September Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
God has a way of repurposing old pathways. This thought came to mind the other day as Arie and I explored Railroad Bridge Park. As we rode our bikes over the old trestle and looked down upon the Dungeness River, I could envision the days when the path beneath our tires was a bustling railway ferrying freight between Port Townsend and Port Angeles. The place where trains once chugged through forests, past farms, and along the scenic shoreline, is now home to cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, and bird-watchers. What a transformation!

This is not to say that such a transformation was an easy task to undertake. I am in awe of the foresight, logistics, and cost that went into transforming the Milwaukee Road to the popular trail so many enjoy today. I imagine it was probably a long journey in and of itself. Thankfully there were people with the vision and resourcefulness to make the plan a reality; breathing new life into a vital aspect of our region’s history

. New life in old paths is a theme we see in Scripture time and time again. Jacob and his family ventured to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Four-hundred years later, Jacob’s descendants took the reverse journey on their way to becoming a nation. On that journey, God provided for them in the harsh wilderness and provided a law to guide them in their life as God’s chosen people. Paul traveled the road to Damascus as a persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ. Along the way, his life was transformed by a vision he had of Jesus. Later, Paul, now an apostle of the Lord, would venture to Jerusalem along that same road, armed with a vision for bringing the Good News to the Gentiles.

Similarly, God has a way of transforming the passages of our lives. For instance, the experience of loss can yield unexpected blessings over time. Scarcity can beget gratitude and generosity as faith in God’s provision overcomes the fear of not having enough. And the times when God seems so distant are often the ones, in retrospect, in which we realize how close God really is.

What journey do you find yourself on right now? What does the path beneath your feet feel like? Is it level and wide? Is it steep and narrow? Do you feel like you’re marching off into the wilderness or are you running home to the arms of a loving God? Know that whatever path you are on at the moment, God’s will is to breathe new life into our journeys and to make sure we are never alone as we undertake them.

Godspeed,

matt sig

August Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
Standing in a field of lavender recently, I was taking in the beauty of the purple flowers and enjoying the luscious scent of lavender when I began to notice the gentle humming sound all around me. It was the sound of countless honeybees dutifully moving from flower to flower, plant to plant feeding on nectar and spreading pollen. Their work is subtle, but essential to the production of laven-der and so many of the plants and foods we enjoy. Rain, sun, and soil are all nec-essary for good crops, but all the careful tending in the world is for naught, if not for the bees and other pollinators that exist in God’s Creation.

It is easy to focus on the fruit that comes from the work of the honeybees, and neglect to credit their critical role in the process. Indeed, for as much as the He-brews talked of entering a land flowing with milk and honey, there would be no milk and no honey in the land across the Jordan, were it not for the bees. As the bees go, so goes our way of life.

The same can be said about prayer. Prayer is to the life of Christian discipleship as bees are to our existence. Without prayer, the landscape of our souls will quickly become barren—picture a lavender field with no purple, and you get the picture. And yet, it is easy to overlook the role of prayer as it relates to a hearty and vigorous Christian walk. We might consider the outward lives of the saints and want to emulate their service by mimicking what we see, but without the commitment to prayer we can only get so far.

So, from time to time it is good to retune our prayer lives so they can propagate the kind of life in the Spirit the Lord wants us to have. We do this by taking stock in what is working and what is not, by exploring new avenues for prayer and meditation, and by putting in the time. Soon, our prayers can be robust once again, connecting us to the presence of God, to the needs of others, and to the rhythms of the Spirit in the world around us.

I invite you to take time in the lavender field of your soul and listen for the sounds around you. Can you hear the Spirit? Is the field fruitful and lush? Or is it time to call for the beekeeer?

Godspeed,

matt sig

P.S. I hope you will join us for the Tools for Prayer experience each Sunday morning in August and at the B&B Family Lavender Farm on August 11 for the church potluck!

July Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. This one sentence in Acts 2:42 tells us a lot about life among the first converts to Christianity. These were Jews who heard Peter’s Spirit-filled proclama-tion of the Good News at Pentecost and committed their lives to following Jesus. As you might expect, their new life in Christ was marked by worship, study, and service, but equally important to them was bread breaking and fellowship (Greek: koinonia).

When we consider the marks of Christian discipleship, one aspect that tends to get overlooked is fellowship—the practice of koinonia. Koinonia is translated as “fellowship” in this Acts passage, but elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated as “communion [in the Holy Spirit]” and “sharing [in the body of Christ; in the gospel; in the Spirit; of faith].” As you can see, biblical fellowship is more than just sharing a cup of coffee with someone after worship. In its fullest sense, the fellowship described in the Bible means sharing our lives with one another. While this might begin with a cup of coffee, it doesn’t end there.

A powerful and profound aspect of fellowship is that whenever two or more gather in Jesus’ name, the Spirit is at work building the ties that bind us in Christ. It is easy to think this only happens when we face crises, significant life transitions, or experience loss or trauma; however, the truth is these bonds are built whenever we spend time with one another. Relationships formed around a cup of coffee, washing dishes in the kitchen, pounding nails at a Habitat for Humanity building site, in prayer, in small group settings, and so on are all important to growing Christ’s body. Koinonia is an essential part of the fabric of our Christian identity; discipleship is not a solo endeavor.

June letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. This one sentence in Acts 2:42 tells us a lot about life among the first converts to Christianity. These were Jews who heard Peter’s Spirit-filled proclama-tion of the Good News at Pentecost and committed their lives to following Jesus. As you might expect, their new life in Christ was marked by worship, study, and service, but equally important to them was bread breaking and fellowship (Greek: koinonia).

When we consider the marks of Christian discipleship, one aspect that tends to get overlooked is fellowship—the practice of koinonia. Koinonia is translated as fellowship” in this Acts passage, but elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated as communion [in the Holy Spirit]” and “sharing [in the body of Christ; in the gospel; in the Spirit; of faith].” As you can see, biblical fellowship is more than just sharing a cup of coffee with someone after worship. In its fullest sense, the fellowship described in the Bible means sharing our lives with one another. While this might begin with a cup of coffee, it doesn’t end there.

May Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
As we read on Easter Sunday, it was in the breaking of the bread that two disciples realized that the stranger they had invited for dinner was Jesus! Up until that moment, he was just some traveler who happened to be in the same direction. As Cleopas and his friend reached their home in Emmaus they invited their traveling companion to join them for dinner. Inviting a stranger to dinner no small thing, but it was that decision that set the stage for their epiphany.
Hospitality is risky business, it involves opening your personal space to others, it means being generous, and it means being vulnerable. These are all reasons why Paul lists hospitality as one of the true marks of a Christian disciple (Romans 12:9-21). Welcome strangers as family takes practice, patience, and the ability to recognize the needs of others.
On Easter, our hospitality was put to the test as we hosted breakfast between services. Would there be enough for everyone to eat? Would we have enough room at the tables? And one circumstance we were not expecting: would we be able to welcome someone experiencing an apparent psychotic episode? And would we be able to balance the safety and comfort of everyone else who sat down to break bread?
Perhaps you noticed that one our guests fit that last category. If you encountered this guest, you may have felt uncomfortable and even a bit threatened. You may have wanted this person to leave, but you may also have felt that doing so might cause more harm than good. Believe me; all of these thoughts crossed my mind. There was one other thought: maybe God had brought this person to us to demonstrate the risky hospitality we read about in the Bible. Maybe this was an opportunity, not a threat. As I said, all of these things crossed my mind as I spoke with and observed our guest.
What I found helpful and comforting is that we have people in our church who have the gifts and training to interact with people in the midst of psychotic episodes and other mental health crises. I spoke with several of them at breakfast, and they offered sound advice on how to establish firm, non-threatening, boundaries for our guest. They also agreed to help maintain those boundaries and strike a balance of comfort and safety. Their approach was grounded in kindness, compassion, and a concern for the wellbeing of all—the very essence of Christian hospitality. It was an epiphany all its own.
If this story strikes a chord in your heart, please consider joining me and others from the FPCPA family at the Mental Health First Aid training in August. God brings many people to our doors—some of them with delicate needs, and all of them seeking comfort in the house of the Lord. Together we can make our church home a space of welcome, comfort, and safety for all.

Godspeed,

matt sig

April Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
I was walking along the boat docks taking pictures recently, when my stroll was interrupted by a loud pop coming from behind me. I was startled because up until that point, I had not noticed any souls around - it was late on a Sunday afternoon. My first thought was that the noise sounded like the breaking of a glass bottle, which was cause for minor alarm. I turned, but the only movement I could see - other than a seagull - was a car driving slowly towards me. Had they driven over some glass? Maybe someone threw something out the window? Should I look for cover? The car was far enough away that it didn’t seem like a threat. I kept walking. Later, in a different part of the docks, I heard another loud pop, this time from in front of me. I felt another jolt of adrenaline. But again there was no one there . . . except for another seagull.
It turns out the pop I heard was the sound of a shell smacking the pavement. The gull had dropped it from on high in order to use the force of the shell striking the ground to cause it to break open and reveal its contents. The gull quickly devoured its treat and flew off.
The whole encounter got me thinking about how we perceive the world around us. To me, the sounds triggered a mild concern. To someone else that same pop might have triggered a past trauma—a bottle broken in anger or the sound of ammunition fired from a weapon—causing a sense of panic, and with it the desire to fight or flee. And the person driving in the car probably didn’t hear a thing.
I’m still contemplating the experience, trying to discern what God intended me to hear and receive. One thought was a sense of wonderment at the resourcefulness of the seagulls and praise for the beauty of God’s handiwork that we see in the created order (Genesis 1:20-23, the fifth day of creation)—particularly from birds that many see as a nuisance. A second was a feeling of gratitude for the Lord watching out for me that day (Psalm 23:4), that my initial concern was all for naught. A third feeling was to pray for people and communities that have been traumatized by violence, for whom the words of Psalm 88—incline your ear to hear my cry . . . for my soul is full of troubles—are a constant prayer.
As we continue our journey through Lent, may we hear the Lord speaking to us in and through the sounds of our daily lives. May we be inspired to give thanks and praise for our Creator. May we sense the Spirit’s guiding our steps and attune our lives to follow God’s path. May our hearts be drawn outward to help bear the burdens of those who live in fear, just as Christ has on the cross.
Godspeed,

matt sig

March Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
Last month's snowy weather was a reminder of how important it is to be connected with one another. When the forces of nature bear down on us as they did in our February Snowmageddon we realize how vulnerable we are to the forces of nature, particularly out here on the Olympic Peninsula. Streets were impassable for days, schools and businesses were forced to close, grocery store shelves were left bare, and some were left homebound for well over a week. Yet out of that chaos emerged an abundance of stories of people reaching out to help one another ... and later wondering why we don't do this more often.

The importance of being connected is one of the reasons I cherish life in the community of Christ, particularly as we practice our connectionalism as Presbyterians. We Presbyterians hold as central to our existence a commitment to life in covenant with one another. Theologically speaking, we believe that we cannot be faithful followers of Jesus Christ apart from one another. Practically speaking, we understand there is so much more we can do together than we could ever hope to accomplish on our own. Beyond that, our hearts tell us that life in community is good for the soul as it provides opportunities for sharing, learning, and bearing one another's burdens.

February Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
February is one of my least favorite months. I’ll just get that out there. In the places I’ve lived, February is the grayest, wettest, coldest, most dreary month of the year. If you’re a sports fan, there isn’t much to cheer about—after the Super Bowl at the beginning of the month there is a seemingly endless gap before baseball’s spring training games, and March Madness is, well, not until March. February is like the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection; a dreary time of being in-between where the past (winter) is not yet gone and the future (spring) is yet still beyond the horizon. Where can we find hope in such a depressing month?

I think back to a past winter. I’m not sure if it was in February, but it sure felt quite February-like. I was in a particularly February kind of mood, feeling down and as if God was far away. While walking the dog I felt drawn to the pond in our park. It had frozen over and there was a fresh layer of snow covering it, beckoning me to write my prayer on the blank canvas before me. I trudged out onto the snow and ice and shuffled out my message to God in big bold letters: H o p e. There, I had done it—one part affirmation of faith, and one part direct challenge to God. Hope: God, I believe it ... now show me it’s really there!

As the days went on, the weather was quite February. The temps warmed up, though only enough to melt the snow.
The rains came. H o p e was beginning to fade. I could still make out the traces of my message on the ice, though it was increasingly harder to pick out. What was once a bold declaration (or plea) in the snow was now a faint trace of slush in a pool of water that had collected on the icy pond. So much for hope, I thought.

December Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
We were talking at the dinner table recently about Thanksgiving, and it brought to mind the many different people we’ve celebrated the holiday with over the years. We’ve gathered with groups large and small, with family, friends, and strangers. We’ve dined on fine china and on paper plates, with silverware and with plastic service. We’ve been seated at the head of the table and relegated to the kids’ table. And we’ve eaten in dining rooms, living rooms, fellowship halls, and Lord knows where else!

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of the memories of times spent in fellowship with others, giving thanks for the abundance of God’s goodness and love. The faces have become a little fuzzy to me as the years have gone by, and certainly a number of those people have gone on to the eternal feast of praise in the presence of the Lord. If some of the memories are a little cloudy, the common denominator of the Holy Spirit’s presence at those gatherings is crystal clear. Thanksgiving is the work of the Holy Spirit—bringing people together in praise and thanks for God’s steadfast love and abundant grace.

As you make your plans to celebrate Thanksgiving, I invite you to meditate on Psalm 100—a psalm of Thanksgiving—and consider the connection between joyful noises of praise, giving thanks, and being in community in the presence of God. These are the elements of true thanksgiving, nurtured by the Holy Spirit, and the common thread in the memories I’ve shared above. May they be present at your table this Thanksgiving Day.
Godspeed, Pastor Matt

matt sig

November Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

It doesn’t happen very often, but this is one of those moments when I am at a loss for words.

What I would like to do is describe my gratitude for your gracious hospitality in which you have welcomed me, Becca, and Arie into the FPCPA family. If I could, I would put words to the overwhelming joy it is to be your new pastor. I would also be able to express how thankful I am for the ministries of Pastor Ted and Pastor Wendy and their fine leadership in guiding FPCPA to this point and preparing the way for a new chapter of ministry and service. And, if I could find the words, I would describe the blessing it was to interact with the Pastor Nominating Committee during the search, and with the staff and Session since arriving just a few short weeks ago. But, for some reason the words escape me.

When I find myself in times of overwhelming emotion such as this, I find it helpful to simply give thanks to God. For surely what I am experiencing is the abundance of God’s grace as manifest in your hospitality, Ted’s and Wendy’s leadership, the PNC, the dedicated staff and Session, and the welcome we have received from others in the Port Angeles community. So, I will borrow from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:15 and say, “Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of the FPCPA family!”

I am looking forward to serving Christ with you in the months and years to come.

Godspeed, Matt (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.