Monday, April 20, 2015

Identity Theft: Labels

This post is in response to Newbreak's latest sermon series: Identity Theft.  

I have long been aware of the power of names or labels. For years I lived under the label "Not good enough. Yet." This label kept me waiting until I got better. I would write when I was a better writer. I would sing when I was a better singer. I would talk to people when I had something interesting to say. I would move forward when someone gave me the new label, "Good enough."

I was frustrated and discouraged because other people, whose efforts seemed less polished than mine, seemed to be given the label I desired: "Good enough." I felt misunderstood. When would I be good enough?

My pride kept me from doing anything that was less than good enough.

And then I realized that I would never be as good as I wanted to be, which was perfect. And that was okay. I would never be given opportunities until I stepped forward boldly, confident in my efforts, which were not perfect but which came from my heart. My responsibility wasn't to be perfect, but to continue to do the things God had called me to do.

And when I stopped living under this identity-stealing label "Not good enough. Yet.," I gave myself a new label: "In process." And so I began writing. My writing didn't need to be perfect. It was "in process" and getting better. I began speaking up and sharing my ideas. I began going to school. I became an "in process" teacher, getting better all the time. And I began applying this label to others. We are all "in process."

Changing the label changed my life.
In last Saturday's service, Pastor Mike asked each of us to write down a label, a false identity, one that was stealing out ability to live out our true identity. I felt like I had dealt with my false identity, and so I didn't know what to write.

And then Pastor Mike began to pray. As the Holy Spirit began to speak, I began to write: "Unloved." "Misunderstood." "Rejected."

Vignettes from the past flitted through my memory, and I could see myself being chosen last for sports teams. I saw myself ignored in small groups and large groups, my voice seemingly silent. I saw myself sitting alone, invisible, wanting friends, afraid to reach out to others, afraid of being rejected again.  Tears slipped down my cheeks as I relived my past.

One of the ways God has used me in the past is to disciple young women, to encourage them in their faith, to challenge them to follow their dreams or to follow Christ. My labels, my fears of rejection and being misunderstood, change the way I live; they limit my ability to do what God has asked me to do.

And as Pastor Mike prayed, I confessed that I cling to these labels as a means of protection. As long as I live with these names, I can limit the people I reach out to based on how I think I will be perceived. I don't take risks. I don't contact people who might not like me or my faith or my ideas.

And so I confessed: Father, forgive me for living out of false labels. I don't want these labels to control me. I want to live out of your power. Out of the identity you have given me.  

And then I heard the new label: "Loved." "Chosen."
This is an identity I know intellectually, but which is hard to walk in.  True identities often are. How do I reach out to people I don't know? How do I love with God's love? How do I live authentically, with openness and vulnerability, willing to follow God wherever He calls me? Knowing He loves me and that is all that matters? 

When Jesus says, "The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy" (John 10:10, The Voice), the thief is Satan. He isn't trying to steal our money; he is isn't trying to kill our bodies or destroy our possessions. He is stealing, killing, destroying our true identities.

Jesus has come to give us joyful life, and Satan wants to take that away.
Satan takes my experiences and suggests labels like "rejected." I choose to live with those labels instead of the ones that God has given me. Living under these negative labels prevents me from participating in God's mission.

In Christ, I am a new creation. The old me is gone, and I have a new identity in Christ. I am adopted into God's family. I am chosen to serve God's purposes.

What are some of the labels that define you, limit your choices and your actions? What does God say about who you are?

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