Isn't it funny how humans instinctively label things? Think about it: the good day at work, the awful school food, Mom's incredible apple pie, or the ugly car. Labeling is our way to describe stuff and to categorize things in our minds.
Now, it is not wrong to label things, but then there are times when people label people. Sometimes this happens surreptitiously, like when someone remarks under his breath, "You're an idiot." Other times labeling is unconcealed and direct like in a heated exchange when someone utters, "You $@#&."
Some people are labeled because of their family name, like perhaps being known for a certain type of behavior. Others are labeled because of a bad choice or series of bad choices they made. Still others might be lacking some ability or talent in a certain area of life and are then labeled.
I know what it feels like to have an unfair tag. It was widely known in the town I grew up in that my father was an alcoholic. That, coupled with my father's unemployment, to say it nicely, we had very modest means. Our house had a barn shaped roof and to this day I can still recall the kids from the bus remarking how I lived in a barn.
Maybe you have been labeled. You may have been told you could never cut it as a man, as a husband, or as a father. Maybe because of academic struggles you were labeled as slow, dumb or simple. It could be that you have never known your dad and you felt like no one wanted you.
Labels stay with us. They stick, they bind, they fasten tightly and can restrain us like a set of handcuffs. But here is a great truth -- God offers a different commentary on you. God finds his glory in touching those who some would call damaged, giving them a new identity and then re-purposing their lives. This is a central theme of the Bible, that God can take away the labels that bind and make all things new.
Let me give you two examples of this:
Moses, one of the most famous characters in the Bible, had multiple labels placed on him. First, he was born a slave. Then as a baby, he was adopted by well-to-do parents. As he grew up and he understood his heritage, on one occasion he chose to defend a Hebrew by murdering the Egyptian who was beating him. At that point, Moses became a fugitive running away from the only life he knew. He would spend 40 years in the desert becoming something detestable to his upbringing, a shepherd. Talk about labels. Moses had them pasted all over him.
But in Exodus 3, God comes to Moses and releases him from the labels that bound him by enlisting him on his mission to save the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. God chose Moses as his vessel to be the one who would deliver the Israelites and lead them, despite his checkered past. God took away the old and gave Moses a new identity.
In the New Testament, you have Peter, one of Jesus' disciples. Peter, a fisherman, was always a handful for Jesus. First, he was a man who was continually putting his foot in his mouth and failing to follow through. Then, on the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter disowned the Lord by denying him on three different occasions. You can only image the shame and guilt that Peter must have carried as a result of his lack of courage.
But the Lord was not done with Peter, forgiving and restoring him. Later the Lord would use Peter as the primary leader that ignited the early church. Under this failure of a person the church grew rapidly, spreading across the Ancient Near East.
Consider 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation!" For those who are ready, God can take away the old labels and give you a new identity.
Imagine what life would be like if you could get a do-over. Visualize the old labels coming down and being replaced with a new God-given identity. God can do this for you, too.
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, with two locations meeting Sundays at 9:30 a.m. at Petoskey High School (use back entrance) and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. More information is online at www.genesiswired.com or on Twitter @normbyers.