Dear FPC—
How is week 2 (or is it 3?) of physical distancing going for you? As Jen our office administrator said, these two weeks have been the longest year of her life! I hope you are able to use this disruption to be intentional about the most important things in your life: make time for conversation with loved ones; spend time each day with God through prayer and Bible reading; take care of your body by eating good food and getting some sunshine and fresh air when you can; play games! Our family has started a “family read” over Skype twice a week as a way to connect and visit. What is working for you?
Yesterday Alice and I were taking our walk and saw a remarkable sight—a “committee” of turkey vultures (apparently that is what they are called—or a kettle, I love both names!). We must have seen 25 or more birds (BIG birds!) circling over the university and avenues area. It was a great reminder to me of all the things that are happening—flowers blooming, sunsets reddening, spring coming—without regard for our current circumstances. It also reminds me to stop and say thank you to God who holds all of it in his hands, and who is working himself, if only we notice. So—let’s stop and notice and praise more, even in the middle of worry and disruption. As Psalm 5:5-6 encourages us: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”
Here is a link to a really helpful reminder of how to nurture your closest relationships from Dr. Julie Gottman, one of the nation’s foremost relationship experts. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/25/lockdown-with-your-partner-heres-how-healthy-couples-survive/?utm_campaign=wp_first_reads&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_rainbow&wpmm=1
Finally, I hope you are able to join us online to worship on Sunday. This week we will be looking at God’s people, the Church! There has never been a time in our lives when it has been more clear that the Church is not a building or a place but a people. Join us on Facebook Live.
May you use these days to “continue to live your lives in Jesus, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith and overflowing with thankfulness.” Col 2:6-7

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
What a week! Fear of disease, social distancing, earthquake, aftershocks, — Oh My!
But this is not a time to pull back, this is a time to connect. Several times this week I’ve gotten calls from friends. People who just were checking in and wanted to visit. It was amazing how great it felt to get to talk and visit with these friends. I felt loved. I remembered that we have other friends out there. We are not alone.

Just because we can’t (and shouldn’t) physically get together, should not stop us from being together on the phone, on Skype, on FaceTime, you name it! Let us BE THE ONES WHO CALL! I really encourage each of you to pick up your phone and call someone—call that person who pops into your mind (maybe that is the Holy Spirit nudging you!). Merely saying “Hi—I just wanted to see how you are doing” is probably enough to launch a good conversation. Listen for needs. Maybe it is picking up food or supplies at the store. Maybe it is a regular call just to visit or pray together. Maybe it is getting a group together for a conversation. You can do that online easily—both FaceTime and Skype can easily have small groups on a call, as well as Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, etc. Another option for more organized meetings is zoom.com . They let you have video or audio conferences for free. You can get a free account and then set up meetings that people call into or log into on their computer/phone/tablet. Really easy—I promise!

So don’t sit at home, pick up the phone! If each of us made 2 or 3 calls a day, think about many people we could connect with! Think about how many people would feel God’s love through you. Don’t wait, start dialing!

This is also a great time to deepen our connection with God. We have worship on line, our Tuesday Evening Prayer and Praise on Facebook live, and many of our groups, studies and classes are moving to meet using zoom (look at our website, www.fpcslc.org for more information!). But each of us needs to spend time with God directly. As our days for many of us are more unscheduled, it is important to impose a schedule on ourselves. What a great time to start or renew a discipline of reading scripture and praying! I am attaching a 14 day devotional retreat that you may find useful (you can also find it on our homepage ).
One great way to read and pray is with the reading plan from the Bible Project. Just click here and scroll down to “Read the Bible in One Year” Or download their “Read Scripture” app for your phone.

I can’t encourage you enough to use this time of disruption to CONNECT. Connect with your friends, your neighbors, your loved ones—just call! And connect with God in new ways.

I am praying for each of you and your health and safety in these crazy times! God is still in control, and you can trust him!

Blessings to you!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

As Christians, we move in faith, not fear. We trust in and serve a God who is able to work all things, even bad things, for our good. But how do we live that out? How do we act prudently in a time when so many rush to panic or to willful ignorance? Neither extreme is right for us.

Here are some thoughts for us during these challenging times:

1. Trust God.

In the midst of uncertainty, we trust God. He is sovereign over human history and over our lives. He is the Lord, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And he is loving and merciful. Psalm 100:5 assures us, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

We witness to our Christian faith when we resist panic, knowing that our times are in the Lord’s hand (Psalm 31:15). No one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand (John 10:28-29). And so, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

2. Pray.

Pray for those affected, and for their loved ones and caregivers. Pray for those making decisions impacting us. Pray for wisdom. Pray for peace. Here are some psalms that may be helpful to pray—read them and make them into your own prayers. That is what the psalms are for!

Trust in God: 27, 31, 57, 146, 62, 63, 71, 73, 77, 91, 118, 121, 124, 125 123, 143
God our Refuge: 4, 20, 17, 37, 46, 49, 54, 61, 71, 91, 103, 121, 146

Psalm 27 is one of my personal favorites.
Ps 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Just meditate on that—even ask God for help in believing it!

If you would like prayer or otherwise need help, please don’t hesitate to call, text or email the church or Pastor Chris or me.

2. Be informed.

There is much on the internet this is unhelpful or misleading. Focus on information from trusted, informed sources. The CDC website provides a wealth of information. Here is their latest update. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html This page has information for people at higher risk (older adults and those with serious chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease. https://www.cdc.gov/…/specific…/high-risk-complications.html

You may wish to subscribe to the CDC’s COVID-19 newsletter to get regular updates. Go to their newsletter subscription page and choose the newsletter entitled, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

Our Utah Health Department also has good information. https://coronavirus.utah.gov/latest-information

This Sunday Dr Vic MacIntosh will share about how to protect ourselves and respond to this challenging situation. We will be sharing that talk on line.

3. Be prudent.

Wash your hands! Wash them frequently and thoroughly, for a minimum of 20 seconds using soap and warm water. Praying the Lord’s Prayer takes about 20 seconds, so try that! There is no substitute for good handwashing.

For cleaning surfaces, such as doorknobs, countertops, etc., the CDC recommends using bleach (1 part bleach to 100 parts water). We use an even stronger bleach solution in cleaning at the church.

If you have symptoms of a cough, disease, or a fever within the last 24 hours, please stay at home.

If you are returning from known areas of higher prevalence of COVID-19, we encourage you NOT to attend church for two weeks. The list of affected areas and the period of self-quarantine will likely change in the weeks ahead.

4. Act in love.
Reach out to your neighbors, particularly the elderly and those who are vulnerable or alone. If you have a neighbor who can’t go out right now, maybe you can help drop off groceries to them. If you can’t go out right now, you have your church family to help—call a deacon or a pastor or a friend and we will get you help. Christians have always been the ones who rush in to help when others run away. We do not have to be swept up in panic because we have the Rock. Prayerfully consider ways you can be reach out to your neighbors and check in on your co-workers. We are all carrying apprehension and uncertainty, this is a great opportunity to connect with them. This is an opportunity for us to care for our neighbors.

As we worship together online only for the next few weeks, we will be taking special steps to reach out to one another and make sure that everyone is connected to the Body. If you would like to make calls, please let the church office know.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, our strong tower of defense in time of trouble: We offer you praise and heartfelt thanks for our deliverance from the dangers which lately surrounded us and for your gracious gift of peace. We confess that your goodness alone has preserved us; and we ask you still to continue your mercies toward us, that we may always know and acknowledge you as our Savior and mighty Deliverer; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace and Peace to you this week!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
What are you feeling this week? Fear? Hope? Trust? Excitement? Worry? I am grateful that in these unsettled times we (and the whole world) truly are in God’s hands and can trust him.
When the sun is shining and the crocus are blooming it is hard to not start to smile and feel grateful. That is a very healthy thing to do. Time magazine reports that practicing gratitude can: make you more patient, improve your relationships, help you take better care of yourself, help you sleep (count your blessings, not your sheep!), protect you from overeating, ease depression, and give you lasting happiness.
So how can we practice gratitude? Here are two ideas:
“Three Good Things”—each day identify three good moments or things that happened that day. They can be little things, but try to do that every day for a few weeks—see what happens!
“Pray” – since God is the source of our blessings, say thank you! Here is a prayer of Thanksgiving that may help you think about some other things you have to be thankful for. Practice using this prayer as a launch pad for thanking God for his many blessings to you:
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us.
We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks that demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments that satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he conquered death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Amen! Can I get an amen?
This Sunday we will continue with our We Believe series. Pastor Chris will lead us as we look at God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. I hope you can join us!

Blessings and peace to you this week in the name of Jesus!

Dear FPC– Lent is here! I hope you’ll join in doing something special to connect with God during these weeks leading up to Easter. Like any relationship, the more we put into our relationship with God, the deeper and more meaningful it can grow. I shared a few ideas and apps in the “What is Lent” flyer Or, come join us on Tuesdays at 6 pm for a short (~30 minute) time of prayer and praise. Just pause in the midst of your week to reconnect with God!
Last Sunday we finished our “30,000 foot” overview of the Bible. I hope it left you with both a whisper of the AMAZING future God has for us in his Kingdom as well as practical steps to live into that future now as we live out our purpose of being outposts of his Kingdom in our world today.
On Ash Wednesday Lent begins and we are marking that with our Ash Wednesday Supper at 6 and Service at 6:30. Come as you are and reflect on how Jesus saves us, just as we are.
During Lent in worship we will be looking at the core of our faith in a series called We Believe. We’ll be using the ancient summary of the faith known as the Apostles’ Creed. This Sunday we will be celebrating Communion and learning about how God doesn’t just love us, he embodies love in the community of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “God is Love” is not just a slogan, it is a fact! And he calls us into that community to live out his love right here in Utah.
I hope you can join us!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC,
Suddenly it is starting to feel like Spring! Some friends were over the other night and brought some tulips, which really underlined that feeling for me. I’m sure winter will have some swings left, but the trend is clear—spring is coming! And that means Lent. Lent actually comes from the old English word for Spring. It is a time to pay attention to God. To let go of something so you hold onto God more closely. I hope that during Lent this year you will choose to take some proactive steps to connect with God as we journey towards Easter. One year in college my exams for the fall semester ended on December 23. I literally got home on Christmas Eve! I was not ready for Christmas! I needed time to adjust my head from the rush of term papers and tests and studying to family and presents and Jesus’ birth. We all need times of preparation. If we want to really be ready for Easter, we need to take time to get ready. That is what Lent is for. You can start by coming to our Ash Wednesday soup supper and service Wednesday at 6.
Next Thursday is an important day in our congregation—we’ll be getting an interpretation of our congregational survey from our consultants. The Mission Study Team, the Session, the Deacons and other interested folks are all invited to join us on Thursday, Feb 27 from 5:30 to 7:30. Please feel free to join us and please be in prayer for us as we listen, learn and apply the results of our survey.
This Sunday in worship we will be finishing our fly over of the Bible—we’ll get to see how the whole story ends and what that means for us, both today and for always. I hope you can join us!
Blessings to you as Spring (and Lent) draw near!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
We are called to be reconciled people—people put right with God and with each other. That is the miracle of forgiveness and the blessing of grace. We are even called —as far as it depends on us—to live in peace with everyone. (see Romans 12:18) This includes the very challenging, sometimes impossible-seeming command from Jesus to love even our enemies (see Matthew 5:44).
As followers of Jesus we are not just supposed to nod our heads and agree with those statements, we are supposed to live them out. They should show up in our lives! How do we do that? I think it starts with asking for help. Prayer! Something like: “Dear Jesus— X (whatever person or group you are thinking of) really bothers me! I don’t understand them. But I know I am called to love them and to live in peace with them. I can’t do this on my own Lord. Help! Help me to see them as your beloved child. Warm my heart towards them. Help me to pray FOR them—for their good, for their success, for their prospering. Lord, help me to love them in spite of myself—warm my heart towards them and help me to show your love to them, even when I don’t feel like it. Come into my heart and change me so I can love better. In your name I ask it, Amen.”
If you are like me, you may need to pray this often and repeatedly!
In our society we are encouraged to view people we disagree with as enemies, as the “other.” In real life, they are just people we disagree with about something (and probably agree with about many other things). We need to stop lining up in teams and start putting Jesus first. I found this article very helpful about loving our enemies. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/07/arthur-brooks-national-prayer-breakfast-speech/?arc404=true
Here is an excerpt:

At that moment, my thoughts went to … Seattle. That’s my hometown. While my own politics are conservative, Seattle is arguably the most politically liberal place in the United States. My father was a college professor; my mother was an artist. Professors and artists in Seattle … what do you think their politics were?
That lady after my speech wasn’t trying to hurt me. But when she said that liberals are stupid and evil, she was talking about my parents. I may have disagreed with my parents politically, but I can tell you they were neither stupid nor evil. They were good, Christian people, who raised me to follow Jesus. They also taught me to think for myself — which I did, at great inconvenience to them.
Political polarization was personal for me that day, and I want to be personal to you, too. So let me ask you a question: How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?

Friends—all of us love people we disagree with. How can we love them better?

Lord Jesus- Help us show your love in this hurting world! Amen!

Blessings to you this week!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Snow! It sure feels like winter this week, doesn’t it? I am grateful for the water in the mountains and praying that all of you are staying safe on slippery surfaces. One thing that seems especially important right now is listening to and learning from people who are different from us. We are called to love our neighbors, and a starting place is actually expressing an interest in them. The Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable is hosting a series of interfaith events over the next month. You can see information about the events on our bulletin board, in our weekly email blast or at their website, https://www.interfaithroundtable.org/interfaith-season-2/ I encourage you to find an event or two and go exploring!
This Sunday we are celebrating God’s Kingdom arriving in Jesus—this is the climax of the Bible story, so I hope you can join us. Also, we will be welcoming one of our missionaries, Daniel Salinas, to share about his work with a seminary in Columbia.
Blessings to you this snowy week!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
What an impactful beginning to our Faith and Social Justice series! I am glad that so many of you could join us on Tuesday evening to hear from a knowledgeable panel (with experts from the legislature, the academy and the legal system speaking) about the challenges of mass incarceration. Thank you to Pastor Chris for organizing this and following God’s nudges. I was stunned to learn of the dramatic expansion of the prison system during my adult lifetime (there are about 7x more prisoners now than 40 years ago) and the changes in the law that make moving past a conviction almost impossible.
I was even more struck by Jesus’ call to us to visit those in prison. Just visiting is enough to turn a stranger into a friend, an “other” into an “us.” I wonder if others are interested in trying to organize visiting people who are incarcerated?
I also want to encourage each of us to try to continue to learn. Alice and I are doing that by going to see the new movie Just Mercy, and we are bringing tissues! What is something you can do to learn more about how we as a nation treat people of color and the poor?
This Sunday we are looking at how God’s people Israel got their name and what it means for us as we follow Jesus. I hope you can join us for worship and stay for our Annual Meeting after the 11 am service (it’s a potluck lunch!)
Blessings to you this week –and stay open to how God might be using you to bless others!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Gratitude. There is no habit or attitude more healthy or good for you than gratitude. I was glad for the moisture of the snow on Tuesday afternoon, and grateful that I avoided any accidents on this ice!
I hope that you take time to appreciate the blessings God gives us—life, breath, love, hope, beauty, joy. As I reflect I am especially grateful for the gifts God gives us through First Pres. An amazing staff. Dedicated leaders. A legacy of giving, serving and leading which makes a difference in our community. A stunning place to worship. A friendly, open, generous fellowship of believers. Music ministry, small groups, Nites Out groups, service teams, mission support, financial stability. Amazing! Thank you God! And thank you all. I am particularly thankful for the hard work, wonderful ministry and vision of Pastor Chris. She is a terrific colleague in ministry to me and a great pastor. We are truly blessed.
Next week is a busy week—don’t forget the Faith and Social Justice discussion on Tuesday at 7 in the Sanctuary, the Family Hockey night on Friday and the Annual Meeting on Sunday Feb 26 (and potluck!) at noon!
Here is a prayer of thanksgiving I’ve found helpful, from the Book of Common Prayer:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We furthermore thank you for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence upon your mercies alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Blessings to you this week!

Pastor Steve