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

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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.

Jesus, The Perfect Dance Partner

A WILD Devotional

Since I was in my mother’s womb, I have loved to dance. I have loved the ability to express myself through movement, show my heart through each step and impact an audience through my creativity. But, the one thing that has been my greatest passion in dance, is using my love of dance to draw closer to my Savior. Jesus has and always will be my greatest inspiration, greatest source of strength and the greatest comfort in my life. Every time I dance I purpose to invite the Holy Spirit to lead me to the secret place in my mind, body and spirit where I can solely focus on glorifying my Jesus.

But recently, I had a completely new revelation that has transformed my relationship with Jesus and given me a profound understanding of who my Savior is to me; and hopefully will give you a new perspective on who He wants to be in your life. My revelation was simply this, following Jesus is a lot like dancing with the perfect partner. When Jesus said, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), He was asking US to dance. He was asking us to go on a journey with him filled with highs, lows, trials and victories. Jesus is ready to lift us up, guide our steps and support our every move. The trick is, we have to actually let Him lead us!  When I let Jesus lead me, I find the flow of forward movement through life graceful and grace-filled. But, when I try to take the lead, everything becomes jerky, difficult and confusing. Because of this, I am grateful for the gentle cues my Perfect Dance Partner, Jesus, gives me; a light press in one direction, a swift yet smooth spin in another or simplify a still small whisper in my ear correcting my steps. Jesus is patient, supportive and constantly encouraging me to move out of my comfort zone. He is trust worthy, he never-drops me, and he lifts me higher than I could ever reach on my own.

Isaiah 30:21 says it this way:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Living in this new revelation has truly helped me to draw closer to Jesus and finally trust him fully with every aspect of my life.

So my question is this… Are you ready to let Jesus take your hand and lead you through life? Are you ready to let Jesus be YOUR PERFECT DANCE PARTNER?

 

Tatiana (2)Tatiana Fernald is a professional dancer and is actively involved in the City Church Agoura campus. She has a passion for using movement and dance as a form of worship and connection with God and loves helping others to do the same. Tatiana is currently pursuing her God-given dream of opening a performing arts center for children and teens with special needs and physical exceptionalities.

Being Brave

Being Brave is Scary

Have you ever heard the song “You Make Me Brave” by Bethel? You may recognize it from its anthem bridge- “You make me brave, you call me out beyond the shores into the waves.” Never have these lyrics become as real to me as when I was asked to lead others in singing them for our recent women’s event, Beautiful Stories.

When I was first asked to lead this song, I felt my heart drop to my stomach. I’ve never been in an elevator that shuts down and plummets ten stories, but I imagine it’s a similar feeling. “No way, God. My voice can’t hit those notes!” I found myself on my bedroom floor, explaining the situation to God, when suddenly, He brought to memory a request I’d made only a week beforehand for Him to stretch me in my worship.

I think that so often in my life, I wish the stretch could be comfortable. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply grow in our relationship with God from the safety of the shores? Venturing into the waves seem so uncharted and so unsure. And yet, I’ve found that it’s in these times that God grows our faith the most, because we can no longer rely on our own abilities. Suddenly, we just have to trust that God’s got us.

In Deuteronomy 31:7-8, Moses encourages a rising leader, Joshua, who also had to face daunting circumstances as he took on the responsibility of leading the nation of Israel: “Be strong and courageous…The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (NIV).

Let these words wash over you today. Declare them. Pray them over yourself daily. Join me in making this your battle cry every time fear tries to hold you back from stepping out in faith, knowing that whatever your story might be, God is forever faithful!

As for my story, I sang the song. I’m pretty sure that my voice cracked towards the end, but I sang the song. And you know what? God showed up. The Holy Spirit moved that night, and my faith was stretched.

So, here’s what I’ve determined- being brave can be scary, but the God who calls me out on the waters if faithful to help me walk on them.

xoxo Victoria

IMG_4649Victoria Baca grew up in northern California and is overjoyed to now call Ventura home! She graduated from California Coast Bible College in 2017 and is spending a third year as the college’s Resident and Housing Director. Victoria is passionate about worship, youth ministry, and missions. Find her small group for college girls here, and join to do life together!

Letting Go

A WILD Devotional

I remember when I was 18, it was 1984.  I wanted so badly to experience life and all God had for me and couldn’t even fathom it, though I tried.  I remember imagining myself in each decade to come, how old would I be? Who would I marry? How many kids might I have?  My desire was to always be pleasing in God’s sight and a valuable member of God’s family, always contributing to society.  Somewhere in my early childhood there was a tormenting voice that constantly told me I never would.  It was the liar’s voice, Satan’s.  I wasn’t aware there was a liar whose main role was to kill, steal, and destroy; I had no clue that I could or should give him a verbal tongue lashing with the truths found in the Bible.  Often I would cry out to God declaring what I wanted for my life, almost in a desperate plea, like a peasant begging a king for mercy.  And so, my focus became my own performance and that began to define my worth.

I am now 51, amazed at the journey, wiser, stronger, braver and secure in my hope because of my walk with the Spirit of God who is my comforter, shepherd, counselor, teacher, confidant, refuge and friend.  My ears are better receivers of his voice and I want to hear it more than ever before. At times I still wrestle with old lies.

For the last few days I have wrestled with anxiety over this blog. It would be public.  What should I say? Would my story impact the lives of others? What if my grammar is incorrect?  In sharing with a friend today, she “took me to church” as she reminded me that performance is not worship.  God is so good to use other believers as His gentle reminder to refocus.  Lord, forgive me for getting it twisted!  My highest calling is not in what I do. It’s about who I am becoming. His first commandment (Exodus 20)  is that I should have no other gods but him.  He loves me unselfishly, unconditionally and all he asks of me is to love him and believe Him.  If I’m in Him, nothing else can shake me. If He is my main obsession, everything else will fall into place.

Join me in this prayer:

Jesus, today I’m letting go of performance. Just as 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) says, “I give all of my worries and cares to You, because You care about me.”

13A8B514-7562-4D8C-A9F4-79DD61A4BED8Sara is mom of three amazing, adult children, and one son-in-love,  Brooke, age 27 (and Zack), Moriah, 25 and Landon, 22.  Sara has been married to John for 31 adventurous and miraculous years.  It is their desire to use their history, milestones and miracles to encourage young adults and married couples in their journey with each other and Jesus. Sara grew up in a relatively conservative background as a pastor’s daughter.  In the last six years Jesus and the Spirit of God have blown her away with new revelations and surprises.  Look for Sara (and John) at the Agoura/Oak Park campus where you’ll usually find them greeting at the door.

A Woman Caught

Beeeeeeeeeeep. I jumped in my seat and looked in the rearview mirror. A wide-eyed woman in a large SUV was gesturing energetically with obvious frustration. Her car held close to the rear of mine with unrelenting aggression. Yikes! I thought I had plenty of time to pull out, but I’d clearly made a mistake. Oops. What now? I stared straight ahead as the road widened and she pulled past me in the lane to my right. She was shouting at me. “Oh Lord, don’t let her hurt me!” I thought. She accelerated quickly and turned the other way. Wow. I felt terrible.

It’s the absolute worst when you do something wrong and get caught. I’ve been the object of someone’s hostility a number of times in my life, some deserved, some undeserved. I’ve experienced loud and straightforward accusation and the cold shoulder of quiet rejection. I’ve been reminded of failures and asked, “Why aren’t you doing more?” These days accusation often comes through the immature (but age-appropriate) voices of my children who are learning to navigate the small disappointments of life. “Why can’t we watch more television? You are so mean.” “Mom, why are you so slow to tie my shoes and buckle my seatbelt!” A woman’s got to have tough skin! Every accusation results in a self-examining question: Did I do something wrong here? Sometimes,with my children, the answer is obvious. No, they’re too immature to understand my limitations. Other times I really have to question my motives and wonder, is that accusation an accurate description of my heart?

When we started this blog, I felt like I was supposed to post about the women God chose to talk about in the Bible. This post is the first. In John chapter 8, we meet an unnamed woman who was not only accused of doing wrong but was undeniably guilty.

She was suddenly shamed, scorned for the decision she had made, alone with her accusers who had snatched her from her lover’s bed, the angry mob who made it their mission to exemplify “goodness.” They often found people whose failures were “worse” than their own in order to hold their position. These Pharisees wanted to be good but deep down they knew that they were not good, that there was darkness in their hearts. The people looked up to them, listened to them, which gave them a sense of power and security, enough to keep up the whole charade.  

But Jesus very presence was threatening all of that. When He was around they felt inferior, unworthy. He questioned them in front of the people. They brought their morality and knowledge to him but it was their hearts He was after. He wasn’t impressed by the religious establishment. Jesus didn’t use the rules to get power but always seemed to bend them to empower someone else, someone who didn’t deserve it.

Today it was this woman, a cheater, facing her accusers. While God indeed knows her name and her story, we’re left only to remember her as “the woman caught in adultery.” The ancient rules were clear, a woman who cheated on her husband or slept with a cheater, had to die. She made a choice to do something wrong and she got caught. And now everyone knew and everyone looked at her and said, “at least I’m not as bad as that.” She stood there, guilty, a tool to make them all feel better, superior, until Jesus reminded them of a greater truth.

“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

And one by one they walked away. Immediately their conscious minds remembered the thoughts, the acts, the failure to be good. As much as they tried to deny it, get out of it, they were living in the darkness. Jesus stooped on the ground, writing with his finger in the dirt, like the ancient Lawgiver writing on the tablets. No one was left to execute the sentence because every person was guilty.

Except one.

Jesus is good, was good, perfectly good, and perfectly qualified to condemn and punish the woman. In fact, He knew about more than just that day’s offense, He saw in the darkness and knew all of the mistakes she’d ever made. But He doesn’t lift a stone. Instead, He asks her,

“Where are these accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, Master.” Three little words give voice to our condition. No human being can condemn us, punish us, judge us, because none are any better than we are. Only Jesus. And when we listen to His voice, He says, “neither do I condemn you. Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

True goodness is more than morality. We can be moral and do wonderful things to look good in the eyes of others but it only provides temporary relief. Goodness is about holiness. Holiness is being like Him, for Him, with Him.  Holiness is what we are made for, what we long for deep inside. It’s belonging solely to God and living completely for Him.

I imagine that when this woman faced her accusers and encountered Jesus, it made her desperately aware of her failures. Being in the presence of perfection can do that to a person. Maybe you’ve felt that way about church and God in general and determined to clean up your act before you attempt a relationship with Him.

But you can’t. She can’t. I can’t. He doesn’t ask us to, He asks us instead to step into the light, to stand before Him. We’re like a houseplant in a dark corner, shriveled and dry. When we’re moved near a window and the light shines on us, we come to life, our leaves spread, our floppy stems stiffen and straighten. We grow and flourish. All of our ugliness and deadness is exposed but as we absorb the light, it becomes part of us and we become beautiful.

Jesus says at the conclusion of this story, “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” 

The darkness is the lie, the terrible lie that came into the world at the beginning. It is the lie that says we can be good without God and leads us down a road to nowhere. But goodness comes when the light shines on us, in us, exposing the truth of who we really are. We weren’t born for darkness, our beings require the Light to live. When we experience Him and belong to Him, that light empowers us to live beautifully, generously, truly good.

What voices are accusing you today? What’s keeping you in the darkness, discouraging you from approaching Jesus and receiving His favor in your life? Maybe your spouse or parents always remind you of what you don’t do, maybe it’s a boss who’s just never satisfied with your work. Maybe your children, like mine, are young and immature and express demands much easier than appreciation. Maybe you are the one holding yourself to unbelievably unrealistic standards for your life. Maybe you’ve been told God can’t love you until you get it together.

Jesus says, “They don’t have the right to condemn you. I don’t condemn you either. Walk in my light and be my light. Stop living in the darkness.” He made a decision to step in our place and experience darkness on our behalf when He went to the cross. He silences the voices and calms our fears so that we can get back on the road, doing what we are made to do.

My friend, today I pray that you can walk confidently knowing that He is with you simply because He loves you, no matter what the other drivers think.

All scriptures are taken from the Message Paraphrase.

You Were on Purpose, I Make no Mistakes

Inspired by Psalm 139:1-18

You were on purpose. I make no mistakes

A masterpiece, I took my time to create

Your name I knew before time began

Everything about you, intentional, and perfectly planned

I have seen you, walked with you, every step you haven taken

When you thought you were alone, greatly, you were mistaken

You are the apple of my eye, my most prized possession

My child. My daughter. My greatest obsession.

You were on purpose. I make no mistakes

I’m always with you, whether asleep or awake.

I formed you. I made you. In my image you stand

How precious are my thoughts for you, so sweet and so grand.

My workmanship is marvelous, how well I know it.

You are my prize, my treasure, my absolute favorite.

So wonderfully complex, yes believe, it is true

Deliberately unique, there is no one like you.

You were on purpose. I make no mistakes

You, my sweetheart, I will never forsake

I made you to laugh, to be YOU, can’t you see?

It was all my idea, so run and be free

In the storms of your life, you have always prevailed

For I was with you. I was there. I was your anchor and sail.

I heard when you called, so sad and dismayed

Remember I answered, “Daddy’s here. Don’t be afraid”.

You were on purpose. I make no mistakes.

I will never leave you. A promise I won’t break.

I was not counting the times you fell in shame

Have you forgotten? It was I who took your blame

I saw you being formed in your mothers womb

You were worth it all. For you I went to that tomb

Isn’t it obvious? Can’t you see this is true?

That you were on purpose. Not a mistake. So beautifully you.

Bethany Taylor

Bethany Taylor is mother to two amazing boys and wife to Simon. She is an actress and comedian. She and Simon are active leaders at The City Church Ventura campus. For more of her stories and plenty of laughs, you can check out her youtube channel, Honestly Bethany.

Top Photo by Meiying Ng on Unsplash