A Salute To Our Veterans

This past week, I officiated the funeral for a very close family friend who died last weekend. It was a one of the most difficult services I have done, but it was a tremendous honor for me to be involved in his service. Frank was not just a family friend, but he was one of those men in my life who helped shape me to be who I am today. I will always remember him joking with us, laughing with us, sharing stories about his daughters and the family business, and sharing about his adventures in the Vietnam War. From 1967-1969, Frank served in the Vietnam War and he would often share with us about what he saw. He was proud of his time served in the Army, and on Tuesday we celebrated his service to our country as he was laid to rest.

This weekend, our nation will pause for one day to remember all of our veterans who have served our country. Many of us have family members and close friends who have served. Some of you may have served. I believe Veterans Day is one of the most important days for our country because it gives us the opportunity to say “Thank You!” We enjoy the freedoms we have today — including our freedom to gather for worship — because of those who have served and are serving our country, and that service should never be taken for granted. I hope you will take a moment to show your appreciation for a veteran this weekend.

During our worship services this Sunday, we will have a special time of prayer as we celebrate our veterans and show recognition and appreciation for their service to our country. If you are a veteran, we would love the opportunity to recognize you and thank you. As a part of our prayer, we will also offer a blessing for those who are currently in military service. If you have a friend or loved one in military service, I hope you will be part of this special blessing.

As I have grown in my understanding of God’s grace, I have realized that freedom is never free — there is always a cost. In our faith, we celebrate that Jesus paid that cost for our spiritual freedom through his death on the cross. Because of Jesus, we are free from sin and free to live eternally, and this is our reason to worship. Similarly, the freedoms we enjoy in our society are the result of the sacrifice of many brave and women. And so with honor and gratitude in our hearts, we celebrate these veterans as we say “Thank you for your service!”

Have a great weekend and I look forward to being with you in worship at 8:45 and 11:00 this Sunday!

Grace and peace,
Matt

P.S. In a few short weeks, we will begin the season of Advent and our worship teams have already started preparation for what I believe will be an AMAZING Christmas at Royston. If you and your family would be interested in participating in one of our Sunday morning Advent readings, let me know by replying to this e-mail. We will have more information about some fun NEW events for Christmas and I am excited to share Christmas with you this year!

Remembering the Saints

Shortly after I received my calling into ministry, I was visiting with my grandmother in Macon. She handed me a notebook she had kept for many years filled with old church bulletins, newsletters, and newspaper clippings. She had made notes about sermons she had heard preached, scriptures that inspired her, and life moments when she felt God’s grace. It was a very special moment that I will treasure forever.

As I reflect on my life, I am grateful for people like my grandmother, my parents, my aunts and uncles, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and mentors who have helped me become the husband, father, and pastor I am today. These are people who have made a significant impact on my life, and many of them have gone on to glory. I recognize that I stand on their shoulders as I carry on their legacy of faith and pass that same faith on to the next generation. It is an honorable and humbling realization.

Around the Church, November 1 is recognized as All Saints Day — a day we celebrate and remember all the saints who have impacted our lives. This was a day that was significant for John Wesley. In a journal entry Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, refers to All Saints Day as “a festival I truly love.”  From the early days of Christianity, there is a sense that the Church consists of not only all living believers, but also all who have gone before us. For example, in Hebrews 12 the author encourages Christians to remember that a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds us encouraging us, cheering us on.

Charles Wesley, John’s brother, picks up on this theme in his hymn that appears in our United Methodist Hymnal as “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above,” #709. In the first verse, he offers a wonderful image of the Church through the ages:

                 Let saints on earth unite to sing, with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King in earth and heaven, are one.

This Sunday, we will celebrate All Saints Sunday in both of our services as we remember those who have gone before us. Specifically, we will remember two individuals who have impacted our faith community at Royston First United Methodist Church — Jeralde Anthony and Charles “Chuck” Mason. In this season of giving thanks, we remember their impact, celebrate their legacy of faith, and give thanks for the time we shared with them. I hope you will make your plans to be with us in worship at 8:45 and 11:00 this Sunday.

Have a great weekend!

With Gratitude and Grace,
Matt

P.S. Thank you for the wonderful gifts, support, and encouragement expressed to my family and me last Wednesday for Pastor’s Appreciation Month. We are very grateful and honored that we get to be with you at Royston First UMC, and we look forward to all the amazing things God is doing in and through this church. Blessings!

Stretching For Growth

A few weeks ago, I heard a comment from one of our members that I believe describes our current situation at Royston First UMC. “We are going to have to stretch ourselves if we ever want to grow as a church.” This comment put into words a feeling I have long held to be true. In the church, in our personal life, in our careers, and in all areas of life — we need to stretch ourselves if we ever want to grow.

This Sunday, we will begin a new message series on stewardship and finances. Throughout this series, I will share with you some of my personal story about my growth in the discipline of giving and my understanding of stewardship in our faith. But simply put, as I look back on my own story there has been a lot of stretching in my faith, my career, and my personal life. And I know that I continue to stretch myself and I continue to be stretched; but with the stretching has come tremendous growth in every area of my life.

Throughout this series, I hope to share with you some of the ways I believe our church is stretching for growth. I have enjoyed hearing your stories over the last few months, and through nearly every story I have heard one common thread — we need to stretch ourselves! We need to stretch ourselves to think about how we are doing what we currently do. We need to stretch ourselves to think about how we can reach new people. And we need to stretch ourselves in our understanding of what God can do when we are good stewards of what God has given us. That is why I have asked each of our ministry leaders to stretch their imagination in what ministries they would like to see offered in 2019 and beyond. I believe God will continue to do amazing things at Royston First UMC!

Finally, remember that stretching can cause discomfort. As we stretch, we may start using muscles that have not been used much before and it takes time for those muscles to get used to this new behavior. But discomfort does not mean we should give up. As the muscles stretch, they are made stronger and can be used in new ways. Through the stretching, we also create new muscle and we are better equipped to handle the situations of life.

I invite you to join me over these next four weeks as we stretch ourselves to the possibilities of what God can do when we are faithful stewards of what God has given us. I am excited about what God is doing in and through Royston First UMC and I am honored that I get to be your pastor! No matter where you are in life, there’s a place for you at Royston First UMC. Have a wonderful weekend and I look forward to being with you in worship at 8:45 and 11:00 this Sunday!

Stretching Together,
Matt

P.S. Don’t forget to join us this Sunday night for our annual Harvest Fest at 5:30 PM. It is going to be a lot of fun and I hope you are planning to be there. I am expecting a large turnout from our community, and I hope you will join me in welcoming our neighbors with the love of Christ. Have a wonderful weekend!

God’s Blessings!

This has been quite the exciting week for Royston First UMC. Last Sunday after worship, we gathered at the Royston Wellness and Community Park for a Blessing of the Animals service. It was a wonderful service with several dogs and a chicken! Our pets are important to us, and it was so much fun getting to meet so many of your pets.

Then on Monday, we welcomed two new staff people to our team at Royston First UMC. Julie Lewis will be working in the church office as our new Administrative Assistant. Julie and her husband, Scott, recently moved to Lavonia this past summer. Prior to working at Royston First UMC, Julie held a similar position at Thompson First UMC in Thompson, GA. Heather Woods is joining our staff as our new Director of Kid’s Ministry/Financial Assistant. Heather will be in the office some helping with bookkeeping, but the bulk of her time will be spent working with our kids and their families. Heather and her husband, Bill (Woody), recently moved to Martin and they have four children, Gracie, Robbie, Cole, and Leila. I am very excited to have both of these ladies join our staff, and I know they will be a wonderful addition to our church.

The rest of the week consisted of the Haitian Orphanage Choir singing at our church, preschool students learning about snakes, a visit to the Pumpkin Patch from kindergarten and first grade students at Royston Elementary, and the Community Prayer Rally in our sanctuary. There is a lot of great things happening at Royston First UMC, and I hope you are able to get involved in what’s happening.

This Sunday, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Brian Clark in both of our worship services. Brian is a former pastor at Royston First UMC (2000-2005) and the current district superintendent of the Athens-Elberton district. Brian has been a good friend of mine for the last several years, and I am always excited when I get to hear Brian preach. It will be extra special this weekend to have him return to Royston and be with us in worship. Later on Sunday afternoon, Brian will also be the featured speaker at the United Methodist Women’s gathering we are hosting on Sunday at 3:00 PM.

God continues to do AMAZING things at Royston First UMC and I am so honored that I get to be your pastor! No matter where you are in life, there’s a place for you at Royston First UMC. Have a wonderful weekend and I look forward to being with you in worship at 8:45 and 11:00 this Sunday!

Blessings,
Matt

P.S. Don’t forget to pray with us at 11:30 AM every day through this month. Let’s join together and pray for an awakening in our church and in our community. If you would like to pray with us and do not know how to pray, you can pray the Lord’s Prayer (see below) and reflect on each of the lines.

Finding Our Way Back

When I was a kid, I was a cub scout and remember learning about hiking and orientation. My den leader took a group of us out into the woods for a hike one day, and each of the boys had to lead the group using a compass and a map and relying on what we had learned about hiking and orientation. There were checkpoints along the trail that would inform us if we were still on the right track. When it came time for my friend, Scott, to lead the group, we got lost in the woods. Scott was convinced he knew where he was going, and we followed him. It was not until about 30 minutes into our hike that Scott confessed he had no idea where he was. Our den leader asked him, “do you have the compass and map?” Using the compass and map, she showed us how to discover our way out of the woods. I can remember the den leader’s words, “the trees, the markers, the map, and the compass have not changed…we just got off track and need to find our way back.”

Several weeks ago, I have felt a great a deal of stress and anxiety in my own life and I confess that I found myself off track. With all that was going in my family and around the church, I found myself getting away from God (who is constant and never leaves nor changes) and trying to handle more on my own. And then I was reminded of the following scripture:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 4:6-7

When I read these words, I realized that I was living a way directly opposite of what Paul writes in this letter. I was worried about everything and not spending enough time in prayer. As a result, I had very little peace in my heart. Prayer is a spiritual discipline that keeps us centered on our relationship with God. Prayer is what keeps us on track in life. When we pray the way God teaches us to pray, we find joy and peace in our lives instead of worry and anxiety.

I confess that I do not have the most disciplined prayer habits. But I believe I am “moving on to perfection” and I am not there yet. I have committed to be more disciplined in prayer. I have committed to become more fluent in the language of prayer. I have committed to worry less, and draw near to God in prayer so that I can live with “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” And I hope you will join me. All this month at 11:30 AM, a group of us are committing to pray. We are praying for the church, praying the Lord’s Prayer, and praying for awakening in our own lives. Set your alarm and join us for a time of prayer.

We need more God in our lives! We need more peace and joy in our world! We need more prayer. Have a great week and I look forward to being with you this Sunday in worship!

Grace and peace,
Matt

P.S. Next Thursday is the Community Prayer Rally. This is a gathering of people from many different local churches for the purpose of prayer. We will gather at our church at 7:00 PM in the Sanctuary. I hope you will plan to join us.

There’s A Place For You!

Do you remember a time when you found yourself in a new situation? Maybe it was your first day of a new school and you did not know where to sit for lunch. Or maybe it was your first day at a new job and you did not know where your workstation was located. Or maybe it was when you were invited to a neighborhood cookout and you did not know who to talk with. These moments can make us feel awkward and anxious; they are uncomfortable moments.

Now think about the first time you went to church. Or maybe the first time you came to church at Royston First UMC. Maybe you did not know where to sit, or where the bathroom was. Maybe you felt alone and did not know who to talk with. Or maybe you were not sure when to stand and when to sit, or what the Lord’s Prayer is. Going to church can be an awkward and uncomfortable experience for some people, and we sometimes forget those feelings because we are used to how things are done.

In John’s gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples about something they have never heard of before — he’s telling them about their betrayal, his arrest, and his crucifixion. It was new territory for all the disciples, and they were afraid. As Jesus begins to teach them about heaven and this new place, he offers these words of comfort, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am,” (John 14:1-3).

I believe that God has gone before each of us and prepared a place for each of us in the church. But even more than that, I believe God is STILL preparing a place for those who have not been to the church yet. And I believe that we have that responsibility to prepare a place for all people in God’s church. There are people in our community who need to know about Jesus, and I would love for them to be able to experience Jesus and experience God’s love and grace through the worship and ministries of Royston First UMC. Let’s be ready for those who are uncomfortable, those who are awkward, those who are lost, and those who want to know Jesus. Let’s help them know we have a place for them here at Royston First UMC.

I’m glad that you are part of this church, and I hope you have found a place in the church. If you are still searching, let me know and I would be happy to help you find a place where you can connect. No matter where you are in life, I believe there is a place for you at Royston First UMC!

Have a great week and I look forward to being with you this Sunday in worship!

Grace and peace,
Matt

P.S. Have you checked out one of our Sunday School classes on Sunday mornings at 10 AM? We have some wonderful opportunities for you to connect with other people and discover how God is working in your life. If you want to know more about Sunday School or need help figuring out which class is right for you, reply to this e-mail and let me know. I’d love to help you make a connection.

What Kind of Church Do You Want To Be?

I was not ready for the question when I was asked. In a recent conversation with a member of our church, I was asked this question, “What kind of church do you want to be?” I have thought a lot about that question over the last few weeks, and here’s my response:

  • I want to be a church that seeks the heart of God in all that we say and do!
  • I want to be a church that offers ourselves in worship that pleases God as we bring our absolute best in worship to God.
  • I want to be a church that commits to learning more about who God is and how we grow in our discipleship through faithful obedience.
  • I want to be a church that gathers together regularly in small group settings for mutual accountability, encouragement, and support as we watch over one another in love.
  • I want to be a church where those who attend are active in prayer, reading scripture, fasting, and other means of grace.
  • I want to be a church where those who attend regularly give generously to support the mission and ministries of the church.
  • I want to be a church that is a beacon of hope in our community for those who need refuge and are seeking the face of God.
  • I want to be a church that welcomes those who are struggling with addiction, struggling in relationships with others, searching for financial guidance, or looking for a shoulder to cry on.
  • I want to be a church that ministers to the poor and reminds them they are loved by God.
  • I want to be a church that points people to Jesus and reflects the love and grace of Jesus!

That’s the kind of church I want to be. What kind of church do you want to be? I’d love to hear your responses. You can e-mail them to me or tell me when you see me.

As we pray about how we can be the church and make disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus, will you join me during the month of October in praying for our church? Every day at 11:30 AM, I will be praying for you and our church. I’d love to invite you to join me in praying wherever you are at 11:30 AM each day. If you don’t know what to pray, then pray “The Lord’s Prayer” and think about each line in the prayer.

I am excited about what God is doing at Royston First UMC, and I am honored that I get to be your pastor. Have a wonderful weekend and I look forward to being with you in worship this Sunday at 8:45 and 11:00!

Pursuing God together,
Matt

P.S. If you are interested in being part of the church I described above, I would love to talk with you and help you discover your next step at Royston First UMC. We are not perfect, but we are a community of faith who loves God and loves others. If you are exploring your next step, let me know how I can help. Blessings!

And Let It Begin With Me

This past week, I have been at the New Room Conference in Nashville, TN, with over 2,000 other clergy and lay leaders in the global church. It has been an amazing experience as we have sat in the presence of God for three days praying for revival in the church and an awakening across the world. I want to thank our staff and leadership for allowing me this opportunity to be away for this time of spiritual renewal.

On Wednesday night, Kevin Queen, the speaker for that evening, talked with us about how we pray for revival. He said that our tendency is to often look at other people or places that need revival, and we wonder if God can bring revival on those people or places. Then he challenged us to pray for God to bring revival first in our own life, and then in the lives of others. He challenged us to draw a chalk circle around us and pray for God to awaken every heart within that circle. And he challenged us to believe that God will bring revival “because God has done it before and God can do it again.” Kevin’s message convicted me and left me wanting more awakening in my own life, in our church, in the Royston and Franklin County communities, and across the whole world. I do not know what such a revival might look like, but I believe God can do it because God has done it before.

This weekend, twenty five leaders from our church will gather on Saturday for a retreat at Gainesville First United Methodist Church. The purpose of this retreat will be focused on how our church will be in ministry to those in our community. There are THOUSANDS of people in five mile radius of our church who claim to have no religious affiliation. As we think about our mission (“to make disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus”), we need to pray for God’s awakening in each of those souls. Every person has a story and every story matters to God! But an awakening does not start with vision statements and outreach programs — it starts in my circle. And it starts in your circle. As we pray for the future direction of our church, will you join me in this prayer for revival in Royston.

“God, you have done it before; do it again. Awaken the church to the movement of Your Spirit and bring revival in Royston. And let it begin with me…”

Have a wonderful weekend and I look forward to being with you in worship this Sunday!

Faithfully,
Matt

The Journey Continues!

I can remember watching The Wizard of Oz with my grandmother when I was young — maybe 5 or 6 years old. She had told me about the movie and assured me that I would enjoy it. As the movie started, I watched in horror as this little girl from Kansas was swept up in a tornado, separated from her family, lost in a strange land, and surrounded by witches and flying monkeys. Needless to say, it would be a long time before I would learn to trust my grandmother’s taste in movies.

The Wizard of Oz is a classic movie that tells the stories of a journey for several different people. This Sunday, we will continue our Reel Faith series when we talk about The Wizard of Oz and how this movie relates to our own journey of faith. Like Dorothy and her friends, we can often find ourselves in strange places and we are asked to follow a path that leads us into the unknown. But when we step out in faithful obedience and follow the path, we will experience an incredible journey. I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday and invite someone to be with you in worship at 8:45 and 11:00!

Grace and peace,
Matt

P.S. Please be in prayer for those who are affected by Hurricane Florence this weekend. I am often asked what the church can do during these storms, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is ready and will be some of the first responders. Here are three things you can do that will help: 1) Wait– Relief agencies, including UMCOR, will assess damage in the days and weeks to come. They will then invite people to participate in response; 2) Pray– Pray for the storm to downgrade, protection for those it’s path, and wisdom for the relief effort; and 3) Give– You can give to the relief effort through our local church by designating your gift to Fund #9431 or Hurricane Florence Relief. All monies received will be sent to the North Georgia Conference Disaster Relief Ministry to be used as part of the relief efforts. I will keep you posted as we know more.

So Much Energy!

I love this time of year! The weather begins to turn cooler, football is back, and we begin our season of festivals and pumpkin-themed everything (confession: I’m not a fan of pumpkin spiced flavoring). I also love this time in the church year because there is so much energy in the church and it’s a great time to get involved in what God is doing through the church. There are so many amazing things happening around the church, and I hope you can find a place to get connected and get involved.

Three times this week, I was told that I seem to have a lot of energy and that my energy has been a good thing for the church. The truth is that I am excited about what God is doing and this excitement energizes me! We are seeing adults connect with the church for the first time; we are seeing other adults reconnect with the church after being away for a while; we are seeing teens and preteens coming to church on Wednesday nights; we are seeing children sharing about their experience of God; we are seeing more people in worship and Sunday School; and we are seeing more and more people get involved in serving others. But all of this is not because of my energy — it is because of the Holy Spirit working in this church and through each of you.

This Sunday, we are beginning a new message series called Reel Faith. In this series, we will be exploring God through six different movies (The Incredibles, The Wizard of Oz, Wonder, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rudy, and The Greatest Showman). If you have never watched these movies, I hope you will make some time for yourself this month and enjoy a movie. All of these are great movies and take us to an alternate world through incredible story-telling. But these movies can also help us understand more about God and our relationship with God. As we explore the first movie in our series this Sunday, The Incredibles, we will be talking about the incredible mission that we have and the incredible spiritual gifts God has given us to accomplish this mission. All of us have incredible gifts; take this online assessment and discover what your spiritual gifts are and let’s talk about God might be calling you to use those gifts in the church.

The Holy Spirit is energizing our community and I pray that you are energized by the Holy Spirit. There are some great things happening at Royston and I cannot wait to see what’s next. I look forward to being with you in worship this Sunday at 8:45 and 11:00. Have a wonderful weekend!

Come Holy Spirit,
Matt

P.S. This Saturday, our church will be at the CSP (Connections for Special Parents) Family Fun Day at Royston Baptist Church from 10 AM-1 PM. We will be handing out chips and balloons for kids. If you are in town and want to come serve with us, let me know by replying to this e-mail. This is a wonderful opportunity to bless our community and I am grateful to Kevin and Lindy McFarlin for the invitation to be part of this special day.