There’s an old practical joke that has been played on newlywed couples. They arrive home after their honeymoon, and unbeknownst to them, someone has gone through their pantry and switched all the labels from the canned goods. Dinnertime arrives and they go to open the fruit, however there’s corn inside. They wanted corn, so they open the fruit, however it is tomato soup. The labels are deceiving. Even when the labels are on the correct cans (fruit label on the fruit can), what you get when you open the can is not always what you expect. On the fruit cocktail label you see cherries covering the bowl, but when you open the can, it’s mostly peaches with a cherry or two hidden at the bottom. Do we, the church, give a true representation of who Christ is? Do we hide behind the label of “Christ follower” or is that genuine label (and the lifestyle of loving others) something that has become a natural and authentic part of our daily lives?
Labels, Labels, Labels…
I’m a daughter, mother, sister, and aunt. I’m a pianist, guitarist, composer and singer. I laugh at Monty Python, cry over Steel Magnolias, run with Forrest Gump, get adventurous following Indiana Jones, and overcome great odds with Scarlet O’Hara. I am refreshed and challenged by Holy Communion at the seashore (John 21:1-19). I am lifted up and joyful in services where contemporary Christian praise songs are sung (Ps 100:2). I am reminded of my Christian heritage found in traditional liturgy, and thankful for the saints who have come before me (Ps 52:9). I am filled with awe and wonder as I sit in a chapel listening to Bach’s notes and the people’s prayers rise up together as I contemplate the mystery of our faith (Neh 8:6).
And all that… is only a tiny fraction of who I am. How does one perfectly and succinctly describe themselves within the fullness of who they are and how they live out their lives? If I say that being a daughter is the only way to define myself, then I would miss out on the joy of motherhood. If I only play my piano and never sang again, I would feel quite empty. In our complex lifestyles, we move in so many different directions at once and can end up overloaded with information, scheduling problems, and being pulled apart by opposing ideas and values. If you and I lead such complicated lives, maybe it’s time to revisit what it really means to be one who truly follows Christ and get back to the basics of our faith.
Is the wearing of that multitude of labels weighing you down? Are you constantly having to justify your choices regarding how you spend your time and money? Are you letting your busy life in the office, in your home, and even in your church steal your passion for Christ? I’m not suggesting that the labels in themselves are wrong. I am suggesting that life is not about the multitude of labels which can build a wall between us and Christ.
When God said that we are to love Him with everything that we are (Deut 6:5), and to worship Him using everything at our disposal (Ps 150), He is saying that He should be our focus. When we make Him the center of everything, then we begin to live our lifves using one big and enduring label, “Christ Follower.” In the simplicity of that heart-set, a new journey begins where the traveler yearns to move according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, instead of self-focused direction. The old labels still exist and many of them retain their value, but they are moved to sub-category status that easily ranks below the authentic desire to please God first.
So if pleasing God comes first before all things, then my status as a preacher or mother is not the key issue. If I am putting God first, and God has called me to preach and given me the joyful responsibility of being a mother, then God honors that God-centric lifestyle and uses the my labels within His perfect plan. If we are called to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), then should the labels of “contemporary”, “traditional” or “blended” services be the focus of worship? Should they take priority over allowing the Spirit to move beyond our preconceptions and opinions?
What if the church came together to for a unified time of seeking God and praising Him without the labels, or music, or format being the drawing factor or a stumbling block? Are you ready to wear the label “Christ follower” in a bold new way by letting Him be the center of all things? Are you ready for God to do something fresh and exciting in you? … in your community of faith? … in the world beyond your church doors?