By Beth Paz 

   Fresno City Summit recognizes that the church of Fresno is in a dire need for a fresh vision of hope and unity. We long for a city where all people, regardless of their race, class, gender, or sexual orientation receive access to the life-changing hope and implications of a Jesus-centered community in their neighborhood. Jesus invites us, his followers, to make the Kingdom known through our proclamation and our deeds.

   At City Summit 2017 we celebrated the redemption that has happened, named the hard realities of our city and complexity of emerging leadership, and dreamed together about how God would call us to make all things new.
   As we closed, we asked, in response to what you have heard, experienced and shared with others at City Summit, what will be your next step within 30 days? Here's just a few responses: 
  • "I will look deeper into human trafficking.”
  • “I will read Generous Justice by Tim Keller.”
  • “I will dig deeper on justicia/injusticia en Fresno and meet with a faith leader to help discern my role en justicia in Fresno.”
  • “I will learn more about immigration and meet with a person who champions these issues.”
  • “I will listen, listen, listen.”
  • “I will talk to someone who is learning how to navigate different cultures.”
  • I commit to learn more about rural communities… I will seek and pray and ask God what he’d like me to do.”
  • I will serve at FIRM.”
  • “I will learn more about my true self with God.”

Praise God! … and may your Kingdom come in Fresno as it is in heaven…

by Beth Paz

Dear First Pres,

   Today is one of my favorite days of the year. It's not because it's St. Patrick's Day eve; it's because it's the first day of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Tournament! I love it because it is a mix of teams from all the conferences. Some are expecting to win the whole thing, and some are just happy to be there. And yet, when the games start, you never know what's going to happen. Still, many of us (including me), do our best to predict the outcomes of the games. Predicting the games is actually a huge industry in itself. But according to Professor Jeff Bergen of DePaul University, even those of us with some knowledge about the teams and the history of the tournament, only have a 1 in 128 Billion chance to pick a perfect bracket. That's a small chance, isn't it?
   If you're wondering, "Okay Jeremy, how does this connect with our church?" Here's my answer.
   We've been talking about the CityFest events for several weeks now. You already know that there is a Women's Luncheon on March 29 and a Business Luncheon on March 30. You already know that the main festival events will be on the weekend (April 1-2). You already know that we've been encouraging everyone to pray about who to invite or bring to the events.  But when it comes to actually inviting someone, I think one of the reasons we hesitate to do so, is because we think we already know that the answer will be "no."  Isn't that right? Maybe it's just me, but often I hesitate to talk to others about the CityFest because I'm sure they'll not be interested. I've made my predictions. The problem is they're just predictions. Are you hesitating to invite people because you've already decided that they're not ready to receive the Gospel? Have you already decided that the folks on your list will never be interested in coming to something like the Women's or Business Luncheon? The fact is, you can't really know unless you actually make the invitation.
   So, Beloved, may we have the courage to make the invitations as the Lord leads us. May we remember that God is the One who is drawing particular people to Jesus whether we have predicted it or not. And may we see Kingdom fruitfulness in our lives as a result of living in obedience to the Spirit.



P.S. I predict that Duke will win the tournament.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

   The Coalition for Christian Outreach partners with churches to call college students to serve Jesus Christ with their entire lives. Our new assistant pastor, Chris Popadich was on staff with CCO, which began in western Pennsylvania. CCO and our denomination, Evangelical Presbyterian Church have an emerging relationship which may include partnerships within our Presbytery.

   An FPC delegation traveled to Pittsburg to attend CCO's annual Jubilee Conference February 23-25.CCO says "It is a gathering of thousands of college students learning how to worship God with their whole lives." Our delegation included a few elders and  four college students. We asked Rachel Benitez & Shannon Muzio (college students) to tell us about their experience. 

Rachel: Our time in Pittsburgh was not what I was expecting, as we did not really know what to expect. We entered into a new adventure not really knowing what the conference was going to be like, not knowing any of the people that were hosting us, and having never been that far east before. The Lord was so present in my time in Pittsburgh. The Jubilee Conference that is organized by the Coalition of Christian Outreach (CCO) is a college-centered conference, which is unlike anything I have been to before with the high school and junior high group here at FPC. God fostered relationships with CCO staff and college students in different CCO ministries, as well as gave me the opportunity to more deeply know Molly, Shannon and Kaylene. There’s something about going into something blindly that bonds people together! The Lord encouraged me by being able to experience other college students who love Him and want to know Him more. The reality of Jesus being present with us today was shown to me through other people my age who are engaging in college ministry, the CCO and through the wonderful ladies I got to experience the weekend with!¨ 

Shannon: I wasn't sure what it would be like attending a conference exclusively for college students. One workshop in particular was designed for students pursuing careers in healthcare. The speaker encouraged stressed students to remember to take time for themselves and for God, in order to process what is happening in their lives. This is so different from the message the world preaches, which is go go go, until you can't go anymore. This very successful doctor spoke of the struggles of being looked down upon as a Christian in healthcare and how she uses her faith to love on others through directly sharing her faith, or silently praying for them while she intentionally sits eye to eye to have a conversation. This workshop encouraged me to slow down and take time out of each day to focus on what God is doing in my life and to not get carried away with all the tasks I have to complete. I was reminded to focus on the eternal good, that is being a part of Christ's family. 

Shannon Muzio and Rachel Benitez are college students who serve as volunteer advisors in FPC's Junior HIgh School Ministry. They recently went to Winter Camp with our students and shared these reflections.

Winter Camp this year was highly anticipated by our group because it was rescheduled from January. And to junior high students who absolutely love camp, a month is a lifetime! The theme of this weekend was Luke 1:27, where Jesus commands us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor. I had the opportunity to witness the students show each other who Jesus is. Knowingly or unknowingly, the students obeyed what the Holy Spirit was urging them to do. Whether it be through revelations about themselves and their walks with Jesus, or reaching out and including the other students who are somewhat on the outside of the group, I was in awe of  the Lord working in their hearts.  

 The biggest takeaway for me is the memories of the conversations that we had during cabin time, which were authentic, deep, convicting and eye-opening for myself and the students. A big prayer request now coming home from camp is that this sense of community and exhibiting God’s love to each other would continue, and that the convictions they felt up at Sugar Pine would cause them to pursue the Lord in guidance and truth for what to do with these convictions.

Every time I go to youth group or wake up early for Sunday School, I have a billion other things on my mind that I know I need to get done (most of it is homework). Regardless of the stress I'm carrying walking into a room full of rowdy jr. highers, I always leave feeling so uplifted and overjoyed by the ways God is working in each of their lives. Winter camp was no exception to this feeling. As much as I loved being invited to be the girls' photographer for the afternoon, our cabin time is where I really saw growth. I saw God working through the ways he convicted us all of our sins and for giving us a safe space to confess them and relate to one another. Through the speakers, God taught the students to be wary of our thoughts, for they affect our entire lives, and of our tongue, for even a great forest is set ablaze by a small spark (James 3:5).
  God even worked through all the silly giggles by bringing friendship and fun to all members of the group. I watched God open some students hearts to new experiences with friendship with others, leadership within their cabin, and to worship with the band in song and dance. Having the opportunity to have a 3 day deviation from normal life allowed these students to learn about God in tangible ways that they can practice as they come down the mountain.

Dear First Pres,
   How is Lent going for you? On Sunday I tried to reinforce the expectation that as disciples of Jesus we are called to continually "work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose" (Philippians 2:12-13). I encourage you to be intentional about that during this Lenten season.

   One of the ways that we can do that together is by using the Seek God for the City prayer guide. If you haven't picked one up yet, I encourage you to get one in the Sanctuary Entry. Or you can buy the app for your device (just search for Seek God for the City in your app store).  

   Today's prayer is a prayer for unity. One sentence of the prayer says, "We ask today for a greater unity among Your people that grows from sharing a common love for You." I resonate with that prayer; do you? One of the primary ways I've been praying for our church since I arrived in 2012 is that God would unite us in our love for Christ and His mission. Of course, this prayer is for the Church (not just our church), but unity in the Body needs to be reflected in our unity as well.  

   I encourage all of us to join in this prayer today for the Church and our church. Let me also ask you to think about some questions today. If you're interested, you are welcome to send me an email with your thoughts.  

What do you think it looks like to be a church that has unity in our common love for Christ?
What are the things that get in the way of that unity in a local church?
What's your perspective on our church's unity?
What responsibility do you have in helping to build that unity among us?

   May the Lord unite us in Christ and His mission ... not for our own glory, but for His. Oh God, we seek You to unite Your people.



Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor