The Final Turn Toward Christmas

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Our total attendance this past Sunday was 1089, including over 200, standing-room-only attendees in the Chapel for the Christmas Rocks! contemporary worship at 9:45. This was a record for a Christmas Cantata Sunday. Kudos to our staff, the Crossfire Youth Choir, Chancel Choir, and orchestral members who made Sunday's musical offering as meaningful as it was memorable.  

I think worship Sunday generated anticipation for our Christmas Pops Concert for the community this Sunday, Dec. 16. Your staff and a small army of members along with plenty of parking will make sure everyone is indeed welcomed as soon as they arrive. Cookies, punch and giveaways will mark an evening of great fun. Wear your holiday fun stuff for this casual evening as we make the final turn toward Christmas.  

These events are foreshadowing our Covenant Renewal Sunday on January 13.  But why wait?  Invite a neighbor, friend or even that inactive member to come find some Calm and Bright this Sunday. After all, Christ is coming!

Comfort and joy,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Signs of the Apocalypse

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It looked like the closing scene of the movie Field of Dreams when the camera takes you up for a bird's view of a darkened horizon at dusk. Miles of bumper-to-bumper headlights zig-zag down every available road to come see the little baseball field in the middle of the cornfields.

That was the scene Saturday night as hundreds if not a thousand cars tried to make their way toward our church's modest witness of the birth of Christ on our own field of dreams ... and then Facebook blew up.

An outstanding, collaborative Journey to Bethlehem, planned and coordinated by the Purpose Seekers Sunday School class, was designed to accommodate a few hundred cars of pilgrims. This year’s event was simply no match for the over 1000 cars that backed up on Parker Road and Spring Creek Parkway, spilling out from Collin College and the surrounding neighborhoods, all the way back to the exit ramps off 75! It was stunning and unprecedented in 12 years of this offering. To watch the comments on Facebook, one would have thought we had brought on the Apocalypse ... and maybe we did.

For "apocalypse" does not mean the end; it means "unveiling" or "revealing." From my vantage point, as I thanked our visitors in each car and invited them back, I could only smile as I thought of the prophet Isaiah, "The mountain of the Lord's house ... shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it."(Isaiah 2:2).

For me, the streaming of so many toward our modest offering revealed a great hunger that is out there among so many in the darkness - a hunger for light and goodness and warmth and hope and kindness - and we humbly gave that to them. I am so thankful for every child, youth and adult who sang, towed, built, tore down, herded, dressed, fed, acted, directed, welcomed, and loved the hundreds who came and experienced the hope of the Christ.

But our work has only just begun.

Our church is now on the radar of literally thousands and an unknown many will come for the first time to our Christmas Pops Concert and our Christmas Eve Services of Candlelight. Theirs will be a first impression if they did not get in to see our Journey to Bethlehem. What of the Christ will we "reveal" for them from the moment they pull into the very parking lot they could not reach last Saturday night? The best apocalypse will be for them to experience love, humility and a servant's heart in each of us. It will take all of us bringing our best offerings of:

  • presence and service in the parking lots and hallways to greet and engage;

  • financial gifts to host, reach out and connect the newcomers;

  • prayer for what the Holy Spirit will do for others through our loving efforts.

This is an apocalypse of a different kind - the kind Jesus intended: to make Christ known in all our ways, words and actions. I am proud and excited to stand with you to witness for others that "calm and bright" which people are streaming from afar to find.

Held with you by Christ,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

A message from our Lead Pastor

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Dear Friends,

This past Saturday night over 150 volunteers from our church came together to share the birth story of Jesus with our community. About 250 cars drove through the Journey to Bethlehem Live Nativity. Unfortunately at least three times that many were unable to experience the journey. The turnout was, to say the least, overwhelming. It felt as though the prophesy from Isaiah came true in our midst, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established … peoples will stream toward it” (Isaiah 2:2).

I know many traveled long distances to make the Journey to Bethlehem, some as far away as Oklahoma. I also know many were in line for over two hours only to have individuals cut in line in front of you, and then be turned away by one of our church volunteers or by the Plano Police Department who intervened for safety concerns around the traffic our event generated. It pains my heart that not everyone who drove to Plano could experience our event, for it was meaningful to the many who were able to drive through. It would never be our intention to say, “There is no room in the inn” to anyone coming to our church.

For the past 12 years, one Sunday School class has planned, organized and produced our Journey to Bethlehem event. This year’s response through Facebook went far beyond our most optimistic scenarios based on those 12 years of history. While we were thrilled with the response, we regret deeply that we were unprepared and unable to accommodate the flood of yearning that your coming represented Saturday. Rest assured that meetings are already in place to discuss lessons learned and how we will re-work Journey to Bethlehem to accommodate many more next year.  We will be better equipped to resolve traffic issues next year.

To hopefully ease your disappointment, I would like to extend a number of invitations to you this Christmas season in order to experience the joy of the Christ child’s birth:

  • On Sunday, Dec. 9, our choirs orchestra will present a Behold, A Savior! Christmas Cantata at our 8:30 and 11 a.m. services. At 9:45 a.m. our Contemporary Worship Team will have a Christmas Rocks! concert with sing-along carols and a visit from Santa Claus himself.  

  • On Sunday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. we will have a Christmas Pops Concert with contemporary and popular music of the season for the entire family, and Santa Claus will make another appearance.

  • On Tuesday, Dec. 24, at 3, 5, 7 and 10 p.m., we will host Christmas Eve Candlelight and Communion Services for the whole family. 

Parking and seating are plentiful for all of these. As much disappointment our church family feels for our not being able to host many of you last Saturday night, we feel hope, eagerness and honor in being able to host you in the coming days. I hope you will give us that chance. 

Grace and Peace to you in this season of peace and hope,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Couldn't we all use a little more "Calm and Bright"?

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After a long year in 2018, Advent is finally here. With it we invite you to celebrate the beauty and history of Silent Night as part of our Advent theme entitled Calm and Bright: 200 Years of Silent Night.

Thanks to some excellent planning and preparation on the part of our worship team, Lynette Little, Randy Jennings, James Donaldson, and our Yardbirds, beginning this Sunday we will all be treated to a very different experience in worship and feel in our church. Opportunity for prayer, song and contemplative thought will be offered so we might all slow down perhaps just long enough to allow the Holy Spirit to embrace us. The coming Christ is greater than all we faced in 2018 and all we will face in 2019.

I pray daily in December that you will experience all that is "calm and bright" this busy Advent season.

Blessings,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

People Power and the Power of Prayer

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As I mentioned Sunday, I thought the outpouring of voters last week was a win for our country. Apathy? Nope. Engagement? Yep.

A surprising theory I have heard for below average attendance and giving in our churches this fall is the many people who have focused those resources on their preferred candidate/campaign. Following that theory, our churches should see a post-election uptick in attendance and giving. What was true for so many grassroots campaigns around the country I know can be true for our local churches as well; namely that many small participants lessen the load carried by all and can carry the day in victory! This is true in attendance, financial resources and prayers; participation by many makes ALL the difference … by mere single-digit percentage points!

You will soon receive by e-mail and snail mail a letter from the chairpersons of our Church Council, Finance and Staff-Parish Relations Committee. If you are a member of our church, you will want to read it. It is daunting, but no more daunting than a similar situation for our church two years ago. We strongly prevailed then and can do so again. As in the recent elections, the difference will be the level of turn-out: turn-out for generosity in 2018 and turn-out for generosity through our Estimate of Giving Cards for 2019. God needs both of these from every one of us, regardless of how small, to do what God has in mind for our mission and vision.

As we step through this season of hope, I challenge you. Do not stay on the sidelines; there is so much coming that requires the power of your participation and prayer. This will bless all of us and those we reach for Christ.

Power and prayer to the people of FUMC Plano,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Women of Hope

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Although November 22 has not arrived, Thanksgiving is already in my head because it’s a time when food, family and hope are consistently found around the table hosted by amazing women in my life. For me, it was my Mom; it was my grandmother; it is my mother-in-law; it is my wife.

Your experience may be similar. Therefore, for three weeks as we head toward Thanksgiving and Christmas, I want to highlight three biblical women of hope: Ruth, Hannah and Elizabeth – women of determination, resourcefulness and honesty – characteristics I have seen in amazing women who shaped my life.

Who are those women for you?

Over the next three weeks, I invite you to grab a Sharpie and write a name, a prayer, or a few words about an amazing woman (or two or three) in your life. You will find the Sharpies next to the paper-covered columns in the Gathering Area. Tell a story of an amazing woman with her name, a prayer, a thanksgiving, and we will all be enriched for the sharing because isn't that what this season is about – sharing? And who primarily taught us that, especially this time of year?

Thank you Mom, Grandma, Joyce, Cammy; I love you.

To God be the glory,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

All Saints Sunday, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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This Sunday is one of my most beloved. The pictures, the candles, the chiming of the bell - all take me to a place of sometimes teary remembrance and thanksgiving, and well they should.

I see with yesterday's clarity Sam Perrine standing tall on the front row singly loudly. I see Betty Vilven planning her next trip from her hospital room at Medical City Plano. I see Ann Gray in her green choir robe and Mardi Gras-colored hair smiling with that teenage impishness from the choir loft. My life is so much richer for having known them, and I am thankful. I feel the responsibility to step up in their absence and offer to others what they gave to me.

This Sunday we will all be given an Estimate of Giving card to bring to the railing when we come for communion. Your response will drive what we are able to do in ministry and mission in 2019. It is our opportunity to step up for a rising generation and do what Sam, Betty, Ann and all our saints have done for us.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. I look forward to celebrating them this Sunday.

Grateful,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Taking Stock

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Perhaps the most meaningful takeaway of helping lead two men's retreats in the past month is seeing men take stock of their lives.

It is very hard with the demands of our every waking moment to give ourselves the permission to pause long enough to take stock. Yet this is precisely what Jesus did and prescribed for his disciples to do – take time apart to focus on God and take stock of our lives in light of that focus. It's what Jesus did for 40 days at the beginning of his ministry; it is what Jesus would call his disciples to do after a strenuous day; it is what we practice in miniature on every Sunday's sabbath. We take stock – inventory of what is fundamental for our lives.

Taking the Next Step is our our opportunity in three short weeks to pause long enough to take stock of God's generosity in our lives which in turn beckons us to assess how grateful and how generous we will be in response. In the healthy spiritual life, greater gratitude leads to greater generosity.

Unanimously, the men at Bridgeport last weekend agreed how valuable that time away was for their souls and their priorities. As Alan Johnson said, "Now it's time for us to proselytize other men to come and have this experience." That's what happens when one takes stock of the grace in one's life. As we sing in the camp song, " … you want to pass it on."

See you in the grateful place this Sunday,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

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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