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,

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,

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.

What Does Discipleship Look Like (Part 5)?

One of the things I love the most about Royston First United Methodist Church is the commitment to reach out to our community and serve others. Last Saturday, we had 28 volunteers distribute food to almost 400 people. This past week, volunteers packed 29 backpacks for our Friday’s child mission at Royston Elementary School. That same day, Janet Brown and I spent the morning at Emmanuel College visiting with 85 students from Emmanuel College, telling them about Royston First UMC, and offering them a place in our community of faith. In a couple of weeks, a group from our church will help with the CSP’s (Connections for Special Parents) Annual Family Fun Day. I love seeing the church extend beyond the walls and it is awesome to be part of a church that serves others.

For the last few weeks, we have been talking about what discipleship looks like as we strive to become more faithful and obedient disciples in our community of faith. We have learned thatdisciples offer themselves to God in a spiritual act of worship, disciples are intentional about sharing their faith and making disciples (who make disciples), disciples develop relationships of mutual growth and accountability with other disciples, and disciples have a personal relationship with Jesus that is rooted in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, worship, and Holy Communion. In this final message of this e-series, we discuss the fifth key to discipleship: disciples serve others with acts of love and compassion to build the kingdom of God.

A few years ago, there was a song by Matthew West called “Do Something.” The song begins with a description of people in need of help and a man asks God, “Why don’t you do something?” God’s reply to the man is one that speaks to all of us, “I did…I created you!” Each of us are given the gifts and graces to do something amazing in God’s kingdom, but it means we must do something. Our actions toward others reflect our attitudes about God. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus if you are not serving others. Jesus spent a great amount of time teaching about loving our neighbor, being a servant to all, and putting others needs before our own.

In his letter to the early church, Peter also speaks about serving others: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms,” (1 Peter 4:8-10). Serving others is an outward expression of our love for God – we become agents of God’s grace in a broken world. There are a lot of people in our workplaces, our schools, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our lives who are hurting and in need. Every week, we gather together to worship and pray to a God who seeks the lost, heals the broken, restores order to the chaos. We believe in transformation. Through our acts of service, we carry those expressions of God’s love and grace beyond the walls of the church and into the world.

This week, I want to challenge you to think about where you are serving others. Maybe it is within one of our ministry areas in the church. Or through one of our mission initiative in the community. Perhaps you are looking for an opportunity to do something. We are always looking for new ways to extend God’s kingdom; if you would like to find a place where you can start serving, send me an e-mail and let’s talk.

I hope this e-series has been helpful for you in your discipleship journey. One of my core beliefs is that all of us are on this journey together – we just might be a different points along the way. But the wonderful thing about a faith journey is knowing that you are never alone – God is with us and you are surrounded by a community of faith. I’m glad to be part of your community.

In service together,

P.S. We will begin a new message series on September 9 called Reel Faith: Experiencing God through Movies. I will be telling you more next week about the series, but I am excited about this series and look forward to sharing how I have experienced God through movies. I hope you will plan to join us for worship and invite someone to worship with you. It’s going to be a good series!

Developing a “Reel” Faith

As a kid, I used to love when my dad would take my brother and me to the movies. I loved the movies and never wanted to miss the previews for upcoming movies. The older I got, the more my love for the movies grew. In high school and college, the movie theater became a favorite place to go with my friends, and Michele and I had several movie dates when we started dating in college. Now that I am a father of two children, we look forward to our family movie nights with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix.

One of the reasons we love movies is because we can escape into the story that is being told to us. The best movies are those where the storyline teaches us something about ourselves, about society, or about something bigger – maybe even our relationship with God. These stories can help us to understand complex truths better and they can illustrate some of our deepest questions, desires, or misunderstandings.

Using stories to help illustrate teachings is not contained to movies. Jesus often used parables (short stories) to illustrate about God’s relationship with humanity, our faith journey, and how we should treat one another. Most of Jesus’ teachings were done through parables because it was easy for those listening to understand and apply. Stories help connect teaching to application through illustration.

Beginning September 9, we will kick off a six week message series titled Reel Faithwhere we will look at six movies that help us understand our spiritual journey a little better. This will be a fun message series that you can enjoy with your friends and family. I want to encourage you to spend time together watching these movies each week, and then come and be part of a conversation on how we experience God through movies.

Be sure and invite someone to join you for this new series and to experience all of the amazing things happening at Royston First UMC. I look forward to being with you in worship each Sunday at Royston First UMC, and I look forward to hearing how you are developing a “reel” faith

Grace and peace,

P.S. Did you know the Sunday after Labor Day is often one of the highest attended Sundays in the fall? More people are likely to attend church – and more likely to accept your invitation to attend church – on that Sunday than any other Sunday in the fall. Who is someone you can invite to church this fall? Let’s make September 9 our Invite-A-Friend-To-Church Sunday and fill the gym and sanctuary.

Reel Faith_Series Logo.png

REEL FAITH Message Series

September 9 | The Incredibles | 1 Corinthians 12:7-27
September 16 | The Wizard of Oz | Hebrews 11:8-10
September 23 | Wonder | 1 Corinthians 1:20-31
September 30 | Solo: A Star Wars Story | Ecclesiastes 4:9-11
October 7 | Rudy | 1 Samuel 17
October 14 | The Greatest Showman | 1 Peter 2:4-10


What Does Discipleship Look Like (Part 4)?

Earlier this week, I ran into a friend of mine who asked me, “How is it going in Royston?” For the next ten minutes, I told her all about the amazing ways God is at work in our church and throughout the community. I told her about the worship services and the enthusiasm you bring each Sunday morning; I told her about the fellowship gatherings and the joy you share with one another; I told her about the community outreach and the love you share with others. I could have gone on about more, but we were running late for a meeting and had to leave. But it was one more opportunity to share about what God is doing at Royston First UMC and I wanted her to know how excited and proud I am to pastor a church committed to “making disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus.”

Over the last few weeks we have embarked on an e-series talking about disciple making and we have learned that disciples offer themselves to God in a spiritual act of worship, disciples are intentional about sharing their faith and making disciples (who make disciples), and disciples develop relationships of mutual growth and accountability with other disciples. This week, we look at the importance of spiritual growth as we discover that a disciple of Jesus has a personal relationship with Jesus that is rooted in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, worship, and Holy Communion.

I once had a mentor who used to tell me all the time the best leaders are life long learners. He encouraged us to always look for ways to learn something new and share it with someone else. This same principle is true in our spiritual journey – as we move on toward perfection in love, we are lifelong learners continuously growing in God’s grace. In 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter challenges the early church: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”

Several years ago, I planted a tomato plant in our yard and waited for the tomatoes to grow. I watered the seedling and provided nourishment for the soil, and it was looking good. After a few weeks, we enjoyed our first tomato, and then the plant died and we never had any more tomatoes. After it had produced the first tomato, I forgot to keep watering it and nurturing the plant. Without the proper nourishment, the plant was unable to produce fruit.

Spiritual growth is a life long process of nourishment through prayer, Scripture reading, worship, and Holy Communion. We experience transformation best when we are committed to growing in God’s grace through these spiritual practices. Spiritual growth does not happen by accident, we must be intentional and purposeful. John Wesley referred to these spiritual practices as the means of grace– the ways in which we can experience God’s grace in our daily living. And the amazing thing about these spiritual practices is that we will always learn something new when we open our hearts and minds to what God is saying to us. The people I know who read their Bible daily, pray without ceasing, worship regularly, and receive Holy Communion as often as possible are always experiencing God’s grace in a new and fresh way as they continue to learn about loving God and loving neighbor.

What are you doing to grow your faith? How are you availing yourself to the means of grace? I’d love to recommend a prayer journal or Bible reading plan to help you. If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

As always, I am praying for you and your growth in God’s grace. I am so glad we are on this journey together and I look forward to being with you in worship this Sunday.

Growing together with you,

P.S. One of my favorite devotionals is an email I receive each morning called “The Daily Text.” It is written and put out by JD Walt and Seedbed Publishing. JD is a former chaplain at Asbury Theological Seminary, and I met him when I was a student. You can read and subscribe to “The Daily Text” by clicking here. It takes about five minutes each morning, and it’s worth every bit of those five minutes.

What Does Discipleship Look Like (Part 3)?

For the last two weeks in worship, we have been talking about what it means to be a community of faith. During that time, we have also been looking at what discipleship looks like through these weekly e-mails. We have discussed that disciples offer themselves to God in a spiritual act of worshipand disciples are intentional about sharing their faith and making disciples (who make disciples). This week, we are looking at the importance of mutual accountability and relationships with others as we grow in our discipleship.

Last Sunday, my family and I were invited to join the Faithful Followers Sunday School class for a class gathering. As we sat in the circle, I listened to Phillip James talk about the importance of community in the small group setting. He shared these verses from Acts 2:42-47that describes the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…Every day they continued to meet togetherin the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate togetherwith glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being served.” The early church thrived because they understood the importance of being together. Our third key to discipleship is disciples develop relationships of mutual growth and accountability with other disciples.

Discipleship is a team sport – we do not grow as disciples in isolation. Yes, we can worship while listening to music in the car; and yes, we can read the Bible alone and pray alone. But we need the mutual accountability, encouragement, and support of others to continue on our faith journey. We need people who will pray with us, support us through difficult times, and encourage us when we step out in faith. We need people who will hold us accountable in words and deeds, and people who we can ask questions that we are too embarrassed to ask publicly. As you examine your own faith journey, who are the people in your circle of influence where you experience mutual growth and accountability. Mutual growth and accountability challenge our minds and our hearts as we are perfected in love for God and others.

If you are looking for a group of people to provide mutual growth and accountability, I want to encourage you to try one of our Sunday School classes on Sunday morning. In the spirit of the early Methodist church class meetings, these classes are groups of individuals who “watch over one another in love.” If you would like more information about a Sunday School class, send me an e-mail and I will gladly help you find the class that works best for you.

I will leave you with these verses from Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

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

Together in Christ,

P.S. If you would like to be part of a short-term group that will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8:00 PM, I will be starting a 10-week study on September 5 that will focus on what it means to be United Methodist. You can find more information below or send me an e-mail.

What Does Discipleship Look Like (Part 2)?

THANK YOU! Because of you, our church was able to bless the students, parents, teachers, and staff of Royston Elementary School this past Tuesday at their Open House. We gave out 500 snow cones, handed out 200 flyers for our Movie on the Lawn (tonight at 7:30 PM), and talked with so many families preparing for a new school year. THANK YOU! Because of you, our church was able to feed the teachers at Royston Elementary this past Thursday. Some of the women in our church prepared a wonderful meal and delivered it to the teachers on their final day before students arrived. THANK YOU! Because of you, our preschool hosted their Open House this past Tuesday. Parents and their students were able to meet their new teacher and Lois Hylton has done a wonderful job preparing for another amazing school year. Because of your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness, Royston First UMC is a church that is “making disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus,” and I am excited to be your pastor and want to say THANK YOU for what you do to make this a great church and a blessing in our community!

This Sunday, we will continue our Community message series. As we prepare for worship this Sunday, I want to ask you this question, what does discipleship look like? Last week, I told you there were five keys to discipleship. The first one I mentioned last week was that disciples offer themselves to God in a spiritual act of worship. The second key to discipleship is that disciples are intentional about sharing their faith and making disciples (that make disciples that make disciples). A few months ago, I read book titled 8 to 15: The World is Smaller Than You Think. In this book, Tom Mercer talks about the idea explains that all of us have what is called an Oikos, or an extended household – a group of eight to fifteen people with whom we share life most closely, our sphere of greatest influence. Mercer further explains that our oikos is the most natural and common environment for evangelism to occur.

As you think about the people in your life, who would be in your oikos? They might be relatives, friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, or others we encounter on a regular basis. The idea of oikocentric evangelism is that we focus on sharing our faith with those 8-15 people in our oikos – not by fancy techniques or strategies, but through being who we are and being a witness to our faith. Mercer offers five steps to help identify your oikos:

  • 1) Make a LISTThere is intentionality involved in this first step. We have to identify those people in our oikos, or else we will not follow through on the rest.
  • 2) PRAY everyday for your oikos. Pray that each person would sense God’s presence and pray that God would provide you an opportunity to share your faith.
  • 3) INVEST time and resources to develop those relationships. An invitation to faith will not go far if an investment in a relationship has not been made.
  • 4) INVITE them to church regularly. It should be a gracious invitation – we are not here to judge people on why they do not attend church.
  • 5) PREPARE to both clearly display God’s character and defend your faith in Jesus.Prepare to become a better example of faith in Christ and a more effective witness of grace.

Who are the people in your oikos? How are you actively sharing your faith with those people? I hope you will think about these questions as we continue to live into our mission of “making disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus.”

Have a great weekend and I look forward to seeing you and your oikos in worship this Sunday!

Grace and peace,

P.S. Don’t forget about our MOVIE ON THE LAWN tonight at 7:30 PM. We will be watching The Incredibles, and there will be free popcorn (courtesy of Dill’s Food City) and free popsicles. As I mentioned earlier, we cast a big net earlier this week, and we are hoping for a large turnout. In the event of rain, we will watch the movie in the gym.

What Does Discipleship Look Like?

Wow! This past week at Vacation Bible School was AMAZING! From Monday to Wednesday, the church halls were filled with kids laughing, dancing, and having fun as they learned more about God and Jesus (I have included pictures at the end of the e-mail so you can see how much fun we had this past week). I hope you will join me in giving a HUGE THANK YOU to Janet Brown and all of the volunteers who helped make this week possible. This Sunday in worship, we will celebrate with some of the kids who participated and we will be blessed as they share with us some of their songs they learned. I hope you will be here Sunday at 8:45 or 11:00 to hear the kids sing.

This Sunday is also the beginning a new message series titled Community. In this series, we will be studying Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and learning about what it means to be part of a community of faith. As we go through this series, I want to challenge you on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In our community of faith at Royston First UMC, we say we want to “make disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus.” But what does discipleship look like? I believe there are five keys to discipleship; and we will briefly look at a different key each week through these e-mails.

One of the keys to discipleship is that disciples offer themselves to God in a spiritual act of worship. The apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship,” (Romans 12:1). Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice – offer yourselves in worship. Worship should be the most important thing we do each week. In worship, we gather to give praise to God for all the ways we have experienced God. Worship is our response to God’s revelation and it shifts our focus from us to God. How are you making worship a priority in your life? What does worship mean to you?

The psalmist writes, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth,” (Psalm 47:1-2). For me, I love to worship in nature.I love to worship while reading my Bible. I love to worship with music. Some of my best moments of worship have happened while driving through the mountains and listening to music. But I also love to worship with each of you…in the community of faith. We are made to worship and we are designed to gather together to worship. I look forward to being with you in worship this Sunday at 8:45 at 11:00 as we make worship a priority as a community of faith.

Have a great weekend!

Grace and peace,

P.S. Will you join me in praying for Franklin County schools this week? Students return to school on August 10 and teachers are busy preparing for the students. Check out below if you want to learn of some ways to bless our teachers at Royston Elementary School (#BlessRES).

The Community of Faith

One of the things I have enjoyed the most since we moved to Royston this past June has been getting to know the community. Whether it has been going to Dill’s, walking around town, eating lunch at The Grill or Old Corner Hardware, or visiting with some of our homebound members, the love and experience of “small town” life has grabbed hold of me. I know that I will usually see someone I know, and Royston is a place where everyone cares about you and wants to be part of the community.

A healthy community is important to our faith journey. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul writes about the importance of being together and being of one mind in a community of faith. The Ephesians were reminded in Paul’s letter about the theme of unity and harmony in Christ in all settings – including church and family. John and Charles Wesley would use this epistle from the New Testament frequently in their preaching and teaching, and it has become one of my favorite books in the Bible because it reminds us of what a community of faith should be.

During the month of August, I will be preaching through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in a series titled Community. The emphasis of this series will be on finding unity in the community of faith. Our tendency can often be to focus on what divides us (worship styles, denominations, politics, gender, ethnicity, etc.), but it is important for us to remember what unites us – the lordship of Jesus Christ and the grace of God revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. Throughout this series, I will be asking each of you to join me in praying for our community of faith and the community of Royston. Our weekly prayer calendar will be:

Week 1 (August 5-12): Pray for Franklin County Schools; all students, faculty, and staff; Royston Elementary School.

Week 2 (August 12-18): Pray for all churches of Franklin, Madison, and Hart counties; Churches in Royston (Daniel Tabernacle, Ekklesia Centre, Heritage Presbyterian Church, Iglesia Nuevo Pacto de amor, Mill Shoal Baptist Church, New Mt Zion Church of God, Royston Baptist Church, Royston Church of God, and Royston Grove Baptist Church)

Week 3 (August 19-25): Pray for the United Methodist Church; the Athens-Elberton district and North Georgia conference; our district superintendent, Dr. Brian Clark; Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson

Week 4 (August 26-September 1): Pray for the emergency personnel in Franklin County – police, firefighters, and EMT.

Week 5 (September 2- September 8): Pray for staff and leadership of our church; the ministries and mission of Royston First United Methodist; that we make disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus.

I am grateful for all of you and blessed to be with you in this season of ministry at Royston First UMC. As always, I am praying for you – if there is anything you would like me to for specifically, you can e-mail me at matt@roystonfirstumc.orgor call me at 706-245-7402. I look forward to being with you in worship on Sunday!

Grace and peace,


Train Up a Child

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a church that loved children. Every year, we had a wonderful Vacation Bible School led by adults who understood the balance of fun and faith. Our pastor interacted with us and reminded us that church was not meant to be boring. And we had some caring adults who invested a lot of time helping us learn how to be the church. Royston First UMC reminds me a lot of the church where I grew up.

Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not flee from it.” As I think of my childhood, I am grateful for the people who helped train me in faith. Many of my friends from that church have also followed God’s calling into ministry, and I believe it is because of the firm foundation that began when we were children.

It is often said that children are the future of the church; but I believe kids are the church in the PRESENT DAY! When the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus, he instructed them to “let the children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (Matthew 19:14). And when asked about who was the greatest in God’s kingdom, Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 18:3).

Over the next few weeks, we have some wonderful opportunities to be in ministry with the kids from our church and in our community — beginning with Vacation Bible School next week. On Friday of next week, I want to invite you to join me for a prayer walk at Royston Elementary School beginning at 10 AM. Finally, we need 6-8 volunteers to help us hand out snow cones at Royston Elementary on August 7 from 4-7 PM. The kingdom of heaven belongs to our children — the kingdom that is yet to come and the kingdom that is here and now. I hope you will join me in being the church to advancing the kingdom.

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

Grace and peace,

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