Sunday, October 12, 2014

What Is Your Label?

What Does The Label Say?

I have discovered something since moving to the mission field.  It is really quiet profound. It was something that I did, that my culture (most of your readers) does, and that I have started the process of not doing.

It is labeling. We love to label because it frees us from loving the person.  Let me give you an example.

I spoke to a group at a conference in the States a few years ago.  It was not a mission conference but I was asked to speak on mission work and specifically our mission.  Then came the Q & A time.  Here are the first two questions that I was asked.  Now remember, the topic was on missions in the world and the illustrations and stories were from our own missionary life. This are not direct quotes but here are the questions.

Question 1:  Are you a Calvinist?

Question 2: Are you a charismatic?

What do either of those questions have to do with missions in the world?  
What do they have to do with taking Christ to the lost?  Nada. Zilch. Nothing.  
They are simply labeling questions.

I was facing a dilemma and I knew it.  If I said that I was a Calvinist, then the label was attached to my head and all of the non-Calvinist could ignore everything that I had just said…and vice/versa.  If I said that I was a charismatic, then all of the mainline denomination folks could now ignore my call to go to the mission field…they could label me and therefore my message as a little whacko.  If I was not a charismatic, then all of the charismatic people could label me as not Spirit-filled, therefore my message to go and make disciples was not Spirit-led.

The label game was on!

In the States, we label everyone and everything.  We don’t just insist on putting labels on our food or warning labels (signs) on everything that could possibly affect us.  We label each other.  We start with race, but deny our racism.  We don’t see people, we see the color of people. Then, we make assumptions based on that color.  We put labels on everyone that we see. If you are walking down an alley in NY and a middle aged white man is walking toward you…what do you do?  Is it the same reaction that you would have if it were a 25 year old African American? Or an 18 year old Latino? 

We also want political labels.  Are you a Republican? Tea Party? Green Party? Libertarian? Democrat? Constitution Party?  You see, as soon as I can label you a member of the opposing party, or of a different party, then I know how to treat you.  Tell a staunch Republican that you are a hardline Democrat and see how much love is in the room…even if they both wear the label of Christian.  

We look at appearances and put socio-economical labels on people.  Do you shop at Macy’s or Wal-Mart? How old and what type of car do you have? Where do you live? Is that a real leather purse? We even do this in the church.  Here is an insightful question: How many ‘poor’ elders serve on the elder board of your church?  Why is that? Could it be that we think our socio-economic label carries spiritual weight? 

In the illustration above when I was at the conference, I showed how we LOVE our theological labels in the evangelical church. (see, I just used a label, ‘evangelical’. :) ).  Are you young earth or old earth? We all know that young earth creationist believe the Bible and old earth people…well, who knows?  Are you a dispensationalist or a covenant person? As soon as I know, then we can decide on fellowship or not.  Do you speak in tongues? What do you think about women in leadership? Do you follow the Law?  I need to know your label in order to know what to do with you.

Here is the handy thing about a label. A label tells me what to expect and lets me choose what to do.  Think about your pantry full of cans with no labels.  You have no idea what is in the can.  How can you cook?  Now envision the same pantry with all the cans labeled.  Ah…now that you can see the labels you know what to do.  

We do that with people.  A label tells me who is my friend, who I can be with, and who I can hate.  I don’t admit it.  I will deny it.  However, how many people do you choose to place in your life who wear a different label than you?  I said, ‘choose’ to place in your life.  We are forced to work with those weirdos and all of us have them (family) in our lives, but how many different labels do you ‘choose’ to include?  What do you do with the ones who don’t have your label?  We hate them, ignore them, or just think that we are better than them. 

Labels let us ignore the Bible verses on loving others. 

Labels justify our disdain.  

You see, the difference between the pantry illustration and people is that people are all the same…they are eternal souls needing to know and love their Creator.  The label keeps us from seeing the soul and allows us to disdain the person.

Labels are everywhere.

I said that I am learning to change this. I think maybe it is because of necessity. I know that in Bolivia the Bolivians label each other by race, gender, education, and socio-economics.  However, when I came I saw them all as Bolivians.  One big label that covered everyone. I did away with my myriad of sub-labels.  It was wonderful.  Now, my label has even changed to be one of more precise—Christians or people who need to know Christ?  When I go to the jungle, I don’t see this tribe or that tribe…I see people who need Jesus.  At my church, I don’t know what group this person belongs to or that person aligns with…I see people who need to know God better.  It is such a great thing.

My missionary friends have also had a label reduction placed upon them. When I was in the States I was in the micro label community.  A church had to not only agree with us on the essentials of the faith, they had to agree with us on everything.  You can believe in salvation by grace through faith alone….but if you thought it was okay to drink alcohol we had a problem.  However, on the mission field there are a small group of us trying to reach people for Jesus.  You may want to baptize them a different way than I do after they are saved, what matters most…that they are saved or that I believe in dunking them?  On the mission field the label doesn’t matter.  I actually have a friend who I have served with for over 7 years here and just recently found out his denomination.  The name on the label of his jacket doesn’t matter if he is rolling up the sleeves of it and working with me to help people know Jesus.

Labeling.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could try to live without it?  What if there were only two types of people in our eyes…those that know Jesus already and those that we can help to know Him?  What if we were willing to take all the micro labels off and honestly just keep the ones that really, truly, matter.  I have found that the older I get, actually I believe the more mature that I become, the more Jesus matters and the less the other stuff does.

How about you?


Mrs. G said...

So, are you a Calvinist?


Brittany said...

thanks for calling this out, Joe. definitely something i want God to keep working on in my life, so i have his eyes instead of mine.

fragrant breeze said...

In the name of Allah,the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful.

Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah." But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]."
O People of the Scripture, why do you argue about Abraham while the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Then will you not reason?
Here you are - those who have argued about that of which you have [some] knowledge, but why do you argue about that of which you have no knowledge? And Allah knows, while you know not.
Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim [submitting to Allah]. And he was not of the polytheists.
Indeed, the most worthy of Abraham among the people are those who followed him [in submission to Allah] and this prophet, and those who believe [in his message]. And Allah is the ally of the believers.
A faction of the people of the Scripture wish they could mislead you. But they do not mislead except themselves, and they perceive [it] not.
O People of the Scripture, why do you disbelieve in the verses of Allah while you witness [to their truth]?

Holy Quran 3:64-70

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