Dear West – 20 December 2018

Once a week I write a pastoral letter to the good people of the West Congregation of the Austin Stone Community Church. I will occasionally add some of those letters here.

Dear West Family,

Two days ago, the Lester family marked the one year anniversary of our arrival in the US. I cannot believe it has been a year! We arrived tired, smelly, confused and a little fearful and have more or less remained in that state for the rest of the year. It has been a most marvelous adventure! We have adapted to almost all elements of American life and are doing all we can to fit into the context and culture. I, for one, have definitely covered the basics of what it means to be an American. I have shot guns (coz #freedom), put on 10lbs (coz #freedomandBBQ), started to appreciate Gridiron (coz #nothingelseon) and taken out a mortgage that I have very little hope of repaying (coz #freedomagain).

There are of course some elements of American culture that we just can’t get used to and will have to remain outsiders and rebels on. Things like baseball, Chick-Fil-A, the Imperial System of measurement and Daylights Savings.

I have been reflecting for the last week or so on things that we have learned, and while there are many, I just wanted to highlight a few that I think are appropriate. So below, in no particular order are some of my unsolicited learnings from a very exciting 2018 for us as a family.

Wherever you go, that’s where you will be.
This might seem alarmingly simple, but it is a truth that has served me well and has been profoundly true to us over the last year. We dreamed of having a fresh start and of being new sorts of people in our new context, and in some ways we have managed to do that, but in others we haven’t, because our old selves came on the plane with us. This is hugely liberating because it has reminded us that the hope for change doesn’t lie in a fantasy life of different circumstances or seasons. The hope for change is that the Holy Spirit would transform us wherever He finds us. Don’t just dream of new horizons as a salve to the ache of stuck monotony or the itch brought on by difficult circumstances. Ask God to invigorate and revive you where you are, and as you are now.

Humanity is a global experience. Turns out, people are people all over the globe. They adopt different cultures, norms, languages and customs, but they are all simultaneously remarkably powerful and alarmingly weak and fallen. This is in fact a biblical anthropology. People are image bearers all over the world, and people are sinners living under a curse, all over the world. American excellence doesn’t escape this reality, and neither does international charm and allure. What a privilege it has been to walk with people this year in their best and worst moments. What an honor to celebrate people’s joys and to weep with them in their defeats. It is a heck of a thing to be human. Embrace it, and be simultaneously open about your weakness and optimistic about your God-given ability, and give grace to those around you to be human too.

Community is an essential element of human flourishing.
I don’t know how we would have done this without the people of The Austin Stone. Y’all have welcomed us with open arms. You have fed us, entertained us, lovingly pursued us, listened to us and even pretended to be charmed by my so called wit. We love the people of this church and we see the potential for what this community of believers could be to many more. Let’s stay the course. Let’s keep trusting, let’s be hospitable and welcoming and warm. Let’s take risks together to create the kind of community we would want to be received into.

Idols are easy to build and difficult to tear down.
I came across here with some baggage. Apparently pastors have baggage too and in my case it was covered up in the pretty packaging of ministry. It has taken me a long time to figure out who I am without me being the Lead Pastor of the church that I left. I had no idea how much of my value, worth and purpose was wrapped up in that until God asked me to lay it down. He is giving me something much better in return though. He is teaching me again and again through this process that I am His child and that is better by far than being His “valuable asset.” I took a good thing and made it into some form of ultimate thing, and having it pried out of my grip has been painful, but God won’t let me worship anything but Him. He loves me too much for that.

God is faithful.
It sounds coffee mug trite, but it is the clearest takeaway of our American adventure. God is faithful. He leads us through stuff, good and bad, and knows what we need before we get there. He is more real to and relied upon by the Lester’s now than He was a year ago. Trust Him. He has you.

Well, that is the last of the Thursday Thoughts for 2018. I hope and pray that they have served as some form of encouragement and provocation for you this last year. I look forward to journeying further together with you in 2019.

Merry Christmas West Campus.

We love you very much.

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