Prayer, Healthy Living and Fasting – all in eight days

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We rejoiced when our son Blaine came home from the hospital after 8 days being diagnosed and treated for Ulcerative Colitis. This was a learning curve for our family. During those eight days we prayed, Blaine had to fast, and we all learned a lot about healthier living. The cousin of Crohn’s disease, UC cannot be cured, only managed by a combination of steroids and diet control, something that is a challenge for most of us. With UC, one is better off with more frequent, smaller portions of balanced meals rather than less frequent and larger unbalanced meals. It requires thought, advance planning and self-discipline. Turns out this is good for all of us and quite concurrent with our Lenten series on spiritual disciplines.

Over the next three weeks we will explore prayer, healthy living and fasting as “means of grace” – ways by which we more fully experience the grace of God in both our spiritual and our physical lives. We are simply healthier in these categories when, with a little thought, advance planning and self-discipline, we build habits of prayer, healthy living and fasting into our daily rhythms. My belief is that like our son, we can die to some old ways of thinking and being and be made well during this Lenten season of spiritual diagnosis and treatment. Here’s to YOUR health ...

Breathe in peace; breathe out love,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Guest Writer: Tommy Lawrence, FUMC Plano Lay Leader

Tommy Lawrence, FUMC Plano Lay Leader

Tommy Lawrence, FUMC Plano Lay Leader

Dear FUMC Family,

Two weeks ago, the delegates to the General Conference of the global United Methodist Church voted to retain the language in the Book of Discipline regarding persons who identify on the LBGTQ spectrum. As your Lay Leader, I can report that your Church Council discussed this topic many times last year. The two goals in our discussions were, 1) to inform the church of the impending vote and to allow for questions and dialogue and, 2) to plan our response to our church family and to our community.

Your Church Council met this past Monday to discuss this monumental vote and to have dialogue on how we will proceed in our mission field of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the for the transformation of the world” by Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community. The council wholeheartedly agreed on the need to communicate to our community that we are a body of Christ who welcomes and accepts all people. The Council was presented with a plan by over 100 clergy from the North Texas Conference to publish a full-page letter that will run in the Dallas Morning News this Sunday. This letter echoes the same theme as our Crossfire Youth Choir’s anthem from two weeks ago - Mark Miller’s I Am a Child of God. A simple question was asked of the Council, “Do you want to attach the name of FUMC Plano to the letter along with our clergy and many other churches?” 100% of the attending council (13 attendees) voted to attach FUMC Plano to the letter.

FUMC Plano has been my church home for over 40 years, and I’m confident we will continue to reflect the Light of God in our community. FUMC Plano has been and will continue to be a welcoming community to all those who are thirsting for the redeeming Grace of God.

Yours in Christ,
Tommy Lawrence

Storms

The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. -Matthew 7:25 CEB

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Driving to breakfast with a counselor and friend after the ferocious rain and winds of last night and this morning, I saw tree branches down and fences blown over, but all of the houses standing strong. I realized the analogy in my life, and our church's life, right now.

In consecutive weeks we had to downsize beloved staff, grapple with our denomination's legislative act of exclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and now cry over the unexpected death of Rachel Escamilla - our church's beloved Intern last year. We have felt rocked by these storms and wind. The damage is visible, and we are left reeling trying to take it all in.

Yet, even as I shared these losses with my friend, counselor and believer over muffins and coffee, the storm outside had begun to subside, the winds were calming, and my load was feeling a bit lighter. Our 33-year friendship is founded on the rock of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. The sun will come out again.

I am praying for Rachel's family, for you – my church family, for our denomination, and for myself. I am thankful that we remain firmly set on bedrock as we move ahead together through the storms and into the light of a new day.

Grateful for each of you,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

It is Lent: Run Silent, Run Deep

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When a naval submarine finds itself broad-sided, attacked from destroyers above, there are two strategies. One strategy is turn tail and run away. The other is to turn the nose of the sub, face the threat, and run silent and run deep. By this, all unnecessary activity – mechanical and human – is stopped. Even all conversation ceases except for the barest whispers lest they be detected by the destroyers above.

There is a parallel for us this Lenten season.

I know from numerous conversations this past week that in our personal lives, our church family's life and in our denomination's life, it feels like we have been broad-sided and been left reeling. There is a natural, reactive temptation to turn and run away. However, another strategy is to turn the nose of our sub, face the threat, and run silent and run deep.

For 40 days crossed by six Sundays, we can fortify ourselves by turning off some unnecessary mechanical and human activity, be quiet, and listen for the whisper of God. I will be preaching and teaching on these various "means of grace" – activity and inactivity by which the divine Deep calls to the deep within each of us (Read Psalm 42). Jesus ran silent and ran deep in the wilderness for 40 days – fasting, praying and facing the attacks he felt in his life (Matthew 4:1-11) ... and he prevailed, just as we will.

It all begins this evening at our Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. Join us at the communion rail with prayers lifted and ashes imposed upon our foreheads as we run silent and run deep together toward Easter triumph.

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

A Lament ... and Then Tomorrow

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Lord, hear my prayer! Let my cry reach you! -Psalm 102:1

My feelings caught up with me yesterday talking to a small group of faithful United Methodists in a sister church. I mentioned being a United Methodist pastor for 33 years and the words caught in my throat as my eyes began to water. I didn't see it coming. The weight of our General Conference's decision to adopt the Traditional Plan was weighing heavily on me, and still is.

I had hoped that we might just vote in the One Church Plan as recommended by A Way Forward Commission and 70% of our bishops. I was certain that if we did not pass that, then we would not be able to pass anything and we would be left with our Discipline as is - frustrating but not different from what we have known and lived with. The Traditional Plan changes that significantly and severely. However, as I have said for some time, nothing happens for awhile. There are constitutionality issues to be decided and start dates are still a ways into the future.

Still, on the heels of our announced downsizing of staff, my heart is so heavy because I love my staff, I love my church, and I love my denomination, and I agonize over anything that would hurt these I love.

I am now grateful in ways I could not have imagined for Bishop Max Whitfield coming to our pulpit this Sunday. Fresh from St. Louis, he will help us begin to step forward in this "liminal space" of unknowing and uncertainty and begin the long discussion around the question, "What does this mean?" In the meantime, as I wipe my eyes, I resonate with what our Church Council Chair, Keith Landau, said in a text to me,

"I wanted to just be sad yesterday and today focus on the future. This one made me sad again. So two days of sad then and tomorrow we focus, again, on the future."

Amen brother, amen.

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Prayers for Our Church in a Liminal Time

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By the time I began my senior year in high school, our family had moved five times. For me, there was usually a sense of adventure around those transitions but there was always some sense of ambiguity and a little anxiousness as all our belongings were loaded on a moving van and unloaded hundreds of miles away in a new house and neighborhood of kids I did not yet know. Fortunately, as most kids do, my sisters and I figured it out as we made new friends and navigated new schools on the way to our future. Those were "liminal" times - the uncertain area and time between what we always knew and what was yet to be seen and fully known. We are living in such a time - as a church and as a denomination.

This weekend, our denomination meets in General Conference in St. Louis to discuss, amend and hopefully vote for a plan recommended by the A Way Forward Commission after two years of work. We discussed the issues surrounding sexuality on a broad basis last fall as a church. What I ask for now are your prayers.

The Spirit can do mighty things among those who are faithful. We have a very faithful church full of good and honest people who love God and love others and want to do those things even better. I believe we can do things better as a denomination and as a local church, just as I believed as a child that there was adventure around the corner in every new neighborhood.

We are in liminal times, in-between times, and I trust God for that which I cannot yet see.

Standing on the promises of Christ my king,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Conversation is the Currency of Change

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This was said by a leader at a Texas Methodist Foundation seminar on change management and its truth stuck to me. Any significant long-term change has its origin and its development in a series of significant conversations.

Herb Kelleher's notion for a low-cost, no-frills airline began over a dinner conversation. Project Transformation was sketched out on a napkin over a conversation between a pastor and a layperson. Healthy, optimistic, can-do conversation indeed buys positive change. I had two such conversations recently.

Last Saturday, as an extension of our Healthy Church Initiative, 10 individuals from our church met with leaders from our Conference who guided our conversations around creating new spaces for new faces outside of our church walls. It was the stuff of creativity - dreams, competing ideas, a step forward, a step backward, excitement, and some frustration. This eventually led to a framework for moving ahead with an idea around pop-up events in public spaces including block parties in each of our neighborhoods. We could call this MASH Worship and MASH Neighborhood Meals, where we become "Methodists At Sharing Hope" with those around us.

In a "meeting after the meeting" a smaller group had a conversation about a new worship service in our Chapel. We could reach people we don't yet know from outside of our church and perhaps not on a Sunday morning.

Conversations. They are the currency by which we buy into the change God is calling us to do as we Connect God and Grace to Self and the Community.

Do any of these conversations poke your curiosity? Let us know ... and join the conversation.

Grace for our words,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

They Want to Make a Difference in the World

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That is a common refrain about the Millennial generation. However, I believe this is true for every generation. We aspire for connection and contribution beyond ourselves making a difference in someone else's life.

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Lee Pierce gave a spirited witness a few weeks ago about his experience at the Plano Overnight Warming Station (POWS) where he and others help provide a safe, secure, overnight sleeping environment to those in need during cold nights at the Salvation Army. And this past Sunday, our children’s mission group Leave HIS Mark also helped POWS by packing up the nearly 100 pairs of men’s shoes donated by our congregation. We want to know that we have made a difference in another's life beyond ourselves. This Sunday and this year we will hear and have opportunity to do this.

We worship God.

We build up ourselves and another in small groups.

We deploy to the world to make a difference.

This is the inescapable rhythm of a healthy Christian life going back 2000 years. The ways and expressions vary but the three-part movement remains the same. We will be living into that rhythm this year as a church family as we continue to focus on Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community.

See you in the difference-making place this Sunday.

Yours in Christ,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

P.S. If you would like to learn more, come one come all to my two-part Methodism 101 Membership Class beginning this Sunday, Feb. 10, at 6 p.m. in room A210.

"I'm not who I was, and I'm not who I will be"

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This week I am fulfilling my role as a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry. Along with other clergy, I am at the Conference Center at Lake Texoma interviewing 18 candidates for ministry. These individuals come before us to witness their calling to ministry. They were forged in all kinds and sizes of churches: Hispanic, Anglo, African-American, Korean, Latter Day Saints, Church of God in Christ, Catholic, Baptist; the list goes on. In one way or another, these candidates express to us in their interviews, "I'm not who I was, and I'm not who I will be." This is the next step in their pathway of discipleship.

What they all have in common is that God guided them to the United Methodist Church where they are living out their calling among a body of believers dedicated to growing in grace - a life-long proposition and a sacred one. At this point of the interview it's but a snapshot. As they grow in grace, they are not who they were, and they are not who they will be. This growth only happens in the intentional life of the church. I will be talking more about this on Sunday in worship.

For two weeks beginning Sunday, Feb. 10, I will also be leading a revamped Membership Class after our Sunday Night Life dinner. All are welcomed. This will be the necessary step for becoming a member of FUMC Plano as a significant step of our new Pathway of Discipleship. We are better together; I look forward to celebrating that with you at the communion rail this Sunday.

Yours in Christ,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

People as Pawns

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I was so proud of our children during both of our Children's Sermons last Sunday. In each, I had the largest, heaviest child lay down while the others gather around and gently try to lift him a few inches off the ground. The first time the child was instructed to relax. It was difficult for the children to lift the dead weight. The second time I instructed him to stiffen his body. They found it easier to lift him when he was stiff as a board.

My point was that Jesus' "yoke," like the stiff wooden yoke put across two oxen, is easier and lighter when everyone pulls together. In a sense, I used the children as pawns to make a learning point. It was well-received by the children who understood and agreed to be used for the object lesson. I am so proud of our kids for helping me so willingly.

I am not proud of our President and Congress.

Right now hundreds of thousands of federal workers and their families are being used as pawns, and not in a constructive manner. While churches are using food pantries to assist families being vitally affected by this historic shutdown, the FBI Agents Association speaks of its agents' growing inability to be effective in their work, and the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz testifies, "Our USCG members sail across the world to protect U.S. national interests while their loved ones cope with financial challenges and no pay at home."

This political game of chess using citizens as pawns is immoral, unconscionable and unjust. Out of love, we Christians must speak out loudly to all our representatives to remind them that for the innocent who are suffering, this is no game. On Sunday, our children exemplified the good we can do when we pull together. Surely, we adults must do the same for the love of Christ.

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor