The Upside of the Downpours

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Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. - Paul, Colossians 2:7-9 (CEB)

As I have watched the historic rainfall of the last two months and pulled on a sweater against the sudden chill, one thought has occurred to me: wildflowers.

According to UT News (yes, this OU fan just wrote that) and every other source with expertise on botany, it is a fact that uncommon amounts of rain in the fall/winter will result in uncommon amounts and variety of beauty in the form of spring wildflowers - bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, spider lilies, and dogwood blossoms. The heavenly investment of downpours now will result in a bumper crop of floral dividends next year. This is the way of the spiritual life as well.

Paul encourages the members of the church at Colossae to be rooted in Christ through worship, prayer, acts of charity, and generosity. John Wesley would later refer to these as, "means of grace." We respond to the grace of God in our lives with investments of grace in our church, trusting there will be amazing dividends later in our lives and the lives of others. For all of us it means "taking a next step."

I will be away this weekend at Bridgeport Camp helping lead a Men's Retreat as my valued colleague, the Rev. Andy Lewis preaches here. Both of us will be witnessing to the dividend of Christ in our lives as we invest with our own step toward Christ; witnessing to the beauty that is coming after the gray rains of dreariness.

Thanks be to God.

Matt

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Men & Women

 Those in attendance for this year's Emmaus Walk were Gavin Cox, Tony Moore, Alan England, Tony Bolodar, Bill Lang, Matt Gaston, Larry Naeyaert, Wade Anderson, Alan Johnson, and Clay Richmond.

Those in attendance for this year's Emmaus Walk were Gavin Cox, Tony Moore, Alan England, Tony Bolodar, Bill Lang, Matt Gaston, Larry Naeyaert, Wade Anderson, Alan Johnson, and Clay Richmond.

I am grateful for Nigel, Pastor Ed, and the Rev. Andy Lewis for filling the pulpit well as I work with a number of men from our church in retreat settings. Nine men from our church just returned from a faith-changing Emmaus Walk last weekend. On Oct. 19-21, another 20 or so of us will retreat to Camp Bridgeport (sign-up HERE). In both settings of nature, food, study, play, casual conversation, and worship, there emerges relaxed space for the Holy Spirit to speak to us in new and sometimes profound ways - ways that can change the trajectory of a life. There was value in the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness, of Elijah being in a cave, of Jesus calling his disciples to a "place apart" (Mark 6:31). We all need that renewal time. If we look, there are men who model and can guide us in that search for greater balance in our lives.

In the same way, we all can name women who have shaped and guided us in our growth and not just our mothers. I am looking for some of your stories about those women. Leading up to Thanksgiving, I will preach a series on Women of Hope. I’ll explore the biblical stories of Ruth, Hannah and Elizabeth. I would love to include your stories about women in your life who personify resourcefulness, determination and vision. Send your story of a woman who has impacted your life to me by clicking HERE. I will read and post every one of your stories (with your permission) and include some in these three sermons. ALL of us will have opportunity to name those special women in our lives as we lead up to Thanksgiving which often gathers some of them around a family table. Who is that special woman for YOU?

Grateful to God for the men and women in my life,

Matt

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Advocating for People’s Health

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Yesterday we had a good discussion in the office about two upcoming Annual Information Sessions on Medicare for Seniors which coincide with the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, running from October 15-December 7. These sessions are sponsored by the North Central Texas Area Agency on Aging (NCTAAA). This offering is consistent with the longstanding United Methodist position on advocacy for health and healthcare access for all people. Since these are informational sessions, it seems like a good event to pass this along to our congregation.

However, since these events are being hosted by Congressman Sam Johnson, there was concern that this might appear politically motivated given the nearness of the mid-term elections. I decided to overrule that concern since advocating for seniors’ health and healthcare ought to be everyone’s issue, regardless of political taste and preference. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things to God that are God’s,” Jesus said (Matt. 22:21).

We have just spent six weeks discussing our vision, “Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community.” In my view, more affordable healthcare – especially for the vulnerable – is one vital way to connect grace to the community, regardless of who is making that accessible.

You will be blessed in the healthier place of grace this Sunday,

Matt

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

PS: Here is the information about the two sessions. Please note that the two Medicare meetings - which are free and open to the public - will be held at different locations in order to provide greater convenience for residents across the Third District.

Session 1
Tuesday, October 23, 10 a.m.-Noon
Senior Center at Frisco Square
6670 Moore Street
Frisco, TX 75034

Session II
Wednesday, October 24, 10 a.m.-Noon
Allen Senior Recreation Center
451 St. Mary's Drive
Allen, TX 75002

Should you have questions regarding counseling services provided by the NCTAAA, please call Mary Jane Frank at 1-800-272-3921 ext. 7166.

Stepping Up

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Yesterday I remembered I had not brought peanut butter for our Food 4 Kids Peanut Butter Drive in partnership with Plano Mayor LaRosiliere the North Texas Food Bank. I also remembered I had not signed up to help park cars at the Plano Balloon Festival this weekend, even though I had requested last week that all our staff sign up to park cars. When it’s an opportunity to raise more then $20,000 for mission, it is worthy of all my staff to go shoulder to shoulder with our laity in a joint effort.

So this morning I came to the office with my peanut butter in hand and signed up for the Friday night shift to welcome neighbors, pass out information about our ministries, and help them park their cars. It was time for me to step up. Sometimes I just have to be reminded to do what I already want to do. I suspect you may be the same.

People stepping up is one of those “ministry indices” that I talked about last week in this column. As we move into the fall, I want to challenge you with several ways to step up to improve your spiritual health while empowering your church to improve the lives of others:

  • Step up: Go online at fumcplano.org/balloon, bring a family member or friend and be part of the fun for one shift welcoming hundreds to our campus this weekend.

  • Step up: Go online at fumcplano.org/give and catch up on your giving for the ministries that drive our church. Giving took a vacation over summer; it is time to get caught up.

  • Step up: Go online at fumcplano.org/adults and enroll in a class that is beckoning you.

  • Step up: North Texas Giving Day is tomorrow, September 20. Make FUMC Plano a worthy recipient of your grace. All you do is text the keyword FUMCPLANO and your giving amount to 73256 and follow the link to securely enter your credit card information. Once completed, your information is securely saved for future giving! Be sure to save this number on your phone under “FUMC Plano Giving” so the next time you want to make a donation, just open a text message and send your gift to that contact. .

  • Step up: Make worship and prayer a priority for your family. They learn by your leadership. Everyone will be more grounded, balanced, and blessed.

As of tomorrow, summer is past; it is time for us to refocus on the mission of Christ through our church.

The refocusing starts with you.

See you Sunday at the stepping up place,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Ministry Indices

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In order to get a sense of the health of our overall economy most of us pay attention to various economic indices such as the job creation index, the housing index, and the various trade and stock market indices. Did you know that there are also Ministry Indices? We have numbers for a lot of things. We pay attention to the new member index, worship attendance index, small group attendance index, and new member engagement index in order to get a sense of the health of our overall church. No single index tells the whole story but each has something to say. Here is one index that speaks loudly this year in spite of sustained worship attendance and increased numbers of people joining our church:

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What does this index say and what does it mean?

What this Index says:

  • Approximately a third of our membership households who turn in an Estimate of Giving card (about 300) have been remarkably strong (92% fulfillment) in their support of outreach to people for Christ.

  • Approximately two thirds of our membership households (about 600) who have given with some regularity (non-pledged) or occasionally (loose plate) have been less strong overall, 78% and 87% respectfully, than in the past (based on historical patterns) in support of outreach to people for Christ.

Remember, these are broad trends, not individual reports. Those third quarter Statements of Giving will go out by the middle of October.

What this Index means:

Since this index is an aggregate of well over a thousand individuals, it is impossible to account for what all the numbers mean. However, three observations can be made.

  1. We are running $163,000 below estimated total income based on history. With excellent cost control by staff saving $100,000 to date, we remain at a $61,000 net deficit through August.

  2. If the trends continue, there will be significant cost-reduction for 2019 that will hamper our outreach to people for Christ.

  3. None of this is has to happen.

Like long-range weather forecasts, indices are indicators, not guarantors; only God is.

Therefore I am asking all of us to look hard at God, look hard at all that is good and forward-moving in our church’s outreach to people for Christ, and look hard at our financial faithfulness to both God and our church’s outreach.

What is your giving index? What will be you your next step of faithfulness?

Held with you in the Body of Christ,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

What Do These Have in Common?

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  • A first-time recycler becomes a first-time member;

  • a guest to our Wellspring Counseling Center becomes a guest to our worship;

  • veterans from our church assist in ceremony and then read to children on Veterans Day at nearby Hickey Elementary;

  • staff subsequently assist the children there in Field Day games;

  • 900 crocheted skull caps & small blankets are given each year to newborns and their families through area hospitals;

  • talented musicians are invited to participate in our Contemporary Worship service;

  • our youth and young adults all assist families in post-hurricane clean-up and repair over the summer.

Give up?

They all are just a few examples of how our church connects God and Grace to the Community. The thing about Jesus and his ministry was he kept telling his disciples to do as he did; and this meant going out, actively connecting the kingdom of God to people who were wonderfully surprised by those acts of grace, and given pause about the possible meaning for their lives. Some who were touched came back; some did not. Some of the grace given fell on "good soil" and "some on bad soil."  But according to Jesus parable, the sower keeps sowing regardless – throwing around the grace of God – trusting that it will eventually take root and bear fruit.  

Connecting God and Grace to the Community; it's what we do!
See you in the generous place this Sunday,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

P.S.  We have a special guest witness at all three services this Sunday for our upcoming  Blood Drive on Sept. 16.  Hint: she is a former Intern here. 

Let the Children Come!

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Clearly words that Jesus spoke, yes, but also a call for all of us, especially those with children, to come and welcome our two new staff members for children and their families: Mardi Bowen and Lyndsey Gerhart. Their selections come in part out of our Healthy Church Initiative prescription to strategically reach younger families. Mardi was our Minister with Children & Families once before with excellence from 2008-2015. Lindsey is our new Director of Children's Music, and she's finishing her undergraduate in education at UNT. Like our church, these two women feel the call of God to reach children and their families with vital connections to God and grace.  

I challenge you to help these two women do their jobs well by doing yours: bring the children and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of God (Luke 18:16.).

See you in worship this Sunday,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor
 

"Why don't we just DO something?"

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This was one of the questions that surfaced Sunday in one of our small group discussions around our current series, "Vision: a Healthy Church Initiative."

I imagine it stems from an impatience to "get on with it;" the "it" being our next steps as a church. I also feel that sentiment as I tend to be an action-oriented person. However, as I prepare to leave town for a day to visit my father in Houston, I have to pause before I take off.

Dad has Alzheimer's. I have to consider so many things What are his needs at this time?  How might I best help with those needs?  What do I need to anticipate?  What do I need to pack?  Which doctors should I consult with so that I will know which medications and appointments need to be scheduled?  
I need to be clear in my mind what is most helpful before I just jump in.

Habakkuk and Jesus were both clear about being clear on where you are going before you go. That seems sensible to me. During this six-week series we are taking stock to better understand what is most helpful to people who need Jesus before we take off to "do something." That requires a bit of patience and forethought. So thank you for pausing enough to look faithfully before we leap. That thoughtfulness will bring clarity to our task to "make disciples" in new ways that will be clear to everyone.

Blessings and prayers,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor
 

New Blended Worship Service begins this Sunday!

 This summer our Crossfire Youth Choir went on choir tour to Nashville, TN, with a stop at the Grand Ole Opry. 

This summer our Crossfire Youth Choir went on choir tour to Nashville, TN, with a stop at the Grand Ole Opry. 

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I’m beyond excited to get things rolling again after a short summer break from Crossfire and Chancel Choir rehearsals. I’m excited to see the new 6th graders as they come to youth choir for the first time, returning choir members and the new choir members about to join.  

In general, most people seem to have strong opinions on music in worship. Some only like to hear and sing the songs they grew up with, while others want something new and different that they would hear on their favorite Christian radio station. Some people could care less what kind of music there is, they come to hear Pastor Matt’s message and find community. For some, music is everything and the style of music will determine which worship service they will attend. I enjoy most styles of music and am moved by all types of worship music. We are all different, thank goodness. Otherwise, life would tend to be boring.   

Keeping in mind our goal of reaching new and younger families per our Healthy Church Initiative prescription, starting THIS SUNDAY, the 8:30 service will have a different feel than before. The youth will have an active role in worship as we sing a few more modern praise songs that they will lead, as well as the traditional songs we all love. For the first time (or at least since I’ve been worshiping here since 2006), FUMC Plano will offer three distinctive worship services; 8:30 Blended service with the Crossfire Youth Choir, 9:45 Contemporary service with the Praise Team, and 11:00 Traditional service with the Chancel Choir. I’m super excited with this change becasue I believe it will speak to the youth and get them more involved in worship. When youth want to come to worship, their families will follow. Hope to see you in worship!

Robin Kaufman Anderson
Director of Worship Arts

A Change for Our Children 

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Many have heard the news that Allison Hicks, our Minister with Children and Families, is going back to school. What most have not heard is that there will be no drop-off as Mardi Bowen will be stepping back into that role.
 
Mardi served this church well in that position from 2009-2015.  When she heard of Allison's decision to go back to college, Mardi felt the call of God upon her heart once again. She approached me asking if applying for the position was a possibility. Things moved quickly after that as our staff and Staff Parish Relations Committee interviewed Mardi and offered her the position of Minister with Children and Families. Through Allison's accomplishments and Mardi's continued leadership, we are confident our children and their discipleship will be in excellent hands. Mardi begins her tenure on Monday, Aug. 27. Our children could not be more fortunate for the witness of these two strong and faithful women.
 
Be sure to be present in worship on Sunday, Aug. 26, as we recognize Allison for her three years of service. Help us in thanking, celebrating and praying for her as she starts this new chapter in her life.
 
Blessed,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor