Dear First Pres,

On Sunday I announced an important new team in our congregation. We now have a group of folks who are trained to be Circle of Care leaders. As I said on Sunday, a Circle of Care is a one-time gathering focused on one person who is struggling with any kind of issue. The purpose of the Circle of Care gathering is for that person to share their story, be heard, and experience the love of Christ in a safe, prayerful community. The goal is for the care receiver to know the healing of Christ in the context of Christ's community.
   One of the things we've learned over the past many months is that being heard is a critical need for anyone who is struggling. Of course, to be heard, a person has to be able to articulate their experience, which is also a critical need for relational, emotional, and spiritual healing. Finally, healing happens best in community. So often, we tend to isolate ourselves in our hurts and traumas. We keep them under the surface; we keep them to ourselves. But when we do, we short circuit the healing process that God has designed for us. God made you to experience the wholeness of God in the context of His community.
   For each of these reasons, we believe these gatherings can be a transformational experience for people in our congregation and beyond. In fact, those of us who have already experienced one can testify to the way that God has worked in this simple experience to help us move to the next step in our healing.
   To initiate a Circle of Care you can simply connect with any of our trained leaders. Your contact will work with you to build a team of three or four trusted leaders that can meet for your Circle of Care, typically for one or two hours.
   Finally, a Circle of Care is not the "end-all, be-all" of healing. But it is already a proven experience to help people move forward in their healing process. So, if you've been holding on to a hurt for weeks, months, or years ... if you're in the midst of struggle right now ... if you feel stuck, I hope you'll have the courage to contact one of our leaders to discern if a Circle of Care is right for you. Seeking Christ's healing in our lives can be hard work, but it's totally worth it.

Blessings,
Jeremy

P.S. Here are the folks who have been trained as Circle of Care leaders. You can contact any of them to get a process started. 
Lana Roberts, Meagan Bergem, Gerre Brenneman, Stuart Conrad, Jim Dice, Touradj Etezadi, Debbie Fletcher, Jim Franz, Melanie Franz, Chester Goodale, John Goodell, Lisa Goodell, Linda Guzman, Terry Jaurena, Carolyn Johnson, Allan Knepper, Dianne McKneely, Lori Meadors, Ann Morgan, Margie Nunez, Chris Popadich, Lisa Popadich, Jeremy Vaccaro

Circle of Care Information is available here

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

We are now officially in the church season of Lent. Lent is the season of 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead into Easter. Why 40 days? It's because they represent the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before the launch of His public ministry (read Luke 4:1-13). In the same way that God used those 40 days in the wilderness to prepare Jesus for ministry, we consider the season of Lent to be a time of preparation or training to live into the reality of the Resurrection. So, just like Jesus fasted and prayed during his wilderness experience, Christians often observe the Lenten season by observing some kind of fast or taking up some kind of spiritual discipline. All of it for the sake of increasing our surrender to the empowering presence and lordship of Jesus.
   Lent, then, is a great season for self-examination and reflection. It's a great time to ask questions like: How is my heart before God? What areas of my life seem difficult for me to surrender to God? Is there anyone I'm refusing to forgive? In what ways am I unwilling to obey God? How is God at work in my life today? Intentional times of reflection with questions like these have been very impactful in my life with Christ over the past many years. I encourage you to lean into Lent by taking time to seriously consider these questions before the Lord.
   Finally, Lent is also a great time to focus our prayers. One way you can do that this season is by using the Seek God for the City prayer guide in your personal devotional time. It's available in booklet form or as an app.
   Another way to focus our prayers is to participate in our Wednesday night Lenten series. It starts this coming Wednesday at 6:30 pm and is open for all adults. Each week there will be music, teaching, and prayer as we seek to grow in Christ together.
   I believe that God can use this season of Lent in powerful ways in our lives individually and corporately. But that transformation comes only as we engage with Jesus. So, how will you specifically engage with Jesus in preparation to live in the reality of the Resurrection we celebrate at Easter?

Blessings,
Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

This past Saturday, our FPC Symposium, "A Church that Heals," was a great success. Praise be to God! Let me paraphrase some of the feedback that was shared at the meeting. One person said, "This is the first time I've really talked about my experience." Another person said, "I'm so grateful that the symposium provided a safe place for us to talk about this." Another said, "This really helped me realize that I'm not alone in my feelings." And another said, "I was really anxious about being here, but I'm so glad I came." The Lord clearly worked in our gathering to help us grow in our capacity to be a church that heals together. I'm deeply grateful for each of you who participated in the Symposium. I hope you'll share with others how it impacted you. And, if you weren't there, be on the lookout for some next step opportunities for us to pursue the wholeness of Christ together.
   Then on Sunday we heard some wonderful testimony from Chris and Lisa Popadich about the way they are intentionally extending the love of Christ to their neighbors. I hope you were as inspired as I was. (You can watch/listen here.) More importantly, I hope you find some way to step toward your neighbors this week. Remember, your neighbors are the people that God puts in your path. That includes the people that live right around you (even if you never see them), but it also includes your co-workers, family members, and non-church friends. It also includes the people around you who aren't like you (don't forget all the social barriers the Samaritan crossed to be a good neighbor to the Jewish man who laid half-dead in the road). God has called us to love our neighbors in tangible ways. As we receive His incredible love for us, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love our neighbors in the name of Christ Jesus. May it be so in us this week.
   Finally, please check out the rest of this email for information about important upcoming events. God is at work among us, friends. I'm confident He will continue to do His work in these upcoming events:

Membership at FPC class 3pm this Sunday afternoon
Ash Wednesday Service 7pm Wednesday, March 6 (that's this upcoming Wednesday)
Wednesday Night Lenten Series for men and women, 6:30 - 8pm starting March 1
Men's Conference, March 29-30 (on campus)

Blessings,
Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

A trip discovering our Identity, Direction, and Community

by Geraud Brumfield

   "The desert, strips and beats and sucks the life out without hesitation or mercy. The great city manipulates and abuses and distorts life to create faux vitality out of death. The forest grows and reaches and flourishes life in healthy cycles that will continue for generations," Amelia Sanders says these words as she reflects on the ReCreate 2019 Adventure trip.

   ReCreate was a trip designed to take students outside of their normal routines; to provide students with an opportunity to re-create a vision for their life while exploring the theme of recreation in God's world. Our hope in the trip was for students to grow as followers of Jesus Christ by aligning their identity, their direction and calling, and their community, with God's intention for them. We explored 3 distinctly different places - Death Valley National Park, Las Vegas/Mead Lake, and Sequoia National Park. 

   The trip took 3 college students, - Amelia Sanders, Anyssa Romero, and Kollin Grunberg - our Director of College Ministry, Geraud Brumfield, and 2 CCO Experiential Design team representatives - Kaylee VanGent and Sam VanEman. 

   At the beginning of the trip, after all of the prep work, we trekked to spend our first two days in Death Valley. Here's Amelia's reflection, "We all shared life together and deep personal griefs. Our vulnerabilities were exposed in Death Valley ... I've struggled to be 'enough' to someone, and I've struggled to be strong. The desert stripped me of my sufficiency, I could barely pitch a tarp tent." It was here where students had to consider what it meant to trust God to provide because we ourselves were not enough.

   Next, we went to Vegas. We are promised a lot in Vegas. However, it is not what we want. Kollin reflects, "It seems superficial to say that Las Vegas was my favorite location on the trip, particularly because we visited Vegas after being in Death Valley and before camping near Sequoia. Without a doubt, the scenery of Death Valley was incredible and the stars were dazzling in the absence of any light pollution. I could easily spend a week in the desert or camping in Sequoia. Las Vegas amazed me in a different way though; more like a horrified transfixion. If we had more time, I would have loved to walk along the Strip and soak in the billboards and lights that assailed passerby on both sides of the street. I was in awe that humans are able to create such an extravagant display, but this isn't why our night in Vegas was most memorable. In fact, I think I would have gotten bored with the lights had we stayed another night. The reason why Las Vegas was powerful to me is that I witnessed blatant patterns of sin that are so easy to point out under the neon glow of Sin City, and yet difficult to identify in my own daily life. I will never forget the dazed look of gamblers, throwing money into a slot machine even though they knew they were going to lose. For them, their time spent being 'numb' in front of the screen and away from their problems outweighed the financial cost. How many times in my life do I invest in things where I know I am 'losing'? My realization....a lot!

   As Christians, we are promised eternal life and I have absolute faith that this gift is mine to receive. Even so, I often settle for substitutes because they are so readily available and I tell myself that I can have the best of both worlds. It's so easy to rebuke addictive gambling, but I came back home feeling convicted to identify more subtle areas, like intimacy, in which I turn away from God's gift and pursue worldly substitutes. I am very thankful for every person on the trip. Our conversations and support for one another made our trip become so much more than a tour of amazing scenery."

   We went to Sequoia to ask the question, "What is the company you keep?" Anyssa reflects on the group she was with. "I am someone who is extremely shy and who takes a while to warm up to someone or people I don't know, however, on this trip I found it extremely weird yet satisfying to feel comfortable and be open with the people I meant on the trip so fast. I am extremely glad that I made the decision to go on the trip because not only did I get to understand and have time to myself more, but I also got to meet some pretty amazing and caring people." Together, the students were seeing the Kingdom of God expand for them.

   This adventure ended with a very tasty meal at Dan & Suzanne Kimball's home. We sat around the table with elders and their families being reminded that our church family matters.

   In the future, we hope to take more students and have them see the Kingdom with us!
 

Geraud Brumfield
by Various FPC Ubana Attendees 
Terry Jaurena

   This was my third time to experience Urbana. The first was 34 years ago. I heard Billy Graham, Elizabeth Elliot, Ray Bakke and Joanne Shetler. David Bryant lead us in a concert of prayer during which we prayed for the most closed country anyone knew about at the time, Albania. It powerfully propelled me into my first short term mission trip to Eastern Europe in 1985, after which I began to consider leaving my position at Head Start to somehow be engaged in more eternal work. 

   My second was 1993. I was newly hired at FPC having just just finished my MA in Cross Cultural Studies from what was then the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. In my role as the Director of Mission Involvement, I accompanied 20 + college students from our church. Among them were Greg Ehlert, Amy Helzer (now Stolte), and Cindy Haley (now Sterling). We heard Ajith Fernando, Ravi Zacharias, Issac Canales, Tom Sine and Steve Hayner. It was powerful. 

   Every three years since 1993, I've been committed to inviting & assisting college students from FPC to attend InterVarsity's 5-Day mission conference. Some years the groups have been small, others have been large. It's always been worth it. What joy to attend with the group again this year. It was my first St. Louis Urbana experience. (Since 1948 the conference had been held at the University of Illinois - thus the name Urbana. Moving to St Louis in 2006 allowed for 22,500 to attend. It's been held there ever since.) I came away with a great sense that the gospel is in good hands. I trust you will enjoy these reflections from three of our attendees.
   
   You might also enjoy watching this video we showed in worship earlier this year.  


Sophia Steele

   Urbana 2018 was so life-changing! I feel so incredibly blessed that I got to experience it. It was amazing to be in the same place with so many diverse Christ-followers the same age as me. Worship in several different languages made me feel like I was part of something so much bigger than me, and it was one of the best glimpses of what the Kingdom will truly look like that I've ever experienced. I got to be stretched by seminars about SSA/Q ministry, Southeast Asia human trafficking, prophetic praying, and loving your atheist neighbor.

   The thing that changed my lifestyle the most was probably a chapel we had about the concept of "Babylon" mentioned often in Revelation. We were asked what our own "personal Babylons" were (what convenient/comfortable lifestyles do we trade for God's righteous and hard call on our life). After a while in prayer, I felt like God was called me to a couple of things to live a more fruitful (but harder) life: He led me to give up makeup, buying new clothing/coffee/other products (unless they are fair-trade), and subscribing to Amazon Prime (who has been known to exploit low socio-economic employees). 

   Urbana made me reflect on how I see the Kingdom of God, and how much I am willing to get rid of the things that the world tells me I need in order to have a good life in order to accept the fruitful lifestyle God offers. Jesus called the early church in Revelation to be different and not of this world, and He calls us to the same thing. We are to be people who sacrifice our comfort for the justice and love of others and to stand firm against compromise.


 Touradj Etezadi

   Coming to an Urbana convention has been on my "bucket list" since becoming a Christ follower in my college days (40 years ago). So being finally able to come was literally a dream come true for me.

   My biggest take away was the experience I had of worshipping our amazing God with 13,000 other like-minded, grateful and praising people from so many nations and people groups around the world. All of them lifting voices together, and reaching out with their whole being to the one who brought them eternal life. It is not easy to put words to that experience, other than it seemed to me to be a little taste of heaven itself.

   My other take away (on the other side of that scale) was the presence of the "wolves" demonstrating outside of the convention, that were seeking to sow doubt into the minds of the young tender hearted participants who are trying to figure out what it could mean to follow Jesus. They were promoting a works-based salvation, mixing the old and new covenants, and basically accusing the protestant movement of being gnostic in nature. It just reinforced to me the need to preach Christ, and the good news of grace, the gift of God that is foolish to those who wish to justify themselves.


Amelia Sanders

   Honestly, I was a little daunted to go to Urbana. The way everyone was preparing me, I expected to see my life plans obliterated and the clouds parted and an angel handing me a scroll with imperative directions, "SELL EVERYTHING AND MOVE TO PAPA NEW GUINEA" on it. So, as you would expect, I was on the edge of my seat in every session, waiting nervously for the heavens to break open. SPOILER, they didn't. I sat down in the Worship; Reflection Prayer room and tucked myself into a tiny corner. I'm naturally reflective, and the layers of new people, booths, organizations, countries, ministries, opportunities, sessions, and seminars was a little more than my head could process. My head swam with questions screaming for clarity. Should I go to college? Which one? Or what about that ministry? Or that organization? Wait! If I do that, then that means X, Y and Z will need this. Or if I go there, will that get me to where I want to go? Where do I want to go? Hello?

   I sat with my journal and Bible open. I was determined to meet Jesus and get my answers. Jesus met me, but he didn't have an answer. He had another question for me. It pierced. "Amelia, are you here to arrange your plans, or to meet me?" Oh, I laid down my journal and stared at the other hundred students in this room. Oh, Jesus, forgive me. "Do you trust me?" He pursued. In all honesty, I didn't. That's why I've been trying to make my own 'travel plans.' That's why I spent way too much of my time weighing every option and trying to pry open ways for me to go. Because at the end of the day, as much as I loved, adored, obeyed Jesus. I trusted him about as much as I trusted my golden retriever to stay out of my socks. "Let me have your fears, just stay here with me a little longer." His gentle whisper settled my soul with peace. "Okay." I exhaled and let everything slide away. I stayed there for two hours and prayed with a heart open to Jesus.

   Urbana was an incredible experience to me, because, during a massive conference, there was still space for an intimate God to find each of us wherever we were in our walk with him, and to see our steps redirected accordingly.

Terry Jaurena's picture
Terry Jaurena
Mission/Outreach Director