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Dear First Pres,

I was so encouraged on Sunday when so many of you raised your hands during the sermon in commitment to pray this week for God to stir up our spirits. Haggai had given the message from God to the people of Jerusalem. It was time for them to start focusing their attention on the Lord's House, the Temple. And then, Haggai (1:14) writes that God stirred up the spirits of Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the people. God stirred up their spirits into active obedience. 
   Ultimately, that's what we need. We need God to stir us up in our spirits with His Spirit through the Gospel. So that is what we're praying for this week. If you missed Sunday, please listen to the sermon online, and please join us in praying for God to stir us up as a church.
   One of the ways I'm praying for God to stir us up is that He would stir us up in love. Revelation talks about special letters that John was to send to the churches. The message from God to the church in Ephesus (found in Revelation 2:1-7) recognized their hard work, but called them back to love. John writes: "the love you had at first." Can you imagine if every member of our church was passionately loving the Lord? What would our gatherings look like? What would our impact in everyday life look like? We talk a lot about moving outward with the Gospel at FPC, but if we do that without love it won't be effective. We gather every Sunday for worship together, but if we do that without love it won't be the kind of worship God desires. We need love. 
   Certainly, God deserves our love. He first loved us by sending the One and only Son to die for us, even while we were still sinning. What a good and loving God He is. So, as you pray for God to stir up our spirits this week, please join me in praying for God to stir us up in love.

Blessings,

P.S. I'm looking forward to FPC hosting the Community Wide worship & prayer gathering this Sunday evening, 5-6. Won't you join us? 

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

   Did you notice that we didn't celebrate the Lord's Supper on Sunday? It felt a little weird not to do it on the first Sunday of the month like we normally do. We decided, instead of Communion on Sunday, to remember and give thanks for our baptisms and the incredible faithfulness of God that is represented in baptism. It was an opportunity to start 2018 with gratitude for what God has done for us and commitment to walk in step with His Spirit. It's one of my favorite Sundays of the year. But rest assured, this Sunday, we will gather again at the Lord's Table to remember, receive, and give thanks for the incredible mercy of God in Christ. I hope to see you there.
 
   We also started a new sermon series this week form the book of Haggai called "It's Time." Twice in the opening section, Haggai says, "Give careful thought to your ways." Have you done that this week? Have you taken some time to think about your life and what it is that you are pursuing? What about this year ahead? What's most important for you in 2018? How do those important things fit under your call to live your life fully surrendered to Jesus? Sometimes we go through the day to day nature of our lives without much reflection, but God's Word instructs us otherwise. I pray that you will take some time this week, asking the Holy Spirit to help you, to consider your ways like God instructed the people through Haggai.
 
   Finally, today is day 4 of the 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. Dozens of churches in our city are participating together to intentionally seek God's face for unity, rain, and repentance. So, are you fasting and praying? On Tuesday night I had the privilege of joining the evening service hosted by Breaking Free Revival Center. What a joy it was to worship and pray with believers from all over our city for God's unity in His church. Every day of the fast, one church is hosting a one-hour praise and prayer service for the community. You can find the info about the host churches on our website or at the bottom of the daily emails we are sending. I encourage you to find a way to join in with at least one of these services. I think you will be very blessed.
 

Blessings,

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

   On Sunday, New Year's Eve, I finished my One Year Bible. Yes, I had to read through ten days of readings to finish before the end of the year, but that's beside the point. Once again, something I've probably done about six times since I starting reading the Bible in 8th grade, I purposely read through the whole of the Bible. Have you ever done that? I don't do it every year because I find that I can get more focused on finishing the text rather than listening to the text. But, every once in a while, I find it incredibly valuable to read through the whole Bible with an intentional reading plan. The first time I did it, I followed the reading plan in the back of my Student Bible. It took me about three years to get from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. And if you stop by my office sometime, I can show you the way I proudly marked off the boxes of the reading plan (I still have that Bible). Every time I read through the whole of Scripture I gain a deeper appreciation for the overarching narrative of God's incredible faithfulness, grace, and love to pursue salvation for His creation.
 
   How was your devotional life in 2017? Did you regularly and intentionally spend time reflecting on the powerful words of Scripture?
 
   There was a study done by the leaders of Willow Creek Community Church, a large church outside of Chicago, in an effort to understand the spiritual health of the congregation. One of the outcomes of the study was evidence for something that most of us already know: reflecting frequently on Scripture is one of the most powerful ways to catalyze spiritual growth. It's one of the easiest ways to grow closer to the Lord. It requires very little risk, but the rewards are rich.
 
   So, have you made a plan for 2018? How will you invest in your relationship with the Lord this year? What will your devotional habits be? Remember, doing devotionals every morning doesn't make the Lord love us more. We don't do it to get on His good side. We don't do it to earn points. We do it in response to His incredible love for us. We do it in loving obedience to Jesus' command to "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). We do it because as His disciples we are seeking, in 2018, to increasingly submit all of our lives to the empowering presence and Lordship of Jesus. I pray that every one of us will develop the spiritual discipline of reflecting on Scripture this year. And that we will not only be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word as well.

Blessings,

P.S. One way to help you get started is to plan to participate in the citywide 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. Dozens of churches in Fresno and Clovis are banding together in this season to seek the Lord's face for our Valley. I encourage you to find a way to participate. The fast starts on January 8, Monday.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

   Whew, anyone else taking a deep breath after the mad dash of Christmas festivities? While recovering from a sugar coma, I find myself reflecting on the past year and strategizing for the coming year. We are moving into a season of reflecting on New Beginnings. As 2017 comes to a close, there is almost a natural tendency to look forward to what new things 2018 holds. For some of us that means excitement for new challenges to face, while for others apathy has already set in. Are New Year resolutions appealing to you?

   A little secret for those who do not know me well: I am an achiever. Which means I most definitely make new year resolutions. This inner drive leads my reflections to center on the accomplishments from the past year, and even more importantly the areas where I need to work harder. New Year resolutions become a way of measuring my success and worthiness. I'm always amazed how something can start off as a good thing, but in excess quickly turn into an unhealthy thing. Not that a drive for success is a bad thing, but when I find my value solely in my achievements rather than in the unfailing undeserved love of Jesus there is a heart problem. 

   Receiving the beautiful gift of love and mercy from God becomes a tricky situation when achieving is my lifestyle. God is faithful to meet me in my need to feel worthy and continues to reveal to me how much I need him, especially in times when I have to sit in my failures or unmet expectations.

   This Sunday Lana is preaching on Matthew 8:26-29, "When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man.

   I love how Jesus heals this man! The man is outcast and laid to the margins of society to suffer. He is tormented and lonely, and Jesus meets this man in the mess. Jesus speaks truth and life over the demon-possessed man and provides freedom. He creates a New Beginning for this man. God is transforming lives and repurposing people's stories. God creates us as whole beings with emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational needs. And Jesus' story of healing addresses more than one area of life. We are complex people and have diverse needs, and still Jesus is faithful to meet those needs.

As you reflect on the past year and the year to come, here are some questions that I am asking myself. These questions have nothing to do with what I can achieve, but everything to do with what I can receive from my gracious savior and healer Jesus. 

  • What areas of life are you feeling hopeless about, where can Jesus provide hope? 
  • Where do you feel alone or abandoned, how can God meet you there?
  • What types of things are you hoping for in this coming year, how are you anticipating God showing up? 
  • Where does healing need to take place, how can Jesus meet you where you are in the mess?

Happy New Year,

Meagan Bergem
Director of Junior High Ministries

Dear First Pres,

   On Sunday night we will celebrate Christmas Eve, and it's going to be a great night. We have three wonderful services planned (remember the Sunday morning service at 9:30 is not a Christmas Eve service). And everyone is getting prepared ... dancers, singers, musicians, Scripture readers, ushers, sound techs, custodians, prayers, and preachers. Making these three Christmas Eve services happen is a massive team effort. Thank you to all the folks who do that work on the chancel and behind the scenes.
 
   So, why all the effort? What's the big deal? Well, just like every worship service, we want the First Pres family to engage with God in an authentic and powerful way through worship. When that happens, our lives change. But Christmas Eve has a little more hoopla that our regular Sunday services, doesn't it? That's because Christmas Eve is our biggest welcome event of the year.
 
   What is a welcome event? It's something that we do on our campus to welcome newcomers and introduce them to the Good News of Jesus. Some might think of that as outreach, but we now define outreach as the intentional work of building sustainable relationships with those outside the church. Outreach, then, is the work that precedes a welcome event like Christmas Eve.
 
   Here's what I'd love to see happen with our church: I'd love for every member of our church to prioritize participation in our Christmas Eve services. By participation, I don't just mean attendance. I mean participating in Christmas Eve as our biggest welcome event of the year. That means that every member is prayerfully considering who might benefit from hearing the Good News of Christmas. Every member is prayerfully inviting folks who don't have a church home to join us for one of the services. Every member is prayerfully anticipating the services and asking God to move in powerful ways for His glory to build His Church. Then, on Christmas Eve, it means that every member is in "host" mode, from the parking lot to the pew, leading the way in welcoming others to our services and demonstrating the awesome love of God.
 
   Can you imagine the power of an entire congregation prayerfully working together for our biggest welcome event of the year? I believe that is possible. And I believe God will use that prayerful effort in wonderful ways to grow our congregation deep and wide. May it be so.
 
   On Sunday we celebrate the way that our God, very intentionally, moved toward us that we might be saved. Now, may we intentionally move toward the people God puts around us so that they might also experience the joy of His salvation.

So grateful to celebrate Christmas with you,

Jeremy

P.S. Here's another reason to come on Sunday morning: we'll be celebrating the baptism of one of our little ones. See you then.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

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