I saved my favorite Sports Camp lesson for last. The first two were much-needed, recalibrating reminders that one needs every so often to keep on living with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control - but they were reminders nonetheless.
This third and final lesson is the kind in which old thoughts get shuffled around and new thoughts fall into place and suddenly you see something that wasn't there before. Like a mental game of Tetris, or a rubix cube.
Someone a long time ago (maybe C.S. Lewis? Maybe in The Four Loves? Maybe I'm making that up?) wrote that:
If A knows C, and B knows C, then A and B can get together and swap stories to get a more complete picture of C.
Since A and B both know C in a unique way, A and B can share information to get a better, fuller understanding of C.
This is why we need other believers.
Because if I know God (wow, Christianity is beautiful), and you know God too, then by coming together in life and worship, we get a more complete picture of Him.
Each believer has a unique relationship with God; one that is only theirs. God's relationship with every believer is in many ways paternal, in many ways maternal, in many ways like an adoring husband, and like the wisest teacher. Throw in omniscience, inexhaustible mercy, and unconditional, self-sacrificing love and you are beginning to grasp at the fringes of this relationship. In other words, it is intimate.
When I speak of what God has done in my life, you learn something about God that you didn't know before.
When I hear what God has done in your life, I learn something about God that I didn't know before.
Both of our understandings of God are stretched. He is made larger - magnified and glorified.
That's why we need to be in fellowship with other believers - because God is infinitely bigger than our little experience of Him.
Now. Here's the part that is rocking my world right now:
If this is true, the more you surround yourself with believers that are different from you, the greater your understanding of God will be.
In fact, the more different, the better.
I can learn from anyone, but it is the people whom (at first glance) I have virtually nothing in common with that can teach me things about God that I would not learn any other way. Someone whose experience is completely different than mine gives me a completely new understanding of God.
At Sports Camp, there were a lot of people who were different than me. There was a group of high-risk girls from the ghetto whose parents are on drugs, in jail, or just gone. There were dozens - literally dozens - of people with special needs. People in wheelchairs, people with hearing loss, vision loss, and people all over the autism spectrum - adults and children alike. There were people from the country - I mean the coun-try. (When someone asked a little girl why she wasn't doing to cupid shuffle with everyone else she replied in a slow drawl, "I'm from the country; I don't do any of this city-stuff.") There were people of all different races and combinations of races.
Let me pause here to get up on my soapbox for a second:
More important than the presence of diversity is the attitude towards diversity. Any church can welcome a person with special needs or a person of a different race into their congregation (at least any church even half-trying to follow Jesus), but too often it's for the wrong reason.
Too often when we welcome a person with special needs into our lives, they become the poster child for how open-minded and evolved we are. We point to our one friend who has an addiction, our one friend with special needs, our one friend of a different race and say, "Look how gracious I am! I have an Indian friend! I have a friend with autism!"
This shallow welcome reveals a superiority, a prejudice, or a fear and discomfort lodged deep in our sinful hearts.
Accepting different people is not enough; we must value them. We do not need to pity people with special needs; God has a plan for their lives just like he has a plan for yours. They are not your project. You stand to learn as much from them as they do from you, and not in an, "Oh I've taken so much for granted and I'm thankful for my health," kind of way either.
A relationship with somebody different from you is mutually beneficial, and until you see it that way, you're missing out big-time.
The church that hosts Sports Camp is a healthy church in that no person, no matter how poor, sick, or different, is "a project." The church does not minister to them, they minister with them (those of them that are believers). There is no pity; there is a partnership. There is a very healthy, correct thinking that each person is an integral part of the body of Christ.
So often Christians draw denominational lines, political lines, racial lines, and cultural lines that have no business being drawn.
We say, "All the people who like to raise their hands during worship can come during this hour, and all the people who don't can come at a different hour," and nobody feels put out because, truthfully, we like it that way. That's why we have black churches and white churches and Korean churches and nobody cares - because black people like being in a black church and white people like being in a white church and Korean people like being in a Korean church. Everybody has a mentality that says, "You do your thing, we'll do our thing, and we'll all worship the same God in our unique way."
The reality is that the hand-raisers desperately need to know that God can move someone emotionally and they still don't feel the need to raise their hands.
And the non-hand-raisers need to see the theological and relational depth of the hand-raisers - that it isn't always an emotional reaction to music, but a deliberate expression of worship.
White people can get a fuller picture of God by discussing Him with black brothers and sisters in Christ - because culturally, there are things that each of us understands more clearly because of where we're coming from.
We need other Christians to enlarge our view of God - and the more different the better.
I already know that God can save a child at 5 years old. He saved me. I want to learn about how God pursues from someone who was saved in their 40s.
I already know that God can deliver somebody from the ugliest, most self-piteous martyr complex. He delivered me. I want to learn about freedom in Christ from someone who's been delivered from a different bondage, like gluttony, unhealthy relationships, or pornography.
I already know that God reaches people in the upper middle class suburbs of a capitol city; that His value is clear even amongst chronic materialism and stubborn independence. That's where He reached me. I want to see God's hand working in the underground church, in nations hostile towards the gospel, in the depths of the Amazon. I want to see His heart and His power there.
I already know that God gives hope and joy and purpose in difficult, painful situations like divorce, polio, and blindness. He gave them to me. I want to hear about the God of all comfort from a widow or an orphan - from someone with AIDS or terminal cancer.
This year Sports Camp helped me to connect the dots. I knew I valued diversity, but I didn't exactly know why. If you'd asked me I would have said, "Because it's right." There are hundreds of reasons, to be sure, but the one burning in my heart now is that I need believers that are wildly different than me so that together we can get a fuller picture of how great and good and creative and huge God really is.