December 2019 Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
I am on a mission—a mission to save Advent. Now before I continue, I should point out that this isn’t about putting Christ back in Xmas. (If anything, I’m all for putting the X in Xmas! Did you now that the Greek letter X is the first letter in Christ [Χριστός] as it is found in the original New Testament Greek?) Furthermore, my mission is not to be confused with the fight against the commercialization of Christmas. Saving Advent is about reclaiming a season of waiting and preparation for God to enter our world.

It is a tough sell. Most folks don’t have time for waiting this time of year. The same goes for slowing down, reflecting on ancient prophecies, or contemplating the Incarnation. These things don’t have much to do with the traditional trappings of Christmas—the lights, the presents, and the pageantry. Why wait? Why even think about waiting?

Quite frankly, I’m not sure I have a good answer other than to say that waiting is an important part of being a follower of God. Read through the Bible and you’ll find it is full of people waiting—waiting for answers, waiting for justice, for peace, for salvation, and for Christ to return. Whether we like it or not, waiting is an integral part of our faith, so learning to wait well is a good skill to develop. And this is why I’m on a mission to save Advent.

November Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

In his final comments to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul exhorts them to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Those are all such tall orders! While this might seem like hyperbole—Really, who can be joyful, prayerful, and thankful 24/7?—the essence of Paul’s appeal is that he wants our daily living to reflect the very nature of heaven where joy, prayer, and thanksgiving are ever-present. If we can bring more of heaven into our days, our lives become leaven for the world to see and experience the glory of God.

Remembering to rejoice, pray, and give thanks can be difficult. Life isn’t always joyful, there are times when our prayers seem to go unanswered, and it can be hard to be thankful when hardships come. Paul knew this, and he knows what he is saying is not easy. Paul experienced hardship, setbacks, and rejection, but he still found ways to give thanks to God despite the rough roads and seas he encountered time and again. So, how can we do the same?

I think the first step is to make a conscious effort to practice joy, prayer, and thanksgiving wherever we might find them. Sometimes the opportunities come in small packages, like the joy of seeing a brief patch of blue sky in an otherwise cloudy day. Prayers can be said on the go while we are driving from place to place or under our breaths as people and circumstances come to mind during the day. And we can express our gratitude to God or to others with simple thank-yous to people who serve us in stores, restaurants, and other places.

We can also take a cue from Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:15 where he encourages his readers to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. If we are not experiencing joy, chances are someone we know is—we can share in their joy! When we hear a siren in the distance, we can take this as a call to pray for circumstances that affect people we may not even know.

The fact is that God is present in this world and therefore joy, prayer, and thanksgiving are never far away. In this season of thanksgiving, may our eyes truly be open to the opportunities the Spirit presents us to express a bit of heaven in our world. For, as Paul writes, this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us. Rejoice, give thanks, and pray! Godspeed,.

Godspeed, 

matt sig 

October Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

I hope you’ve noticed the number of opportunities there are this fall at FPCA for fellowship, discipleship, spiritual growth, and mission. There are opportunities to study the parables, to gather for an old fashioned cider pressing, to tutor in the schools, to take part in a small group for prayer, to discover your spiritual gifts, to join a Bible study, and so many other possibilities. It is really pretty awesome that a church of our size can support so many ways for people to connect with one another and with God. But with so many choices, how does one decide? It might be overwhelming, but it also might be easier than you think.

Here’s an example. A friend of mine was telling recently that he just started work-ing with a group of tweens—older elementary kids—at the church he has been attending for the last 18 months or so. I was intrigued by this because while I had known him to be active in worship, music, small groups, and mission, I had never envisioned him working with kids (though he’s quite at ease with them). When I asked him how this all came about, he said that someone had asked if he’d help with the tweens and he took it as a sign God was calling him to do something new. He’s just getting started, but so far he says he’s real-ly enjoyed it!

Can knowing how to get involved be that simple? It sure can be! God is speaking to us all the time with subtle reminders, little nudges, and even the direct ask through people we know. Sometimes what we hear from God makes sense, as it fits with what we’ve done before. Sometimes what we hear from God is something completely new, taking us in a direction we’d not considered.

Please take a look through the many opportunities we are offering this fall to grow closer to God and one another in Christian fellowship, study, and practice. Ask God to di-rect you to a fruitful path. And listen. You never know where God might be calling. And you never know when an invitation from a friend is actually an opportunity from God.

Godspeed,

matt sig

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.