Dear First Pres,

One of my FPC friends sent me an email on Christmas morning a handful of years ago. He was in worship on Christmas Eve and God got a hold of him in a significant way. He had taken a few steps toward faith, but that night he clearly heard the call of God to put his faith in Christ. We met a few weeks later and he prayed to give his life to  Christ. Hallelujah!
   I share that with you, church, because I want to remind you that this is the kind of thing God does on Christmas Eve. He draws people to faith in Jesus. He builds His Church. He brings His healing and restoration and redemption.
   So, have you considered who you might invite to our Christmas Eve services? Have you asked the Lord about it? Have you begun praying that God would open the hearts of those you will invite? Have you begun praying that God will work to build His Church during our three Christmas Eve services?
   I encourage you, Beloved, put this in front of the Lord and be obedient to invite those He puts in your heart. God can use that gathering to change the eternal direction of one's life. Please pray with me for that end.

Blessings,
Jeremy

 P.S. Speaking of obedience, that's how we encouraged you to think about your financial offering to the Lord's work in and through FPC. I am so encouraged to report that this is likely going to be the strongest year of giving at FPC since I've been here. Praise be to God! And, Beloved, let's finish the year in obedience as well. Please ask the Lord how He wants you to direct your giving at the end of this year, and do what He directs you to do.

 

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

Waiting is hard. Waiting for a loved one to come home, waiting for Christmas morning, waiting for God to do something ... each of these is difficult in its own way. But waiting is especially hard if we don't have confidence that what we're waiting for will actually come into fruition. When I was a kid, waiting for Christmas morning was hard, but at least I knew it would actually arrive on the morning of December 25. That's why I am so grateful for the Lord's promises and His faithfulness to fulfill every promise.
   This past Sunday morning's Scripture, Isaiah 9:1-7, ends with, "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." It is a reminder that there is nothing in this world, or in the entire universe, that can keep God from fulfilling His promises. Praise God! That's why, as people who are in Christ, we always have hope. No matter how dark things seem, even if we're surrounded by utter darkness, we know that a day is coming when Jesus will make all things right. And for those of us who are in Christ by the incredible grace of God, that is really good news.
   In this Advent season, we're reminded of the wait ... the wait for God's Kingdom to come in all its fullness with the return of Jesus. Waiting is hard, but when we wait on the Lord, it actually renews our strength (as we will see in this Sunday's Scripture). We're not waiting for something that is never going to happen. We're waiting for something that will happen because the Lord of Hosts will make it so. So, in that hope, may you live boldly today for Christ's glory - making His Kingdom manifest while you wait for the Lord of Hosts to bring it in full.

Blessings,
Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

by Alisa Zimmerman

   In 2013 I was living and learning in the Pink House and my parents were living in St. Louis. Going back east for Thanksgiving wasn't an option, so I decided to head over to Dickey Playground for the second annual Come & Dine Community Thanksgiving gathering. I quickly realized that I wanted to make this community luncheon a personal tradition and so the following two years I co-hosted tables. After a two year hiatus, Come & Dine returned this year and I decided to deepen my commitment and take on the role of Table Host Coordinator.

   It is a fairly simple concept. We set up 40 tables for ten at Dickey Park and members of the broader Lowell community serve as hosts. In my opinion, these folks are the backbone this gathering. The table hosts decorate their tables and prepare a meal to be shared family-style with those that join them. Most tables end up being a mix of the host's own immediate family and those that show up on Thanksgiving day to join in. The beauty of this Thanksgiving meal is that it is not merely handing out food to the needy. No one goes through a serving line. This is not dine and dash. Everyone who comes pulls up a chair and shares a meal and shares their stories. 

   At my table, we were joined by a couple in their thirties and learned that this was the woman's first Thanksgiving since the death of her mom. Mother and daughter had had a tumultuous relationship for years. The woman had spent much of her childhood in group homes and foster care while her mother was in prison. This past year, she and her mother reconnected and restored their broken relationship. We got to share in this woman's pain mixed with gratitude for the time she got to have with her mom this year. This type of connection would not be possible without having someone to provide a warm welcome at each table. Come & Dine not only feeds physical hunger, but it also provides a place for the lonely. 

   God's presence and provision were so evident throughout our time planning as well as the morning of. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, God provided the 40th table host. Our need for tables and chairs was met by FPC. Other partners God brought to us supplied turkeys for our hosts and stands to hold table numbers. We were also blessed with an abundance of door prizes to give away. And God provided perfect weather. We prayed for rain on Wednesday to clear all the smoke from the air and sunshine on Thursday. We serve a good God and it is evident that Come & Dine is all His.

   We are already making plans for next year and I cannot wait! It is truly one of my favorite events in Fresno. Until I found this place in 2013, Thanksgiving brought some childhood baggage with it. Come & Dine is evidence to me of how God is always able to take what we break and make something even more beautiful.
 

Anonymous

by Amelia Sanders

   I remember when I became a Christian. I was four, and I prayed the prayer. I understood Jesus loved me, because I could feel it, and I didn't want His love to go away. I wanted Jesus to live in my heart, because I couldn't fathom living without Him there.

   I understood the missionary life as a response to loving Him. It came so naturally to me. When I heard people discuss missions, I knew that's what I was - a missionary.

   I lived it out too. I made and put VBS invites into everyone's cubby holes at my kindergarten classroom. I remember it caused a controversy, because the school didn't want to endorse any religions. As a five year old, I embraced that, and I recall thinking. "Ah, yes, Jesus said we would face persecution."

   As I grew up in the Clovis suburbs, I sensed that being a missionary was not normal. It seemed to me that a majority of Christian believers had a bad taste in their mouth when we talked about mission work. I discovered that many thought being a missionary meant being boring, prudish, and socially outcast. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't serve Jesus AND maintain the reputation and status I was trying to promote. I was a missionary, and as much as I desired to pursue the path God had ordained for me, the price was too steep. I had heard that it was crazy to surrender so much for God. So, I closed my open hands. "You know what God, I think I'm going to try the path everyone else is taking. Here's my calling back, I don't want it."

   God let me go. But he didn't let me forget. As I tried to construct my own way, God kept showing me about His heart for the world. There was a missions themed week that Barbara Knepper and Chester Goodale hosted where we heard about the persecuted church. And  Wildwood 2013, where we talked about making God to known to the ends of the earth. I kept finding myself learning about missions. Every time, I struggled with my calling. The unreached, the persecuted, the lost and the lonely, broke my heart. Still I said, "But, Lord. It's not for me."

   January 15, 2015, I sat down to a divine appointment as I sat down at church.  A representative from Gospel for Asia was speaking, and initially, I could not have cared less. However, as I stared at the wall, I realized I was in a conversation with God, and an image flashed into my head. I saw myself hiking over a mountain with a backpack full of bibles. I heard the Lord say, "GO," and as the image faded, Isaiah 52:7 sprang to my mind.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion,“Your God reigns!”

In that moment, I realized that I had to be a missionary. "Jesus, send me! But, not too far. Like, don't send me to Asia."

   I thought that was it. Surely, God would have me on the next flight to TImbuktu. That's not what happened. Because, Jesus wasn't done with me. See, now, I was available to His will. I spent about a year and half in prayer, often at Kuppa Joy, "Lord, where would you send me?" It was a season of waiting, and it stretched me into the person I had to become before I could take the next step. It frustrated me at the time. But, I see the gift of it now. I was at the mercy of God's timing, and before I could grasp it - I was on the short term team going to Albania. In the midst of preparing to go, I struggled with severe anxiety and depression. I remember sitting in my car before a meeting and in a full hyperventilated panic attack. "God, why me? I can't do this."

   Yet, I  made it to Albania, and God met me over Matthew 11:28-30.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

He removed my anxiety and depression, and I realized in that time that I truly wanted to be His hands and feet. More than I wanted riches, fame, family, or even my own country. I wanted His path. I wanted to be His missionary. My clenched fists opened in full submission.

   I ended up enrolling in Torchbearers Bible School of Erseka, and it was there that God handed me my next step, although I didn't realize it at the time. He connected me to a ministry in Southeast Asia, and then he began to build a love for the people in my heart. I had said "God, NOT ASIA."  Yet, I am headed there this March to share God's word.

   Which leaves me here, in the middle of the road. Somewhere between the past and the future, in prayer and discernment over the road before me. I want to say thank you to the First Presbyterian Church congregation for encouraging me, praying for me, financially supporting me, and loving on me as I grew up here. I had the calling, but it took all of you to make it a reality. It takes a church to raise up a missionary, and I'm blessed to say you were the church that raised me. I am looking forward to sharing more of my adventures with you all. 

PS: As I mentioned, I'm headed to Southeast Asia (for security reasons I can't mention the specific country, but uh, Robin Williams had a successful radio station there.) the first two weeks of March. Maybe you'd like to join our team? It's a group of around twelve folks so far, most from the Mason County Area in Washington. We're connecting with a ministry started in our destination country, and helping with a few "projects". It's going to be an amazing trip, and if you are interested please contact me!  
 

Anonymous

Dear First Pres,

 Advent. This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. So, the Sanctuary is decorated with greens and Christmas decor, the advent candles are ready to be lit, and December is moments away. The Vaccaro house isn't much different - the Christmas bins are out and the tree should be up by Sunday. What about you? Do you decorate for Christmas? Are your decorations all in place? Or is your house a hodgepodge of Fall, Christmas, and Normal?
   No matter what your house looks like, I encourage you to find a way over these next 27 days to lean in to this season of Advent. During Advent we remember the three arrivals of Jesus: the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem at his birth, the arrival of Jesus in our lives every day, and the future arrival of Jesus when He returns to make all things right. How can you lean into Advent? Well, the Advent candles don't just have to be for the Sanctuary. What if you took some time in the days ahead to prayerfully light the Advent candles at your table? I encourage you to do that. Also, I encourage you to spend some time every day to be still before the Lord and give Him thanks for His arrival in our world and in your life. If you need some help, look for an Advent devotional online or in the book store. Or, as we dive into the book of Isaiah for the next four Sundays, take time to meditate on these prophecies about the arrival of the Messiah and His Kingdom.
   Here's the bottom line. Don't allow the craziness of this season to disconnect you from the reality of Jesus' threefold arrival. Instead, be intentional about experiencing Advent for all it's worth.
   What's one commitment you will make for the next 27 days to lean in to Advent?

Blessings,
Jeremy

P.S. One part of leaning into this season is making a commitment to be in corporate worship with your Church. I encourage you to prioritize being here on Sunday mornings. There is no substitute for worshiping together.

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor