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

A New Year with New Expectations

Behold, I am making all things new ...
(
Isaiah 43:18-19, Revelation 21:5)

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On Sunday we remembered our baptisms and renewed our covenant with God and each other, and we received much positive feedback from it. The many tears at our prayer rail told me that God’s Spirit is mightily working within us as we peer ahead in our own lives and the life of our church in 2019. It seemed a marvelous, worshipful way to begin the new year that holds new expectations.

  • We are expecting God to “work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

  • We are expecting solutions to emerge for our challenges, answers to our prayers.

  • We are expecting to be surprised by answers that are sometimes different ... and better than what we prayed for.

  • We are expecting that by means of grace, that is intentional attention to our spiritual life, we will grow closer to the God who loves us dearly.

  • We are expecting that in doing so we will grow closer to the new people around us in our mission field who God loves as much as God loves us.

  • We are expecting that with hardship and because of hardship, we will become stronger in our faith and closer to to all that God loves – empathy, justice and other people.

Such were the expectations of the writer of Isaiah and the writer of the Revelation. Separated by some 700 years, this Jewish writer and Christian writer both proclaimed new and great expectations in the midst of hardship for their peoples. The Israelites were up against the hardships of the Babylonian power and the Christians were up against the hardships of the Roman power. Both writers knew and proclaimed a still higher power – that of God – who is always in the business of making things new for the people and the mission that God loves. This means change, with the certain faith that God is working on all our behalf – an expectation that we can all claim for 2019. Happy new year indeed!

Breathe in peace; breathe out love,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Chapel Changes, Progress and Growth in the New Year

As we continue to slog slowly toward a final settlement with our insurers on the repair and remediation work to be done in our Sanctuary, we are moving ahead on other fronts. We near completion of the work in our Gym and will begin the window repair and remediation in the Chapel in two weeks. This work should take about two months. So, this Sunday our 9:45 Contemporary Worship will meet again in the Chapel before that work begins.

While quiet and behind the scenes, these movements of progress are indicative of the drive forward we are making with our Healthy Church Initiative prescriptions to reach younger people in creative ways. Growth can be seen with the baptism of Adelynn Galvan last Sunday, the fifth in the last eight weeks. It was a beautiful moment for me.

And this Sunday we will kick off our Sunday Night Life programming with a chili cook-off followed by activities for children, youth and adults. Click HERE for more information on the weekly SNL schedule. The fun and excitement begins this Sunday at 5 p.m. followed by a brief celebration worship together led by our own Nigel Eastman.

Certainly these are reasons to make Church a priority this Sunday, both morning and evening. It is, after all, the day God called sabbath and holy for the purpose of resting in God's presence. I really look forward to seeing you here for our renewal in baptism, covenant and life together. As the contemporary Christian song says, whether in the Chapel or Sanctuary:

Here I am to worship;
Here I am to bow down;
Here I am to say that you're my God …

Here's to a great new year together,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Turning Over a New Leaf

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It's an old English idiom of unknown origin, but we all know what it means.

Moving from Colorado to Texas as a child, it took me awhile to understand that not all deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall; some shed their old leaves in the spring - oaks for example. I would wait as spring progressed to finally see oak trees begin dropping their leaves. Why? Because it was cold? No, most of the cold had passed.  Rather, it was because the tiny green head of a new leaf was pushing up from the branch and displacing the older leaf that had had its season. Raking leaves in the spring at first seemed odd to me but I understood why it was necessary: the tree was turning over a new leaf.

2019 will see a number of new leaves emerging as prescriptive from our Healthy Church Initiative process - new classes, new membership and discipleship processes, new worship experiments, new missional focus point,s and new outreach initiatives that will involve all of us. The first of these will be our Covenant Renewal and High Attendance Sunday, January 13.  We are encouraging everyone to be talking it up and inviting all members of our church to attend. It will be a festive day of worship and celebration of our "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5-6). It will also mark the turning of some leaves in 2019.

Held with you in faith,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Your Grace Abounds

When John Wesley prescribed fasting to the people called Methodist, I wonder if he did so during the Christmas holidays. After all, it was during the Christmas Conference that established Methodism in the U.S. beginning on Dec. 24, 1784.

Your grace toward your church staff has filled our office with words of great appreciation in the form of cards, lunches, and homemade cookies, candy and cakes. I know I speak for all of us when I say you have made us feel loved. We are both humbled and thankful.

In like manner, we love working side by side with you in the mission God has given us in this new year. We wish you every traveling mercy and blessing with family and friends as we again celebrate the coming of the Christ child together.

Held with you,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

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