Dear First Pres,

  We had a wonderful weekend as a church.

   First, the large group of kids and adults (nearly 100) who went to the Santa Cruz Retreat had an incredible experience together. God made Himself known in powerful ways in the beauty of His creation, the corporate worship, the times of prayer, the preached Word, and the joy of fellowship. Praise God! Look for an article in the coming days that share some of the testimonies of the weekend.

   Second, our worship was rich on Sunday as we finished the subsection of our "Rest" sermon series on keeping the Sabbath day. I've heard from many of how God has been speaking to you about Sabbath in your life. I pray you heed His instruction. I know that some of you were a little surprised when I asked you to write down your commitment to Sabbath, but if we're going to obey this command of God we have to move from intention to decision.

   By the way, I'm happy to share a little testimony about my decision. I took Monday as a Sabbath day to the Lord. I ceased from what felt necessary and I embraced that which gives life. I spent extra time reflecting on the Word and writing in my journal. I celebrated with my daughter as she got her braces off. I enjoyed the cool of the morning in the backyard. I spent the lunch hour with my Bride. I took a short nap. I went to the gym (it had been a VERY long time). I read a few chapters of The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. And I enjoyed the evening with my family (even though the team for which I was rooting lost on Monday night). Then, I walked into the office on Tuesday with a sense of excitement and energy. As one of my new friends likes to say, "What a blessing!"

   Third, on Sunday in the 11:00 service we were missing a huge swath of folks who were in Santa Cruz. It was a little sparse in the Sanctuary, but I was so encouraged when the congregation moved forward and filled in the front rows. In fact, when I tried to express gratitude I could hardly put a sentence together. Then we had a wonderful time of worship together. So, a special thank you to the second service crowd; you guys really blessed me on Sunday morning.

   I pray you are finding rest in Christ, Beloved. This Sunday I'll be sharing about a confusing section of Hebrews, but the message about rest within it is crucial. I hope to see you then.

May the Lord bless and keep you today,

Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

Here are a few things I want you to know about: 

1.  We have nearly 100 folks going to our Ignite & Rooted Santa Cruz Retreat this weekend! About 30 junior highers and about 40 high schoolers, plus a wonderful support cast of adults will be headed out on Friday and returning Sunday afternoon. Please join me in praying for an incredible retreat where our students encounter Christ in a life-changing way. And give thanks for all the adult leaders and cooks and others who are driving or loaning their vehicles to help this retreat be a success.

2. This year's Women's Conference is coming up very soon. It's at Wonder Valley (less than an hour away) on October 5-7. Have you registered? As I've tracked with the leadership team in putting together the Conference, I believe it is going to be a powerful experience of going  DEEPER with God and one another.  Have you heard about all the speakers? Lisa Popadich, Linda Guzman-Ellenberger, Ataloa & Alana Woodin (you're going to love this Mother/Daughter team), and Diane Vaccaro (I'm particularly fond of this one) will bring the messages this year. It's going to a wonderful time of testimony and insight. I hope every single woman in our congregation, young and not-so-young, will prayerfully consider attending this important event, and register today.

 3. I heard a lot of buzz from Sunday's sermon on Sabbath keeping. If you haven't heard it, I encourage you to listen here. But I pray that the sermon leads to more than just good and interesting conversation. I pray it leads to our obedience of God's command. So, have you chosen a day yet to be your sabbath to the Lord for this upcoming week? Have you thought about what feels necessary and what it is that gives you life? Have you considered what it is that makes you love God more? May the Lord help us live into this part of His plan for rest; may the Lord help us be Sabbath-keepers.

The Lord bless and keep you today in Christ,

Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres, 

   This Sunday we're launching a new Education Hour class: Discipleship Group Primer. It's a bit different than our traditional Education Hour offerings, but I hope this letter will give you the information you need.

   At the heart of our Purpose Statement is a phrase that I think is daunting to many of us: "making disciples." We chose these words because they reflect the Great Commission that Jesus gave to the disciples (and to all disciples of Jesus) at the end of Matthew's Gospel. Still, some of us might actually tremble a bit when we think about what it means to live into that call.

   Part of that trembling might be because of the many ways that we recognize our own shortcomings as a disciple of Jesus. As retired pastor Alan Reutter likes to say, "We have to be a disciple-in-the-making in order to become a disciple-maker."

   Here's the bottom line: every disciple of Christ is called to be a disciple-in-the-making. In other words, we're called by God to be growing in our faith, to be aligning our hearts with the work of the Spirit, and to be surrendering more and more our whole lives to Jesus. And every disciple of Christ is called to be a disciple-maker. Yes, that will look different for different kinds of folks; and, every Christian is called into Kingdom ministry. Kingdom ministry is all about engaging together in Christ's work of making disciples for the redeeming transformation of our city and world.

   The Discipleship Group Primer works to bring both of those calls together. The goal of the class is to connect people together in small groups called Discipleship Groups (or D-Groups for short) for the purpose of helping each other grow as disciples-in-the-making and disciple-makers. The first few weeks will lay the groundwork for how D-Groups can work best. Then, the remaining weeks will simply be set aside for new D-Groups to do their thing. For that to work, once the groups start, it obviously means committing to this particular class through December 16.

   A normal D-Group would likely meet for a few years and then multiply into two new D-Groups. That's why we're calling this class the D-Group Primer - we hope it primes the pump for people to be ready to launch D-Groups of their own.

   Maybe you've wanted to be in some kind of small group, but you've struggled to find the time. Maybe you're ready to take another intentional step forward in your discipleship. Maybe you want to learn what it means to help other people grow as disciples of Jesus. Maybe you feel like you need to get more connected with other FPCers. All of these are wonderful reasons to join Pastor Chris, Diane Vaccaro (yes, my Bride), and me this Sunday in the Fellowship Hall to learn more about the D-Group Primer.  

Blessings,

      Jeremy

P.S. Meanwhile, our other great classes continue. The Gospel of John class in the Corner. The 5 Questions the World is Asking class in The Commons. The Partner Spotlight starts in The Hub. And, all the great classes for our kids ... plus, the Choir rehearsing in the Music Room. See ya there.

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Introduction by Charlene Henry

   The Stephen Minister training course is life changing. It helps change the way a person looks at care giving. Instead of trying to fix a person's problems, Stephen Ministers accept people where they are and encourage them to talk and share their feelings about things that are troubling them; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

   Here's what two of our team have to say about being Stephen Ministers.

Dianne McKneely

   When asked to share how Stephen Ministry has changed me, my first thought was, I am being stretched and growing spiritually.

   I'm in a new growth spurt as a long time follower of Jesus who's spent years reading and studying the Word, while prayerfully seeking direction. By putting my faith into action this past year as a Stephen Minister it is proving to be a good fit, like wearing a comfortable pair of shoes.

   Fifteen years ago through a series of personal events, God clearly showed me through scriptures his desire for all his children to be free.....Isaiah laid out those desires in chapter 61. "Then Jesus came into the picture as a young boy, stood in the temple and quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 says, 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." When he finished reading he looked up and said, 'this is fulfilled in your hearing.'"

   How was it fulfilled? The Holy Spirit anointed Him and gave him guidance and direction to serve. He soon became the good news for the suffering and the afflicted. He was there for the brokenhearted and proclaimed freedom for those held captive and imprisoned in darkness. He brought comfort in times of mourning, and to those grieving. I believe this call is for all of us who profess to be Christians. As a Stephen minister, I have been equipped and have begun to take it much more seriously.

   How is it now being fulfilled? Through our relationship with Jesus. When we choose to be a witness to His ways and share the good news with the broken-hearted, and by bringing comfort to those mourning and in the midst of grief. 

   Along with our journey, we will all go through times of difficulty, but we don't need to go through it alone. We can choose to allow someone to come alongside and receive care through Stephen Ministry. With the Holy Spirit's guidance and encouragement, we can be that reminder of God's love in times of trials and testing. 

   As a Stephen minister and seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit this ministry of providing one on one care for those in need has been a blessing for me.

David Parker

   Why the name Stephen? He was one of the men chosen in the book of Acts to provide ministry to those in need.

   What is a Stephen Minister? Stephen was described as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.  In John 14: Jesus replied to the question of His disciple, "Where are you going?" Jesus said, "I go to the Father, and if I go I will send the Holy Spirit" to comfort, help, and lead you into all truth. In a sense, one might say that a Stephen Minister is like the Holy Spirit, as one called alongside to help. Before I share more, let me share a non-example.

   Job was in the middle of great suffering when his three friends brought words of judgment, accusation, and self-righteousness. Then, to make matters worse his dear wife said, "Why don't you just curse God and die?" It is evident that these were poor examples of someone who is called alongside to help one in their time of difficulty.
  
    A Stephen Minister is a church layperson who is trained to follow the four points of a caregivers compass. We are not professional counselors or psychiatrists: nor are we enlisted to try and provide remedies. A Stephen Minister has four points on their ministry compass: compassion, faith, trustworthiness, and skilled at listening.

   This is how Stephen Ministry has changed my life: For many years I participated in ministry through oratory gifts of teaching, preaching. singing, and trying to fix things that were broken. When my wife, Kristina, and I came to FPC a few years ago, I started praying about how I may get involved. I saw many gifted teachers, an awesome music ministry, and then I read an invitation to join Stephen Ministry. This has changed my life and perception of ministry. The new skill I would learn to develop would be listening to people in need, and just being there to pray, help, and comfort with faith and Christ centered-ness. A life verse for a Stephen Minister could be:

"May the God of peace Himself sanctify you (wholly); and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." 1 Thess. 5:23, 24

Communications

Dear First Pres, 

    Iron sharpens iron. When I think of the relationships I have, I am grateful for the men of FPC that have had such a strong impact on my life. Men that have leaned into my faith life and helped me to grow; men that have been mentors and counselors about work issues; men that have helped me to become a better father and husband. These men have been faith leaders, role models, ministry partners, friends and pals. They have been a part of my life and have influenced my sons as well.
    I met many of them at various FPC men's ministry events over the years: men's conferences, mission service projects, men's Bible studies and weekly breakfast groups.  All of these activities drive relationships, and through them, I've met the guys I fish with, go to car events with, iron sharpen with.
  I'm personally excited about growing FPC's men's ministry in the coming year. More often than I would like, I hear guys say, "I don't have any friends like that." Some guys are shy and some are just not good at friendship. Some guys just prefer their own company (good luck with that!). Wherever you are, I encourage you to participate in the upcoming men's events at FPC. There's a BBQ & Ballgame Saturday, Sept 15 & a Breakfast Thursday, Oct 18.
   We all need pals to go through life with, and we at FPC are blessed to be surrounded by such great men. 

See You There,
Skip Lynn

Pastor Jeremy's PS: Thanks Skip! And women, there are two studies starting for you this next week, and a conference in October. Keep scrolling for the details. You'll find details to all these events on our website. 

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor