Labels are for things…not people

labelsThe woman sitting next to me at the table looked as if she had come to our little circle straight from a photo shoot for the cover of next month’s edition of Vogue; every hair perfectly colored and coiffed, professionally manicured nails, flawless, picture perfect make-up, and glaringly expensive clothing that screamed, “Death to Nordstrom Rack!”  So, you can imagine my surprise when Miss Perfect over there was first to volunteer to share her present-day experience of our designated Bible verses:

 “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.  He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock and established my steps.  He has put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God; many will see it and fear and will trust in the Lord.”  Psalm 40:1-3

 “Seriously?!  What in the world kind of pit or miry clay could Designer Clothes Debutante possibly have been delivered from?”  My evil, wicked, unredeemable, condemned-to-death, old nature almost snarled, but not out loud of course; the hypocrite in me was way too spiritual for that.

Unaware, she bravely told her tale of years of childhood sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, which relentlessly pursued her into teenage years and adulthood till she felt hopelessly trapped in a pit of drugs, prostitution and violence; bogged down in a miry clay of unending pain.  Tears shimmered in every eye, and some rolled down faces as she described the kindness and love of Jesus that poured out from the life of one ordinary person ‘just living the thing’, which rescued her, enveloped her in the perfect, unconditional love of God, and set her feet on the road to abundant, eternal life.  Surely, the woman had earned the right to dress like a princess every day for the rest of her life!

 Burning shame poured over my meanness like weed-killer from Home Depot, making my old nature curl up and die… again… and I was glad!

 “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  Colossians 3:5  (emphasis mine)

 “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  Romans 6:6

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  II Corinthians 5:17

 The strongest evidence of who is winning the on-going war between my old nature and the new creation in me that thinks and acts like Jesus, are the words that flow out of my heart, on to my tongue and come pouring out of my mouth unchecked.  And, I am absolutely appalled that even when I consistently and purposefully choose to starve my old nature to death, it almost miraculously finds new life and vigor whenever there is an opportunity to judge, or slap labels on other people.  Uncontrolled, the poisonous comments come out deceptively clothed in garments of pharisaical self-righteousness and pseudo-concern, accessorized with earnest, humor or sarcasm.  Aaaaaaaaaargh!

Thanks be to God for Miss Perfect (I never learned her name), for some among my present company of friends who have been kind enough to educate me about their first impression of me, and others who still love me in spite of now knowing the ridiculous labels I had placed on them before I knew any better…ahem…Cheri…ahem.  Hard lessons learned, bitter pills swallowed, and having to eat way too much crow have made me ruthless when it comes to putting the beat down on my old nature’s inclination to unequivocally judge and label people, and considerably more inclined to forgive when I am on the receiving end.

Some years ago I successfully tested and installed what I call my “Crazy Filter”; an intangible ‘device’ implanted in my mind whose sole purpose is to capture and diffuse those irrational, spiteful, baggage-induced thoughts and feelings about people before they can be formed into words and sentences, and come spewing out of my mouth.  Its components are wisdom, truth, discipline and the love that God consistently pours out on me, even when I am at my worst.

 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly love, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Colossians 3:12-13

 Whenever the filter works, I am amazed at the good people I come to know well, to partner with on this narrow road that leads to life, and will treasure for eternity.  And as for the judgment or labels that still manage to slip through the filter, they are immediately classified as ‘subject to change’ and stamped in big, bold letters ‘take no action: investigation pending’.  Unfortunately, it is also true that with the filter in place it may take a little longer to distinguish the weeds among the wheat, but the benefits far outweigh the risk.  Besides, God always has my back, and the power to use even that which was meant for evil, and turn it around for good and my benefit.  Booyah!  Win-win baby!

 So here’s the thing, God purposefully places very high value on unity among all those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ; The Way, The Truth and The Life, so much so that it was the subject of one of His last recorded prayers before making the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for all our sin:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”   John 17:20-23

Judging and labeling people is the biggest obstacle to unity among believers in Jesus.  It is absolutely necessary, but never easy, to recognize, acknowledge and repent of the self-righteousness, arrogance and pride that perpetually builds and maintains the walls between us – and our enemy knows it.   Just imagine what a formidable force we would be as the people of God against the kingdom of darkness, if the spiritual weapons of our warfare were constantly aimed at the real enemy of our souls, instead of each other.

Absolutely necessary…never easy.  But it is for His glory…to further His kingdom…to fulfill His purpose…we set our face like a flint…determined…against all odds…to keep on…steadfastly…just living the thing.

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