Dear First Pres,

  I'm so grateful for all who participated in the Love Our Schools event on Sunday. It was so encouraging to see folks of all ages praying for teachers, students, and schools. At one of the stations, people wrote notes of encouragement to be given to teachers. I've already heard reports back of how appreciative teachers were that our church is praying for them. Praise be to God. Please continue to join me in praying for our schools: teachers, students, staff, & administrators. The health of our city is directly linked to the health of our schools. Let's continue to ask that God's Kingdom come and His will be done in our schools as it is in heaven.
   Also, I'm so glad you remembered that we are back to our normal Sunday morning schedule. This Sunday the Education Hour will be in full swing with discipleship opportunities for all ages. Please look below my letter for more information about what is coming this Sunday.
   Finally, this week will be the second sermon in our series called Introducing Jesus from Mark 1. If you know anyone who is interested in discovering more of what the Bible says about Jesus, I encourage you to invite them. The Gospel of Mark is perfect for people who are exploring faith in Jesus.

Here's my prayer for us today:

Our Father in heaven, stir our hearts today for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. May we truly grasp the Good News so that we are overflowing with the joy of our salvation. And may that joy be lived out with true love for our neighbors, just as you have loved us. Use this all for Your glory, today and forever. Amen. 

Blessings, 
Jeremy

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Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

by Beth Paz

   I recently found in a box of mementos, a little well-worn packet created by my 10-year-old self. It read "Missions Notebook" and in choppy handwritten print, I spelled out the great need:

"There are millions of people all over the world who do not know... that God loved them so much that He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for them on the cross." 

   Somewhere buried in my heart at a young age, I knew I wanted to be part of sharing that great Love internationally! Upon return, Lindsee McDonald said, "It was so important to be reminded that Christ's mission is global." So, what a joy to co-lead our second annual Rooted student team to express the holistic love of God in Sumpongo this summer.

 

   These are the basics of what we did in partnership with Next Step Ministries and their long-term community development organization and local church. We worked hard by building a cement block house and a parking lot for the orphanage, leading Sunday School and playing with kids at an orphanage for kids with HIV/AIDS, engaging group worship with challenging messages and making friends with other church groups from across the states and Canada... But more importantly, it was who we were with, and where we were present. As Katie Hancock said, "I learned a lot about serving by building that house... Giving that little girl the privacy that she needs to grow up as a strong woman is just an amazing thought, and not just a strong woman, a strong woman in God. Being able to be a part of that is heart-changing. It really humbled me... just a "heart-skipping-a-beat" feeling."

   All of us were deeply touched by God's love this summer. Kate Vaccaro reflected, "I learned about God's unending love and how it is greater than anything in the universe. It surpasses the love of all the people in the world." Allison Hartsell said, "God really showed us love and his grace through the kids (from the orphanage). Our mason, who helped us on the construction we did, also was incredibly sweet and showed us God's love and patience." We discovered, as is always the case, that God is present all around the world and even as we take a leap of faith to get outside our comfort zone and share God's love, that we ourselves are transformed!  Emily Hartsell said it well, "I learned that sacrificing anything for anyone always reaps benefits, as God can use what we give him for greater things."

   Abbey Ellis articulated what we all felt by the end of the trip, "This week has been stretching, emotionally and physically." Nevertheless, in that stretch, we discovered more! Cris Rocha experienced an even deeper communion with God, "The most amazing thing that God gave me was his love throughout this week, I was saved and got pulled out of my cave of lies and guilt."

 

   Our response to this gift of serving and learning is heartfelt and lasting. Haley Mozier said, "I was reminded of how much I love to serve people... Even though the work was hard, I felt so joyful the entire time. God reminded me of my heart for people....I'm going to try to love people more fully in my everyday life." In addition, Taylor Samuelian wrote, "One action I am going to take after this amazing trip is working harder in everything I do, but not doing it for myself, but all for the glory of God." 

   That is our prayer as we return to "regular everyday life" but with renewed faith, hope and love. Thank you so much to our generous and supportive FPC family who helped make this experience possible!

Beth Paz's picture
Beth Paz

by Ian Thomas

Hi Everyone!

   For those of you who may not know me, my name is Yann. I'm one of the five college students staying in California with Geraud for the CCO Encounter Fresno summer program. He has asked me to write this update on the project to share with all of you! To provide some context, the goal of Encounter Fresno is to provide the involved students with intentional space to explore topics of Gospel, Church, and Vision. We engage with these topics by participating in intentional community, hearing from speakers, doing Bible studies together, and attending a local church. This update encompasses our experiences during the first part of our summer with another update coming at the end of our Encounter Fresno experience. For this first update I'm going to try and group everything into three categories: what we have learned so far, the things we've experienced together as a team, and the hopes we have for the final few weeks of the program. 

What We Have Learned

   The project is structured such that each week we explore a different subject to inform our perspectives of Gospel, Church, and Vision. The week's lectures and studies are all based on the week's theme. So far, we have studied Identity, Hospitality & Justice, and Church Involvement. This week we will focus on Vocation. We spent the first-week considering Identity and preparing for what was to come in the project, both personally and collectively. Individually we spent time examining our current relationships with Christianity by asking questions such as "Who is your God?" and "What is the Gospel to you?" Together, students began to lay the groundwork for the community we would engage in by sharing testimonies and explaining the contexts we each come from. In the project's second week students were introduced to the intimate relationship between Hospitality and Justice. We meditated on what it means for Hospitality and Justice to be deliberate, inconvenient, difficult, vulnerable, and a lifestyle. Together we reflected on how these two topics are both grounded in an outward focus that places the needs of others before our own. Last week we studied Biblical origins of the church, and what the Bible suggests about Church Involvement. During our time with leaders at local Fresno churches, the team expressed some frustration with parts of the Western church that we observe today. We spent time contemplating our vision for the church of the future and practically considering our own roles in redeeming the Western church.  

What We Have Experienced

   During these last three weeks, our team has shared a number of exciting and memorable experiences. The very first Saturday we spent at the beach in Santa Cruz! We avoided any shark attacks and--aside from some light sunburn--returned to Fresno unscathed and feeling refreshed. The next weekend the team took a road trip to Yosemite National Park! Geraud led us all on a few beautiful hikes and we basked in the beauty of Creation. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that there have also been countless late-night trips to In-N-Out Burger and Sonic (Shakes half-off after 8 pm! How could we not??). All these adventures have been fun of course, but they allude to something that is developing among these 5 college students, something far more sacred than late-night half-price shakes. That is the community that is forming between us all. These 3 weeks have shown me the beauty of intentionality, and the closeness that results from vulnerability. The Pink House (our impregnable headquarters) has become a place of safety for us all, where we know we can find someone to laugh or cry (or clean) with. It's amazing how closely connected I feel with the rest of the students here. This experience continues to convince me that we are meant to pursue and experience such an intentional community. 

The Hopes We Have

   Just last evening some of the team was sitting together in the Pink House, realizing that we only have 2 more weeks together before our project comes to a close. It's a sobering thought! Everyone there expressed sadness that we don't have more time together. It was also a special moment to reflect on our experiences so far and to voice some of our goals for what remains of the project. The nature of the questions we ask and the topics we study is that they are challenging and complicated. But we recognized that there is room to be more intentional in personally challenging each other. Beyond our structured study sessions and debrief meetings, most of us haven't pursued each other as much as we can, to reflect on what we've learned. One of our goals for these last few weeks is to press into one another even more intentionally. Last night was an excellent reminder to us all that our goal isn't to study these topics of Gospel, Church, and Vision in this setting in order to leave behind all that we've learned. These last two weeks we each hope to more deeply consider the applicability of what we're learning and experiencing to our lives outside of the Pink House. 

   That's it for now, folks! We greatly appreciate everyone's support and are so thankful for the opportunity to be here together in Fresno for part of the summer. Be on the lookout for more updates! The next update will detail the completion of our experience as some of us are still processing our experiences.

Signing off, this is Yann.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communications

Dear First Pres,

   I recently memorized this verse from Ephesians: 
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints"(6:18). 
   Clearly, we are called to pray together. We know that God works through prayer. Have you ever kept track of all the ways that God has answered your prayers? It's not a formula, but God answers prayer. God works through prayer. Things change through prayer.
   That's why, as schools kick off this coming week, we are encouraging the congregation to join in a special time of prayer for students, teachers, and all who work at schools. It'll happen this Sunday during our Education Hour (9:40 - 10:40 am). We call it Love Our Schools. Choose your own prayer adventure!!
Here's how it's going to work: 
   On the lawn will be a welcome station to orient you to the experience. I encourage you to stop by there so you can know the different ways you can pray at any or all of the four different prayer stations. Our hope is that all who participate will engage in a spirit of intercessory prayer with others at each station. Each room will have a theme and a different way to interactively pray. 

Prayer Station #1 - Fellowship Hall: prayer for all our Central Valley Campuses through written, spoken, and silent prayers.
Prayer Station #2 - The Commons: pray for teachers, administrators, and school staff and create a care package for them.
Prayer Station #3 - Jr. High Ignite Room: pray specifically for students.
Prayer Station #4 - The Gallery: pray for college students. Write a note of encouragement for incoming athletes at Fresno Pacific University.

   All the stations will be open throughout the entire Education Hour. So, you are welcome to linger at one for the whole time or work your way through all four. It's up to you. 
   Kingdom Kids (grades 6 and below) will be launching their regular Sunday morning ministry, but everyone else (all youth and adults) are invited to take part in Love Our Schools. 
Here's why we do it:
   We have many folks in our church who are personally connected with schools: students, parents, & school employees. We desire for them to live as the light of Christ in those environments. 
   We know that schools play a critical role in the well-being of our city. The health of the school system reflects the health of the city, but the health of the city is also impacted by the health of the school system. There is a reciprocal relationship. We long for our schools to be safe, life-giving, and supportive communities for all youth to grow and learn. When this truly happens at a neighborhood school, the whole neighborhood benefits.
   The Bible calls us to be a praying people. We know that God meets us in prayer. Prayer is one of the best ways for us to connect with God personally. When we pray, God ministers to us. Spending time in prayer is a tremendous blessing.
   So, please join us for this important time. This Sunday morning at 9:40. Let's Love our Schools.  

Blessings, 
Jeremy
P.S. Don't forget we are back to our regular Sunday morning schedule this week (8:30, 9:40, 11:00). Also, special thanks to those who are volunteering to teach our children in Kingdom Kids!

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

   Some of you may be in denial that today is the beginning of August. For many of us it marks the final countdown before the launch of school (Fresno Unified starts on August 12). But be encouraged, because we have some wonderful things happening this weekend in the life of our church.
   First, this Sunday marks the end of our summer worship schedule. You may remember that the primary motivation for changing things up in the summer was to build connection and unity across the entire congregation. That's the main reason we have one service with both styles of music, and that's the main reason we have special all-church activities after worship. I hope, then, that you have taken advantage of the changes to connect more deeply with others in our congregation (especially those you haven't known as well). And I hope you've come to appreciate more the scope of who we are as a congregation. If not, then I hope you'll lean into that this weekend.
   Second, after worship on Sunday I hope you'll join with your church family for an all-church potluck. Again, the reason we have such events is not simply to enjoy God's provision of the excellent food. It's primarily to deepen relationships in the congregation. So, please plan on sticking around for Sunday's potluck. I'm sure you won't regret it. You can find the details for what to bring in the information below my letter.
   Third, this Sunday in worship we have the privilege of sharing in the Lord's Supper together. What an incredible blessing the Lord has given us in this meal. It's so much more than just a religious exercise. We believe that the Lord uses our time at the Table, when we come ready to receive it, to increase our faith. He reminds us of the truth of His promises confirmed through Jesus' death and resurrection. He nourishes our souls to everlasting life. He equips us to live out the truth of the Gospel in our everyday lives. Truly, the Lord's Supper is a holy experience. I pray you're able to be with us to participate.
   Fourth, there will be some unable to be with us this weekend that we want to remember especially in our prayers. Some will be enjoying the FPC Camping trip. (They'll enjoy a very unique communion experience in the mountains.) We hope and pray they have a wonderful time. Others will be returning from a very fruitful trip to Albania where they have experienced God's hand at work. We pray for a good end to the trip and a safe return home.
   Finally, we'll acknowledge two special groups on Sunday. First, we'll say thanks to our Summer Staff team: Alfred, Michaela, Sophia, Hector, McKenzie, and Mitchel. They have been an awesome group and a huge blessing to our church family. They finish their summer assignment next Thursday. Second, we'll give God's blessing over the students who have participated in Encounter Fresno. This is the group that has been living together in our Pink House and learning what it means to live out the Gospel in all of life. The program is ending this weekend.
   So, as I said, there are some wonderful things happening in this opening weekend of August. Be encouraged Church, God is at work for His redeeming transformation in us and through us.

Blessings, 
Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor