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 CCBC 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 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.

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

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!

Grandma’s Faith

I was thinking the other day about what it means to live big and the thought of legacy crossed my mind. I was thinking of my grandmother who passed a little over a year ago and what her life was about. She died right before Christmas and I traveled alone to Seattle to attend her memorial service just after the new year. She was ninety-six and had been looking forward to heaven for a little while.

As I sat in her service, her pastor, who was many years younger, began to tell stories of her life. My grandfather was a chaplain in a hospital and not always available to attend on Sundays. When they started attending this church after moving across the state (to be close to their grandchildren) she informed this pastor that she would be in church every week with or without my grandfather. And she was. He told how she started a group for Norwegian immigrant women and their daughters that grew from two to ten to over forty women. She was joyful and faithful and loved Jesus deeply. When we’d stay at her house for sleepovers, she would pray traditional prayers over us, like “Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me.” She’d play cheerful hymns on her piano at Christmas for all of the adult children and grandchildren who filled her home. Her joy filled my young life even in seasons of heartbreak. Her hair was white as snow and her face so full of wrinkles, but I always thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known. She left such a legacy for me.

When Tom and I were married, my grandparents began to intentionally pass things on. One day they gave me a photocopy of the front page of my grandmother’s Bible where my great-grandmother had written a precious note. It holds these words:

Dear Judith,

God’s word is our great heritage,

and it shall be ours forever;

to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor:

Through life it guides our way,

In death, it is our stay;

Lord grant, while words endure

To keep it’s teachings pure,

Throughout all generations.

With love from Mother, Christmas 1946

My great grandmother was a Norwegian immigrant whose own mother never spoke English. I can imagine her faith was required during many moments of her own life. All of these women in my family, including my own mother, shared the defining characteristic of bright, red hair. When I think of these women who joyfully passed down a passionate love for God’s word to their daughters, I am inspired to do the same. I’m so deeply grateful for this heritage, but I’m also well aware that there was a woman at some moment in my ancestry who was the first one to believe in Jesus. The fruit of her faith has outlived her!

Regardless of whether we have natural children, God puts in every feminine heart the power to nurture and love and care for those who need an inspiring word, a guiding hand, an example of strength and unwavering faith. When we receive the unbelievable, selfless love of Jesus, He puts so much in our hands to give and then He multiplies it beyond what we could imagine.

Maybe you’re the first in your family to believe in Jesus and become who He created you to be. Imagine the women many years from now who will look back and thank God for your faith! Maybe you’re discouraged and feel like your love for Jesus isn’t shared by your children. I’m praying today that God will show up and reveal Himself to each one of them. He has heard your prayers and treasured your tears. He will not give up on them!

Let me leave you with this picture from Psalm 78:6-7:

For perpetuity God’s ways will be passed down

from one generation to the next, even to those not yet born.

In this way, every generation will have a living faith in the laws of life

and will never forget the faithful ways of God.

Jesus, we pray you would use us to be vehicles of your love and your truth to the next generation. We pray our faith would extend beyond ourselves and into the lives of many, many others. We pray we would pass on a legacy of faithfulness and life to everyone we meet. We love you Jesus!

BT1_0019

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!

IMG_3629.jpg

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. 

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.

 

IMG_5668