Next Steps

I get why people use labels, but that doesn’t make it right to use them. When we label someone, we dehumanize them and absolve ourselves of the need to show them Christ’s love. In Matthew 9:11, the Pharisees tried to avoid having to love others they weren’t comfortable around by labeling them as “tax collectors” and “sinners.” Jesus responded forcefully, saying, On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:12-13). Like “tax collectors” and “sinners,” here are six types of labels Christians should avoid in today’s world:

1. Religious labels. Does it lessen our responsibility to love someone if they’re Muslim? How about an atheist? It doesn’t matter if a guy’s first name is Mohammed. Jesus died for him, and our task as Christians is to show Jesus’ love to him.

2. Racial labels. Don’t think that you’re off the hook showing Jesus’ love if the other person is of a different race. Living in the South, the black/white racial labels are used quite often as to why certain people are to be avoided. Jesus died for all races. (By the way, Jesus wasn’t white with straight brown hair and blue eyes. As a Middle Easterner, he was most likely olive-skinned).

3. Political labels. Are we off the hook from having to love someone if they’re on the opposite end of the political spectrum? If they’re a ‘left-wing liberal,’ does that give us permission to degrade and dehumanize them? Nope. So stop doing it.

4. Socio-economic labels. We can decry the rich or the poor, but Jesus died for all of them. If someone is poor, it’s easy to dismiss them and label them as lazy with no morals, living off the government. But would Jesus have dismissed them in such a cavalier manner? I don’t think so.

5. Generational labels. It’s to our shame to write off entire generations as outdated (senior adults) or entitled (millennials). Jesus died for all generations, and some of our greatest opportunities to show Christ’s love will be to those of another generation.

6. Sexual orientation labels. Did Jesus just die for heterosexuals? If a person self-identifies as gay, does that give a Christian the right to belittle him and dehumanize him? Absolutely not.

When we label others and leverage those labels as a reason why we don’t have to love them, we’re actually more in line with the Pharisees and the system that Jesus came to rebel against than Jesus himself.

When you volunteer at church, it’s so much more than simply filling a slot or helping out on a Sunday. Something supernatural happens when the church begins to serve together. Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote the early church in the letter to the Ephesians:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

From this passage, here are five incredible things that happen when you serve in your church:

1. You make your church stronger. Paul says that when you serve the body of Christ is built up. Think about going to the gym: when you serve, it’s as if you’re working out and strengthening the various parts of the body. You want a strong church? Start serving.

2. The church becomes united. Don’t walk past the significance of this. When Jesus prayed for the future church (John 17), above all he prayed that the church would be united. When you serve, you’ve got ‘skin in the game,’ you’re more invested in your church and a byproduct of that is unity. Serving strengthens the unity of the church.

3. You discover more about Jesus. There are some things that you can learn by sitting in a classroom, and some things that can only be experienced in real life. You can sit a 16-year-old in a classroom and give her a textbook on what it means to drive, but if you want to fully prepare her for driving in the real world, you’re going to have to let her practice driving in a Driver’s Education course or let her tear up the asphalt in a big open parking lot. It’s the same thing with your relationship with Jesus. You can figure only so much stuff out sitting in a classroom (Sunday School) and learning head knowledge. To experience more, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and start serving.

4. You mature in your faith. One of the societal signs of maturity in our culture is when an adult goes out and gets a job, earning his own money, providing for his own family, paying his own bills. We don’t look at the 40-year-old still living at home with no job as mature. When you serve, it’s a sign of maturity because it shows that you’ve grown enough in your faith to realize that it’s not just about consuming, but about giving back to your church.

5. You achieve together something far greater than what you can attain on your own. Paul finishes this passage by saying that when the church serves she attains to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Spiritual maturity is a group project. I can’t be all that I can be without you serving me, and you can’t become all that Christ wants you to become without me serving you. When a church serves together, we achieve something far greater than whatever we could attain to on our own.

We’ve all had those moments when we wish the earth would open up and swallow us whole: we’ve made a colossal mistake, perhaps one that everyone warned us against but we were sure we could defy the odds. You had your chance, your moment in the sun, and you blew it.

For me personally I can’t remember many details about the successful job interviews I’ve had, I just remember that I did well. But I can still tell you with precise detail about the job interviews I failed out and why I think I blew it. Failure sticks with you, but it doesn’t have to. From Scripture, here are four things to do when you absolutely blow it.

The inspiration for this post comes from Acts 1 and how the earliest church leaders dealt with a raging scandal: the betrayal of Judas. Judas’ absence was conspicuous because he was so publicly identified with Jesus. His betrayal sent shockwaves through the movement that continued to be felt even after the resurrection. If no one saw Judas’ betrayal coming, what did that say about Jesus as the Messiah and the disciples as leaders of the movement? In Acts 1, the disciples tackled the scandal head on:

1. Own it. The easiest thing to do would have been to try and whitewash history, to pretend that Judas never existed. The disciples could have decided to never mention Judas, to try and pretend he never existed, to try and erase him from their collective memory. When Luke wrote down the account of the early church, they could have tried to convince him to keep that part out. But they didn’t do that. As painful as it was, they addressed their failing head on. They owned it. When you blow it, everyone knows it so trying to pretend it never happened is a fool’s errand. If you want to move forward, you have to start by owning your mistake.

2. Recognize that God is still on his throne. When Peter stands up to address the elephant in the room, he acknowledged that Judas’ betrayal was actually a part of God’s plan, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16). In spite of their faith being shaken by Judas’ betrayal, Peter recognized the authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. When your personal world comes crashing down, take a moment that God is still actually holding the whole world together. You’ll find comfort and solace in that, even if you can’t yet come to grips with what’s happening around you.

3. Find inspiration from Scripture. Twice in Peter’s remarks he referenced the Hebrew Scriptures, a source of authority and comfort in his life. When you blow it, it’s like an earthquake has shattered everything around you and you’re desperately trying to find something whole to hold onto. Scripture is ancient, Scripture is eternal, Scripture contains the words of God. When life changes unexpectedly, go back to that which is unchanging: Scripture.

4. Get back up and keep going. At the end of the day, the apostles needed a twelfth, someone to replace Judas. As awkward as it was to select someone else, they did just that. They found a replacement, commissioned him and moved on. They didn’t allow their mistake to define them. Matthias was added to the leadership of the early church and they were poised and ready for the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

When you blow it, don’t give up. Your disaster doesn’t have to define you. Your mistakes don’t have to forever mar you. Own it. Recognize that God is still on his throne. Find inspiration from Scripture. Get back up and keep going.

If solving emotional issues was as simple as popping a pill, we all would have been cured years ago. Pills work for some, but usually they mask the symptoms and they don’t deal with the underlying issues. We don’t need another band-aid, we need to go to the very heart of the matter, and that takes us back to creation of mankind in Genesis.



18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. Genesis 2:18-20

God waited to create Eve to deeply impress on Adam just how much he needed someone. We’re not designed to do life alone. One of the very first eternal truths that God gives humanity is this statement: it is not good for mankind to be alone. 

I saw this vividly when I was in college. After I was finished with college I decided to serve overseas as a missionary. Through the organization I went with, I had a choice of where to serve. There were hundreds of job openings overseas and other than Antartica, I could pick my continent.

And at first, I thought I was going to Russia. Why? That was the first place I’d gone to overseas a few years back with my college. I spent a month in Russia, most of the time in St Petersburg but also in Moscow. It was a fascinating culture to me. And what’s even better, when we were in Russia we met a missionary, a missionary who was a college grad and in literally the same program I was about to do. And when I chose my overseas assignment, I literally could have chosen his assignment. But I never even considered it. Why?

Because when we went and worked with for a month, I saw how miserable and depressed he was. He was alone. Sure, he was surrounded by people, but there were no Americans in the town he worked in. He had to support, no community. He was isolated, and by the time we got there, he was clinically depressed.

And that always stuck with me. So when I chose where I went, I specifically looked for a place where there was a team of missionaries going too. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I knew enough that if I wanted to survive, I needed a team. I needed a family.

The aloneness that this missionary in Russia experienced was the same aloneness that Adam felt back at the beginning of time and it’s the same that inmates feel in solitary confinement. And to go back to what God said in Genesis: it’s not good for mankind to be alone.

But what makes this missionary guy different is that he was surrounded by people, but he was isolated because of language and culture. It is possible to be surrounded by a sea of people and still feel isolated and alone. Some of you reading this are surrounded by hundreds of other humans, and yet you still feel isolated and alone.

Many of us place ourselves in solitary confinement, but it’s not a prison solitary confinement, it’s an emotional solitary confinement that we’ve willingly placed ourselves in. I would make a strong argument that the majority of emotional issues and struggles that we face can be traced back to isolation and lack of community. It’s not good for us to be alone. When we’re alone, bad things happen. God never created us to live in isolation. We’re created for community.

That’s the one thing you need to know when it comes to emotional issues and struggles: we’re created for community.