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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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