Tales from the Dominican Republic

California Coast Bible College is a ministry of The City Church and, every year, we have the awesome privilege of serving with, praying for, and sending out these incredible young people on missions trips. Their experiences are always life-changing and I know you will be greatly encouraged and inspired by their stories. Allow me to share with you some great words from Carter Howard, one of our second year students who went to the Dominican Republic. Enjoy!

Xo,

Bethany

IMG_0461I am so deeply thankful for all of the prayers and donations. We saw the results of every single prayer sent our way! I think that was actually one of the biggest lessons I learned during this trip: the power of prayer. We, as a team, started praying for this trip four months before we went. I have realized that before we see God move, He asks us to step out in faith and in crazy prayers!

But where do I begin with my trip?! There is too much to tell. So many stories. So many testimonies. This was the greatest missions trip that I had ever been on. I saw God do something amazing every single day. I have never been a part of a team more unified. I have never seen so many people come to Christ and be healed. My faith was inspired for sure!

To start, let me say this. Over the two weeks that we spent in the Dominican Republic, we saw 139 people receive salvation and we saw 54 people get healed. 80% of the ministry work we did was evangelism, where we would go throughout the neighborhood and just talk with people, spend time with them, and pray for them. For at least four hours each day, we would do this. It was cool because there was nothing physically that we could have prepared for this. The only way we could prepare was spiritually! We saw the Holy Spirit move in amazing ways. It was also really special to see people healed. I personally had not experienced a lot of that before, so to be a part of that was inspiring. We saw tumors disappear, blind people see, casts be thrown away, bed-ridden women jump and run around with joy, broken legs healed, and even more. GOD IS SO GOOD.

That was just the healing. God saved 139 people. These weren’t just people in a crowd that we didn’t know. These were people that we spent time with, sat down with, and personally got to know. We saw, right in front of our eyes, people touched by God and saved from sin and set free! It was especially cool because it reminded me that I made a goal in the beginning of the year to have the opportunity to personally lead twenty people to Christ. Well, Jesus allowed me to exceed that goal. He is so good!

There are many stories that I could tell you, but I will share one of my favorites in particular. During one of the last days that we were evangelizing, we were just about to leave and head back home when we found out the truck tire popped. We used two trucks everyday so one group went back on the truck that still worked while half of us stayed back and waited for them to return. The second I saw that the tire was popped, I was SO excited! I knew that there was no way that happened on accident. Immediately I said “Awesome! This just means that God wants to save more people. There is someone here He still wants to talk to. Round two, people. Let’s go!”. So, me and my friend Zach started walking around to chat with people. We ran into a 14 year old kid named Moses. This was the first person that I had met in the entire two weeks who did not know who Jesus was. Everyone else not only knew who Jesus was, but they believed in him. They just didn’t have relationship with Him.

Zach and I got to explain the whole gospel to him and his friend who stopped by. They both ended up accepting Christ and we got to baptize them a few days later. The day after they got baptized, we were out evangelizing for the last time and we were in that same neighborhood. I invited Moses to come with us so that he could learn what it looks like to tell people about Jesus. This was the quickest form of discipling that we could do! Haha. The last man we met was not a Christian and he ended up accepting Jesus. I asked Moses if he knew what prayer was and he said “No”. It was amazing because I got to show him what prayer was and we BOTH prayed for this man named Domingo. ALL BECAUSE OF A FLAT TIRE PEOPLE. God is so good and He always teaches me that the little things we could be frustrated at, can be the things He wants to use to get our attention. He will do anything for even one person. Even pop a tire.

IMG_0388I could share for hours, but I’ll share one more story with you. On a Saturday night, our whole group was going to visit a nearby church that our ministry partnered with. We were going to go and sit in their service. When we got there, I asked myself what I would speak about IF I had 5 or 10 minutes to speak. They didn’t tell us that we would get an opportunity to do that, but I was just thinking just in case. About 30 seconds later, our pastor walks over to me and says, “So…it turns out that we are running the entire service. Would you want to preach for about 20 minutes?”. UHH. HECK YES! Those are my favorite ministry opportunities because all I have to do is step out and let God do the rest! Our whole team killed it! We did worship, some skits, some testimonies, all out of the blue just stepping out in faith. It was so cool. And God gave me a sermon to share and it may have been one of the best ones I have ever done before. People were set free and the Spirit was moving big time! It was so insane. What was cool is that the next night, we visited another church and we got 20 minutes of ministry time and my pastor asked me if I wanted to speak again! UHH HECK YES! It was such a blast. Speaking is one of my favorite things to do and God gave me opportunities to do that and I didn’t even know it would happen! I got to speak again at a widows ministry about the danger of unforgiveness.

This trip was so amazing that the hosts of the missions home (who run the entire ministry) told us that they didn’t want us to leave. They then told us that they have never been able to tell any group that and they have had over 3,000 people come through their ministry!!! HOW INSANE IS THAT! The City Church made this possible. Your prayers, your encouragement, and your donations. Every piece was a piece of the puzzle. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will forever be grateful for you support!

 

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.

 

A True Friend

Recently, Pastor Tiffany spoke on being a friend and what friendship with God looks like. This caused me to reflect on my experiences with friendship. Growing up, I did not have very good female friendships.  I guess it was the “fun” in dysFUNction that allowed me to stay in these messy relationships. They were full of backbiting, mean girl shenanigans and DRAMA!!!

It was not until I had my first son, Malachi, and became friends with other young, Christian mothers that I really learned how to be a true friend.

When Malachi was about 2 years old, I became friends with a woman who had a son about the same age as mine. She invited us over one day for a play date and around lunch time, I was packing up to leave, but she insisted that we stay for lunch. This was such a simple thing, but this act of kindness and generosity completely floored me. It was hard for me to accept her invitation. I knew that we were both on strict budgets and food and diapers were so expensive, but she was willing to share her food and time with me. On those long days of being home alone with a toddler, this was like a trip to Disneyland!!

We quickly became very good friends and spent a lot of time together raising our boys. Unfortunately, a time came when we needed to have a difficult conversation to correct some things between us. However, my lack of healthy friendship skills kept me from addressing the problem in love. I ended up abruptly cutting off the relationship and hurting her quite badly.

Soon enough, this same thing was done to me by another friend. As I wallowed in my pain and self pity, one day the Lord showed me what I had done to my first friend. I had hurt her the same way that I was hurting. I was aghast!! See, I really didn’t think I was that bad of a person or a friend. This caused me to ponder the fact that my inadequacies as a friend explained why my earlier friendships were so tumultuous. Could I be the problem???

I quickly went to the phone to call the woman that I had hurt and begged for her forgiveness. I was very nervous and prepared myself for a tongue lashing. What I got from her instead, again, completely floored me. She said, “Sharon, I really appreciate you calling me. I have already forgiven you. I have been praying for you to be blessed; you and your family. You already had my forgiveness, but it’s really nice to have an apology.”

I was stunned and humbled. The same woman who taught me how to be a true friend continued to be a true friend even when I had not. She was the first example in human form of how the Lord Jesus extends His friendship to us. Even when we don’t keep up our side of the relationship, He doesn’t let go and He continues to pray that we would be blessed. His love never fails!

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

This friend of mine has embodied this verse in my life and caused me to strive to also be this kind of friend. Some of the things I have learned about true friendship are these: we must be forgivers (Matt 6:14). True friends don’t gossip and can be trusted with a secret (Proverbs 16:28).  True friends always look for the good (Proverbs 11:27). True friends confront in love when needed and don’t bail when things get rough (Proverbs 27:6). True friends are patient. True friends are kind. True friends are dependable. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

In a world full of mean girls and social media “friendships,” let’s be the friends that God has called and empowered us to be!

IMG_6331Sharon Rhodes is a mom of three incredible boys and the wife of Allen. She’s passionate about prayer and evangelism and helped to pioneer the Agoura Campus of The City Church. She leads the Agoura Campus prayer team and also leads a City Group. If you’re passionate about prayer and would like to join Sharon, come to one of our Sunday Grow Classes available every week during the 10:30 service at the Agoura Campus!

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)

You Belong

Catching Up with Erica Lopez

It would be hard to attend the Ventura Campus for very long without meeting Erica Lopez. She’s always present working behind the scenes to include others in the life of the The City Church. Erica attended our very first service and gave her life to Jesus at our New Years service shortly after we opened our doors. She has barely missed a Sunday since that time. I was able to sit down with Erica last week at the Natural Cafe in Moorpark and talk to her a little bit about her experience in our community. She was taking a quick break from her new “dream job” (as she calls it) working as Pastor Mike Rovner’s assistant at Rovner construction.

Erica, you’ve been a fixture of our church as a volunteer at almost every event, on every Sunday. What motivates you?

City Church changed my life. It changed everything. I suffered from fear and anxiety and the church gave me the tools to overcome those things. They taught me how to pray and gave me a Bible and gave me a place to go. I’ve lived in Ventura County all my life but was never really aware of who God was or how He could impact my life.

I went to the church on the very first Sunday, it was the soft launch before the grand opening. Pastors Jude and Becky had come and were the new leadership of my daughter’s school (now City Christian School) and I wanted to know who they were so I could decide whether I’d was keeping her in the school. I had never heard a pastor talk like Pastor Jude about real stuff. He’d say, “Don’t believe what I say, go to your Bible and check on it for yourself.” When I did check it out, the Bible commentary page would say the exact thing as Pastor Jude. God was so obviously speaking to me and drawing me to Himself through all the different messages.

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Erica and her daughter, Jaden

Were there any particular messages that deeply changed your perspective about God?

I specifically remember the message about belonging. He told us that we could belong to Jesus before we even believed, before our behavior changed! It was the first time that I felt that I didn’t have to change first in order to be included. I know we talk about this idea in Grow class but I also always tell people to go back to that series about Joshua in the podcast archives so they can hear it too. It’s such a powerful truth.

Did you feel like people included you right away?

Yes. People immediately reached out to me. Pastor Katie and Pastor Becky invited me to a City Group and told me how to serve. I didn’t know much about leading a Bible study but I told Debby (Wooff) I could be her assistant and be the person who would always read the chapter and have something to say if she asked a question. I made some of my very best friends coming to that group and serving on teams with people.

But I have also found that some of it is a response to preaching. I always say, “Pastor Jude says…” this or that when I encourage people in their faith. People think I’m talking about a personal conversation but I’m not. When you really listen to someone’s preaching, you connect with what they’re saying. I remember him saying once at the beginning, “I can’t personally ask each one of you to volunteer. But I’m asking you to volunteer.” I took that to heart for myself.

Were you proactive about serving right away?

I did not feel at all qualified to serve in the beginning. I remember Debby asking me to help pass out books and I was worried that people would know about my past and believe I wasn’t worthy to help. It was just passing out books! But I did it and they didn’t care about my past.

Now when I serve, I’m always thinking of the people who come to visit who are like me. Someone cared enough to serve so my life could be changed and now I serve with the same hope that someone else will be able to have that same experience. I went to a church for a year before I came to City Church and I sat in the same seat every week and no one ever talked to me. I’m really passionate about talking to people and noticing them. Just recently I noticed a woman who would sit in the same seat every week and it was a bit hard to talk to her at first but I just kept doing it and eventually she came to my dinner group and is now connected to a number of different things.

What do you think helps people feel connected over the long term?

Whatever you are doing, it’s mostly about doing it consistently. It takes time to connect with people and get to know them. I think I became close friends with people because I served with the same people every week over the course of time. That’s why groups are important. How are you really going to get to know someone if you don’t see them regularly? I really admire Debby Wooff because she did her same group over the course of so many years and we were able to really get close to one another.

And now you lead a group with Dee Taday; it’s a dinner group. Can you tell us more about that?

Life was getting really busy and I was overwhelmed with work and everything and I didn’t have time to do another book study. So we started in the summer and now we just meet for dinner twice a month and hang out. We often talk about the message from Sunday and then just share from our lives. We do it at different restaurants. It’s so easy, I just tell people and then we show up. We do it casual and just get separate checks or counter service. I highly recommend leading this type of group if you’ve never done one. Just do it consistently!

Erica, is there a scripture that you would want to share with the women who read this blog that kind of sums up this story?

Yes, Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have lost heart unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I see the goodness of God in the church and in my family and friends and the people I do life with. I remember a couple years ago, I went through a really dark time in my life and Pastor Jude started his Psalms series and he shared this and also the scripture, “And He will strengthen your heart.” My heart has been so strengthened by the goodness of God that I have seen in this community.

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Erica and her husband Joe have one daughter, Jaden. They sit on the left hand side in the first or second row of the Ventura campus every single week. You can get to know Erica and serve with her on the Guest Experience Team and the Beautiful Women of Influence team or attend her City Group.

Zero Missed Calls

I think a lot of mothers dream about the day they have a daughter and can have that best friend relationship. Her daughter tells her absolutely everything that’s going on in her life and no secrets are kept. I know that isn’t a reality for everyone but I’m fortunate enough to consider my mom my best friend. Now don’t get me wrong, she’s still definitely my mother and I’m always reminded of that when she calls me from 1,000 miles away to make sure I got home safe. When she asks if I’m out at night by myself. I usually respond “Mom, I’m fine!” I’m so thankful for her. If you’re a mother of a daughter I pray you too can have a close relationship.

When I moved from the Seattle area to Ventura for Bible College, three and half years ago, not much changed in the relationship between my mom and I. It’s typical we talk on the phone and FaceTime a few times a day. So, this past December 4th when I called her in a panic at 9:30pm while I was nannying, she answered the phone like she always did. I explained to her that there was a large glowing fire I could see in the distance and I wasn’t sure what to do with two sleeping kids. She calmed me down in spite of being two states away and she gave me that comfort that only a mother can give. I made the decision to take the kids and leave. That night the Thomas fire blazed through the city of Ventura and the house where I work was lost as well as the car I had left behind.

Who’s that first person you call in time of need? The person that you can be completely real with? The person who knows you so well but loves you anyways? The person you want to share your absolute worst moments with, but also your best? My mom is amazing but I believe that God is the truest form of that person. Life can get chaotic, it can sometimes seem like too much to even handle, but I really believe that it’s in those moments that we get to see the character of who God is so clearly. His comfort and peace is like no other. His voice can calm even the most intense storms.

In the months following the fire, God’s peace has been so real to me. Every time I call on Him and hear His voice, I am given that reassurance that He is in control. Everyday he reminded me that He would take care of everything and it has been so incredible to see God work in my life in this situation. Someone I didn’t even know let me use their brand new car while I looked to purchase one. Countless people sent me encouraging texts and I am so thankful for every person God placed in my path. I was so blown away by the generosity of the people around me. Just last week I was able to purchase a car that was way better than the one I had lost because of people who had given so generously to me. Isn’t that so like God’s character? He provides all we need and more!

I‘ll admit it, I hate answering my phone. I would much rather someone text me so I can respond when it’s convenient. But I’m working on getting better at it, I promise! When I call my mom she picks up 99.9% of the time (its not quite the same for me, sorry mom!). How much more does our Father God care and listen to us?! He’s ready and listening 100% of the time. I’m so thankful that God NEVER declines or blocks our calls! Psalm 18:6 says “But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.” Jesus wants to be the first one we call upon in times of distress. There is so much freedom and peace that comes when we cry out to Him and let him carry our burdens. Its something I constantly have to remind myself of, that I don’t have to carry my issues (Psalm 55:22). Its so easy to get caught up in the struggle of life and forget that we have a direct line to Jesus. He sympathizes because He experienced life like we do, He’s always there and He isn’t going anywhere. He wants us to tell Him everything: our concerns, our excitement, our frustrations. That constant communication with Him causes us to become closer to Him and rely on Him more.

Can I encourage you to place God as the first person you call on in times of need? He’s always listening and available. When we try to deal with our problems on our own, they seem to get heavier. Remind yourself daily that God is for you, and he’ll carry you through every season of your life. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” When I truly sit and meditate on this verse it blows me away. The God of the universe cares and loves you specifically. Call on Him today, and let Him take your worries and replace it with His perfect peace.

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Ashley Lundgren grew up in Edmonds, Washington and when she was 19 she moved to Ventura, CA to attend California Coast Bible College. She graduated from CCBC in 2016 and is currently a nanny. She loves serving at the City Church and leads a High School city group and helps weekly in City Kids.

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. 

Protected by Silence but not Deaf

A WILD Devotional

When the baby was eight days old, [neighbors and relatives] came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him.  He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is
John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.

Luke 1:57, 61-64 New Living Translation

Zachariah was temporarily mute and used gestures or writing to communicate during this time until he “could speak again”.

When I initially read verse 62, I laughed at the thought that Zachariah could be thinking – “um… I can hear you, I just can’t talk!”. It also made me realize that just like “the neighbors and relatives,” we often assume limitations or consequences from shortcomings. Yes, Zechariah was mute, but there’s a silver-lining.

I could perhaps think that Zechariah was punished for doubting, but what I see is the Father’s protection so that he could not speak death into a promise given by God. Is not life and death “within the power of the tongue?” (Proverbs 18:21)

Though complaining may bring some satisfaction, and very short-lived, it drags me further into a hopelessness that becomes harder to fight. I choose to surround myself with life – listening to the Word, worship songs, etc., until what pours out of me is life.

When I am given a promise from the Lord, if I can’t speak life into it, then I protect it by being silent and getting around those that will speak life into it. By remaining silent and actively listening to life spoken into this promise, I allow myself to get stirred up and the desire to complain or give up lessens. After all, it’s just for a time and not forever that I have to bite my tongue – isn’t that worth it?

Every word from God is precious. When we receive Jesus and believe in Him, the truth of what He says and does, we become who we were created to be!

Join me in this prayer:

Father, help us protect what you have spoken to us and to others. Keep us from critical words against ourselves and each other. May Your Word be the life we speak and may our silence in times of doubt be protected by those around us that love you and fear you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

image1Cindy Andrade lives in Los Angeles and finds joy and fulfillment in helping receive their God-centered breakthroughs. She’s a big believer of celebrating victories as no victory is too small. She finds beauty in the process of overcoming the difficulties of life while looking for the silver-lining in situations and holding on to the Father’s love as a lifeline. She has recently joined The City Church Agoura campus and is looking forward to encouraging others in this community.

Strong Women

May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31:25

God loves strong women. Strength is required for the great work our creator is calling us to. Women comprise half of humanity and our femininity was designed by God with a unique and particular purpose in mind. I’ve been told I’m strong many times. I don’t think it was always a compliment in the mind of the individual saying it, ha! I do fit the “Anne of Green Gables” redhead stereotype with my sharp mind and quick tongue. Passion is a quality I have never lacked, though I do regret that, at times, it has been misguided. In spite of that, I’m thankful to be one in a long line of strong, redheaded women.

It takes great strength to raise children, to joyfully love the same man over a period of decades, to lead a business or organization, to pick up the pieces and start again after death or divorce, to maintain a household while a husband serves in the armed forces or as a first responder. The teenage mother with an unplanned pregnancy needs strength to birth a baby and to choose whether to raise the child or give her to adoptive parents. The refugee woman in a new country, speaking a new language, requires strength to begin a new life. The victim of sexual violence requires great strength and courage to testify against her accuser. We women, we sisters and mothers and daughters and wives, we need our strength.

God has always called his people to be strong, to stand up against injustice and proclaim dignity over every member of humanity. He has called us to be strong to face impossible situations. In our beautiful and broken world, there is so much to do that will require His great strength. There are slaves to be freed, children to be adopted, victims to be rescued, refugees to be brought home, addicts to be rehabilitated, friends and enemies to be forgiven. The brokenhearted and depressed require someone to lift up their chins and look into their eyes and tell them they can have hope, that we are in this together and they are not alone.

God knew that teenage Mary had the strength to carry the son of God and believe in His resurrection. Jesus saw strength in the eyes of Mary Magdalene, when she broke the alabaster jar over the feet of her redeemer, while all the men in the room scorned her. Jesus praised the sick woman whom, with a single act of faith, compelled His power to heal her. He knew the woman who’d been caught in adultery could have the strength to “go and sin no more.”

How can God ask us to be strong, in the face of human crisis? Sometimes the news of school shootings and war, natural disasters and poverty, displacement and sex-trafficking, can be overwhelming. Sometimes the demand from our children, our jobs, our parents and even our own expectations of ourselves can be overwhelming enough. We can be strong because He was strong in life and in death and in His resurrection.

Isaiah 61:1-7 prophesied of the redemptive heart of Jesus for our broken world:

“The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.

He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken,

Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.

God sent me to announce the year of his grace—

a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn,

To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,

Messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness” planted by God to display his glory.

They’ll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage.

They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.

You’ll hire outsiders to herd your flocks and foreigners to work your fields,

But you’ll have the title “Priests of God,” honored as ministers of our God.

You’ll feast on the bounty of nations, you’ll bask in their glory.

Because you got a double dose of trouble and more than your share of contempt,

Your inheritance in the land will be doubled and your joy go on forever.

Yes, Jesus went to the cross to get great strength for us. He started this work and trusted it to us until His return. We can walk in the strength and power of His Holy Spirit, knowing that God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. We, the church: men AND women of every age, of every color, of every nation, truly are the hope of the world. Jesus is clothing you with strength and dignity for today and every day ahead. There is much to be done!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Xo,

Bethany

Also, if you are looking to connect with individuals and organizations we work with and support, check out:

Ezra Gate, with Casey Tait who contributes to Beautiful Stories

A21 Campaign with Christine Caine

Life Impact International

No Greater Love: To All the Single Ladies

To quote the queen (no, not Blair Waldorf, but yes, Queen B, Beyonce herself), “all the single ladies, now put your hands up!” So, my hand is up. Yes, I’m single and a lady, and find myself walking into church all too often to hear another message about marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I love marriage. In fact, I want to be married (any other single ladies with their hands up on that one?)! But frankly, I’m not at this point in my life (note the empty ring finger, bed, and womb that remind me daily of that fact).

My journey in “singledom” may or may not be similar to your journey, but whether you’re a 20-year old pining away for that cute guy, or you’re more seasoned in life, with a failed marriage or two under your belt, us ‘single ladies’ all have one thing in common – and it’s not our marital status (although that may seem the obvious). What we have in common with our journey is that God is the orderer of all our steps (Psalm 37:23), and whether we’ve made all the right decisions to lead us to where we are today or we took a few devastating detours to arrive at our current destination, the reality is no matter the journey: God is in control.

GOD IS IN CONTROL

It has been my greatest life lesson the last 18 months. In those months, I’ve battled a few broken relationships, struggled with comparing my life to my ‘married with three kids best friends,’ and fought insecurities of loneliness, worth, and feeling forgotten by God. So, you can imagine (or maybe you’ve even been there before), walking into church on a Sunday to hear another message about marriage, doesn’t always lead to the great, uplifting feelings of hope, but rather reiterates the feelings of despair in my heart and emotions.

During those 18 months, I had a major breaking point. I (thankfully) called on a friend during my low-point, and they did what every good friend should do – they listened and then they created space for me to meet with the only One who could really help me in that moment with all that inside junk. They turned on the United Pursuit song Never Going Back (yes, pause and go download it now!). I sat in their car, tears streaming down my cheeks, exhausted from battling my heart and emotions, listening to the lyrics of this song:

You say I am Yours

I never am alone
You found me

And I’ve made up my mind
I’m never going back

The lyrics hit my heart like a weight, pressing down on my insecurity of loneliness and the feeling of being forgotten; those misguided emotions that kept trying to squeeze the life out of me, kept me singing along hopelessly with Queen B and all the single ladies. Overwhelmed by the weight of my emotions and the puffiness of my eyes (not to mention, the mascara parading down by face like a black waterfall), I sat there silently waiting for Jesus to show up. At that point, the song shifts, and all of a sudden, so does my perspective…

I’m singing out Your lovely name
I’m giving You everything
You make my soul alive
You put Your love inside

Where my soul felt choked by my season and emotions that surrounded my circumstance, I realized He is what makes my soul alive! Maybe it’s a no-brainer for you and I’m just late to the game, but in that moment, my soul felt life again; my soul felt God. My soul felt peace that comes not from having all the circumstances right (cuz they weren’t) or all the prayers answered (cuz I’m still waiting on some…) or even all the emotions in a healthy place (cuz, well, I’m a girl and when are we not emotional?!); but it felt peace that transcends my understanding (Philippians 4:7). Peace that comes from when He’s in control and not me.

I kept trying to control my circumstances and season. If I could just look this certain way, talk to that certain guy, live in this certain place, do this or do that, then surely, I’d no longer be singing Single Ladies, but instead Prince Charming would be sweeping me off my feet with his own rendition of Train’s Marry Me. And that was the problem. I was trying to be in control. And quite frankly, it wasn’t working.

So, I decided to give Him everything. It’s in that place of surrender, where I genuinely let Him be in control that my soul found life. It brought greater meaning to the verse that says when I lose my life, that’s when I find it (Luke 9:24). When I give up control and allow Him to lead, that’s when I find life; that’s when my soul is truly alive, full of joy and peace that can only come from Him.

You’re like… isn’t she a pastor? What does she mean she wasn’t surrendered to God? I love God; loved Him for a long time. I obey the Bible to the best I can, reflect Christ in my daily life as much as I can, but still held onto a few things trying to stay in control. Control is comfortable and familiar, so I thought. Like a good backseat driver, I let Jesus take the wheel, but I kept trying to give Him directions.

So surrendering completely to Him, meant letting Him drive and trusting He knew the best route and the best timing and the best people to take along on the ride. It shifted from comfortable control to the adventurous life of faith. The difference was the One calling the shots.

YOUR LOVE INSIDE

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to meet the love of my life. I want to have someone who loves me the most and thinks of me first; someone to put a ring on it, fill my bed and my womb! However, in that moment where I felt my soul come alive, I realized I don’t need that to be alive, fulfilled, and happy. I realized WHY my soul felt alive: because His love is inside me and He is in control!

He loves me. He put His love on the inside of me. There’s no greater love than the love of God towards me. It may seem so elementary, but for me it was revolutionary. I can’t control my love life, I can’t control people, I can’t control circumstances, seasons of life or anything else. But I know the One who controls it all; the One who puts His love on the inside of me, that drowns out every insecurity, comparison, and deferred hope.

John 15:13 says there is no greater love, than a love that will lay down their life. Jesus loves us so much, He demonstrated the greatest love, to give His life, that I could have life in Him. Greater than the love of any man, parent, friend is the love of God towards me. There is truly NO greater love. Don’t let that RomCom, Insta post, or person tell you anything otherwise! Jesus is the greatest love story to hit human kind!

NEVER GOING BACK

I made a determination that day, that I’m never going back to life without His love inside. Not that it ever wasn’t there, but I let the lack of love from other sources overshadow the most incredible love of all time! And I would never go back to that.

I lean fully into Him. He’s in control of the circumstance, in control of the season, in control of my life. He’s in control! And that’s relief – I don’t have to be!

I’m not going back to insecurity – I’m secure in His faithful love.

My future is secure in His faithful love.

My heart is secure in His faithful love.

My hope is secure in His faithful love.

I am secure in His faithful love, and I trust Him.

The message of marriage is powerful – Ephesians 5 tells us it’s the closest replication of God’s love towards His bride, the church. But even the love of a man and woman in marriage cannot compare to the love of God towards me and towards you. So now when I hear another message about marriage, I’m reminded of God’s incredible love. I’m reminded of my season and that God’s in control of it, and so far, His track record is perfect in always knowing better than me and working things together for my good. So I’ll rest in that.

So to all my single ladies, what a beautiful season to be lavished in the love of God. What a beautiful season to fix your heart and attention on Him and trust Him to faithfully work ALL things together for your good (Romans 8:28). It takes all the pressure off, puts peace in your heart and mind, and makes for a beautiful, adventurous life of faith. I’m content He’s in control.

I’m confident someone will come and “put a ring on it” and I will be ready to say yes, quicker than the Bachelor can hand out roses! But my hope and security are not in that. I am secure in His faithful love. We are secure in His faithful love; and for me, I’m never going back to anything else.

IMG_4788Breanna Giberson is an associate pastor and executive administrator at The City Church. She serves weekly at the Ventura campus. Breanna moved from Seattle to help Pastors Jude and Becky plant the City Church in 2011 and loves the sunshine in Southern California. Breanna experienced God in a powerful way as a high school student and served in youth ministry for many years. She is passionate about introducing people to Jesus Christ and raising up leaders in City Groups. She adores her nieces and nephews and is  affectionately known and loved by all of the City Church staff kids as, “Auntie B.”