This man does not honor the Sabbath. This man healed someone on the Sabbath. This man doesn’t honor our traditions. This man eats with sinners. This man is a sinner. Just a few of the hundreds of accusations toward Jesus by the religious of Jesus’ day. It amazes me how religion wanted to define and typecast Jesus. He didn’t do what they did, dress like they dressed, or honor the traditions that they revered. Jesus was, well, just Jesus. If Jesus walked the earth today many religious people would reject Him. He wouldn’t fit their dogma, their traditions, or “holier than thou” judgements. He rejected their labels and taught others to do the same. Labels, they’re nothing new, throughout history people have tried to define other people, put them in camps, put nice little judgmental boxes around people. It’s easier that way. You don’t have to get to know them, just attach your definition to them, judge them according to your ideology and perspective, and move on. Jesus had to send His disciples away before He could meet with the woman at the well. Why? The disciples would have labeled her. She was a Samaritan, guilty. She had five husbands, guilty. She is living with a sixth man, guilty. She arrived at Jacob’s Well much past when others did, it’s a sign of shame, guilty. End of story! But that was not the end of her story, really it was only the beginning. Jesus gave her life, not a label, and she exploded with excitement. The very people she was avoiding that morning she was inviting to come with her to meet Jesus by evening. When Jesus defines you no other definition matters. Did they try to put another label on her, probably. But once you understand who you are in Christ labels don’t carry much weight.
Through 35 years of ministry, Mary and I have had people constantly attaching labels to us. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes we laughed, most times we just rolled our eyes and kept on going, not worth the energy to respond. We know who we are and that’s critical. How have Mary and I navigated the multiple attacks of religious people through the years? Simple. We never allowed others to define us by their judgements, self-righteousness, or traditions. We know that we are imperfect. We acknowledge that we have made mistakes and failed. We have failed people. We have made mistakes with our kids. We have disappointed saints we’ve pastored. We know we need Jesus every day. But, most of all, we have ownership of two areas about who we are.
First, we are people of prayer. God gave both Mary and I the gift of prayer. From the time we were teenagers, we have leaned in on prayer. Prayer is our lifeline and it’s the DNA of who we are. We were both consistent in morning prayer in the Christian colleges we attended. Up early before classes crying out to God to lead us and use us for His glory. After we married, we took on prayer shifts, were early to prayer before services, and were heavily involved in prayer meetings at the churches we attended. At the college I taught at, my mornings started in a chapel, praying hours before I ever stood before my classes. Once we became parents and pastors of Life Connections our mornings started early. Nearly every day of their lives Gent and Ris woke to Mary praying and watching me driving off to the church for prayer. There was no prouder moment as a dad, than when our kids began to drive, seeing them leave early for school, so they too could stop by the church and pray before going to class. Since 2011, unless we were out of town, Mary and I spent every Saturday evening at our church praying for God to do the indescribable and undeniable in our Sunday services. We circled our city once a month every Wednesday for 12 years, pleading that Life Connections would be the most impactive church in the city. Today, though we no longer pastor, one thing still remains. Prayer. You will find us somewhere, depending on the day, between three, four, or five a.m. and 9 a.m. in our prayer place, having devotion, consuming God’s Word, and being in God’s presence. It is who we are.
The second thing we know about ourselves is this, we are desperate for a book of Acts move of God. An old-fashioned, John Wesley shut the bars down revival. A Jeremiah Lampier city wide prayer revival. An unexplainable Topeka, Kansas God experience. An Azusa Street life altering move of the Spirit. We long to see services with healings, miracles, deliverances, and moves of the Spirit that are indescribable, yet undeniable. Not created, not manipulated, but a sovereign move of the Spirit that transforms our families, cities, and our country. We believe there is one hope and one hope alone for our world. A sovereign move of God’s Spirit.
This is who we are. This is our label. This is how we define ourselves. Some talk about us, abandon us, try to put their labels on us, and some have disdain for us, but we have not, and will not, be moved off of who we are. If I can leave one piece of advice to you it is this, never allow yourself to be defined by someone else’s opinion or others religious traditions. Don’t be defined by others and their judgements. Don’t let anyone else stick their label on you. Define yourself. Create your own label. Find out who you are, who you are in Christ, and pursue it with passion for the rest of your life.