Labels are best used for organization. Recently some ladies put labels in our church kitchen to help identify where things were now located. For a few weeks the labels looked good, but after the kitchen was used this past Sunday for a lunch, the labels not only looked good, but they were very helpful. Labels help organize things. And if we can leave labels at that, they are some of the greatest things on the planet. The problem is that we can't.
We have moved from labeling inanimate objects for organization to labeling people for much the same purposes. Of course the organization of labeling people is less about making them helpful, but rather is more about making them less than what they are. When we begin to identify people by a label either we have given them or others have given them, we cheapen their worth even if the label is flattering or true. The greatest athlete of all time would probably rather be labeled a better father than baseball player. The greatest politician in the end would probably rather be labeled a good husband rather than a good senator. The truth is that the greatest athlete or politician may be just that. But is that all they are? If so, their lives are meaningless in the great space of history. If the only thing at the end of life that someone can say about you is that you were the greatest athlete in the world, is that really a fulfilled and time changing life?
The other problem with labels is that they simplify things too much so. If I say that guy is a builder, what does that mean? He may build houses or he may build cabinets. He may build computers or he may build model cars. The interpretation is left to the individual who hears that this man is a "builder." And here is where the problem lies in society. We have a bad time thinking many times that our opinion or interpretation is always right. There's an old saying one of my mentors, the late Rev. Joe Q. Smith, always told me when I worked for him, "Perception equals reality." He would always follow that statement with the acknowledgement that often times that "reality" is false. The idea was still true however. What people think they perceive is what they call reality. The same goes with labels. When I say "President," what or who do you think of? The answer to that question will cause you to think differently and probably adversely towards a president that doesn't fall in your immediate "labeling system." If I say "Athlete," what or who do you think of? If you think Jimmie Johnson, there will be others who will call you wrong, but it's all about perception right? Perception equals reality and reality is the label we've attached to what we've seen. If I say "Pastor," what or who do you think of? Therein lies the problem in many of our churches. We have our idea of what a pastor is or should be and when one doesn't measure up to that label, we disregard him or her for not equaling our standards which are based on our perception which represents our reality which is defined by our labeling. Are you still with me?
The truth is that God made us all unique. If you're a Braves fan, Chipper Jones doesn't have to be like Tim Hudson. They are both athletes and both baseball players. The play for the same team and are both all-stars and maybe even Hall of Famer's. But the Braves don't need Chipper to pitch like Tim Hudson and they don't want Tim hitting like Chipper does as his main objective. We are all different and unique. None of us are the same. God made us special and different with the purpose of using us greatly. Why is it that we spend most of our lives trying to be like others? Why do we spend most of our lives trying to measure up to standards set by mere individuals like ourselves? Why do we live our lives trying to measure up with a perceived label attached to our lives based on the career path we've chosen or received our call to?
Plain and simple, the world will label you and me. We must decide however if the world's label will trump God's label. I know who I am at the end of the day. I have to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see and who I am. And at the end of the day, if someone that doesn't really know me thinks I'm less of a man, a father, a husband, a pastor, or any other hat I've learned to wear, that's their prerogative. And if I let what people think of me attach labels to my life, then I'll be in slavery and subjection to others' thoughts and ideas. But they didn't save me, call me, help me, stand with me, understand me, support me, or care for me like my Savior. He knows me better than I know myself. I don't have to convince people about who I am if I know who God says I am.
Labels will always exist, but the "label" God defines us by is the only one that matters in eternity. As for temporal life on earth, if I can lay my head on my pillow at night knowing my wife loves me and is proud to have me as her husband and isn't trying to find ways out of the marriage, then I know all is well. Her opinion matters. At the end of the day, if my daughter is proud to have me as her daddy, then that's all the satisfaction I need. Her opinion matters. People will always label you, but the great thing about those labels is that they can be peeled off. Be careful who you let put a label on you. Real freedom is found in the emancipation from uneducated affirmation, ignorant accusations, and narrow minded critics.