Not that I have already obtained all this . . . but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Forgetting what is behind and striving toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s high calling in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV/NJV)
As a 400 meter runner in high school and college, one of the most exciting events I experienced was also the closing event for a Track & Field Championship: the 4 X 400 meter relay. Regardless of how fast each runner was in running his leg of the relay, the race could be lost if the hand-off was not made smoothly and quickly. So we spent much time practicing the passing of the baton within the specified zone on the track: two marks on the track between which the baton had to change hands.
This may sound easy but the idea is for one runner to hit the zone at full speed – arms and legs flying, and for the next runner to leave the zone at full speed – arms and legs flying. In between those two marks, the timing has to be such that for a moment, both runners are at the same speed – one slowing down as the other is speeding up. It is at that moment that the first runner yells, “HAND!!!” and pops the baton into the back-stretched and open hand of the next runner accelerating for his leg of the race. When it works well, it is an experience of exhilarating teamwork. Paul definitely had the image of the Greek games in mind – an easy-to-identify image of a runner straining for the tape and the prize. In his hand was the baton of faith – of joyous salvation – given to him by Christ through Barnabas – the Cypriot Christian who had come before him.
When Rev. Jim Porter handed me the baton of leadership at FUMC, Leonard Herring asked me if I was ready to hit the ground running. I told him I was; and run we have, covering much distance as a church in five too-short years, including three of the most difficult economic years most have seen. Yet as a church, we did not take our eye off of the goal – our high calling in Christ Jesus; and along the way we reversed some downward trends as we built up membership, reduced debt, added worship services, lowered costs, increased worship attendance, added small groups, extended congregational care, expanded missions & giving, lowered anxiety, raised confidence, shared joy.
We have moved from being a “maintaining” congregation to a “thriving” congregation, with an eye on the work being finished up on the Sanctuary and the work to be suggested going forward by our Long Range Facilities Assessment Team. In short, we are accelerating into the great future God has for this downtown church.
Now, I have the privilege of yelling, “HAND!!!” and passing the baton to Rev. Don Lee who will run with you for a season. He will be blessed as I have been over these past five years. THANK you for your outpouring of care and regard for the work we have done together; it has been rich, rich privilege to lead for awhile in the footsteps of the Bill Crouchs and Gary Muellers of this church’s history. On behalf of Cammy and Blaine, I can say that we have loved you like no church we have served; you have been the extended family and friends we have always sought. . . and will miss. Your best gift to me going forward is to keep running hard toward the goal to win the prize of your high calling in Christ Jesus as you reach others in our growing area with that same good news.
Breathe peace and laugh with joy,
Matthew B. Gaston, Lead Pastor
First United Methodist Church, Denton