FIRST-PERSON: Must we choose preferences?

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) -- I was reading my half-folded Wall Street Journal. I got to the fold and subconsciously realized my index finger was attempting to scroll the rest of the article up the page. I suppose I am caught in a time warp, preferring to smell ink and read hard copy and at the same time live in an age of digital communications.

I can hear a purist for print and/or digital attempting to say, "Choose between the two." I say not so fast. There is room for both. No need to create a hardline subculture for digital- and another for hard-copy enthusiasts. I can operate in the world of digital communications and still read books, newspapers and letters.

Just because someone prefers one or the other does not mean I have to choose between the two.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, "What Is the Perfect Age?" (Jan. 16, 2018), focused on researchers exploring certain preferences by certain age groups, and what is the "best" age to be alive.

One person wanted to be "in his 30s for 100 years," saying he had yet to fall in love and establish a career. Researchers found that many people in their 50s don't want to be 30. Seventy-year-olds are some of the most satisfied because they are the most "time affluent," though no age group wants to look old. According to the research, the best time to make a financial decision is 50, while the best time to get a cellphone is 12. Best time to body build: 25.

As you can quickly ascertain, asking people to make a choice for the "best" age is ripe for forming divisions based on chronological age. Yet it is Jesus who teaches His followers to "Therefore don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34 CSB).

It is part of our human nature (one of the worst parts) for us to take our preferences and canonize them. Then we think, and too often verbalize, that if you are not also embracing my preferences, then shame on you!

Why are we always picking and choosing people based on our personal list of preferences? Doesn't it sound rather juvenile to think, "I don't like you because you don't measure up to my preferences, or you aren't the right age, or you don't like to do the things I like to do"?

From a biblical perspective, let's face the reality that we are all broken vessels and we all must come to God the same way: through the Lord Jesus. If we are to be His disciples, we must take our preferences to the altar and lay them down. We must live in the power of the Holy Spirit and with a perspective of truth based on the principles revealed in the Word of God.

Sounds simple. Yet it's difficult because our preferences are often deeply ingrained within us from our childhood, where broken parents are attempting to train broken children in wisdom with God and man. However, part of our learning to be a disciple includes surrendering every area of our lives to the lordship of Christ, including our preferences.

Too often in our churches we place someone's preferences over another. Such divisions have tragic spiritual and practical consequences. At a recent conference breakout, the leader made the statement that for years Baptists had a church planting strategy -- church splits. And sadly, the split typically does not involve a biblical issue.

Most often the conflict rises from someone's preferences clashing with another person's preferences. The conflict takes such a toll on those involved that they are more focused on winners and losers than those who are lost and in desperate need of the Savior.

Furthermore, to make healthy progress in reaching a community with the Gospel, it would be good for leaders in churches that have experienced a split to rediscover reconciliation. Imagine the power of conversations where surrendered preferences, forgiveness and reconciliation are the topics of the day.

The outcome of such conversations does not necessarily mean the churches merge back together, but that is not beyond possibility. It does mean that the people of God can rekindle the vision of God to reach people with the love of God demonstrated through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

John Yeats is executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
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