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Working through preferences is like wrestling a greased pig: you can’t get your arms around them all. Our part of the country does (fill in the blank), and another part of the country does (fill in the blank). This family believes such-and-such is right, while the next family does something completely different.
This home, this church, and this person do it this way, while that home, that church, and that person likes to do it another way. And there is the generational struggle. The old guard is perplexed by the ubiquitous control of technology, while the new guard lives with technology as though it was an addictive appendage. Bob Dylan was right, the times are a-changin.
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Because of the myriad of preferences and the false assumptions around them, our family has steered away from making cultural or religious preferences the point of focus or normative while choosing to learn how to live out the practicalities of the gospel.
The gospel practicalized is a transcendent lifestyle over cultural and religious traditions, preferences, and expectations. I do hope our children will not be dismissive of other people’s choices while being humble, wise, and courageous enough to know how not to be subservient to them.
Christ—the gospel incarnate—was fully aware of and willing to obey the customs of His day. And, for the most part, He did follow those customs unless they negatively impacted the higher purposes of the gospel.
To be transformed by the gospel, you must be affected by it. This infographic shows a transformative progression that should happen to any person who is born again. The sequence goes like this:
Below are the five steps explained. These steps are essential and nonnegotiable if you want to be transformed from the inside out while being enabled to love others well, especially those who are different from you.
Step 1 – The gospel teaches that we all are mutually depraved and equally in need of a great Savior. Mercifully, God came to each of us–who are born from above–and gave us the gift of salvation. This gift is called the doctrine of salvation: faith, repentance, justification, adoption, definitive sanctification, etc.
Step 2 – From that point of departure, our inner person begins to be renewed by the power of the gospel (Ephesians 4:23). This lifelong process is called the doctrine of progressive sanctification.
Step 3 – The doctrines of salvation and sanctification are humbling doctrines. Together they remind us of our helplessness to be rescued apart from the gospel. Correctly understanding your salvation and sanctification will humble you.
Step 4 – James 4:6 promised that the humble person would receive God’s empowering favor–a favor that enables the Christian to do many love actions.
Step 5 – Here is a list of love actions from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Read this list by inserting your name each time love is mentioned or implied.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
The love list is merely a sampling of how a gospel-motivated person operates in the world in which he or she lives. A gospelized person can love others expansively because of Christ’s strength in him or her (Philippians 4:13).
This empowering makes the gospel (Christ) the base for and point of departure when it comes to thinking through how to live with others who have different preferences.
Here is another iteration of the gospel formula, as seen in the infographic:
The danger of not following this gospel formula, like in parenting, for example, can make your preferences a undeviating mandate, which will more than likely make what you prefer a yoke of bondage around your children’s necks. Later, they will say, “Those preferences were daddy’s hang-ups, not mine.”
Conversely, as the gospel trains your children, their little hearts can be transformed by its power rather than by your preferences.
The former will bind their consciences into lifelong bondage and possibly future rebellion while the latter will hopefully teach them how to change, grow, and mature—all within the power and parameters of the gospel.
Without the gospel, they will have to learn preferences by rote, context, and culture. Later, if they are not burnt out by the imposed, rule-based culture in which they live, they will live a secluded, marginalized life that reduces the gospel’s impact on the culture. This response will motivate them to migrate to an outlier’s existence.
The New Testament equivalent to this was the Pharisees. They codified the rules without deviation or sound apologetics. In time, their religion became a joyless, fear-based, hollow, and mandated set of rules that made them out of sync with the culture they were supposed to evangelize.
The gospel is more flexible than that. It pivots without compromise. Gospel people are not afraid to penetrate their culture, choosing to become all things to all people while praying that God will win some of them to Himself. Two extreme worldviews adulterate this gospel objective:
Christ did not separate or imbibe. He penetrated, became, connected, sympathized, and transformed without being distant, afraid, self-righteous, or compromised.
Here are the questions above simplified: Regenerated > Affection > Love Others > Engage Others > Adapt to Others > Win Others.
Our family enjoys going to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a sprawling beautiful place to visit with so much to see and do in addition to touring the Biltmore mansion.
One of our favorite things to visit is the winery. Lucia and I do not necessarily enjoy wine since we’re not that big on alcohol. Our preference is a taste thing, not a biblical issue. I don’t like alcohol, but I do enjoy going to the Biltmore winery.
On one of our family visits, we invited some of our conservative friends, who are very close to us. Our children do sleepovers with their children and vice-versa. We love this family, and they have an anti-alcohol stance. In overly simplistic, religious terms, they would be considered legalists, and we would be considered liberals.
Before our visit to the Biltmore, we had a sit-down with our children to walk them through discretion regarding preferences—in the context of loving others who differ from us on secondary matters. The bottom line was that we would not go to the winery or even mention the existence of the winery while with our friends.
I told our children that as we walk by the winery, we would not even give it a courtesy nod. Our usual time in the winery was a secondary matter to loving this family. This illustration is what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 8:1-2.
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Our children were stellar. We enjoyed our friends while not making a secondary issue like alcohol a point for division. I suspect they have had similar discussions with their children about our lifestyle choices. I hope so.
It is impossible to be in 100% agreement with every person in your life. Fortunately, you do not have to make lock-step agreement essential for relating and engaging with others. This grace-gift from the Lord is one of the things that sets Christians apart. We can be the aggressors when it comes to relating to those who are different from us. Our leader set this example for us to emulate (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The gospel does not demand that you have an eclectic friend list, but it should free you for the possibility to engage and enjoy those who do things differently from you. Isn’t this why we love Jesus so much? We were not like Him, but He entered our world, hoping to engage, befriend, and transform some of us.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight (Romans 12:16).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).