Every Thursday I write a pastoral letter to the good people of the West Congregation of The Austin Stone. This is nothing more than a small, regular pastoral touch point where I get to reflect on things that God is teaching me through the very ordinary cut and thrust of my everyday life.
Dear West Family,
I hope and pray that you are flourishing in the Lord and that the summer is full of His presence, power and mercy.
I am writing this weekly pastoral devotional from a Family Summer Camp in Tyler, TX, where I am serving as the camp speaker. Pray for me as I try to speak something helpful to these precious families and pray for the campers as they have to endure my fumbling efforts. If you know anything about my personality you will know that Family Camp is pretty much my worst social fears realized, contained, condensed and then amplified into one intense, week-long purgatorial experience.
It’s a lot.
It’s a lot of strangers.
It’s a lot of cheers (G-O-O-D-T-R-Y Good try, good try … is my personal favorite).
It’s a lot of noise.It’s a lot of fancy dress theme nights (one is a lot).
It’s a lot of carbohydrates.
It’s a lot of pickleball.
Have I mentioned that this is all with strangers?
It’s a lot of, well, everything, all at once, and … I have kind of loved it.
You see, I am very aware of who God made me and for the most part I am at peace that He made me the way that He did. But, I don’t want my particular personality to dictate my joy and my ability to revel in how God made other people and how we can be for the benefit of each other. So, below, even though nobody asked for it, are some of my observations from my first ever US Summer Camp experience.
People are incredible.
I have a terrible habit of pre-judging people off of my first observations and subsequent assumptions. It is a genuinely terrible and undeniably sinful habit, and in my flesh, I enjoy it a lot. But, here is the thing. People are always more interesting that you presume them to be. Always. As I have gotten to know people over the week I have come to the humbling realization afresh that people are incredible and not be readily dismissed or diminished in any way, shape or form. Instead of presuming what people are like, ask them questions. Be curious. To be sure, you will discover that people believe some truly silly things, but then you get to ask them why and you get to listen to the things that have shaped them. You don’t have to agree, but you do get to wonder at the of God’s beautiful image bearing creativity. All these people, with all their stories, and all this opportunity to see more of God in the people He has made. Don’t miss that.
Discipleship takes discipline, and it works.
One of the things that I have loved about this camp is the focus they place on family discipleship. They train parents to lead their kids in devotion and prayer times. It has reminded me afresh that the discipline of leading myself and others in refreshing the the Word is worth it, and it works. If you have dropped those habits (which I do all too often with my family) then pick them up again.
God is extravagant in His joyful creation.
I have been struck again by the goodness of God in the things that He has made. The them verse that we have been focusing on for the week is Psalm 16:11, which says … “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”God creates pleasure for us so that we might experience the joy of His presence! Think about it, He makes things unnecessarily beautiful and fun so that we can experience His goodness. Creation, food, music, laughter, leisure are all just breadcrumbs leading us to the discovery of His kindness towards us. We get to enjoy these as gifts, and we should do so with gratitude.
Hope is contagious.
If these camp counselors have managed to win over a crusty curmudgeon like me with their enthusiasm and zeal, well, then I think they could win anyone over. It is fascinating to watch different people, of all ages, in different points of the week, walk into meetings with some discouragement or fatigue only to see them lifted into hope and joy by the enthusiasm of others. Paul prays for the church in Rome in Romans 15 that they would “abound in hope.” He prays that the God of all hope would fill them with the Holy Spirit so that they would overflow with hope. Friends, what flows from you? Hope? I need to do better here, with God’s help. None of us leave a neutral impact on those around us. We impact them with our moods and dispositions. I pray that the Holy Spirit will make me like a (quieter) camp counselor in my home, someone who leaves those around me more hopeful just by being present and splashing some of the overflow of hope that I have received from the Spirit.
That’s it friends. We head back to Austin tomorrow, exhausted and elated at all God has done. I can’t wait to see you at West on Sunday for an opportunity to breath some hope into each other.