy, Bob, who had served in the military with him just months before.  Dean looked up at me in surprise as I came downstairs all dressed up.   “Where you goin’?”  he asked me.  “I’m going to the church down the road.  Ruth invited me and I told her I’d check it out.”  I quickly replied, to end the conversation.  He shot back, “Don’t come home preaching to me!”  His buddy asked me what church I was going to, and I dismissively replied, “I think it’s some Pentecostal church,” (with no clue what the word even meant).  He said something so profound in that moment, something we wouldn’t comprehend fully until later.  “If she goes to that church, it will change your lives forever.”  Then they went back to their lines as if he never said it.  I found out later Bob was a Pentecostal pastor’s son.  God grows us all through many expressions of church but thinking about it makes me laugh, because there are no coincidences in life.

There is another Bob I have to give credence to.  He’s another of Dean’s buds from the military.  Bob came over one day, long before the day I stepped in that church, and while waiting for Dean to get home, he and I casually sat across from each other, snorting cocaine, smoking and drinking and chatting about nothingness.  Then Bob brought up the big taboo.  Religion.  He asked me what I believed, and I easily told him, while doing a line, “I’m Christian.”  Bob laughed, and somberly injected some truth into my stubborn mind that I would never forget.  It would haunt me for a long time.  I kicked Bob out of my house immediately over what he spoke, and told him never to come back.  I told my husband not to let his sorry friend back in, ever.  Bob simply and with ease said, “I would never sit here doing what we’re doing and call myself a Christian.”  ‘HOW DARE HE!!  Who the {expletive deleted} did he think he was? (side note:  my husband was a sailor, and I cussed worse than he did) Coming in my house and thrashing my belief like that.  I checked the Christian box on any and all documents, (back then you had questionnaires on pretty much any form you filled out, that asked your religious belief), and I was just that, Christian!’  

Like I said, Bob’s words stuck with me.  ‘I’m a Christian, right?  Of course, I have to be a Christian.  I’ve received the Lord in my heart at just about every church around here.  So I have to be!’  It was Bob that helped me begin to break down the walls of pride and ask serious questions of myself for the first time.  If you’re out there, Bob, thank you.

Another serious incident happened to me when I was a 2 year old.  Those “terrible two’s,” man!  The rubella measles went inside and swelled my brain, which put me into a coma.  On the seventh day, the doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it, and to come say last rites over me.  My Grams flew in from Illinois.  I was sprinkled by a Lutheran minister (Grams faith), and left there to die.  I still have the bald spot from that time to prove it.  Mom said they didn’t move me due to the sensitivity of the illness.  I also have dystonia from that brief, nine day, period of life.  Dystonia sucks.  But dystonia does not have me.  It makes my head jerk “no” when I don’t want to say NO.  The positive is, I’m not saying “yes” to everyone.   

When my dad called to tell me about the beating, he also told me this,  “Kid, when the doctors told me you were going to die, I went and prayed all night long with the Pastor across the street from us on Nyeland Acres.”  Mom had already told me that cool happening also, but I didn’t share with dad how I already knew.  I gave him the honor of the moment, and thanked him for loving me so much to do that.  I always knew that was the reason I came out of the coma.  My dad, who died of liver failure from alcoholism, my larger than life father, who tossed profanity around like it was candy, prayed for his baby girl, and God heard.  There are no coincidences.

I don’t know where you are reading this today, or what you believe about life and Jesus, but I do know that He loves you just as much as He loves me. You are not reading this post by coincidence. He wants you to know that He chose to go through the unthinkable by dying on the cross so that He could welcome you into an amazing relationship and life with Him. If you want to be in a relationship with Him and know what this is all about, all you have to do is ask.

Prayer:

God, I realize now that you love me and I believe in You. I want to have a real relationship and life with you. Please help me know what it means to be a Christian and to actually follow you. Show me how you’ve been working in my life even up to this point and help me to become the person you created me to be. Amen.

 
Kathy's picKathy Hageman, by God’s grace, is a mom of four amazing sons, two daughter in loves, and grandma to two precious granddaughters. She and Dean have been married for 33 wonderful years   She’s passionate about teaching and helping women to realize their full potential in Christ.  She has been involved in women’s ministries for many years and leads the “Breakfast & Bibles” City Group with Pastor Becky.  This post is an excerpt from the memoir she’s writing, titled, “I Don’t Believe In Coincidence”.